Supporting creative work by women
Crystal Skillman is one of the hardest working, most prolific playwrights in indie theater. With two productions — a rock musical in a van! and an adaptation of the beloved book Action Philosophers! — at the Comic Book Theater Festival this June in Brooklyn, another production (Cut) just wrapped in Manhattan, a commission from the revered Vampire Cowboys and plays opening in London, Crystal has created a beautiful vortex of theatrical work. Last year, she received the New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Full-Length Script for her haunting The Vigil or the Guided Cradle, a mesmerizing play spanning hundreds of years and inspired by torture device she saw while visiting Prague.
Crystal is also one of the most positive and supportive theatre artists working today. She sees other people’s work and plugs it on Facebook like no other! She took time out of her hectic, but rewarding schedule to answer questions from Works by Women.
1) Tell me a little bit about Mrs. Perfect: A 10-Minute Episodic Rock Musical in a Van! What was it like creating a musical IN A VAN?
It’s a really fun story how this show came to be actually. Buddy (Leon) who runs Theater in a Van! and I become friends because director/producer James David Jackson asked his film production company, which he has with the amazing filmmaker Sarah Semlear, to do our promo videos for Vigil, or the Guided Cradle and Hack! which David’s company Impetuous Theater Group was producing. The “payment” was that “someday in the future” I would write a short play for Theater in a Van, which was rocking for it me as it’s a company I’ve grown to truly love. In fact one of my indie fave memories was going with playwright Kristen Palmer to see their show Sub-Atomic Solution around Bedford Ave. the eve before the New York Innovative Theatre Awards. I loved their work because it was so fun but political too – had a great edge and there were these great little songs! Very much like They Might Be Giants early work (“Dial A Song”) to me or like Michael Friedman songs (The Civilians, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) – short, sweet and crazy fun. Anyway, I was happy to write this play for them and then when The Brick Theater announced that comics were the theme for the summer fest this year I saw an instant connection as I wanted to write a play about a down and out super pregnant lady superheroine struggling to make it in the indie scene of supers. So there ya go!
2) You also have created Action Philosophers!, plays based on the beloved comic book. What does it take to translate AP to the stage?
It takes being married to Fred Van Lente (my hubby and the co-creator of the comic with Ryan Dunlavey)! Tee. Hee. Seriously, I’ve always thought it would be great to bring the dynomic, crazy, all true stories of these larger than life characters to the stage. What almost killed me is that there are so many of them! The book is amazing and so fun but like 300 pages long! Seriously! So many choices! What helped make our choices was John Hurley (whose magic made Hack! last summer a riot – knew he was perfect to direct) and his awesome casting choices: Ryan Andes, Neimah Djourabchi, Benjamin Ellis Fine, Joseph Mathers, Kelley Rae O’Donnell and C.L. Weatherstone. So that naturally lead to philosopher choices: Descartes (let’s just say he’s in the dark til he makes his discovery!), Bodhidharma (master of Kung Fu!), Nietzsche (Ubermensch is here!), Marx (who is um, very action packed J), Rand (Sexy Objectivism!) and Plato (who started and rocks our stage as a Mexican wrester)! It took a lot of thinkin’ and playin’ in the room with this awesome team. Now as our amazing design crew is bringing it all together. It really is the comic book come to life and kinda just taking the hell over the stage. Come check it out! The craziness opens June 23rd at 7 PM.
3) Why are you excited to be a part of the Comic Book Theater Festival at the Brick Theater?
Man. It’s just like my brain in a festival! These are the two worlds I’ve lived in for so long and the two ways of storytelling that make the most sense to me in many ways. To see the comic book community working with the theater community on this is just a truly cool thing. I just emailed one of my favorite places on earth about it (MoCCA – Museum of Comic Book and Cartoon Art) and they’re so excited. Everywhere Fred and I go comic book folk are so excited to see the work they love now get their due stage time wise (and not just in L’il Abner the musical or Addams Family.)
4) Whose work influences you and why?
I’m really influenced by all I see – if it’s my cup of tea or not. It’s really what is jazzing me most at the time. In general I’ve been really into Joshua Conkel‘s work – his plays are so fun and edgy and now! Daniel Talbott has a new play coming up at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre – he’s a huge influence on my work and we often work together – Jessica Dickey and her play The Amish Project, and her new works to come, blow me away. Kristen Palmer, who I mentioned above, has some awesome goodies coming out soon I believe with Blue Coyote. But it’s all of these things and plays – more bodies of new work by new playwrights that influence me. I don’t really give revivals their due I’m afraid though King Lear at BAM just blew me the hell away.
5) You’ve been one of the busiest women in theater in 2011. What’s next for you?
Thanks so much Lanie! It has been just incredible and really it’s due to the amazing ensembles I’ve worked with who have been just as excited to bring my work to life in a very timely way. A really great fruitful time writing wise and for some reason this year all that I was slowly learning just clicked for me in my new plays which is truly exciting for me. To feel my work getting this strong and making it even stronger in the next play is my favorite thing. This month I’m finishing up my first draft of Geek, my full length play commission for the awesome Vampire Cowboys! We’ll be reading it for the first time in July and developing it this year – so be on the look out! It’s set at a Japanime con with two girls racing through it to get the signature of their childhood idol – and structured like Dante’s Inferno – get excited. Then I finish up my failed rock star family plays Another Kind of Love and Sex and Death in London, which will be a part of Rising Phoenix’s wonderful Cino Nights in October. My play 4 Edges will be workshopped with Boomerang Theatre, and next season I’m a resident playwright at Overturn Theater. My plays Nobody and Birthday are coming out by Sam French and will be making their Chicago debut at the Side Project, as well as the Camden Fringe in London.
6) What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing female theater artists?
I think the greatest challenge is the same that all emerging playwrights face: the machinery of how plays are selected, when there is a selection process. For theater to survive and move forward, and create work that speaks to the contemporary culture, it must be on the look out for plays that are relevant and important today, within their mission of course. The only way to do that in my eyes is to SEE the work of these new artists. I don’t know if just reading plays cuts it. Sometimes. But the more those selecting invest in seeking out these new works in new ways, the more opportunity women playwrights will have to be discovered, as all new writers. We’re at a great point right now where women writers are just rocking the hell out of theater in terms of their new plays. Let’s keep talking and sharing each other’s work – which is the best way for companies also to hear of new great work. And um, if you want a really “now” play ask the playwright you love to write you a new play for your company! That’s how I’ve worked the past few years and it’s been incredible.
7) What gives you hope for American theater women?
I’m really seeing each individual female artist finding a way to be “active” in their career in unique ways. They are being vocal and full of action in getting their work out there, introducing it to new producers, and that is the greatest hope of all – new, young producers. Let’s keep the woman a comin’ in that arena. Like you Lanie! Like Amanda Feldman whom I’m always honored to work with. People are looking for new and exciting ways to hear stories in the theater again. And they can be big stories as long as they speak to today. Let’s keep finding ways to nurture that, and give that to them, prove why theater can be, and is so powerful, and necessary, to our culture.
Mrs. Perfect: A 10-Minute Episodic Rock Musical in a VAN! runs Fridays and Saturdays through June 25th, every 15 minutes or so between 8:00 pm and 11:00 pm in a van parked outside the Brick Theater. Tickets are $5 at the door. Action Philosophers! performs June 23rd – July 1st at the Comic Book Theater Festival at the Brick Theater. Tickets are $15 here. The Brick Theater is located at 575 Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg.