Artisan Spotlight: Skyler Gray, Literary Manager
Why should every theatre have a Literary Manager?
This may surprise you, but I don’t think every theatre needs a Literary Manager because the position is dependent on the theatre’s dedication to new play development. A big part of my job is reading, seeing and developing new work—“managing the literary” as it were—so a company that doesn’t produce new work may not need a Literary Manager. In that case they may need a dramaturg to help with research related to more classical and established works. I’m very lucky to work for a company that values new work and is committed to giving playwrights a place to create ambitious new plays and musicals.
Speaking of dramaturgy, could you explain what that is?
In addition to overseeing the audience engagement activities and production notes, dramaturgy is a big part of my job as a Literary Manager. Dramaturgy can be explained in a lot of different ways, and often the answer changes when talking about dramaturgy for new plays against dramaturgy for previously produced plays. In terms of new play development, I see my job as a dramaturg as being a support for the playwright as they create and develop their play. It is my job to look at a play and ask questions where the answer may seem obvious to the writer, but may not be clear to the reader or audience. I am there to help the playwright make their vision come to life as they bring the play in their minds onto the paper, and therefore onto the stage. For established and classical plays, dramaturgy typically includes researching and providing context of the world of the play to the actors, design team and audience. This can also be the case for a new play that is rooted in history or science, for example.
Of all the career paths in theatre, what drew you to this line of work?
To be honest, I stumbled into the world of literary rather than sought it out. I attended UC Irvine for college as an actor and then director, which was an incredible experience but didn’t include a dramaturgy class of any sort. It wasn’t until I interned at South Coast Repertory about eight years ago and worked on their new play festival that I started to piece together what this “literary” thing was all about. I graduated from UCI as a director, and found that directing and literary often go hand in hand. With both roles you help the writer figure out the puzzle of the play to make sure all of the pieces fit the way they’d like them to. I am also able to work on multiple projects at one time, which always keeps the job exciting!
You play a major role in coordinating the Alley All New Festival. What do you enjoy most about bringing new plays to an audience?
The most exciting thing about working in new play development is watching the plays evolve and come to life. For example, when we started the Alley All New Festival workshop of Robert Askins’ The Carpenter earlier this year, the script we started rehearsals with was very different from the version of the script we performed. By the time we got to the public presentations, the play had a completely different ending. The script continued to grow between the first and second week of performances, so the audience got to see the play evolve over the course of the festival. The Alley All New Festival gives audiences the chance to be a part of the new play process, respond to the work they see and watch it grow. Audiences that saw the festival readings of Cleo, Describe The Night, The Cake, and Lover, Beloved will be able to see how those pieces have changed when they watch the productions later this season. It is thrilling to support the evolution of these pieces and see the playwright’s vision come to life.
You were a huge player in bringing The Cake to Alley All New; what about this play initially hooked you, and what has it been like to help develop it into a full production?
I’ve known Bekah Brunstetter for almost four years, and she is one of the smartest and most perceptive people I know. Not only is Bekah hilarious, she is able to look at the world around us and create plays that don’t shy away from the big questions. The last few years have proven that there is division in our country right now, but on a more personal level there are divided families that don’t know how to find common ground. The Cake is one of those rare plays that shows both sides of the argument, and gives voice to the people behind the issues. Since our reading of The Cake in February during the Alley All New Festival, Bekah has continued to develop the piece and has created something very special. I had a chance to work on the world premiere of the play at the Echo Theatre in Los Angeles which opened last month, and I cannot wait to bring this fantastic play to the Alley this season.
What should everyone see on Broadway right now?
There are plenty of very good new American plays on Broadway right now: A Doll’s House, Part 2, Indecent, and Oslo. Come From Away and Dear Evan Hansen are also the “hot” tickets in the musical world right now. For those looking for a big ole’ American musical, Hello, Dolly! is very special. Next season is also shaping up to be another exciting year of New York theatre—especially with Syncing Ink and Describe the Night making their New York debuts later this year!
P.S. I really hope everyone reads the playbill articles during our shows. I spend a lot of time on them and my mom thinks they are pretty great, even though she still tells people I’m a theater librarian.