Call Answerd: David Crabb: "US & Them & Me & You" at Axis Theatre Company
What a great chat I had with David Crabb about his latest solo show, US & Them & Me & You, which will be presented for one-night only at Axis Theatre Company before heading to the West Coast for its LA run. Known for being the host of RISK! & The Moth as well as author of Bad Kid (a 2013 New York Times Critics’ Pick for a solo show), David is tackling new territory with US & Them & Me & You.
In US & Them & Me & You, David Crabb invites you into his home for this intimate show with an audience of ten. He's excited for you to meet his Aunt Patty, who's visiting from down south with cookies in tow. Her mission: to understand all the left-coast crystal healing, vegan ice cream and tarot wisdom she can before returning to the conservative stronghold of her home in Minerva, Texas. Her other mission: to understand the mysterious depression that seems to be consuming her nephew; a depression that she can feel invading her own life as well. Maybe it’s in the blood? Or maybe it’s just being alive, depressed and hopeful in America in 2019? Let’s go on a tour through the north & the south, the city & the country, the left & the right. Don’t be scared. We’re pretty much all in the same boat. Laughter is coming. Angst is coming. Family is coming.
US & Them & Me & You will play one-night only, on May 10 at 8pm at Axis Theatre Company (1 Sheridan Square). Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a writer/performer? My mom. Whoopi Goldberg. Being gay in Texas. Being a teen goth. The show Greater Tuna. So many things, but if you’re to believe my mother, I’ve been a storyteller since I was two or three.
2. On May 10, you are presenting a one-night only event of your new show US & Them & Me & You. First, what made you want to make this a one-night only event at Axis Theatre Company as opposed to a longer run? I’m only passing through town from LA, and Axis will forever be my theatrical home/family in NYC. They were kind enough to extend the offer and who knows, it might come back for a bit longer in the future.
3. How did you come to write this show? I had been moving into character work at Groundlings School here in LA during a depression that was so deep, I didn’t know how to tell stories about it. This had never happened to me before and got me thinking about new ways to say what I needed to express.
I was also starting to realize how many people around me seemed to be operating under a kind of internal/external sadness the last couple years, dealing with personal struggles while also juggling the heinous state of things going on in the world. I wanted to address the ways in which this pervasive sense of anxiety seems to be affecting some of my friends and family in Texas just as much as it is people I know in New York and LA. I think we’re stuck in a cultural moment that's all about isolation. I wanted to make a show that addressed all of that, as dark as it all sounds, that was still very very funny.
4. How long did it take you to write this show...from idea to execution? I’ve been running portions of the show in parts in multiple ways for over a year. The main inspiration content-wise was a long form piece I recorded with RISK! about the death of our dog early last year. It’s a heavy hour of audio, to say the least. But there was a lot of light and laughter in it, and I’ve gotten hundreds of emails from listeners about it. I was surprised that it ended up being the most immediately connective piece I’d ever made. There is a kind of sadness that people seemed almost relieved to be able to share with me in their emails, some of which were remembrances of their own dogs, while others were about lost loves and dead exes and former abuse. Something about that piece made loads of people feel like it was okay to email me some pretty gnarly and emotional stuff, which kind of lit me up creatively and made me reconsider some of the ways I tended to present stories.
I knew that I wanted to present a version of that story theatrically imbued with character, while also challenging myself to drill into some really dark content for some big comedy. The version that currently runs in LA is an immersive experience that takes place in my living room for no more than ten people. It opened in February and changes a bit every time depending on the mood in the room and people’s responses. There’s a lot of conversation and interaction. So in a way, more than anything else I’ve ever written, this show is never really done. It needs the audience to know what it is, and the text can change accordingly.
Last month I did the show and a woman lingered with her husband in our living room until the audience was gone. Then, very stoically, she turned to me and said, “Just so you know, we’re on the more conservative side,” which felt like a big admission for her after seeing this show in which I share a lot of my liberal political views. She took a deep breath, her eyes filling up with tears, and said, “But I want you to know that you’re not alone. I feel it too. It’s like a mass depression, isn’t it?” I nodded. She cried. We hugged. That experience has changed the way I deliver/perform a few moments in the show. So yes, it’s never going to be done being written, I suppose.
5. What is the most challenging part about writing/performing a one-person show? The autonomy of it. Of course, that’s also the lonely part of being a solo artist. But I think the shift towards audience interaction/acknowledgement is a part of why I love doing this show. I want to make a “solo” show that feels like an ensemble show, by not only imbuing it with other characters, but also by inviting the audience into the story to play, or laugh, or cry… or do whatever they need to do in order to leave the space feeling a little less alone.
6. What excites you most about sharing this work with Axis’ audiences? Well, Axis Company is where I got my actor boots on the ground and learned what it takes to be a part of an ensemble, in addition to discovering that making your own generative theater is where it’s at. Randy Sharp makes brave independent singular works that can be challenging and unexpected, and I can only hope that I honor that instinct with the work I present there. I’ve been making theater with my Axis family for over 15 years and, as cheesy as it sounds, it still feels like coming back home.
7. In this show, Aunt Patty takes a look at the depression that has seeped into her life & her nephew's. How do you keep positive during the dark times we are living in? I keep positive in a lot of ways that keep evolving every day. I live in LA now, so yes… there have been smoothies and yoga and more crystals than I’m willing to admit to. But I think focusing on art and the creation of stuff is what keeps my head above the water.
I lost a couple of years post-election giving into the weight and pressure of voices that were meaningless in my life, both real and online. It made me feel not only insulated from the world, but a bit ashamed of my own vulnerability, which leads nowhere good artistically or otherwise.
There’s a great quote from Brené Brown I’ve been sitting with lately: “If you're not in the arena getting your ass kicked & rejected, I'm not interested in your feedback about my work.” If you wanna stay positive, just do the work. Feel all the things. And learn to ignore all those voices while also reminding yourself every day how important it is to listen.
More on David:
David Crabb is an LA-based author, performer & storyteller. His 2013 solo show Bad Kid was named a New York Times Critics' Pick. Bad Kid the memoir was released in 2015 by Harper Perennial. David was one of seven performers chosen by Time Out New York for their 2013 New York Comedy Festival line-up. The Wall Street Journal praised him as a performer capable of guiding a crowd "from belly laughs to pin-drop silence." He is currently is a host of The Moth and RISK!
David has directed & coached storytelling at NYC's Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (UCB), People's Improv Theatre (The PIT), Occidental College, Indiana University, Kevin Allison's The Story Studio & NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. He serves as a writing mentor with The Writers Guild Initiative and has designed and taught corporate storytelling programs at Twitter, Google, Facebook, Fidelity, Bravo, The New York Times, and more.
David has been a member of NYC's Axis Company Theatre since 2003, developing original material in New York, Paris and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Since 2012 he has performed the solo pieces Bad Kid, $1800, Story Roulette, Man In A Hole & his new character/storytelling hybrid piece, US & Them & Me & You. He the recipient of Occidental College's 2019 Wanlass Grant, where he is currently a visiting artist and professor of autobiographical performance.