Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Crystal Skillman.
Hello indie theater peeps! I’m sorry I’m hopping on the blogging bandwagon so late in the week – good lord - but here I am! You deserve a latte for waiting!
But wait – you didn’t mind waiting did you. In fact you totally just took over that teeny corner of Starbucks and starting staging a new play, didn’t you?
Ah, and the space is free, has a built in audience – and they’re giving you free frappacinos now and well your play has come to life! And by doing it by being here, being inventive and using the time, resources and talent you have in the room you’re a stronger writer, and you have a new play. And are excited for the next one.
Well that’s what you get when you leave an indie theater artist alone – because we’re problem solvers.
We LOVE to problem solve.
That’s what makes it so powerful to me.
People are often asking lately, “How are you writing so much?” The secret goes back to this in my experience: the best thing that indie offers for emerging writers, is getting to write for specific companies.
A big problem to be solved in theater – at all levels – is how do writers get out of the “rewrite” incubator? How do they move beyond writers groups, and readings, and workshops? Which are all good, but not to be mistaken from learning from a production. How do we get out of “perfecting on paper” (which I honestly feel like is ridiculous for a profession that literally the whole point of it is to get rid of those pages and make them live ultimately!) and embracing what’s in the room, creating a new play that works beat to beat and builds and kicks the ground from under us – makes us question – has something to say. How do we create work that is timely and timeless? That can show what we can do and challenge what we can do in theater?
Six years ago I was stuck. Not with writing – I never stop writing J, but it felt like my full length plays would never see the light of day in NY. There was a lot of support and great opportunities but there was also a lot of: “You’re so clever! I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do in the future” thing. And I was like – wait – aren’t I doing it? When is the future now?
Then a huge act of courage in my eyes – my very close friend Daniel Talbott asked me to write a play in a hallway of Jimmy’s No. 43 years ago (part of Telling Trilogy) – it was through that work that I began to actively work in the room with actors – great ones – and craft my work beat to beat with them. All of a sudden I was learning, and - I became more aware of this as I went - I was achieving a sense of the moment to moment present drama in my work, the history - that had been missing. Everything else had been there (my inventive structure, language, ideas, something to say) but this – what drives the engine of holding us there for whatever stage time is needed to tell a great story theatrically – had been missing.
The key for each theater artist to discover this - and what indie theater offers so well – is the ability to write for amazingly talented people hungry who are working at all levels, as indie theater at its best is a playground, a home.
Working with Daniel’s indie theater company Rising Phoenix Rep with Daniel Talbott, Julie Kline, Denis Butkus, Sam Soule changed me. And as I was changing I realized all those times I was at a party with someone going “you just need to find your process” was totally coming true! This was my process. This was me! And it was making my work more personal, more me.
I came from making photographs, who was doing very well at Parsons, I really do love photography so much, but wrote a first play that made me cry by taking a playwriting class by accident really. Suddenly I understood that this obsession with theatre that I had since I was a kid but knew that I couldn’t act or direct – this, this was what I wanted. And I looked around me and accepted that visual art world wasn’t about words. The work - it goes up on the wall. Oh man, and I have to work on listening better for sure, but I am indeed a blurter and babbler by nature. It was so clear living in that world was not going to fly.
But Indie theater accepted me being a babbler – that’s how Daniel and I came to work together. I was so blown away by his production of Mark Shultz’s Gift at P.S. 122 that I just followed him and Addie around talking, while picking up the set: a rug, a chair. On the ride home to Brooklyn.
Writing for specific companies was only a part of this most recent journey – the next step was discovering that I had much more personal stories to tell – and letting the inventive storytelling uncover that, be a part of that, serve that.
So it looks like I never sleep. And sometimes it does get that crunchy for sure. J But after communicating and creating work that shows how the process of writing for certain theaters really works for me, it seemed to inspired others to take more risks on me.
Most recently I discovered Cut a ten minute play written for Special Sauce Co in Feb, should be a full length. Meg Sturiano trusted I could write the play in a month :) and brought it to life at The Management with their amazing actors. That is another secret of indie theater to me: we dive. When we see opportunities we know we’re right for we rise up and jump! Mrs. Perfect! (a crazy fun 10 minute rock musical running with theater in van) and Action Philosophers! (a wonderful marriage of bringing to life a great indie comic book on stage) come from that. Those pieces are specifically for the comic book festival at the Brick. In fact all the great pieces in the fest are!
Adapting Action Philosophers! (written in the past two months!) has been intense and amazing in terms of how that script changed. With each change our team, our ensemble was behind us. Fred Van Lente, my wonderful husband and his co-creater and my good friend Ryan Dunlavey, was too. Fred and I are always helping each other on our work as fellow writers which means the world to me. As I see it develop into a great comedy, a funny as hell night out, I hear all their words of support along the way underneath each scene that helped me get there. Not to mention how most of us all met in the Saloon Series that the amazing Qui Nguyen asked me to write for a couple of years ago when – oh!
You need another latte. And I want you to chime in here and shut me the hell up. Post comments yo. What are the ways that indie theater solved problems for you, made you a stronger artist? Or were there times that it didn’t? Look man we’re hanging out here all day – fuck work. Let’s chat theater. Oh yes! Getting latte now …
You know, I like this Starbucks play we’ve created in this corner.
I like how you made the future now.