We’re excited to launch our Q&A series with our 3rd Annual Working Theater Directors Salon artists – our 7 contributing playwrights of the Will Work For ___ plays, our 3 emerging directors presenting original devised work, and our many panelists. First up, Co-Curator Luke Harlan sits down with New York indie theater’s playwright extraordinaire Crystal Skillman to talk about her short play CHEER, which will premiere on Sunday, April 22nd as a final performance of the Directors Salon – directed by an emerging director picked at random at our opening kick-off party on Monday, April 16th (make sure to attend if you want to direct Crystal’s play – believe us, you do!).
Luke Harlan: Tell me about your play CHEER that you wrote for the Directors Salon.
Crystal Skillman: As students protest their high school being “turned around” by Bloomberg, two teachers let loose in a teacher’s lunchroom trying to find a way to move on.
LH: The prompt for your play was Will Work For __________. Can you tell me about how you approached it?
CS: Education popped into my head right away. I teach playwriting part time as a guest artist for many wonderful programs. For the high schools I go into there’s always a lot going on both politically and emotionally – and it always brings back my own experiences of high school (I was made fun of a lot back then, etc.) so it’s been a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a long time. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. And both these women teacher characters have been in my mind for a while. They are great fun as they are swearing and dealing with a lot of shit but in such a “cheery” way – which really establishes this is the way it’s been, and how these women try to get through it.
LH: Tell me about working with directors. How can a director help in developing a new play?
Directors are crucial. I look for so much in a director but the number one most important thing to me is honesty. Is someone who can honestly have good instincts if something is working in a script or theaterically in rehearsal. AND someone who will challenge me if I go into my Barton Fink mode of “oh it’s amazing” and bring me back to reality. A good kick in the booty is always appreciated! A new play needs that. As a theater artist the greatest thing that’s helped me is working with actors who direct. They taught me the language of actors in many ways. I can rewrite much more quickly now because I can communicate between actors and directors much more quickly as opposed to using “writer speak”. This is exciting for me as I’m looking to achieve a fly on the wall feeling with my work, no matter what the tone. Directors help me ground myself as a playwright, and achieve what we’re all looking to achieve: a beat to beat like sensiblity of the world that tells the story we want to tell. All this though, for me, must be done through workshops and rehearsal. I can have script meetings, but there’s no way to know what works until we’re in the room. I love creating and changing work with a director in the room. It’s a true high!
LH: There is a lot of talk right now about the Occupy movement and what it means for those of us who work in the theater and in the arts. What are your thoughts on this?
CS: It’s exciting. My only fear is that at times I wonder if protesting feels like the action? Protesting highlights the actions we’re taking, but we must look hard at what we’re specifically we’re doing to affect the change we want. Words are not as important as action – we come after companies and politicians for that, we must keep to that as well. For me, my goal as a theater artist, is to draw parallels between what’s happening to the world, and our failed “American Clock” as it were. Sometimes that’s more clear that it’s political such as The Vigil and more recently I’ve done it through family such as the family of failed rock star singers in Another Kind of Love, or in Wild, which opens in Chicago this summer, which has follows the relationship of two men who savagely cheat on each other. Set on the beach in Chicago where they first met, it’s grounded in true relationships they try to protect, but the idea of “defining” their love always looms in the play which highlights the inequality still of how we view marriage in this country.
LH: As artists, we often have to work day-jobs outside of our career to support our work. Do you have a story about a day-job?
CS: My story inspired Cheer directly! I was teaching at a high school in Queens that really is being “turned around” by Bloomberg. Just last week I went into teach and there were only about ten kids in the class. The teacher, who is wonderful, explained that the students organized a protest for saving their teachers (with this “turning around” process, lots of teachers will lose jobs and be reshuffled). We used what was happening that day and did a “bake off” exercise where the students brainstormed with me all the things they heard, saw, felt that day. We picked five elements and they all wove them into their scenes they wrote there. It was some of their best work. It reflected the yearning to go out and protest, and some students came in from the protest and wrote monologues of what it felt like to be out there. The teachers couldn’t go out and see for themselves as they would be accused of organizing students. I went out and took pictures. It was beautiful. The signs were passionate about their community and teachers. Some are here! I was really woken up to, first hand, the effect of Bloomberg’s dealings with schools which is very scary.
LH: Thank you! And time to plug. What else are you working on right now?
CS: I’m honored by play 4 EDGES is in GroundWorks New Play Fest April 14th! Whole fest is AMAZING:
WILD opens in Chicago June 14th!
CUT is out from Sam French (Drama Bookshop event featuring Management’s original cast on April 26th!) & opens in Boston! http://articles.boston.com/2012-03-24/arts/31228391_1_women-playwrights-smudge-production
Another Kind of Love, was just presented in the IRT/Overturn Residency – Interview with Director GT Upchurch: http://vimeo.com/38831179
CRYSTAL SKILLMAN is the author of CUT (The Management in Spring 2011, NY Times critic’s pick, opening in Boston this spring) VIGIL or THE GUIDED CRADLE (ITG/Brick; 2010 New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Full-Length Script); and NOBODY & BIRTHDAY (Rising Phoenix Rep in NYC, Side Project in CH, U.K Premiere in 2010 with Kibbo Productions). WILD debuts in Chicago with Kid Brooklyn Productions this June 14th – July 1st 2012 under the direction of Evan Caccippoli); and her new play commission for Vampire Cowboys, GEEK, will premiere in Spring 2013 in NYC. Her new play ANOTHER KIND OF LOVE was just workshopped at IRT with director GT Upchurch for Overturn Theatre. Crystal was named one of Manhattan “Best Ofs” for OurTownNY magazine, selected as one of nytheatre.com’s fifteen People of the Year for 2011.She is at The Gersh Agency and a member of the MCC Theater Playwrights’ Coalition, Rising Phoenix Rep, as well as an alumni member of the Women’s Project.
You can learn more about her at: https://profiles.google.com/crystalskillman/about