Catching up With…Crystal Skillman

1. How does your background in visual art affect how you think about a narrative or stage picture?

Studying photography has really helped me nail what is dramatic in a moment! Every time you look at a photograph it reminds you that there is always another way to tell a story. And every moment we see can be seen a different way by someone else. As a dramatist I love choosing what the best way to tell a story that is true to my voice, asking how I can push it in a new way, but also capture visually in a nutshell what is threatened/at stake on stage. Like the frantic reality TV show office in Cut, the lonely people in a lonely bar in Birthday, the bar used as a trap as the riots in london rage outside in Sex and Death in London, the Chicago beach in Wild (debuting this summer there), and the falling down Woodstock family homestead in Another Kind of Love. Something about places and people – what i learned in capturing those elements in photography and the stories bustling in them go perfectly with my “fly on the wall” kind of approach to storytelling in theater.

2. You’re so busy all the time and you have a wonderful energy that’s great to be around. How do recharge artistically to keep that going?

Thank you! I’m very “jaunty”! I love to run. I love to “Avenue Surf” down the street. And wherever I go I have soundtracks to different plays I’m writing that can help me jump back in those worlds quickly. So in many ways my energy is plugged into whatever I’m writing. And of course at times I have to crash – I take mini vacations like “for the next half hour I’m allowing myself to watch this junk TV show”. Bravo, as sad as it is, is indeed my brain candy. šŸ™‚ For me writing is rewriting. Being a playwright is communicating and sharing who you are over and over again. In my worst moments I loose patience doing that, in my best it’s an exciting challenge. A huge help to my recharging powers is that my hubby is also a writer so the minute I crash, he’s up. And vice versa. There is no sulking in our house allowed. If I sit for one second defeated he is sure to remind me that I have work to do. And Daniel Talbott (hosting the next madness I believe!) really taught me to: “Use it, what you’re feeling, put it in the work”. He’s right! Once you start doing that you can’t help but recharge – your own life – great experiences and the worse – energize you.

3. What was the hardest writing gig you ever got and what did you learn about your process while doing it?

Adapting Action Philosophers! for the stage last summer/fall at the Brick was redonc-ulously hard and challenging. I leaned that adaptation is a lot to do and so much responsibility! It’s quite scary stuff. And um, it’s my hubby’s best selling graphic novel! Leaky’s Ladies, a piece I wrote a part of was about three amazing ladies that studied the great apes (I had Dian Fossey) was also super challenging, and of course that was for my sis-in law/best friend, Gretchen who is Fred’s sister! For both cases – as a writer you work it’s hard work to bring to life a real person and it’s very hard to compete with an audience or critic’s idea of that said person. Both these pieces had the same challenges in many ways. But with all things when I’m in the middle of it and I’m like “Holy shit I have NO IDEA how to do this ….” I embrace what it means to be a good writer. I embrace what’s in the room. What’s working. At the end of the day for Action Philosophers! we created a little show that felt like an animated special we got to hang with every night for a few weeks. For Leakey’s Ladies the moment where I captured Dian breaking down about her past in the Congo (which many fictional accounts of her stayed away from) at the moment of her death was a great moment to capture in the room for me. Both were tough pieces but a joy to discover in the end. And everything you write affects the next piece. Getting that Dian moment (which actress Tatiana Pavela just rocked) affected me right away — and is already starting to be put to use in new plays like Sex and Death.

4. What specific stuff do you have near you when you write and why?

I write in a small boiler room that is my direct height and I’m surrounded by books. Total hobbit territory :). I face a small window that overlooks my garden. On that little shelf I have momentos of the moment that remind me where I’ve been, where I’m going and want to go, places and people I want to share my work with and life moments I hope for. If you’ve written me a note of kindness, it’s there to remind me I can keep going. Each play I write I keep a stack of plays by my desk that are my “mentor” plays for what I’m writing. If you get down or stuck just crack open a Pinter, Churchill or Jessica Dickey play and I get my kick in the ass right there.

5. What’s next for you… work, life, etc.?

My play Cut, which The Management did last spring so wonderfully, debuts in Boston this March/April! More on that here: http://www.apollinairetheatre.com/productions/productions.html And we just put the Sam French publication of Cut to bed so be on the lookout for the publication (Birthday & Nobody came out from them this summer) in March as well!

New play wise, my full length Another Kind of Love is being developed this March in an awesome residency with Overturn Theatre. I’m really honored AD Kristy Dodson asked me to be one of the awesome projects. Getting to work with director Gaye Taylor Upchurch – so excited. More here: http://irttheater.org/developing/residencies-upcoming/the-romancers-another-kind-of-love/

My play 4 Edges which I’ve been working on in Groundbreakers (terraNOVAcollective) will be read on April 14th in the evening and directed by John Hurley (the play reading series will be all that weekend, all the plays are so great, honored to be a part). I’m thrilled that my new play Wild has been commissioned by Kid Brooklyn Productions and will debut in Chicago June 14th – July 1st 2012 under the direction of Evan Caccippoli. I’m also involved with great Chicago festival happening this summer with a new piece by New Colony! Working with co-writer James Asmus and director Sean Kelly. Will be announced soon!

And of course I wrote a short play for the wonderful commission/mentor project you and I are a part of Cecila! It’s gonna rock. Opens March 22nd I believe!