Playwright Spotlight: Crystal Skillman

Another Kind Of Love 
[Quickies 12, June 2011]————————————————————

Where did the idea for Another Kind Of Love come from?
I saw a black and white picture of Kurt Cobain by the english photographer Ian Tilton in a great exhibition at Brooklyn Museum of Art called Who Shot Rock and Roll. I’m a photography nut, studied at Parsons, and this exhibition floored me. In this black and white photo, taken at Motor Sports International Garage in Seattle, Kurt had walked offstage and just erupted in tears. Ian was shocked that Kurt allowed him to take the pictures and admired him for it. “It is very unusual,” he said, “for anyone from a band to show such vulnerability.” I thought what would be the biggest pressure cooker for this kind of vulnerability in a play? I started to dream up a rock star family drama very much informed by being trapped in a way – of being forced to come back to a family home. I wanted to explore what it is about music, and it’s act of creating, and creating a life of sharing your work, that can bring up such emotions, such history in that house. I had yet to tackle a family play, and at the same time, was writing a very male heavy play of mine about sex and love – WILD – which debuted in Chicago and was just ran here in New York. At the same time I wanted to write a female heavy play but I wanted them to exist and the world to be powerful – never to comment on the fact that we were following women in the play. Which is not always the case, but in terms of larger plays we see, often happens. Instantly I thought of rock stars – and it grew more specifically to punk – and the act or rebellion where I could explore these fierce creatures. As I wrote, it became clear that this was a play about mothers and daughters and how they force each other to grow up in an industry where embracing adulthood is seen as “getting old” or “fading”. That the young, fearful (though she’d never admit it!) but desperately wanting to rebel teenager Max is searching how to navigate these damaged, passionate waters and break out on her own in the midst of this all this drama excited me.

What was your favorite moment in working on this piece?
Reading this play with Live Girls is an incredible thing. For me, it brings up currently what is so exciting about the play – this is it’s first reading since setting the play in Seattle. I had actually just started this adjustment following a reading of the play with IAMA in LA, when Meghan started texting me asking about this “rock star play”. She read it and luckily loved it! That I was now setting the play in Seattle, which makes such sense, and now getting to go work on the play in Seattle with this great team! Wow! Just a dream come true. While the play will be read before I get to dive into my own full research out there, I’ll be hanging around town days after my reading taking notes so perhaps you’ll see me around! Meghan and Sam were great at starting to weave Seattle more into the play, though clearly a start. I know we’ll learn much from the audience that night. As far as new moments discovered in the play, every time I work on it I find new moments. Creating a fictional family does that in many ways – the layers of history that you get to weave in … this time around, I was excited to hear Kit’s true reason for coming back, and see that  complicated by her sisters reactions. But if looking for a little snippet this is new from Max, 15, in Act two, talking to her idol, Kit Singer who’s come back home:

I’ve been happy. Nate doesn’t know. Nate doesn’t even fucking know. After we recorded … what we sent to you. We went home.  I couldn’t write anything. T she wouldn’t listen – just about me trying to smile, not be Max, but be Max. And I … I opened the window. I opened the window and I could see the world, the mountain was out … I stepped out. On the landing of the roof. It was just something to do, but then something in me tighter, and I got out I was completely out there – and when I looked down. It was exciting, an end to things. Because I was scared of what would happen next because I’d close my eyes and there was no song, no … and just as I’m about to make my choice, just as I’m about to … T turns it on. I hear it play. I hear Grandma’s voice downstairs.  And something in me starts to forgive. I come back inside. I sit down. I write. I write my way out of what I’m feeling. But there is a part of me, and when I play, always looking out, searching but there is … there is no answer. Maybe the search … Maybe the not knowing … Maybe that is … (unsaid: happiness).
What are you playing?

Finish the sentence- “I love theater that…”
Gives me a good kick in the gut and the heart. I love funny, sad stuff. I can’t stand farce stuff or theater totally divorced from story. I think real humor comes from real situations and can go as crazy as it needs to.

Who is your current artist crush (any discipline)?
I just read Sharr White’s The Other Place. I’m usually not a fan of medical dramas, which I thought this was based on description, but man it’s so not. It has a wonderful reveal and ending which is not surprising at all but so true and lovely. Also Sharr wrote an intro that would make any playwright cry. He’s really honest about where he was in the process and career and describes moment to moment how not only the play, but production came together. It’s a beautiful story it itself and a reminder of believing in yourself and being gracious to those that believe in you.

What is your favorite and least favorite word?
Hah! Nice! Wait! Nice is my least favorite word … not descriptive enough of course. 🙂 But for favs …. I love “awesome” right right now of course but I’m also into my students who say “dead ass” instead of serious on a daily basis. I like swears. It’s the blue collar, daughter of a racecar driver thing. It comes up in my plays a lot. We have to cut out a lot, depending on where the plays get done, pretty amusing …. But for words when talking about theater? The word “beautiful”, while normally what you want to hear in the “real world” hurts. “It was beautiful” I’ve found usually means the audience got a sense of potential but doesn’t get it. “Interesting” of course is worse …

What projects are you currently working on?
I’m a lucky duck right now as KING KIRBY, co-written with my husband, (and NYT best selling comic book author writer!) Fred Van Lente, about the life of comic book artist/creator Jack Kirby, is in rehearsals right now. It’ll debut this June here in New York at the Brick Theater in their Comic Book Theater festival featuring the wonderful Steven Rattazi and an incredible ensemble directed by John Hurley.

After this reading of ANOTHER KIND OF LOVE here, I’m at work on the next draft which I’m so lucky that Kid Brooklyn Productions and Evan F. Caccioppoli the artistic director are producing a 29 hour workshop of in New York in early June. May Adrales, who I worked with in a workshop at the wonderful Women’s Project, will direct. I’m so excited to take what I learn from this reading in the Cupcake Series and dive into that workshop, taking the draft even further. I’m so honored that LiveGirls choose the play, and  the chance to explore and refine the play, and to be able to come out as well, is so appreciated!

What was the best advice you were ever given as a theater artist?
So many wonderful folks have shaped my life and career! From fellow playwrights and good friends like Chris Shinn and Qui Nguyen, producers like Julie Crosby, dramaturgs like Christine Sumption, Jenni Page-White, Stephen Willems, Illana Brownstein, Megan Carter (I love dramaturgs!) and directors like Daniel Talbott and Stafford Arima. I find just working with them has offered advice that has lifted me up every day – usually about making sure I keep honest in my work, embracing what’s happening in the room with a team in rehearsal, and to drive my own developmental process when the going gets rough. The advice coming to mind lately comes from my wonderful husband, (and now co-writer!) Fred. Whenever the road gets hard, and I feel the pressure of “what’s next”, which is kinda a lovely place to be, but also can be a bit scary! Fred always puts it in perspective: “Write what you want to write.” Once you do that, all else disappears and is put into perspective. In a nutshell? A theater artist’s life is our own – we make the choices of what to create, and by doing so and putting these plays/shows out there, change the culture – even if for only a brief, fleeting moment of time. The rock stars in Another Kind of Love are often grappling with this in the play, and I find it’s true with all acts of creation. Once you put it out there, as Paul Simon says, in a way it’s not yours anymore. The love of creating the piece must be so strong it can grow even stronger in the hands of others, to reach the hearts of those in the audience. You strive to have your play hopefully grow even deeper in meaning, resonate, and affect those who see the play. But also, you must walk the line – it only works if you risk! So learning from the failures is key. And remembering that what you learned yesterday, can change today. If you’re open to change, you will always succeed, because you’ll always see clearly what needs to be done or be open to those you trust. And by succeed, I mean that folks will indeed want to see “what’s next” no matter what because you were bold.

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CRYSTAL SKILLMAN is an award winning Brooklyn based playwright. Her play WILD, about Peter and Bobby and their affairs over a summer on a beach in Chicago, just debuted this spring in NYC at IRT Theater selling out it’s four week run, following on the heels of its critically successful run in Chicago with Kid Brooklyn Productions at Mary-Arrchie Theatre. WILD was featured Off-Broadway in MCC Theater’s 2012 Playlabs at the Lucille Lortel, as well as last summer in the UK at Southwark Theatre with Kibo Productions. Plans are currently in the works for a run in London in Kibo’s upcoming season for spring 2015. KING KIRBY, co-written with her husband, NYT best selling comic book author writer Fred Van Lente, about the life of comic book artist/creator Jack Kirby, will debut this June at the Brick Theater in their Comic Book Theater festival featuring the wonderful Steven Rattazi. Recent plays include GEEK, produced last spring by Obie Award Winning Vampire Cowboys, earning a 2013 NY Times and TONY Critics Pick.  Also a NY Times Critics Pick, CUT debuted with The Management in NY, as well as the Apollinaire Theatre in Boston.  THE VIGIL or THE GUIDED CRADLE was produced by ITG at The Brick Theater winning the 2010 New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Full-Length Script. DRUNK ART LOVE, a woman’s one night odyssey on the eve of graduating art school to find the meaning of art and love before sunrise, was chosen as a finalist for the 2014 Harold Clurman Residency. Crystal is a co-writer with composer Bobby Cronin on the musical comedy THE CONCRETE JUNGLE, which will be workshopped in March 2014. She is also working with Cronin on the musical adaptation of the film MARY AND MAX, with director Stafford Arima. She is represented by Amy Wagner and Ron Gwiazda at Abrams Artists Agency in NY, and James Beresford with Shepard Management in the UK.