- Jade Esteban Estrada
It’s after 10 p.m. at the Overtime Theater when I meet with Caleb Craig. We’re discussing By Our Hands, an original, science fiction play he’s directing and that opens next month. Co-written by Morgan Clyde and Michael Song, the play explores the theme of gun control and the perils of blind trust.
During the rehearsal’s final hour, focused on fight choreography, Craig’s calm demeanor when addressing the cast suggests a nurturing directorial style.
“I’m nothing more than an editor,” said Craig, 22, explaining advice he once received about the director’s role. “The actors are the ones that are bringing this [play] to life.”
While Craig is deferential in how he deals with actors, he’s certainly not shy about tackling political subject matter, even though he’s still in the dawn of his theater career.
Like many of his generation, Craig’s first significant political experiences came through the movements to elect Bernie, Hillary and Beto. He’s left-leaning on his social media platforms, though he says his family “falls more on the conservative end of the political spectrum.”
Similarly, the actors he’s assembled come from “varying world views and political backgrounds, ideologies [and] lifestyles.”
There isn’t an intentionally unifying philosophical message to By Our Hands, Craig adds, though its primary themes take centerstage. In the play, a totalitarian government controls a majority of the firearms. The end goal of the resistance is to retrieve them.
“We understand that the people are going to see [the theme of] gun control, but I’ve communicated to [the actors] that this play is very much about blind trust in leadership,” he said. “[World leaders in government] are telling you what you want to hear, and you believe that they’re going to protect you and [that] they have your best interest in mind.”
Craig offers up three pop-culture reference points to let audiences know what to expect. First, the overlying scenario is similar to the post-nuclear video game Fallout, where radiation poisoning among survivors is as common as tacos on a Tuesday. Second, independent tribes have popped across the land, much like in The Walking Dead. Finally, the play’s centralized government can appear at any moment for a sweep, much like in Robin Hood.
The people of in the play’s time and non-specific place live in omnipresent fear.
“And there’s a lot of fear in our country right now surrounding guns,” Craig says. “I think that fear goes both ways it plays.”
I ask him if he’s saying that he can see both sides of America’s gun control debate.
“Yes and no,” he replies. “I’m saying I understand that the fears exist on both sides. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I agree with or understand the argument that’s happening on both sides.”
He gives an example.
“You know, [the notion that] to protect schools, we need to arm all of our teachers. I look at that and I go, ‘How does this end in a good way?’ There’s no scenario where this plays out [well], if you just sit down and think about it for a hot second. Think about all the variables that go into that... Taxpayer dollars and ‘How are we going to initiate this?’ Teachers are going to have to be trained to use firearms. It just doesn’t work. It just doesn’t play out that in the way that I think you want it to.”
He continues: “But I understand the fear and I appreciate that [some activists and politicians] want to try to institute something that will protect our children, [but] that doesn’t mean that I understand your way of going about it.”
Craig expects people on both extremes of the gun-control debate might attend By Our Hands to see how the subject translates to the stage.
We chat about diversity in casting, which has changed a lot over the past few decades. In the 1990s, it was a response to a changing political climate and the desire to see wider representation in characters on television and in film.
I ask Craig what his thoughts are on the evolution of blind casting, wondering if the pressure of political correctness can impede storytelling.
“I get to be the SJW,” he says with a chuckle. “I don’t think blind casting happens today as much as it did [in the ’90s]. As someone who also exists in this world as an actor, I’m finding there are fewer and fewer opportunities for me as someone with white skin.”
He says he looks forward to seeing how the Broadway revival of Oklahoma! handles the time-and-place element with its unprecedented casting diversity.
“For me, I didn’t necessarily intentionally seek to have a diverse cast,” Craig says, putting his director’s hat back on. “If I ended up with a cast of all white people, well, it’s because each and every one of those individuals exemplified the qualities and characteristics that I wanted to see for the roles that I cast.”
That said, his cast is pretty diverse.
Political and social commentary is increasingly interwoven in much of what we see in entertainment today. Craig and By Our Hands’ co-writers, Clyde and Song, are unapologetically initiating conversations through their work.
Come and take it.
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