There’s a wonderful profile piece in the Lawrence Journal-World this morning about the indefatigable Ric Averill, founder of the pioneering local theater group called the Seem-To-Be-Players from the 1970s, and current director of performing arts at the Lawrence Arts Center.
In the article, Mary Doveton says this about Ric: “He’s like any of us that are working in the creative arts. You get an idea and you run with it. It’s exciting and exhilarating, and you gather people around you that are like-minded, and everybody feeds off everybody. Rick’s a really creative guy, and he’s always got a positive attitude, and he makes people feel good about themselves.”
Mary Doveton is, of course, herself “The Force” who founded the Lawrence Community Theatre, also in the 1970s, an organization which, in its early days, nurtured original scripts and produced three of my plays: Hatchet Club, Chambers, and Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris. Mary encouraged me to direct the first two, but undertook to direct the third one herself. And now, 35 years later, I am myself directing a staged reading of Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris. We are presently in rehearsal for just one performance at 7 PM on Thursday, December 3rd at the Lawrence Public Library. I have 14 very fine actors in the cast. When they ask me for notes, all I can think of is Mary back in 1980 telling the original cast they must “SPARKLE! SPARKLE! SPARKLE!” I don’t know how to top that, so I’m just telling my actors to “twinkle… twinkle… twinkle…” like the little stars that they are.
Today’s article about Ric Averill reminds me of another piece in the Lawrence Journal-World from (I think) the late 1990s, in which Prof. Ronald A. Willis was being interviewed about the theatre scene in Lawrence. By then, besides Ric Averill’s Seem-To-Be-Players and Mary Doveton’s Lawrence Community Theatre, there was also Jackie Davis at the helm of the new Lied Center; my own English Alternative Theatre (EAT), which I founded primarily to produce the original scripts being written by my students; and Andy Stowers’ EMU Theatre was also waiting in the wings. We had all studied at one time or another with Ron. In that article, Ron in his characteristic way laughed and said that attendance at theatrical events being presented at Murphy Hall was dwindling because the K.U. Theatre Department had “spawned its own competition.” He named the organizations, but not the names of the students he had spawned.
Ronald A. Willis died at home at age 79 on March 6, 2015, of congestive heart failure. A wonderfully celebratory memorial service was held at the Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall on Saturday, March 14, at 3 PM. I could not be there because I was not in Lawrence at the time, but I have now watched the entire 79-minute tribute several times on YouTube. Two of his three sons spoke, two of his granddaughters spoke, a sprinkling of colleagues and former students spoke. Among the latter, lots of other spawns, but none of them from the local theatre scene.
Wonderful tribute to Ron W. and good account of Theatre in Lawrence. Although I never took a class with him, Ron was a superb teacher and mentor.