Dallas — Mara Richards Bim is the founder of Cry Havoc, a director, an adjunct faculty member at Eastfield College, and a consultant for Dallas ISD’s Department of Theatre and Dance. Her Dallas directing credits include Cry Havoc’s The (out)Siders Project, Shut Up and Listen!, Shots Fired (co-director) and The Great American Sideshow, all developed with the teen performers of Cry Havoc, who conduct interviews and create devised, verbatim theater. Along with members of the Cry Havoc Theatre Company, she has created Babel: A Play About Guns, running July 5-15 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas as part of the Elevator Project Series.
Mara spoke with us about the importance of the work the teens of Dallas are doing through theatre.
Between Shots Fired and Babel, it certainly seems clear that Cry Havoc is not afraid about ruffling any feathers, is that right?
Cry Havoc Theater Company's mission is to make provocative theatre with young people, and in doing so, to challenge audience expectations of what youth theatre can be. I started the company four years ago because there were no theatre companies creating new, contemporary work with the youth of Dallas. We're in our fourth season and Babel is our seventh new piece. We are definitely the "edgier" youth theatre company in town and, I and the youth we work with aren't afraid to ask challenging questions and push buttons. That said, the public response to Shots Fired was overwhelmingly positive. In the second run, we also offered free tickets to all Dallas Police Officers. Many came back and brought friends to the show. For Babel which is about gun ownership and violence with firearms, we interviewed people from all walks of life in an attempt to capture multiple points of view. For some people, I suppose that a group of teenagers asking questions about guns and gun violence could be intimidating. But, our hope is that this production fosters a dialogue about firearms in our communities today.
How did the company go from Shots Fired and the success it had into the creation of Babel?
During the creation of Shots Fired, as we were conducting the first-person interviews for that show, the topic of guns and gun violence kept coming up in the conversations we had. Given that Shots Fired was about the Dallas police shootings and race relations in Dallas, we decided to table talking about guns and gun ownership and save it for another show. We were preparing for the second run of Shots Fired when I began laying the groundwork for Babel. The first people I reached out to in June 2017 were Mark Barden and Nicole Hockley, who lost children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. After a couple of months of conversations, they said yes to allowing us to interview them. And Babel evolved from there.
One of the most intriguing and arguably important things about Cry Havoc is the involvement with artists under the age of 18. Why has the company pushed for their involvement so heavily as opposed to solely having adults write scripts to perform?
One only needs to look at the students from Parkland, Florida, to see the capacity of young people to lead the charge in the important issues of the day. At Cry Havoc Theater company, we are artist-activists. We're preparing young people to enter the adult world unafraid of making provocative art and digging into the issues that matter most to them.
The way shows are cast—as an invitation to previous cast members and then open auditions—is an interesting approach. Is Cry Havoc working to create and maintain a resident company? Does that affect the way new works such as Babel are devised by the company?
We're an ensemble company devising new work. While we actively scout the most talented teen actors in Dallas, not everyone works well in an ensemble or wants to create devised work. Devising is hard. It takes a special set of skills, focus, and self-discipline.
Each season we hold auditions in the fall to cast the season's shows. The selected teens enter the company on a sort of probationary status. Sometimes, after working with a new teen for the season, we decide he/she needs more experience before continuing with Cry Havoc. In that case, the teen keeps in touch and is invited back to audition again down the road. When we find talented, focused, self-disciplined teenagers dedicated to devising, they are invited to continue on with company and are invited back for subsequent seasons. In working in this way, new ensemble members work alongside more experienced ensemble members which elevates our work as a company.
Gun violence is certainly not a topic that is going away. Just recently, a newspaper office in Maryland was the target of a shooting spree. When these new tragedies come up, does it affect the performances of Babel in any way?
Yes, there is a moment in each performance where we acknowledge everyone killed by firearms in the previous 24 hours. So, each performance is different in this way.
One of the issues that came up during the creation of the piece was that some of the members of the company were asked to leave the NRA convention in Dallas. Can you discuss that dynamic and any other confrontational instances that have happened in the creation and performance of this piece?
The NRA Convention was an experience like no other. We prepared ourselves to go in and ask questions and receive resistance. We agreed we would not debate anyone on anything. We were there to document the experience. Even with that, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
The blatant racism exhibited by some of the convention-goers to our young people of color was shocking. When the teenagers fanned out in pairs to conduct interviews, most of the time, the interviewee only looked at or acknowledged the white teen. Imagine that for a second. Not only is that experience horrific to the person being treated as if they aren't even there, but it's also terrible to be the person standing next to her friend as that happens.
Add to that, we were asking questions that caused some of the convention-goers discomfort, and we were on people's radar from the first day. On the third day, I and the teenage girls were at a women's event while three of our teenage boys were conducting interviews with our videographer in-tow. The teen boys were seniors and diverse—Caucasian, African-American, and Latinx. They were in the middle of an interview when a bystander decided he didn't like that they were asking questions (the bystander jumped in when the guys asked the person they were interviewing about his feelings on the Parkland shooting). The bystander then went to get security and the police and said that the teens were creating a disturbance. The teens were escorted out.
Shortly thereafter, those of us at the women's event reconnected with the guys. NRA security once again located us and let us know that they were watching us. We had enough material and decided to leave the convention and debrief the entire weekend's events. In the end, the experience was valuable. It was important for the teens to have conversations with people they may not see eye-to-eye with. It also provided us with a more balanced perspective on the issues of second amendment rights and gun violence.
» Babel opens Friday, July 6 and runs through July 15 in Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House. Cry Havoc has also created an exhibit about gun violence, called The Cenotaph, that you can visit during day hours at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
For tickets to Babel, click here.