Just as the one-man comedy Buyer and Cellar was coming to a close last spring at freeFall Theater, actor Chris Crawford got an offer he couldn’t refuse. Would he consider a full-time gig as the theater’s very first Associate Artistic Director?
“It was a dream opportunity, so of course I jumped at it,” Crawford says. “It was no-brainer. I had to run it by my fiancé, but we decided it was the best move.”
In September, Crawford left his longtime home in Orlando and became a St. Petersburg resident.
After a fruitful first decade, freeFall’s founder and Artistic Director Eric Davis – who typically has a hand in some aspect of every production – had acknowledged the need for someone new to free him up for other important tasks.
Chris Crawford, Davis explains, was the logical choice.
“For the last 10 years, I’ve been focused on just getting the next show up,” he says. “And that doesn’t let the company grow, and achieve the vision that we have for it outside of just putting up the next show. So it frees me up to look at bigger-picture things and develop our relationships in New York, and things like that, a lot more quickly.”
The next 10 years, Davis promises, will be even better.
“Eric and I have known each other going on seven years now,” enthuses Crawford, “and have developed a really strong rapport and working relationship. On top of being good friends. There are few people, artistically, that I respect as much as him.”
Like Davis, Crawford is an actor, director, writer and all-around idea machine. “Eric has been so gracious and kind in just kind of letting me fly,” Crawford says. “There have been projects where he has said ‘Hey, it would help me if you could take this off my plate.’ And I’ll say yes, absolutely. And there have been things that I have come to him and said ‘This is what I would love to do,’ and he’s like yeah, run with it.”
One of the first orders of business, once Crawford was settled in, was deciding which shows in the already set 2019-2020 season would he like to direct?
Davis, just coming off an acting role in The Turn of the Screw, was scheduled to take the directional helm for the next production, The Lion in Winter, James Goldman’s drama about the contentious relationship between medieval British king Henry II and his wife, Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Crawford, who loved the play (and the Academy Award-winning 1968 film version) was only too happy to take over as director. “I’ve seen several productions of this show – I’ve been in a production of this show – but what I felt was always missing was this in-your-face,” he explains. “I want it to be visceral. Every time the audience thinks they have it figured out, I want to rip the rug out from under them.”
The seven-member cast includes none other than Eric Davis as Richard, the eldest of Henry and Eleanor’s three sons. Davis is also working on the sound for the play, and has designed the costumes.
This, apparently, is his idea of pulling back a little.
The Lion in Winter runs Nov. 23-Dec. 22
The play is set in the year 1183 – however the dialogue is sharp, witty and easy to follow; occasionally it’s even quite funny (Crawford considers it a dark Christmastime comedy about a dysfunctional family). The costumes, he adds, are one way this take on The Lion in Winter will resonate with today’s audiences. “I think the costume design in Game of Thrones is absolutely stunning, very contemporary-feeling,” he raves. “Eric took that and ran with it.”
Crawford and his cast have finished the first week of rehearsals Sunday afternoon. “In my opinion,” he says, “we are a little bit ahead of where we should be for this time. So starting with Week Two – I call it the workshopping phase – we can just start digging in, making it specific and making every moment of the story specific and clear.”
Tickets are available here.