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Theatre professor directs play adapted from real-life stories

Pictured left-right: Mykele Callicutt, Charlotte Ellison, and Danielle Davis perform in Adventure Stage’s Spark, directed by School of Communication faculty member Rives Collins.

Something very hot is coming to Adventure Stage Chicago this weekend. Spark: Chapter One of the Prometheus Project is having its world premiere. The action-adventure, which is geared towards middle-school students and theatre lovers of all ages, combines myth, magic, and the ripped-from-the-headlines realities of inner-city life in Chicago. Directed by associate professor of theatre Rives Collins, Spark runs from April 5 through May 8.

The idea for the story first caught fire when Collins and Adventure Stage Chicago artistic director Tom Arvetis (C96) visited several Chicago middle-school classrooms last year and conducted a series of story circles in the theater’s West Town neighborhood. (Adventure Stage Chicago is housed within the Northwestern Settlement House, the oldest fully operational settlement house in Chicago; it provides assistance to people coping with the obstacles of poverty.)

Collins, a nationally renowned storyteller and director of the School of Communication’s theatre for young audiences module, told the students and their parents the story of the Greek god Prometheus, who gave mankind the gift of fire and was later punished for it. Hearing the ancient myth sparked listeners to recount stories of their own.

They likened the fire, Collins said, “to education, opportunity, access to the Internet for everybody.” Northwestern Settlement House is located close to Peabody Elementary, one of the 50 Chicago public schools that was shut down last year, due to budget cuts.

“We heard anger from some of the families,” Collins said, “like ‘We talk to the gods but they don’t listen to us. They close our schools in spite of our best efforts.’”

Watching all this unfold inspired Arvetis to write the play. He wove in the myth of Pandora to create a story about a young girl’s journey of discovery in an imperfect world.

Pictured top to bottom: Charlotte Ellison, Mykele Callicutt, and Danielle Davis perform in Adventure Stage’s Spark, directed by School of Communication faculty member Rives Collins.

“The play challenges our notions of borders,” Arvetis said. “It’s an immigrant story. Our West Town neighbors deal with that subject all the time, especially if they’re undocumented.” The play also confronts issues of violence and economic disparity, but in a way designed to captivate young audiences. “Our job at Adventure Stage is to provoke thoughtful conversation using fantastical storytelling,” Arvetis said.

Set in the near future, Spark has texting, gaming, and other twenty-first century wonders woven into its storyline. Ironically, though, it’s the ancient inspiration behind the project that may bewitch teen-agers most of all.

“Mythology is not gentle stuff,” Collins said. He explained that Prometheus’s punishment for bringing fire to the world was to be shackled in unbreakable chains so that large birds of prey could feast on his liver—a fate that was deemed to be repeated day after day, ad infinitum. “You may be squirming right now, hearing that,” Collins said, “but your inner eighth-grader is going, ‘Oh, that is so awesome!’”

For more information and tickets call 773-342-4141 or visit www.adventurestage.org.