Backstage Banter with Kym Longhi and Erik Hoover

Evel Knievel was an American daredevil and entertainer. Between 1965 and 1980, he attempted over 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps. He was given the Guinness Book of World Records award for “most bones broken in a lifetime,” which totaled 433. Knievel was an American icon and inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999. 

I met with the co-creators of Herocycle (an aerial musical on the adventures of Evel Knievel), Kym Longhi and Erik Hoover, at Bull Run over beautifully crafted coffee. As it turned out, we spent close to two hours talking about their show and local theater. This is a condensed version of our conversation.

 Photo by Linda Passon-McNally

Why Evel Knievel?

Kym Longhi: He had just passed away and it was the height of the Iraq war. We were asking ourselves “What’s an American hero?” His crashes made him famous while veterans were being honored for dying for our freedom. I grew up in the 70’s and thought he was an idiot. He was an addict but told kids not to do drugs. Watching him crash over and over again made me think, “I need to learn to risk and fail like that.” 

Erik Hoover: He was theatrical Elvis and Superman combined. The failure made him who he was. In everyday life failure is how we learn. The process of continually getting up is what everyone faces. In our society today we see lots of entrepreneurs who know exactly how this is.

Who wrote the story and how many characters are in it?

EH: We both came up with the idea but it is truly an ensemble production. Everyone brought in source material, YouTube interviews, and movies from the 70’s about Evel Knievel and so forth. We wrote it all on our feet, improv style. 

KL: We have four actors in the show: two men and two women. Everyone plays different aspects of his psyche. We have a goddess, muse, explorer, and siren. All of the actors are doubled kind of like Superman is to Clark Kent. 

You did this show a few years ago for the Fringe Festival, right?

KL: The idea came to us in 2007 and we staged a one-hour piece for the Fringe in 2008.

Did you always know you wanted to bring it back to life?

KL: We always hoped and wanted to. It’s higher and deeper than last time. 

EH: I’ve stored the ramp pieces in my garage for five years so yes, we knew we wanted to resurrect the show.

How would you describe the show? Is it a play? Musical?

KL: It’s an epic aerial musical. We like to say it’s based on Joseph Campbell’s writing and Evel Knievel’s showmanship. We use circus apparatus as well as a live band. Music is a large part of the show. It is all original and was composed by Sam Brooks. We have a five-piece band that includes an aerial violin moment. When we first started working on Herocycle the musicians came in and we improvised the music. It was all inspired off each other.

You said you have some ramp pieces. What is the set like?

KL: The space is intimate yet epic. The audience is only four rows away from the action. If you sit in the first row, you can feel the wind from the aerial.

Tell me more about the aerial aspect of the show.

KL: My husband is in the show and does a lot of the stunt work. Erik also has some serious wheelchair moves. 

Your husband is in the show? How did you meet?

KL: We were both mimes. My husband can juggle, act as a clown, balance five chairs on his chin, and he proposed to me with a song!

Wow! What about you Erik? Is your wife an actress as well?

EH: No, she’s an archeologist but is very supportive of my acting. 

Do either of you have upcoming shows after this?

EH: Right when Herocycle closes I’m hopping on my motorcycle and riding to the Catskills for a month to do an instructor course. I’m also working with Leah Cooper on a project to match artists with veterans to tell their stories.

KM: I teach at the University of Minnesota and am an emerging director. I’m focusing on that for now and hope to continue to collaborate on more pieces with FTF Works. In fact, FTF was made possible through the Legacy Amendment. I received an artist initiative grant that started this project. 

June 21–29
Old Arizona Theater, 2821 Nicollet Ave., Mpls.