David Crabb grew up as a punk gay twink in the middle of Texas and got high on more VHS cleaner than is humanly possible (“God knows how many brain cells I’ve burnt,” he told me). Yet, the actor, storyteller, and writer lived to quite literally tell the tale of his sorted youth in his one-man show Bad Kid, which he later turned into a memoir, recently published by Harper Collins. Crabb is bringing his outrageous tale of growing up gay to Philadelphia, and I had a chance to chat with him about his work and his appearance at this year’s First Person Arts Festival.
Tell me about your previous experiences in Philly. Have you ever worked with First Person Arts before or done any other performing in the city? I told a version of this story for a First Person Arts show, but this is the first time I’m performing the whole solo piece here in Philadelphia. I’ve also worked with Story League out of D.C., and we’ve done performances in Philly.
I know Bad Kid is based on your own personal experiences. When did you realize that you had a story that you really wanted to share? I got into storytelling with Risk and The Moth about six years ago. I was an actor in New York up until that point. I started writing new personal stories for the stage, and the theater I worked with gave me an opportunity to mount the show. My best friend wanted to direct the show: he worked in theater as a clown. We tried to put together the show six months and it just didn’t work. Then we finally realized that I was telling all of these stories about me growing up as a goth kid Texas in the 90’s with The Moth, and that was the show that worked. It opened four years ago now for the first time, and I’ve remounted it in New York three or four times now.
Since the show is about you, how do you keep it fresh? There’s something new that always happens. The first time we did it, we felt really good about it, and the second time, we knew it needed some beefing up. Between the second and third stagings, I wrote the memoir. I’d also been hosting with The Moth, and it made me realize that I wanted to infuse more spontaneous moments with the audience. I never enjoyed theater that felt off with people. The show is still highly theatrical: I wear a body mic, and there are three dance numbers. But the interaction with the audience has been the biggest evolutional part of the show for me.
What was the process like converting the show into a book? It was really interesting. You think, “Well, I wrote a show, so turning it a book will be nothing” until you realize that the script for the entire show is only 31 pages. The book functions in a really different way. The real breakthrough was that it had to be written from a 16-year-old’s voice. There’s not a lot of me: I embody the characters from the point of view of the teenager who is just so excited to snort VHS cleanser.
Do you have young gay kids come to the show? We have so many jokes in the show that if we see teenagers in the audience, my director will go up to the parents before the show and say, “Hey, just so you know, there’s a lot of unapologetic drug use and behavior in this.” That’s what keeps it away from being a totally young adult experience: it’s not like a constant after school special. There’s big packages of unapologetic behavior that’s just fun. When I see kids show up wearing Doc Martins and pink hair, they make my heart light up. We’ve had some people walk out, but generally when teenagers come to the show, parents thank me because their kids are weirdoes who like some 30-year old British rock band that no one else has heard of, and they can relate to the show. It teaches kids to hold tight and be patient: You might make some horrible decisions along the way, but you’ll turn out okay.
‘Bad Kid’ will play Friday, November 13th, 9 pm, at the Christ Church Neighborhood House. Tickets and more information can be found here.