There's only one theater like Cry Havoc in North Texas — and this is its last show
After nine years and national attention, the company of teen actors who research, write and perform their own plays is bringing down the curtain.
Cry Havoc Theatre has been unique in North Texas. The high school students in the company research topics most teen theaters would never touch: gun violence, sex education, border crossings. Then they write a play and perform it.
For its new show, Cry Havoc is taking on the end of the world — and the play will be its final production.
Mara Richards Bim, Cry Havoc's artistic director, calls a rehearsal to order. Her troupe of young actors lost almost a week of rehearsal because of the recent ice storm. Which is why, today, they're catching up.
"Sooo . . . " she said. "We are going to try to get as far as we can get."
That ice storm is ironically relevant. The play happens to be about climate disasters, environmental justice, our increasing isolation. The play's called "Endlings."
"Endling" is a term for the last survivor of a species.
And more than a year ago, Richards Bim, the company's founder, told her board of directors, "Endlings" would be the last she'd do with Cry Havoc. She'd started the company in 2014, and she's been its artistic director and executive producer. That means she's been both staging the plays and raising the money.
"I really burned myself out over the last eight or nine years," she said, "so, personally, I'm ready for a break."
The loss of Cry Havoc is significant. No other company in North Texas — certainly no other teen theater — stages only devised theater projects. Devised theater is when the director and actors don't start with a script. Instead, they agree on a topic, research it, interview people and then hash all of that out into a play.
In 2014, Richards Bim returned to North Texas from New York and saw nothing quite like that here. Certainly, the Dallas Children's Theatre has tackled difficult topics over the years, topics like bullying and dyslexia. But Cry Havoc would be a theater to listen to teenagers' concerns and then let them loose to dig into those challenging issues.
"It's incredibly special," said Lillie Davidson. She's appeared in seven of Cry Havoc's productions, including "Babel," the one about gun violence.
"I've done theater in a lot of places," Davidson said, "and I don't think that I've found somewhere else that allowed me to have a really deep connection with the work that I was doing. I think that it's really a loss of perspective because adults could create the same kind of shows that Cry Havoc is doing, but you lose the sort of window into what's happening in the younger generations. And you lose their perspective and their voice."
In fact, Cry Havoc changed Davidson's career plans. She wanted to act and started with the company in 2018 when she was 14 years old. By her second show — which was "Babel" — she'd already changed her mind. Davidson's now a first-year student at TCU -- in journalism.
"It really taught me about having hard conversations," she said. "It taught me about listening. And it taught me a lot about myself and what I wanted to do."
For Phoenix Clasby, it's the opposite. Performing with Cry Havoc confirmed what they'd always wanted to do. Glasby is 18, non-binary and a senior at Coppell High School.
"I want to make theater when I'm older," they said. "And when most people ask me what I want to make, I just respond with 'weird-ass theater' — but also theater that allows me to live."
Cry Havoc won national acclaim. It received the Theatre for Young Audiences/USA’s National Community Impact Awardat the Kennedy Center. Its play, "Shots Fired," which addressed the shooting of five Dallas police officers by a Black Army Reserve veteran in 2016 was covered by Psychology Today.
That was their breakthrough play, Richards Bim said, the one that really started all the attention.
When Mara Richards Bim told Cry Havoc's board she wanted to spend more time with her husband and their six-year-old daughter, she actually hoped the theater she had founded would continue.
"But," she said, "it became quickly apparent that financially and artistically, that just wasn't going to work."
That's partly because Richards Bim did the two biggest jobs, producing and directing -- and never paid herself a full salary. The theater would have to find someone willing to do all that -- for pay. Which meant trying to raise more money.
"We had a serious conversation," said Davidson, "we explored many different options. "
In addition to having acted with Cry Havoc, Lillie Davidson became a board member.
"We just came down to the conclusion that Mara was and still is the soul of Cry Havoc," she said. "And I think the last thing that any of us wanted was to watch Cry Havoc fizzle out."
But Richards Bim says, another reason hiring someone to replace her didn't add up financially is that audiences haven't come back since the pandemic. Not in anything like the same numbers. Last season's audiences for Cry Havoc were a third the size of the pre-pandemic ones
So Richards Bim has been winding down the company. Assistants have been let go. Cry Havoc's rented storage unit is empty. And these days, she's finishing up work on this co-production with the Dallas Children's Theater.
"So now it's just been me for a few months working out of my house again, which is how it started — me at home by myself," she said with a laugh. "So yeah, I'm ready for it to be done."
After 18 productions over 9 years, Cry Havoc's "Endlings" will be its ending.
"Endlings" by Cry Havoc Theater at the Dallas Children's Theater, Feb 12-19.
Got a tip? Email Jerome Weeks firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @dazeandweex.
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