A common thread through almost all of Lawrence Summer Youth Theatre’s (SYT) 50-year history has been Ric Averill, along with his wife Jeanne and their children.
The Averill family performed publicly together last December for the first time ever in their show, “Drunken Christmas Carol,” at Lawrence Arts Center. Ric, now a playwright and artistic director of performing arts emeritus at the Arts Center, led the summer theatre for most of its history.
He discussed his SYT experience with us.
Q: What has been so special about being a leader of SYT for so many years?
A: The first real artistic leader of [SYT] was my wife Jeanne, and I worked with her doing music and stuff. And then in about ‘78 or so, I took over for several years and then Lori Vanderpool took over, and then I did a long step — so I’ve had like 34 years of leadership.
It’s really been fun because I know a lot of these students who have been through the same experience, and I know them each from that certain time in their lives, which is really wonderful. When they’re all blossoming and then you see them as adults, you both see the adult in the person but you also see the teenager there still — it’s really a delight.
I encourage younger artists and younger writers and actors and performers and tell them, “If you’re not getting roles, start your own theatre, give yourself the roles you want — make it happen.” It’s all about doing, and I’ve always felt like I’m doing what I was supposed to do with my life. Teaching people to “play” has been a lot of my life’s work, and it’s been a dream job and a dream to be located in Lawrence.
More on SYT’s 50th:
As the saying goes, the show must go on. And for 50 years, the Summer Youth Theatre has gone on, rain or shine. In spite of all sorts of other barriers, it’s brought energetic theatre performances to the community and given thousands of young performers their first chances onstage.
Q: What has it been like working alongside your family in Lawrence’s theatre scene, and what does it mean to you that SYT has named an award in your family’s honor?
A: It’s just been a delight, and [son Will Averill and daughter Trish Averill Neuteboom] are doing such wonderful things for the community, but they’re both also very involved in theatre. They both have day jobs that are in service of people, and that is so much of what life’s about. I tried to do that with my life — making sure that I was always doing theatre for and with students.
I love the opportunities the Arts Center is giving me to create my own work — to write my own work but also then to produce work. Kind of the tradeoff is having a place that’s so fertile, you need to use your talents to give back to the community that you’re in.
Q: What are you most looking forward to at the 50th year celebration?
A: The show this Friday is gonna feel very interactive for everybody who comes. There will be plenty of chances to sing some Broadway songs that will have a singalong, with the lyrics up on the screen.
It’s gonna be Nostalgia 101 — or actually, shouldn’t it be an advanced class? It’ll be more like Nostalgia 607. I love the passing of the torch numbers where we have somebody that did a show in 1981 and then somebody comes in and sings the same part of the same song that did the show in 2003 and then somebody from the current generation sings a little bit of it — so it’s like passing the torch [from] these people who all did the same experience, but they are so clearly of different generations.