by Crystal Skillman
dramaturg notes by Nicholas D. Hoop
Here we are
Here we are
Aren’t we? Aren’t we here?
I am here
Words that echo and resonate through time and space are two mirroring passages from two separate plays in Tampa Repertory Theatre’s history. Nina’s utterance of the opening lines of Con’s new form art piece in Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird, and our Magician’s bright eyed first words at the start of Crystal Skillman’s Open. The transmission of those first words swirled their way to the edges of the universe and found their way back home, here onstage. Here we are. Stupid Fucking Bird was the last show C. David Frankel directed. We lost someone we loved very much just over a year ago. We’ll come back to this.
In Open we meet Kristin, our Magician. We are promised a magic show, with surprise and cunning. Meanwhile, they regale us in their tale of love found. We see love enveloping warm, genuine, and pure. We hear about what happens when fear stands between loving with all of oneself. Tragedy strikes. And our Magician’s challenge, should they choose to accept it, is to find the power within themselves to create the most daring act of all- to create a magic show that will save their love’s life.
For centuries, Magic has been the theatrical bridge between the known and the unknown. The tangible and the uncertain. Fascination with magic is also not inherently a western cultural phenomena; the idea of suspending one’s disbelief for a moment to create something beyond what we know to be possible has always been universal and one of the reasons why we have such a strong love for storytelling, for the theatrical. It’s hard not to separate the art of magic from the figures who popularized standards from the Golden Age to the present day: Houdini, Dai Vernon, David Copperfield, Chris Angel, and most recently Derek DelGaudio. All of these figures are honored in Open in one way or another, be it style or even verbatim performance of their tricks. There has always been a strong inclination to discover how magic works, but the more interesting question is why. Why? This is a hefty question. I’ll go with my answer, because I’m the one writing it and I’m not interested in trying to psychologize the masses; we want to believe that the unimaginable is only a vortex away, that anything can happen with the right outlook and belief. Because do any of us really get along with reality?
LGBTQ+ people are four times more likely than non-LGBTQ+ people to be victims of violent crimes. This is a statistic that you can both calculate but you can also see and feel in the world around you. I came out 8 years ago as a queer man and the feeling of loosening your grip of the hand of the person you love when walking down the street, or the darting quick look you give at your surroundings before embracing the person you call Your Person has always been somewhere in my body. Some times feel safer than others, some places feel like you can be at your most genuine, but at the very root the world likes to consistently remind LGBTQ+ people that the danger is far from gone. That we aren’t ready to be loved with justice. A Valdosta High
school student being assaulted in his cafeteria for wearing clothes that make him feel comfortable, a Phoenix couple being attacked in a grocery store parking lot- these are things that happened only days from writing these words. These are things that are happening even in cities that love us, even in cities that cradle us. How do we continue to usher a change when the world keeps showing us that for every step forward, there must be another step back?
The challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to leave Open tonight believing in your heart that what may seem impossible simply doesn’t have to be so. The rough magic of every day getting up and trying our very best is miraculous to begin with, but your task is to make the unimaginable get along with reality. To let love, regardless of who, grow and flourish and open.
Our Magician is never without their Jenny. I’m here she utters. As we return to producing theatre indoors for the first time since late 2019, we do so without someone that believed we could when there was nothing suggesting we could thrive. Someone who was a mentor to all of us no matter the point of growth and learning we were at. And someone who was a dear friend. But I trust you will feel another presence transmitting and swirling their way into the theatre today.
From all of us here at Tampa Rep, Here we are. And we know our friend echoes back. I’m here.