I first read Kristin's draft of Second Skin almost...2 years ago now...I remember getting the same feeling in the pit of my stomach as I did when I was a kid swimming out to the deep where I could no longer see the sand. The thrill and fear of drifting above the abyss. I also felt so close to the characters, their flaws, their frustrations. Quinn's frustration for not being able to control her temper, the freedom Sigrid felt underwater, Aislinn's desire to be given respect from her sister. They felt very personal to me and while I knew the characters weren't entirely autobiographical for Kristin either, I felt the fragments of her in them. But something deep, like from the level of the soul. I've always admired Kristin's intelligence and desire to wrestle with large topics in her work. Yet in this intimate piece, I found an emotional depth that I rarely find in the work of any playwright, never mind an intellectual powerhouse like Kristin.
Directors often have to employ tricks to keep themselves seeing the material of a play with fresh eyes throughout a rehearsal process. I've known directors to read newspapers in tech, pretend the play is in a foreign language, and leave the theatre during previews to smoke or drink wine to keep their mind looking at the play anew. Working on Second Skin, I constantly find new layers without trying. There is always more to explore, more to dig into. Rehearsals are the best part of my day. Even parts where I was thinking... "why the hell did Kristin do it like that?"... a week later we figure it out and it becomes one of my favorite sections.
Initially, the cast was nervous, "We are going to be up there, just talking, for like... 20 minutes each?!" They worried that they couldn't keep the audience entertained. Then, early on, I had them get up and read the piece for each other. They realized that it's exciting and compelling. The characters and the story draw you in. They also enjoy that it goes back to the primal part of theatre: a storyteller, a group of people, and their imaginations.
To really dig into the primal theatricality of Kristin's play I decided to put it back to where I have the fondest memories of telling and hearing stories: around a campfire. The beach and the ocean were also essential to my experience of the play, the darkness, the sound of crashing waves, the mist, the stars, the sand, the cold even. So...why try to fake all that? Why not do it on the beach? And why not use the natural shifts of light? Start it at sunset so as the play sinks further into the ghost-story, the world gets darker and darker.
This play is delicate, it must be handled with precision. But most of all it needs life. It demands that actors and space and audience live with it, not fall into predictable patterns. When it lives, when it fulfills the role of theatre as art that is living in front of you, it is like a spell, it engrosses you. Like the Selkie out of Irish Mythology, "it stays with you, it loves you, but it doesn't belong to you, it doesn't belong to any world."