ARCHIVE - Mything It Up (2-3-14)



DaVinci Academy in Ogden, Utah, is a total immersion experience. Walking through the school, led by energetic director, Adam Slee, each hallway presents a separate theme. Art in-the-style-of announcements of plays and competitions, themes popping into consciousness and, as we approach the theater, art of ancient Greece fills the landscape. Ceramics, tile, wood, in 3-d and 2-d, sometimes floor to ceiling. Against the wall of the theater is a huge chart, a diagram of the Life and Myths of Theseus and Icarus, including the part where the White Bull does King Minos wife, Pasaphae.

This school has promise. Slee, as he’s called by the students, quickly grills them on the myth, showing me they know this stuff. We go into the theater and the students start grilling me on the play – a discussion that’s been going on for several months.

Escape from the Labyrinth began for me as an experiment with the Open Theater in the early 1970’s with our Seem-To-Be Players. We took the myth of Theseus and created ‘worlds.’ A mournful piece with an exciting fight at the end, this 20 minutes of movement, music and battle was important and evocative to me. I revisited the piece in school workshops over the years and finally was ready to create a play that would have the same impact as the early piece of improvisation.

In the labyrinthI worked together the stories of Icarus (whose Dad invented the labyrinth) and Theseus as the parallel lives of sons of difficult fathers. Add to them the Minotaur, himself the son of Poseidon’s White Bull and Minos’ wife, and you have several dysfunctional families to explore as the hero myth is played out.

The 2004 production of GREAT GREEK MYTHS; THESEUS AND ICARUS was developed at San Diego State University’s Theater of the World Festival and toured with the script was flawed and the production had problems. The piece was very dependent on a ‘Bard’ who served as a narrator and, in most lofty language, rhymed her way from one scene to the next. The piece went by quickly with overly formal language and absolutely no reference to the Gods as participants in the myth – a choice that probably had to do with going into the public schools. One of our least successful touring productions, I set the play aside.

Going into the 12-13 Season, I picked the piece back up and decided to try an experiment with my all-age theater program. I would create Escape from the Labyrinth as an open theater piece. We cast 50 actors of all ages, many family members, we added the Gods back into the story and more incidents from of the Theseus Myth. I hired puppeteer Spencer Lott as Icarus and Minotaur-maker and Anwar Yadullah as a professional Theseus. For three weeks the cast created improvisations and built tribal structures. Each group decorated a shield and staff. These served as weapons and set pieces and the entire ensemble worked out a new series of scenes. After three weeks, the actors were clamoring for order and a script, so I wrote a 90 minute conglomeration of all the improvised materials – following the structure of the earlier Greek Myths script.

I felt like the piece was a great improvement and eagerly sent it to Adam Slee at DaVinci Academy. Slee and his students had selected the pre-Open Theater script and loved it. I sent him our post production 90 minute version and awaited his reply. Slee called several weeks later with his students in the background and explained that they really didn’t like the new version at all. They wanted to do the version I’d originally submitted.

The Playwright and the Professor

Some of the students got on the line and asked very clear, concise questions. They were resolute as to what they responded to, including a love of the Bard character, who I really wished to drop deep in the Aegean Sea. I sent a 60 minute cut down version of the script we’d performed and asked them to look at it compared to the original they liked. They agreed to do that, but were still determined to show me that “I didn’t know what I had” with the original.

I flew to Ogden with a degree of uncertainty. How could we create a staged reading over three days if they weren’t willing to try a new approach? Where did their love of this less than adequate Bard come from?

The students presented part of the Bard’s speech and we broke down several things about it. They liked using more formal language. They didn’t want to use any cute teenage speak to create characters. They also really liked the participation of the Gods, who were described by the Bard as characters.

After our first session, I agreed to a variation of Bardspeech by starting the play with a chorus and to keep the Gods as clear participants. I went through a rewrite a day and by the performance time, we had a real script, tailored to their school, their actors, with a clear sense of investment in the myths themselves.


These young theater artists are taught not just to perform, but to think about performance, about theater, about ideas. They do an amazing number of productions with high production values. They are committed to the arts and to excellence in the arts and excellence in creative thinking. I found the students creative, challenging, combative and responsive – all elements that would make any playwright delighted during a development process.

As part of the residency, I was asked to judge an art show of Greek work the students had done in connection with the performance (very well attended, by the way). I did a disclaimer on my ability as an art judge and they had other judges confirming in some categories, but for best of show, I picked a simple Acrylic, sharpie, charcoal pencil on wood depiction of a greek myth by Esperance Ashby, 9th grade (pic included). As part of the closing talk back, I was presented with this piece of art which sits by my desk to remind me that all ages of collaborators believe in the elevation of myth to art.

Escape from the Labyrinth was developed at the DaVinci School of the Arts in Ogden, Utah, through the AATE PIOS program. Ric Averill previously did PIOS programs in Park City, Utah, with the play Theres and Eyeball in My Soup (Dramatic Publishing, 2012) and in Austin, Texas with The Man She Was.


Friday Ensemble with Ric

Ric Averill is the Artistic Director of Performing Arts at the Lawrence Arts Center. Averill is a director, playwright, conductor, composer, actor and educator. Averill has been commissioned by the Coterie Theater in Kansas City, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, First Stage Milwaukee and San Diego State University’s Theater of the World Festival to write plays and operas. The body of Ric’s Youth Theater work may be found at Dramatic Publishing. Averill has served as a Board Member for both TYA/USA and IPAY.

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