Many moons ago in a land far away called New York City … I had the incredible opportunity to write a play for The Management theater company featuring actors Joe Varca, Nicole Beerman, and … Megan Hill.
I knew of the Management through playwright Joshua Conkel, as I am a huge fan of his work. And when director Meg Sturiano got in touch with me after seeing a short piece of mine that featured the characters of three reality TV show writers, she asked me to write a full length using this concept for these amazing actors (for a full production!). I was over the moon.
The catch? This was February, and the production was in May. We began a rigorous and wonderfully creative schedule of development and for the first time in my full length work, I felt like a real playwright. And Cut was born.
One of the most incredible stories from that journey was writing for Megan Hill. We had a real synergy while working with her in the room. I loved how she talked about writing and her own ideas. I loved the depth she brought to her character and how she was more in Colette’s skin than I was as the writer. I love rewriting in the room, and Megan has a terrific spirit with rewrites too – and we just bonded.
The result of that play was a downtown hit that got a beautiful NYT rave, and then was published by Samuel French (now Concord Theatricals). Cut to eight years later. We have just debuted Open which I have written for Megan Hill. It is a magic show without magic … and yet it is entirely magical.
Very early in the process I began crafting the role of The Magician for Megan, and it is incredible to see the response to our work. And another magical thing has happened – one that is no surprise to me. Megan’s star is rising. I took some time with Megan to catch up outside of Open performances to hear her take on it all – and share with you.
Working on Cut together was such a special time. Looking back, was there one experience that gave you any idea we would continue to working together?
I think we built such a clear channel of communication and trust with one another during Cut that the idea of working together again just made sense. But also, even on projects we don’t collaborate on we still seek each other’s feedback. And I always feel totally supported by you in all my endeavors and I hope you feel the same from me!
One of the reasons I love working with you as an actor is that you are always grounded in your work, but you are fearless in your ideas as an actor in how to act work that seems to have non-naturalistic moments. I think of you in Cut as Colette navigates her own ambition. And in our play, Open, Kristen wants to retreat into the imagination in the hopes she can save her lover’s live but reality is always present and threatening. Any insight into how you strike that balance in your acting?
I’ve found my job isn’t to “act” like I’m living in the world of play, it’s just to LIVE in the world of the play. So, I use my imagination a lot and then put myself in the circumstances. If the world I’m in is clear in my head and if I’m listening and present with the people I’m with onstage, then I feel like most of my work is done for me. I just have to get out of my own way. More often than not, it’s all laid out for you. Margot always says (one of her professors would say): “The truth knows no size.” And I believe that wholeheartedly. Very rarely is anything or anyone just one thing.
In the past few years you have played some of my favorite characters on stage – recently Dave Lee Roth in Amy Staats’s awesome Eddie and Dave, Eva in the disturbing Do Your Feel Anger by Mara Nelson-Greenberg and now of course The Magician (aka Kristen) in Open by yours truly. These characters tend to be very energetic, wear their hearts on their sleeves but are full of secrets, and also be physical. What is it like to breath life into such dynamic roles?
It’s an honor. I can honestly say these three roles are dream roles for me. To get the opportunity to play all of them and in one season, I think I’m still reeling a bit.
You’ve also had the pleasure of working with so many terrific directors like Margot Bordelon and Jessi D. Hill. What has it been like working with Jessi on Open?
Jessi is a dream. I love her so much. She is so smart, insightful, and thoughtful. She has a really strong vision but a delicate touch. This is one of the scariest things I’ve ever done (I’ve never done a solo show before!) and she really took care of me and always checked in with what was most helpful and useful for me. Between working with Jessi and Margot, I feel like I’ve struck gold in the collaborator department.
I’ll never forget when we first started working on Cut. Every day you’d call me a “Warrior and a champion.”That boost kept me going through the intense rewrites. You’re always so positive and encouraging of emerging talent. How do you keep positive when you write your own work?
I try to write first, judge later. I also try to look at it, as I would someone else’s writing aka with more compassion and kindness. But mainly, when it comes to collaborators (and friends), I have an embarrassment of riches. So, I trust the people I’m surrounded by and their feedback. I know so many smart and talented people, it would be stupid not to hear their thoughts.
(PS Did we ever make you a “Warrior and Champion” tee? I know we talked about it. If we haven’t, we need to get on that.)
Many of the pieces you work on are about friendship (Cut, for one, being about workplace friendships), and what one would do for their passion or love. What are some of your passions in “real life” when you’re not performing?
My friends! My friends are the best. I try to spend as much time with them as possible. I also love living in Brooklyn and NYC and try to enjoy everything this wild place has to offer. Lots of walks. Lots of music. I’m from Seattle and my whole family is there, so whenever I can go for a visit and get fam time in, I do.
You have been going non-stop. What’s next for you?
I’m having my first break in a while after Open. So:
1) trying not to spiral that I’ll never work again.
2) I have some ideas bubbling for new projects, so maybe put some focus on those
3) Visit my family and friends in Seattle.
4) My partner, Brad Krumholz, runs North American Cultural Laboratory (NACL) up in the Catskills. So, during the summer, if I don’t have to be in the city for work, I try to go up there as much as possible and watch amazing new work by the incredible artists that go up there (I love being an audience member), sit on the porch, eat good food, and swim in the lake. It’s a pretty special place.
Check out more from Crystal Skillman here.
(credit: Rob Fuller)
pictured from left to right) Nicole Beerman, Megan Hill, Joe Varca