Interviews From Another Zero: Kandace Crystal Comes Back to the Stage in the Role of Neat

A Co-Production Between Scripps Ranch Theatre and Loud Fridge Theatre Group

by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Kandace Crystal in NEAT. Photo Ken Jacques
Kandace Crystal returns to the stage in NEAT, a play written by Charlayne Woodard and directed by Claire Simba. 

We had a fantastic conversation with Kandace who let us into her world fora little bit not just as an actress and artist, but also as an intimacy director.

Let us get right into it and start with the main question, WHO IS Kandace Crystal?

I would like to think, I am an actor, director, intimacy director, and really and truly, I am just a theatre maker. I enjoy it, I love it, I embrace it...sometimes it makes me happy, sometimes it makes me cry, and sometimes it's hard but I live, eat and breathe theatre.

As an artist and person, how do you find the balance between that because it is very hard you know? Theatre is a jealous partner, so how do you keep your sanity and have me time which can also be a blurred line doing what you love...

She's a jealous one, and I think for me, I lean back a lot on my intimacy work, self-care, and closure, and kind of leaving the work on the stage as hard as that can be, especially a show like NEAT that is so big, sooo big! and I find myself a lot like you know what? it is ok to put down your script, step away and not think about it for a little bit, and, as hard as that can be, balancing is everything, and all of my work currently is centered in some sort of theatrical realm, even in my teaching artistry. So I have been really enjoying being in my house and finding that joy at home, whether that's allowing myself to sit with my boyfriend and watch The Mandalorian, or if it's cooking dinner at home, or I am going to go and grab some dinner at the grocery store but we're going to sit out on the back porch and eat together. I think letting home really be home and allowing that has been the most beneficial and easiest way to find balance.

So...NEAT is one of the many projects that you are working on because you're IN IT...two things, how did that project come to you, and what is it about because it is just you.

Yeah, that is really exciting, so NEAT found me because I got the casting notice from three other people, and they were like "you gotta see this casting", and I was like "let me check it out". I saw Claire (Simba)'s name and I had worked with her in a Powers New Voices reading, in I think April of '22. I was like "Oh I really like her, I think we mesh well and I would love to work with her again, I want to audition for that and put my name in the hat." I think it being a one-person show is even more exciting because it is such a great acting challenge, and I haven't been doing as much acting in this last year as I have been with intimacy and directing work so if I am going to return to the stage, let it be with a bang and NEAT was this story that did that. 

It is about a young woman coming into her own and also being forced to, I would say examine the world through the eyes of her aunt who has a disability, which keeps her in this childlike state and, there is something really beautiful about exploring that legacy that someone leaves behind, and I am trying to be careful and not give out any spoilers! It is a really lovely story and it makes me think of my own aunt, she and I are very close and my dad always used to say I was just like her, sometimes it is one of those reflective moments of who came before you? what impact have they left? how does that shape who you are as a person? and, how do you continue their legacy when they are gone? 

What did you do to prepare for this piece?

Gosh...I did a lot of research because it is so many different characters. I am a firm believer in using the script, going back to it, and how did they describe these characters? What is the perception of this character from Charlayne, but is the perception from everyone else as well? and that really helped me with the physical and the vocals. I am really playing with a range and it's been "oh you know what? this is not going to be a sustainable voice for three shows a weekend or, physically, this is going to be too much on you and I have to recognize that Kandace in her 30s is not the same as when Kandace was 22...also recognizing how that changes things and modifying movements for what I thought I was going to be able to do compared to "you can do this if it was a one-time thing... could you do this three nights a week for a month? maybe not" and that is ok too. Letting myself feel those things in those moments and setting that really sharp boundary.

Kandace Crystal in NEAT. Photo Ken Jacques
Amazing! with that, what can audiences expect of NEAT?

I would say, you get to witness Kandace in all of her personalities. You get to witness what it was like from the words of a woman who lived in the sixties and seventies as a Black woman. I think you get to examine what life is like through the eyes of someone with a disability during that time and, I think it is a really lovely expression of family, and it's fun! Sometimes it is a little sad, sometimes it is really happy, and sometimes it is, "oh I cannot believe somebody would say that" and I think those are really all necessary conversations. 

Speaking of conversations, because we are in a society full of labels, categories, and groupings, things like that, people with disabilities or family members that have a disability come together. In your experience, and with this piece being a BIPOC person, do you think that those add to the condition of having a disability as in general to us, that it always adds because of who we are?

I think, one of the beautiful things about NEAT as a person was the fact that even though she had this childlike wonder, she was still very much a whole human being and I think a lot of times, we look at folks with disabilities in a deficit of oh, they don't have use of x,y, or z, this is all the things they're missing out on so, I think what NEAT explores is how her life was so full because of her disability. Because she was slightly different it completely changed how the folks around her were, but it was not necessarily for a negative. I think we should stop looking at folks who are disabled as at a deficit because that is not the case.

Mmm, totally. We are at a certain level and there are some things that are hyped because it compensates and the body is very wise that way. I think that we need to understand those types of things so, thank you for clarifying! That is why these conversations are cool :) So! all the practical aspects of this piece, where is it at? how long will it be running? where can you get tickets? all of that stuff

We open on March 25th and close on April 16th. There is an industry night -'cause I understand theatre is not cheap-, on Monday, April 3rd, and I am very excited about that because I am a firm believer in accessibility. We are running Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m., it will be fun, it will be a little crazy but that is the beauty of it, right? a one-person show, anything can happen! and if you are a supporter of Kandace Crystal, I mean come out and have some fun with me.

It is at Scripps Ranch Theatre...yes! and it is also a co-production with Loud Fridge Theatre Group who I have been working with a lot this year in very different capacities, which is kind of exciting and fun. This level of support from both organizations when I first even auditioned was amazing but through the actual process of the rehearsal, they have been there every step of the way and I guess in a way you wonder will you get that in a one-person show? cause it's just me, you know? what are you guys worried about? but it's kind of nice to know that, even though it is just me, they are treating me like a large company or me, and actually there is a lovely dancer named Nicole Diaz-Pellot who is also in it, and she is phenomenal so, come support us both.

Nicole Diaz-Pellot and Kandace Crystal in NEAT. Photo Ken Jacques
OH! THAT'S RIGHT! I mean, I do not want you to spoil it but, how is that going to look?

Uh, AMAZING! (laughs)... You know, I will say one thing, the first time Nicole and I met, we were doing a promo photo and they said something like, "can you guys try like back to back" and I'm like "like this?" and she said "You can just put your body weight on me, I got you" and actually, Sandra Ruiz told me once, that she used to say this a warm-up: "I will hold you up and not let you fall" and Nicole has literally been the embodiment of that with production and without any spoilers! 'cause I am terrible at that, she is not just like ridiculously talented, but she is a gorgeous human being inside and out and it has been such a pleasure working with her and to watch her work. Especially when movement is not always my strongest point, but the way she explains things to me, the way she talks to me, the way in which, you see her mind working when it's just dance moments and I am like YOU ARE SO COOL. So I cannot wait for the audience to experience the way she moves and experience that level of talent in such a different medium and that's an exciting, exciting thing to explore. 

This is great. One more question and I will let you go! So, intimacy direction...having an intimacy director, coordinator, there, we've been hearing about that more and more, and there is like a shift, a style of or, in the style of it to be there. Can you explain to us, what that means to have an intimacy director in the room and why should there be one?

I am trying to think of the condensed version of this response because we can talk about this all day... In my mind, the beauty of having an intimacy director is from an actor's standpoint, sometimes it is hard to say no to your director when they are asking you to do something that you are wholely uncomfortable with, and I think the beauty of having an intimacy director is that they're there to be your advocate, they are there to help relay your thoughts and feelings from you to other members of the team but also if you are like "look, I am not a strong mover, I do not know what to do with my hands", they also have that background where they can help you with that choreo and I think, too often, we have left actor out of that conversation of what will your body be doing onstage in these intimate moments. Which typically have been around simulated sex acts but recognizing too on the receiving end of abuse, it tends to be not just women, but, women of color. And so, as I look at that big picture and the changes that I want to make in this industry because I want women to look like me, and people who look like me, to feel loved, supported, and held when they're doing work that might be scary and challenging, and concerning. A kiss is more than just a kiss if you are trying to tell a story. I want folks to realize that with intimacy, touch has evolved post-covid and I do not think people think enough about that. I don't think enough people consider "I was really good with hugging everybody" then covid hit and it is like "maybe it is not for me, maybe it is for you", 'cause we don't always know what is going on behind the scenes so, being able to explore at the actor's pace is really exciting and I think from an organizational standpoint there is a lot of liability that goes into what kind of rehearsal rooms we are creating and so, I think, if anything as organizations look into "should I hire an intimacy director or not?", I mean, why not air on the side of safety and making sure that your actors feel held and advocated for or maybe, your communications style does not work for your performer right? so how can you create a room that has balance but also puts some power into the person who is doing the artform every night.


I think we covered everything! anything you would like to add or for people to know?

I think therefore I am...No! in all seriousness, it is a really lovely story, its a really lovely show and to be very honest with you, it is a little scary and intimidating but, from an actors standpoint the level of vulnerability in this for me is all the love I can pour into a piece and I think it has been a labor of love for all of us involved so, if anything you are supporting Scripps Ranch, you are supporting Loud Fridge, Loud Fridge is a newer company and they are doing really incredible work. I think folks should come out and support that. Having this life experience under my belt, to present a show like NEAT is like a chef's kiss. 

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