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David Thill - Exit 20:20 Interview

Following its world premiere at the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival, Exit 20:20, a sardonic romp about book-banning and brothers, is currently making its Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut.

Transporting the book of Exodus to the present-day United States, Exit 20:20 is written and performed by David Thill and directed by Elizabeth Wellman. After the Great Lakes High school board bans the graphic novel Maus, 16-year-old Moses receives the call to bring the holy rebuke. That means taking on the president of the school board—his brother. But is God truly speaking to Moses? Is Moses listening?

Photo by Angel Sanchez

I caught up with David Thill to discuss the show in 5 questions.

What inspired the creation of Exit 20:20?
 In early 2022, a school board in the United States removed the book Maus from its curriculum, claiming it was inappropriate for young people. If you’re unfamiliar with Maus, it’s a graphic novel—I don’t want to tell you what to do, but you should readit if you haven’t—that tells the story of a Jewish man’s experience in Poland during World War II. If you look at theschool board meeting minutes, they’re pretty wild in some parts.
That was what launched the show. The school board’s choicewas a controversial, headline-making decision in the United States, and the fact that it was Maus was particularly interesting to me because my own identity as a Jewish person is a constant source of anxiety for me. I come from a mixed background, but I’m never quite sure whether I can truly identify as Jewishthough it’s important to me.
Thus came the idea of a young man trying to understand his own Jewish identity after the school board at his high school bans Maus. The soundtrack from The Prince of Egypt popped up on my recommended music, and with that, I decided Exit 20:20 would be Exodus in the 2020s.
How did you approach developing the piece up to the place it is at now? 
Once I knew the show was going to be a version of Exodus, I started trying to figure out how to bring that story into the present day in the midwestern United States, and it turned out to be a great deal more challenging than I expected.
A particularly difficult question was where the destination of the Exodus should be. In Exit 20:20, Moses’s alleged calling is to lead the Jewish people of Great Lakes High—the fictional high school where the play is set—to a better place free of the antisemitism being spread by the school board. First I had them going to Canada, then it was Israel, then it was Chicago. But finally I decided they had to stay at Great Lakes High, because I found it unsettling to suggest in 2023 that it might be the best thing for a group of oppressed people to simply leave the place in which they’re being oppressedI don’t know what message that would be sending.
But at the same time, while I know I’m lucky to be from the United States, I think it has deep problems that I don’t necessarily believe are possible to solve. I couldn’t bring myself to make this a piece that expresses hope for the future of the United States.
So basically Exit 20:20 is the end result of me trying and failing several times to update the Book of Exodus, to be sincere about it, to keep it about the people in the story rather than ideas and morals, and, most of all, to make it theatrical, funny, and not onebit too long. 

Photo by Angel Sanchez

How did you approach balancing the themes of the piece and still making it quite light for an audience?
If you’ve ever seen the movie Wet Hot American Summer, that’s been an important influence for me. It’s absurd but sincere. That’s what I want Exit 20:20 to be. Book banning may be devastating, but it’s also petty and ridiculous. And the idea of a 16-year-old boy being called to save the world is preposterous, but I think the idea of a 16-year-old boy wanting to believe in his power to save the world isn’t preposterous. So I want to strike that balance of absurd, sincere, surprising, and hopefully funny.
There is nothing more special, empowering, and even sacred to me than being in front of an audience and hearing them laugh—genuinely laugh—and knowing I was responsible for making it happen. So perhaps for reasons having to do with my ego, I always want to earn real genuine laughter from audiences who see my work. I think joy is difficult to come by, and if I could create that for other people in my work, I’d be very grateful. If you come to Exit 20:20, I really do want you to have fun. Yesit’s great if you walk away thinking about the themes of the play, but I don’t want to convey a message at the expense of you getting a unique theatrical experience.
What do you want an audience to take away from seeing the show?
If hope isn’t available in the wider worldmaybe it’s available right here for a little bitAlso, read Maus.
Can you describe the show in 3 words?
Epic, divine, priceless. “Priceless” as in you can pay what you want at the venuethough you’re welcome to book in advance for £5.

Exit 20:20 plays at the Edinburgh Fringe at Paradise in Augustines - The Snug until 27th August. Tickets are available from

Photo by Angel Sanchez

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