Jim Peitzman as one of the Evel Knievels in Herocycle.
Photo by Linda Passon-Mcnally
Back at the beginning of 2008, Erik Hoover came to Kym Longhi with a clip of Evel Knievel telling kids to stay off drugs and an idea for a show about the recently deceased daredevil.
"Here is this addict telling kids not to be addicts," Longhi says, referring to Knievel's continual need for high-risk thrills. "When I was a kid, I grew up with Evel Knievel. I thought he was a nut, so I thought this would be a funny show. Then I started researching his life, about his jumps and crashes, and thought there is more than that here. Maybe he is a hero."
The duo's kinetic piece, Herocycle, started as a Red Eye Work in Progress and then played to sell-out audiences at that year's Minnesota Fringe Festival. In the five years since, it has been in the back of both of their minds, but finding funding and the right venue proved to be difficult.
A new expanded version of Herocycle opens this weekend at the Old Arizona Theatre in Minneapolis.
The genesis came soon after Knievel died in late 2007. "It was the height of the Iraq War. The word 'hero' was in the public consciousness a lot. The servicemen were coming back from the war, being called heroes, but there were problems with the V.A., while the flag-draped coffins were being hidden from view. It was a sanitized view of heroes. Evel Knievel was held up as a hero, but he rejected that title. He was a daredevil," Hoover says.
The creators found that Joseph Campbell and his theories about the hero's journey were the perfect lens to tell their story.
"Joseph Campbell seemed like an ideal frame. He laid out the template. Being a part of the Star Wars generation, Joseph Campbell is woven into the culture," Hoover says.
A key is that a hero doesn't have to be ideal. "They are people who are able to follow their bliss. We think of bliss as this happy thing, but it is often fraught with peril. It is scary and hard. The thing about Evel Knievel I admired is his ability to crash as hard as he did and get back up and fly through the air again," Longhi says.
Also, flawed heroes tend to be far more interesting, Hoover notes as he points to the likes of Batman and the Marvel comics heroes of the 1960s.
"His failures are the ones that made him famous," Hoover says. "We cannot succeed with all of those failures. The most interesting heroes in real life are the ones who have their flaws and they often have a fall from grace. It's about how they recover from that. You can't have any breakthrough or creative idea without breaking something."
For the original, the show's text only came from Knievel's mouth or from people talking about the daredevil. That has been expanded somewhat in the new version. One thing that hasn't changed is the circus atmosphere of the proceedings. Instead of using motorcycles to showcase the various jumps, a variety of circus apparatus are used to simulate Knievel's stunts.
However, there is at least one motorcycle in the show. "We have a vintage seven-inch stunt cycle toy in the show. It is reliable that the audience claps after that. It is really exciting," Hoover says.
"We auditioned jumpers. We went through 12 of them from Amazon. We ended up with three," Longhi says.
A live, five-piece band will accompany the performance with original music, and play a set of classic 1960s and '70s tunes before each show. There will also be a pair of special events during the run. On Wednesday, June 26, there will be a pre-show round with Trivia Mafia. While on Thursday, June 27, there's a pre-show discussion scheduled.
"For people who grew up with Evel Knievel, there is that kind of interest, but those who have no experience there is so much material, spectacle, and music to enjoy. We constructed the show to be universal," Hoover says.
7:30 p.m. June 21-23, 25-29
Old Arizona Theatre
2821 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and information, visit online