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The Life Lesson of Theater

By Geoff Cooper

Richard Burk, a longstanding figure in Casper College’s theater department, directs his final production with “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.” His departure marks not just an end to his career but also the continuation of the profound life lessons he instilled in his students.

“Theater requires ownership at every level,” Burk said. “Everything you do, you must be completely responsible for. That is the life lesson of theater.”

Burk isn’t just interested in imparting a lesson to his students. He also hopes that the audience will glean some key insights from the story they’re presenting.

“I think it’s a story of Percy Jackson figuring out who he is,” Burk said. “There’s a lot about kids being left on their own or abandoned, but they’re not victims. They’re empowered to figure it out and grow into their best selves.”

The star of the show, Wyatt Buhler, is interested in Percy for similar reasons.

“What drew me to Percy’s character is that he’s questioning who he is,” Buhler said. “Since starting college, I’ve also struggled with whether I’d like to continue theater or stick with my physical therapy program.”

The selection of “Percy Jackson” stemmed from its widespread adaptation by reputable theaters nationwide, a choice Burk said he embraced after hearing the music and reading the script. However, adapting a play with fantastical elements presents unique challenges.

“You can’t exactly blow a hole in the Gateway Arch on stage,” Burk said.

The story also flows relatively quickly from scene to scene and from location to location. The plot requires a degree of flexibility from the set designer, Shontelle Grey.

“Since things aren’t always what they seem in the world of Percy Jackson, we were able to use dynamic scene elements that represented different things,” said Grey.

The trolley-like design of these elements allows for them to be moved around frequently, whether the scene requires a bus to explode or an attic to house a spooky character.

The portrayal of monsters in a fantasy adaptation was another creative challenge embraced by the costume department, led by Daryl Wagner.

“This was a lot of fun because of the monsters,” Wagner said. “We really got to go over the top with a few things.”

Burk’s influence on each moving part of this production is evident. As his tenure at Casper College concludes with “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief,” the production serves as a testament to his dedication to theater education and the enduring impact of storytelling in the theatrical realm.

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