Saturday, May 28

Interview: Crystal Skillman, writer of Rain and Zoe Save The World

Jermyn Street Theatre is one of London’s best loved West End theatres.  It may be small, but it is lion-hearted in its approach to programming interesting and challenging shows and Rain and Zoe Save The World is no exception.  Crystal Skillman discusses her new play and touches on why she chose a UK theatre as a place to premiere her work and what drove her to write such a contemporary play that echoes what is at the forefront of current news, which has also united the younger generation.

The play runs from the 10th of February until the 12th of March.  To buy tickets and to find out further information, go to the Jermyn Street Theatre website by following this link – https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/rain-and-zoe-save-the-world/

Without giving away any spoilers, can you tell us about the storyline for Rain and Zoe Save The World?

We often describe the play as a piece that faces twin disasters – coming of age and climate change. Rain and Zoe take off on a motorcycle at midnight on the west coast (Washington state) with the daunting task to join a huge protest at a refinery on the east coast in seven days. Zoe believes her mom, a controversial activist, who she hasn’t seen for twelve years will be there. But the journey becomes tougher than either of them imagined, and they find the only way to make it through might just be each other.

The two main protagonists, Zoe, and Rain are climate activists.  Is this a subject that is close to your heart?

Absolutely. My cousin-in-law is activist Ken Ward (the documentary The Reluctant Radical follows his work) and I found his work to be a source of inspiration. Zoe and Rain play a game called The Imagined Future in act one which becomes a strong touchstone for the piece throughout. They imagine what the world could be like, if we can achieve our goal of working together to create an earth that uses alternate energy and stops the polluting plants which have done so much damage. It externalizes the hope of what can be and gives them the strength to keep going on the journey. For our audiences, in that theatre, we are all connected. We are at a point where changing our behaviour and engaging in the fight to preserve the very air we breathe is beyond necessary. All generations must work together. The play further explores this by the two older characters (portrayed by two players who play all other roles, most significantly Rain and Zoe’s parents in their minds), who are also on the journey with Rain and Zoe in inventive ways.  In many ways they are rediscovering their own commitment to activism.

Zoe and Rain are both teenagers, was it important to include young people in the story so that it would appeal to a younger audience?

Yes, oh yes! Teens are the forefront part of this movement of course. It is heart-breaking that the choices of the previous generations now weigh so heavily on their shoulders. They are inheriting a world that will only become sicker if it doesn’t change. I wanted to really capture the energy of Gen Z activists as they are trying to get us back on course, from the messes created of our previous generations, yet the play also acknowledges the useful tools older protestors have used that are helpful on this journey. Self-care is something really explored in this story as well as the tough choices of what to do to when you must stand up for what you believe in. At the end of act one, there is a terrible discovery as the damage of what a pipeline can do to the environment. The theoretical debates that these two teens have had on the journey now must become action. What will they do? And who will they become as a result?

Rain and Zoe Save The World, is written, produced, and set in America.  Why did you decide to bring it to the UK?

Oooh, I love this question! Rain and Zoe was written and set in America yes – but this run at Jermyn Street Theatre will actually be the world premiere. The UK’s passion for tackling the climate crisis is why we loved the idea of starting with UK audiences. We want to keep in conversation with these movements all over the world. Artistically, Jermyn Street’s passion for the piece, and the actual theatre which lends itself to an epic journey in an intimate space, is a perfect place for Rain and Zoe’s theatrical journey to begin. Everyone on our team from the producers to the director, designers, and actors feel this story can help be an action in itself and help the fight against the climate crisis. We’re working that kind of engagement into the play, and the play going experience itself.

The music for the play is written by Bobby Cronin whom you have partnered with on several musicals.  Do you normally work alone when writing or is collaboration something you enjoy?

Working with Bobby Cronin, one of my oldest friends, is one of my greatest joys. Bobby and I have collaborated on several pieces including Mary and Max the musical (adapted from the animated film by Adam Elliot), as well as King Kirby, my audio drama which Bobby scored, about the life of Marvel co-creator Jack Kirby (wherever you listen to podcasts, out from Broadway Podcast Network!). I have a real “geek girl” sensibility and work in the comic book world, and I’ve found our work goes together so well for translating that kind of theatrical storytelling on stage. He is so inventive about how to express story through music or dialogue, and for us it’s a dynamic match. For Rain and Zoe, Hersh Ellis, our director, also enjoys collaboration and the creative team he’s put together to bring this piece to life is impressive. The room works together with that spirit of collaboration in an electric way.

You have put together an impressive repertoire of work; how difficult is it for you as a writer to get new work produced? 

Thank you so much! It’s a challenge for any writer of course. From my experience in musicals, I began to understand that I shouldn’t be daunted (or rely on) just sending a play. I began to have readings so producers and theatres could hear my work, and I was clear I was looking for that stage of development. Much of my work uses cinematic techniques and genre live on stage, but I do so with actor driven work. It must be live. The audience must be there live to experience the story. In theatre, because my work is theatrical, I think, with such heart, showing the play becomes just as important as creating it. I really look for partners or producers who have a vested interest in the subjects I’m exploring, and my voice. Working with Drew and Dane productions, our creative producers, on this project has been a joy. They heard this play and felt passionately about bringing it to life. Collaboration in many ways helps solve this piece of the puzzle for writers because you are receiving feedback on the developmental journey that allows your piece to become strong and be truly ready for production. And on the developmental road, you meet the right theatre and producers to work with in telling your story on stage.

Do you have any advice for young writers who are struggling to get their work seen?

Love this! Advice is tricky as each path is so different, but I strongly believe writers should drive their own process. The challenges you face as a writer are not yours alone. It is challenging for all writers, as there is only so much bandwidth, space, and time theatres have in a new season. The theatre clock is slow for how things happen, but my writer friends there is always time. Set your own clock, keep your own achievable goals, and know that any “downtime” you experience is a chance to hone your craft, and for your work to grow stronger. The goal is to make your work strong enough so when you do have the opportunity to share a play, or to pitch an idea, you’re ready. Workshop with those you trust and love. Find your tribe. And help others connect. I never leave a meeting without mentioning five other up and coming diverse writers. Get to know new writers. Expand your circle. Writers helping writers is the strongest tool of advocacy we have to see new, dynamic pieces that shine a light on voices who need to be seen. We are up against revivals and productions of names that have been produced for years and years. We can help each other be seen and heard.

Biography

Crystal Skillman’s writing: –

Coming soon – Theatre – Mary & Max Musical, Rain and Zoe Save The World, Pulp Verite

Audio Drama – The Magician’s Magician

Previous Work – Theatre – Open, Cut, The Show is Money, Black-Eyed Susan

Audio Drama – King Kirby

Film – Question, Drunk Art Love

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