If you were to write your own history of “everything,” what would you include? That's the premise of A History of Everything, the new, original play from Cry Havoc Theater Company.
Cry Havoc is an all-youth troupe. It made a splash last year with Shots Fired, a documentary-style play compiled from interviews with people affected by the 2016 police shooting in downtown Dallas.
Like Shots Fired, A History of Everything was written by the troupe's teen actors and artistic director Mara Richards Bim. What's more, they challenged themselves to devise the entire play in 14 days.
A History of Everything is the teens' take on humanity, asking and answering questions about what milestones in human history are most important to them. Bim says it’s the second show the company has modeled after the Belgian theater company Ontroerend Goed.
“Trying to tell a history of anything — much less a history of everything — from concept to opening night is absurdly difficult,” she says.
The show begins in present day and works backward to the Big Bang. The first half of the play is chaotic and fast-paced; the second half explores philosophical moments and milestones that have shaped America. The entire performance is 70 minutes long.
For Shots Fired — and the company’s upcoming devised piece, Babel, which will premiere as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s “Elevator Project” this summer — the actors collected interviews and turned them into a script. The process for this production was different. Every word in the show was generated by the kids in rehearsals.
“We charted out major milestones in history going back to the the 1300s. The chart paper we scribbled on decorates the lobby and inside the Margo Jones Theatre," Bim says. "Everyone had a lot to add to the timeline in the present day, and less to add the further back in time we went.
"We then went back as a group and made edits on what to include and exclude in the show. After that, we began staging the chaotic sound bites at the top of the show," she continues. "That section took the bulk of the rehearsal time because it's so fast-paced, chaotic and overlapping — much like the world we currently live in. We then moved on to pre-WWII.”
While this production is different from the documentary-style plays the company is becoming known for, it's similar in the sense that each show is driven and edited by the teens. “Each show is representative of what speaks to them and to their generation," Bim says.
She believes many people, regardless of their politics, will identify with the play's message that we're living in a chaotic, out-of-control moment in history.
“Everyday there is a new story hitting the airwaves that out-trumps the one from the day before. In the constant bombardment, it's easy to forget about things that happened even a few months ago, let alone years ago," Bim says. "That's been the most interesting part of this for me — being reminded of things that have happened in my lifetime that the kids have no memory of. For example, I was downtown and watched in shock as the second tower fell in New York City on 9/11."
As the play began to develop, Bim says the teens locked into themes that spoke to them personally. She has continually found herself challenged and educated by the young actors.
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“As we staged the show, we had to further whittle down our timeline along the way. The kids were particularly attuned to moments in history that relate to race relations in our country," she says. "Early on in the process I made the mistake of suggesting cuts to a couple of those moments. They pointed out the hypocrisy of a person with power dictating the history they wanted to present. It was a humbling experience, and from that point forward in the process, I didn't presume to make cuts without a conversation.”
Bim says the play has been the most difficult one she’s ever been involved with.
“The enormity of the task of presenting moments that the public will recall and respond to alongside moments that they may not be aware of while also honoring the voices of young people who have only heard about some of those moments was, at times, overwhelming. Everyone, including myself, learned something about history and storytelling along the way.”
A History of Everything, Margo Jones Theatre, 1121 First Ave., Saturday, Jan. 6, through Saturday, Jan. 13. Tickets are $15 at ticketdfw.com.