Alumni duo sees dream come to life with Blackbird's 'Myth'

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Tennessean review

NPT Arts Break spot

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Greg Greene and Wes Driver don’t give up easily.

For the last 25 years, theater aficionados Greene and Driver have been developing an intricate tale of Greek mythology, spending countless hours building plot lines and characters.

On Friday, July 17, Blackbird Theater, formed by the duo five years ago, will bring this story to life with the debut of “Myth.”

“This has been on my mind for about 25 years,” Greene, a 1993 Lipscomb alumnus, says. “Finally staging ‘Myth’ is a bucket list achievement for us. We’ve poured years of thought, scripting and scoring into this show, and in many ways, it’s the epitome of what we’ve done with the Blackbird Theater company. The fact is, we created Blackbird so we could bring ‘Myth’ to life.”

“Myth” is a musical set in the world of Greek mythos, and is the story of how and why the gods were cast from Mount Olympus. Written by Blackbird founders Greene and Driver, a 1995 Lipscomb alumnus, the music for the production was composed by Michael Slayton, a fellow Lipscomb alum and chair of composition at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music.

“The princess of Athens and the prince of Thebes are to be married,” explains Greene. “But an oracle portends doom. The mortals challenge the fates. The gods intervene. What follows is an impassioned tale of surprising romances, unlikely heroes, and, of course the incomparable gods in all of their majestic, decadent glory.”

Greene says the underlying message of “Myth” is for the audience to “take a closer look at what we are obsessed with as Americans, and what we allow to control us.” He says the story is a parallel of someone who is seeking his own faith.

Since 2010, Blackbird Theater has earned a reputation for theatrically and intellectually adventurous works in collaboration with some of the region’s top theater talent, presenting rarely produced plays and musicals by some of the stage’s greatest writers and creating bold original works, such as the comedic thriller “Twilight of the Gods.” The company, which is artist-in-residence in Lipscomb’s theater department in the College of Entertainment & the Arts, has won numerous awards for its productions since its launch.

“This is undoubtedly our most ambitious production yet,” says Driver, Blackbird’s artistic director. “It’s an epic musical that explores the wondrous world of Greek mythology while winding between outrageous comedy and harrowing tragedy.”

“Our hope is that the production not only entertains, and ultimately inspires, but proves that original works of this scale can be successfully developed with the talented collaborators, actors and theater artists we have here in Nashville,” he says.

Blackbird Theater’s magnum opus finds its genesis during the summer of 1990 when Greene was reading Homer’s “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad,” Virgil’s “The Aeneid” and Dante’s “Inferno” to prepare for a sophomore English class taught by Douglas Morris, retired professor of English, he would be taking that fall.

“After reading all of those stories, the Greek stuff started sticking with me,” says Greene. Blackbird’s managing director. “One day I was in my dorm room in Sewell Hall and I just started thinking about how humans at one time took this mythology as their theology and how counter it is to our Christian theology today.”

Greene said he met Driver in the hallway of the dorm one day and the two started talking about mythology, and the seedlings of a story started to grow.

“We would talk about the story, and add characters and storylines. Wes and I were both English majors at Lipscomb, and we understood how powerful stories can be. Our love of literature, big ideas and what we read from the Greek philosophers brought us together. And we’ve been developing this story ever since,” says Greene.

About ten years ago, the pair approached Slayton, whom they knew from their college days at Lipscomb, about writing music for the play. He quickly caught their passion for this story and began work on putting it to music. The story continued to evolve and develop — even on long road trips and Green and Driver would make across the country to catch seldom performed Stephen Sondheim productions — in any free moment they had.

And finally, it was finished.

The 32-member cast and 10-member orchestra was selected in late spring, and last month rehearsals began.

“We kept the dream alive, and now it’s going to happen,” Greene says excitedly. “I hope when the curtain opens and the production begins, I’ll be able to reconnect with my 19-year-old self … a young person with big dreams. I’ve been able to teach my kids that they can make their dreams come true. Sometimes it just takes a while.”

“Myth” runs from July 17-26 at Nashville’s Hillsboro High School. This production is recommended for ages 13 and above. Tickets are available at blackbirdtheater.com.