To play the role of a fighter pilot who gets sent to a trailer outside Las Vegas to fly drones, Lauren English read everything she could about women in combat and post-traumatic stress disorder; watched numerous documentaries about war; visited Travis Air Force Base; and went to the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk where she rode a roller coaster to get a sense of G-forces. Her director for Grounded, the solo show at the SF Playhouse, Susannah Martin, has a similar research-heavy approach, English said.
"She sent me a link to articles about female drone pilots, and I clicked on the link and there were 27 articles," English said. "I thought, 'This is my girl.'"
English had never done a solo show before, and she says she found rehearsing George Brant's play sometimes lonely.
"It was very isolating," she said. "Most of the time in rehearsal you have a partner, and even just learning the lines, you're getting to know two characters. Getting to know just one has been fascinating."
English says Martin let her follow her instincts in playing an unnamed woman who has to stop flying F16s when she gets pregnant, and then, as a drone pilot, drives across the desert to go to war every day, and back at night to her husband and daughter.
"One of the first times we ever rehearsed, she said 'I'd like you to just to do the play now,'" English said. "It was really incredible to explore like that and many things from that rehearsal stayed the same."
English loves performing Grounded in front of an audience.
"There's this catharsis and relief after holding all this material and this women's journey and her sadness inside for some time," she said. "That these faces and hearts and minds are willing to receive this information is pretty beautiful."
English says she feels drawn to tell the stories of people in and out of active duty.
"People are coming back from war with PTSD and all these problems," she said. "It's a problem of epidemic proportion, and I think, 'How can I be of service as an artist?' It's something that I am really investigating right now."
One organization English has been impressed with is Swords to Plowshares, a Bay Area nonprofit serving veterans.
Grounded plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday through Sept. 7 at 8 p.m.at the A.C.T. Costume Shop on 1119 Market St. (at Seventh Street) S.F. Tickets are $20. For more information, contact the San Francisco Playhouse box office at 415-677-9596, or go to www.sfplayhouse.org.