Dallas — Cry Havoc Theater is one of North Texas' more exciting new theater companies. Formed in 2014 with a focus on youth performance and movement-based and devised work, it and its aftermath. It made a splash with their first production, The (out)Siders Project last summer, and then with the devised piece Shut Up and Listen in January. For the group's first time in the Festival of Independent Theatres, Cry Havoc tries something new: a published script by Naomi Iizuka. Good Kids examines the rape case from Ohio's Steubenville High School in 2012. The features teenage actors and is directed by Shelby-Allison Hibbs, who is also a TheaterJones contributor with her Work in Progress series.
We talked to Cry Havoc founder Mara Richards Bim about her desire to start this company, what Good Kids has to say about rape culture, and what's next for the company.
TheaterJones: Tell me your theater background and why you started Cry Havoc and wanted to focus on youth performers?
Mara Richards Bim: My career has followed a long and winding road. I'm originally from Irving and left Texas to study theater at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Upon graduation, I continued my studies at Second City in Chicago and then back in NYC where I did a Master's degree in Performance Studies at NYU under Richard Schechner. During this time, I was doing some voiceover work, and for my day job, I fell into fundraising/producing for theaters around town. In the years that followed, I learned a lot about running theater companies—the good, the bad and the ugly!
My last job in fundraising was as the Director of Development at the off-Broadway company, MCC Theater, just as we were transferring Neil LaBute's reasons to be pretty to Broadway. During my time at MCC, I got to see their youth company in action which was a real turning point for me. One thing MCC did well was give teens a platform to produce their work uncensored by any adults. I was blown away by some of the work I saw and the risks the theater took to produce it. In 2009 I made the decision to go back to school to study educational theater full-time to make the transition to working with young people. I also began working as a teaching artist around town and very quickly landed a job at the prestigious New Victory Theater where, for the next two years, I oversaw the curriculum for their education programming. In 2012, I was turning 37 and had been away from Texas for all of my adult life. I missed my family and childhood friends, many of whom I still saw on regular trips home to the Dallas area. A position opened up at Dallas Theater Center, and after interviewing and being offered the job, I moved back.
I noticed two significant things upon returning to Dallas. First was that the theater scene had exploded here in my time away. It really is an exciting place to be right now. Second was that there was a need in the market for a youth theater company that produced edgier, more provocative material and that was accessible to young people regardless of their ability to pay. I started meeting with anyone and everyone who would chat with me about this idea for a youth theater company—what it might look like, who we should partner with, what kind of work we could do. Finally, in the winter of 2014 I left DTC to found Cry Havoc.
Why did you want to enter FIT?
Since our first production, I had been planning to bring in an outside director for one of Cry Havoc's upcoming shows. Then, in December as we were entering rehearsals for our second show, Shut Up and Listen!, my husband and I learned I was pregnant with my first child and that I was due this summer. The pregnancy brought new urgency to not only finding a director to work with the teens, but also to finding help in producing the summer show. In talking about it with Shelby Hibbs, she suggested I apply to FIT. I'm so grateful she pointed me in that direction—it has been a fantastic fit for us! With two shows under our belt, being a part of FIT has helped elevate our profile in the community. It also allowed me to step back from the 24/7 producing aspects that are inherent in running a small theater company so that I could enjoy the moments around my daughter's birth.
Were you looking for a script about Steubenville or something related to rape culture? What about Naomi's play spoke to you?
Once the decision was made to apply to FIT, I was on the hunt for a published script for us to perform. Cry Havoc's first two productions had been new works created with the teens, so we were wading into new territory with a published play and needed to make a splash with this new endeavor. In conversations with our lighting designer Aaron Johansen, he suggested I look at Naomi Iizuka's Polaroid Stories. I started reading it and liked her writing, but I didn't think that play was the right fit for us at the moment. So, I researched her other work and came across Good Kids. When I started reading it, I literally couldn't put it down.
The play is a good fit for us both because of the challenging nature of the material, and because of the abstract nature of the piece. Of course, I knew by producing this play with teenagers, we could potentially be treading into controversial territory. This is Texas after all—we won't discuss anything other than abstinence in schools, so topics like safe sex, consent and rape are off the table. But the fact that this is based on a true story, that the people involved were high school students, and that consent is something young people grapple with, I was convinced we should take the leap with this one.
How have you talked to your kids about the themes of this play? They're all teenagers, right?
In our first production, The (out)Siders Project, we dealt with the topic of gangs in Dallas. Many of the teens involved in the production lived in neighborhoods with gangs and had family members involved in that life. From the first rehearsal, we came at the piece from a strictly theatrical perspective. That same approach applies to our work on Good Kids. Good Kids is based on actual events so when we discuss rape and consent, we talk about the facts in the play and the events that actually happened in Steubenville. More recently, with the verdict and uproar over the pathetically light sentencing of Brock Turner in California, we had another real life event to discuss and examine in terms of rape and consent. All of our conversations are grounded in the world of the play that the playwright has given us and in these two cases. So, all conversations on the sensitive topic of rape are removed from any personal experience anyone might have with it.
Tell me about the cell phone light technique I've been seeing on Shelby Hibbs’ Facebook feed.
A huge aspect of the Steubenville case and the play based on it is the way the perpetrators used social media to post videos and images of the rape online. In fact, part of what was so shocking about the case was that so many teens saw the online images in real time and did nothing. And, after the crime came to light the parents and school administrators tried to help cover up the online footprints the teens left behind. So, social media and cell phone pictures are recurring motifs in the play.
Through the course of rehearsal, Shelby wanted to explore with the teens what was possible with real cell phones onstage. She experimented with actual images being projected (i.e. Instagram photos, etc. on screens), but found the best way to incorporate the cell phones was to use the harsh lighting from them. Thematically, using cell phone lighting in a scene reinforces how some characters try to shove the facts of the rape into darkness. There are 12 performers and having these twelve moveable, actor-operated light sources opens up creative possibilities and gives the teens more responsibility for the images created in the production. They're balancing an emotionally charged story along with a high level of technical precision with the cell phone light. That is really exciting!
What do you hope audiences take away from Good Kids?
The recent California case has thrust the topic of rape and consent back into the spotlight. Everyone is talking about it—including teenagers. I hope audiences walk away from our production of Good Kids with two things: First, I hope parents and educators leave the show compelled to find ways to have the necessary conversations about consent and healthy sex with the teenagers they know. We have to do a better job preparing young people to enter adulthood and lead healthy, productive lives. Second, I hope audiences leave the show talking about Cry Havoc. We work with an amazing group of artists who in turn work with an amazing group of young people. We are deliberate in the material we produce and are doing things no other youth theater is doing in Dallas. I hope that gets people talking!
What's next for Cry Havoc?
We are currently planning our first series of master classes this fall—several sessions on Viewpoints. Regarding performances, next up is our winter show playing at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park in January 2017. As it's shaping up, our winter shows will be smaller, devised pieces and our summer shows will be larger, text-based work. In January, we'll return to creating a devised, movement-based work with the teens.
» See more info about the 2016 Festival of Independent Theatres in our special section here, where you can also learn how to download our FIT app. In that app, you'll see a section for the playbills for each company, which includes cast, creative and director's notes.
See more info about the 2016 Festival of Independent Theatres here.
Good Kids is performed in the following blocks:
- 8pm Saturday, July 9
- 2pm Sunday, July 10
- 8pm Thursday, July 14
- 5pm Sunday, July 17
- 5pm Saturday, July 23
- 8pm Saturday, July 30