Sunday, June 13, 2010

Too Soon Festival Interview - Crystal Skillman of HACK! an I.T. Spaghetti Western

By Byrne Harrison

Name: Crystal Skillman
Play: HACK! an I.T. Spaghetti Western
Relationship to production (playwright/director/actor/etc.): playwright
Website: and

How long have you been involved in theatre?

10 years professionally.

What play had the biggest influence on your life?

Oddly enough, it’s a play I saw as a teenager in Woodstock. I had driven up there in my Chevy Nova from Wappingers Falls – I’m not sure what made me go but it was Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitmore. It told the story of Alan Turing, the cryptanalyst, completely out of order, but I totally understood it and knew the audience did too. The production was in the round and one minute Alan was in his 20s, then 6, then sixteen. I loved how inventive the play was, not only with the story, which is fascinating, but in terms of how the story was told. It’s something I strive for in my own plays – to tell the story in a theatrically truthful, and personal, way.

What is your show about?

When Hedge fund I.T. employees, Cal, Dash, and Jay, discover that they’ve been hacked – and that the hack is one of them – they scramble to pin it on each other in order to snag the gold in this ultimate showdown of the Good, the Bad and the Geek. Staged as episodes from a T.V office melodrama with the underbelly of a spaghetti western, HACK! is a “ Live DVD Cut” of the first season acted out in front of you.

What led you to write it?

I’d just gotten laid off from a dayjob so I was figuring out what to do about that. But at the same time there was this new idea for a play I couldn’t get out of my head! My friend, a hacker who leads an I.T team, missed a play of mine last spring because he had to stay up all night “fighting a virus” that was attacking his company. There was something about this story that meant even more to me after seeing so many of my friends being laid off, and me eventually with them. When I started to research, it popped into my head – the tension of those office politics, the struggle to understand what you’re a part of and why, and especially the hacker world is kinda like a western! From handles like “Gunslinger”, to the idea of hacking a hedge fund being like stealing the gold, to the idea of spurs being the sound of your boss flicking his keys coming down the hall - the concept emerged of a play set in the real world that exposed this underlying tension through the lens of a Spaghetti Western feel to the play/direction. When the very awesome Qui Nguyen asked me to write for the Vampire Cowboys Saloon Series this past season, I saw this as the perfect opportunity to write this play to be shown in episodes and instantly director John Hurley (12th Night of the Living Dead, After Darwin) popped into my head as the perfect director for the project. I love how grounded and real his work feels but there’s such a heightened quality/tone to it. Really brilliant stuff and it’s such a joy working with him. And – he loves westerns! We had a real blast developing the material together, which has continued in our other collaborations (we recently worked together on my play The Vigil or the Guided Cradle). We’re so happy to be diving back in and hanging with our amazing cast again as we rehearse, which only grows more and more zany as it goes - beanie babies, drugs and now DVD credits...? Such fun.

What inspired you to apply for the Too Soon Festival?

I love, love, love The Brick. I’ve always wanted to be involved with them and this festival. I saw James Comtois’s Infectious Opportunity there last summer and got to see Matthew Freeman’s Glee Club (originally in last year’s summer festival), when it was remounted by Blue Coyote this spring. Both pieces rocked my world. I was lucky to get to really know Jeff Lewonczyk and Hope Cartelli at the Vampire Cowboy’s Saloon Series (where they do Lady Crypto which rocks my universe just as much as Craven Monkey! If you can’t tell I’m a fan … :) and they were really supportive of my work. They encouraged me to submit Vigil and luckily they, as well as Michael Gardner and Robert Honeywell, really dug the play. We were in rehearsal when I found out about HACK! which I had also submitted for the summer festival. I’m so glad they picked it – John and I, as well as our lovely producer Amanda Feldman, and the wonderful Impetuous Theater Group who’ve returned to play with us again after Vigil, really thought the festival would be a great next step for the play as we explore the material further. We’re honored to be a part of it and excited to see all the shows!

What's next for you after Too Soon?

This summer I’ll be writing two new full length plays – one is a commission for Vampire Cowboys, which I can’t wait to start. The other is totally written in my head from start to finish. It’s called Another Kind of Love and is about three fucked up sisters in a failed rock band from the '80s that have a chance to re-record their one hit wonder in Woodstock. Really looking forward to hunkering down and getting these babies out on paper! Production wise, this summer my ghost story play The Telling will be staged by director Heidi Handelsman site specifically with a great cast in a backyard in Brooklyn at dusk on June 13th; I’ve written a new short play for the Women’s Project Lab that will be directed by Alice Regan as part of an evening that will feature our work at the Julia Miles Theater on July 15th; also I’m one of the writers for the 48 Hour Musicals going on this August in Chicago at the Music Theater Company. And keep your fingers crossed – That’s Andy, the musical I’ve written book/lyrics for about a boy who wants to play “Annie”, is a finalist for the NAMT festival of new musicals this fall.

And finally, if you could slow the world down and get two more hours out of every day, what would you do with them?

This is a great question! Want to just keep exploring more – from trips overseas to the nooks and crannies of our own awesome city boroughs with Fred, my wonderful husband and fellow writer.

Hack! an I.T. Spaghetti Western
Written by Crystal Skillman
Directed by John Hurley
75 minutes

Thu 6/10, 7pm
Sat 6/12, 8:45pm
Sun 6/13, 2pm
Wed 6/16, 7pm
Sat 6/19, 7pm
Sun 6/20, 8:45pm

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