WILD opens at IRT Theater!
An Interview with Crystal Skillman

Indie Theater Now asked Crystal Skillman a few questions about this upcoming event.

Who were the key figures who made this production happen—could be other artists, people who inspired the story, producers/producing company, etc.

In 2011, Daniel Talbott suggested, Evan F. Caccioppoli, one of his students and directing assistants, and I meet. Evan wanted to commission a new play for his company Kid Brooklyn to debut in Chicago - the minute we started chatting I got excited. Evan was looking for something explosive with 20 somethings searching for love, intimacy and true connection in a very real way. Much of this was already on my mind as I had a play brewing called WILD about the wild relationship of the couple Peter and Bobby. Evan got excited about the beginnings of Wild I had and every few weeks I’d bring in a new scene to every meeting - by Christmas that year I had the first draft. 2012 started our workshops and then getting into production in Chicago. Amazingly, during that time the wonderful Stephen Willems at MCC Theater picked the play for the MCC Theater Playwrights’ Coalition Playlabs series at the Lortel. (In fact, much of the cast from that reading you’ll actually see on stage in this New York production!) After the welcoming reception of the play in Chicago - which was so exciting that both reviewers and audiences were drawn to the play- I mean, man, you put your heart out there and you never know what the reaction will be ... but after that WILD was shared with many great theatre companies. I’m lucky that it impressed a lot of folks, opened a lot of doors and opportunities for me, but the play itself was still searching for a way to come to New York. Which for a playwright is always a little heartbreaking (and also why I think we have to keep writing - we just never know the future)! But luckily James Leighton, who is a great actor who did one of the early workshops fell in love with the play and suggested a theater company where he’s a member - Sanguine - read the play. Jillian Robertson, the Artistic Director and director herself, got in touch, and we did a reading and workshop of the play where Evan and I got to work together on the play again last summer and fall. Evan and I discovered there was much we wanted to work on and strengthen, plus we were also re-learning how to be in the room working together again with the play on a second go around which has been truly delightful. In the past year since the original, we’d both grown up so much in our work. It was icing on the cake to discover Sanguine got residency for the play at IRT Theater (Artistic Director Kori Rushton has been an advocate of this play since she saw the reading at the Lortel)! Around the same time, director Sharon Willems, who directed my play BIRTHDAY in London, had fallen in love with the play for her own great company, Kibo Productions, and directed a reading at the wonderful Southwark Playhouse. During both readings/workshops here in NYC and overseas, I knew I wanted to further develop Peter and Bobby’s relationship in this second version. The feedback I got from the U.K., and our workshops here, helped me greatly in making those changes. In this production opening this week in NYC with Sanguine at IRT, Peter and Bobby, while wildly still immature at the start, are fighting to be with one another, yet losing themselves in, and finding themselves through the other characters in the play who become their lovers over one summer on a beach in Chicago.

Why is this a play, as opposed to a film or a web series or a novel (or anything else)? And what is it about live theater that attracts you most, that keeps you revved and jazzed to work in this form?

As a creator working now in both theater, and branching out to writing in other media like film, comics, and the possibility of TV writing (my husband and I are at work on two new treatments), I’m super passionate about this question. For me the question is less about what can actually work live or on film - because the truth is the same story can be incredible in either medium. The conversation becomes about how to tell the story in either medium. Every play I love is the most dynamic on stage, but would make a great film. Most of my plays feel like that - very dynamic, poppy, but grounded and real. In breaking down scene work, a lot of the conversations with my collaborators or directors begins with: well if this is a film we would see X. We actually start with that, then discover how to show it and explode the drama in the room onstage in ways that are truly theatrical. As to why WILD works as a play - there’s a lot of sex, naked truth, funny as hell, crazy and heartbreaking moments in this play right in front of you. If it was a film, you might clutch your partner or chomp on popcorn, but here you are a part of it. You’re on the beach - no joke - there is a real beach on stage!

Who taught you how to be a playwright? This could be specific teachers, or role models whose work you’ve seen or read, or of course any combination.

Everyone who has produced me or collaborated with me. From Daniel Talbott first taking the chance on me, with plays TELLING TRILOGY, BIRTHDAY and NOBODY, to The Management taking a chance on me with writing my play CUT (bless you playwright Joshua Conkel and director Meg Sturiano!), to Evan’s commission of WILD, to Qui Nguyen commissioning me for his company Vampire Cowboys (GEEK), to working with Becca Wolff in LA in our ANOTHER KIND OF LOVE workshop with IAMA just a couple of weeks ago. Each of these experiences come with moments that have taught me from Daniel about how to be more personal and clear, to Josh and Meg totally getting and deepening my layered approach to reality, not to mention mix of high and low brow, to Evan’s pulse on capturing intimate and surprising moments, to Qui who really helped with some of the clarity of action stuff I was discovering in the climax of Geek. Most recently Becca’s advice still rings in my ears. While I write very quickly, I was growing nervous about some changes to make in our workshop - but she was helping me see I had advanced so quickly as a writer - I know how to make those changes now even faster. I’d been working so hard on structure this past year, I realized in that moment I was there. I just had to be confident with the new me. Each play kinda creates a new me for me, while at the same time becoming more person. It’s interesting. I find each play you write or project you work on, it’s those you work with who teach you as your work develops. For inspiration, I try to read a new play or writers work that has been produced that I missed. Lately the seasons of Rattlestick, Women’s Project and New Georges have been teaching me a lot. Those writers in their past few seasons are just incredible. I recently met Quiara Alegria Hudes. Wow. She’s amazing.

What have you learned about this play as it has evolved from first draft to the present version? And what has surprised you in this current production-what did you discover in the work that you didn’t realize was there?

I first discovered the characters of Peter and Bobby in a ten minute play that spanned their whole relationship. When developing the full length Wild I actually wrote scene by scene discovering the new characters that were a part of their lives for myself just as Peter and Bobby did. It was ridiculously fun to write. In the rewrites I worked significantly on the humanity of Peter and Bobby, yet keeping the bite of their wild actions. The universal message of love that folks felt strongly was in there only grew stronger. It’s one of those plays I get to watch and go - wow I wrote that! Having worked on so many scripts in development or being currently slated for 2014/15, it’s been an incredible thing to see how important writing this play was for my artistic development. There is for sure pre-Wild me and post Wild me. I’m lucky that Geek came right after the Wild Chicago production. While wild-ly different plays :), GEEK really helped me nail stronger character arcs in my work. Going back into WILD, and my new play ANOTHER KIND OF LOVE with that knowledge has been a big deal.

Without giving away any important surprises—what moment or moments do you most look forward to when you see this play being performed?

The scene Dinner where Peter tries to make amends, and Bobby tries to move on, but for reasons I won’t give away for the spoil-er believers out there, Bobby can’t. Peter has set up a whole picnic dinner on the beach. Bobby is finally enjoying Peter again, but has a secret of his own. It’s really touching and tense. It’s a great “caught” moment for these characters and the scene in many ways answers why I sought to write this play in the first play - why do those who have affairs choose to STAY with one another. What is that attraction and its strength? How and what does that teach each partner about love? A very important part of this play to me is that Peter and Bobby’s same sex relationship is never questioned - it’s about the struggles that any couple who have been together for five years face - the joy and fears. Can these two dive deeper into the wild waters of commitment or will they keep pulling away from each other? This dinner scene is funny, sweet, and painful at the same time - which is my favorite kind of writing. I’m very excited to share this play with audiences ... opening this week! Holy Moly ... see you there!

posted March 9, 2014
Crystal Skillman

Crystal Skillman