CRAB ON ITS BACK (2016) / Potomac Theatre Project / by Erik Champney


Bill Army and I met through a mutual friend in the winter of 2016, and I knew right away he was the guy I needed to talk to. Bill is a damn fine actor and he seemed level-headed and comfortable in his skin. I’d only been in New York about six months at this point. It was time to get serious. So I asked Bill if he’d be open to sitting down with me and letting me pick his brain. He agreed. Just like that. Bill’s great.

Before we met, I got super presumptuous and sent him one of my scripts, Crab on Its Back. I gave the guy homework! It wasn’t very savvy, but he did read it. Fortunately, he liked it. He actually seemed to more than like it, as he embarked on a mission to have something done with it. After some back and forth about what would be the best angle, Bill decided we should present it as a concert reading at Potomac Theatre Project’s After Dark series. PTP presents a couple productions during the summer, and Bill was in one of them. Some nights, artists are showcased following their performance. It’s a great set up and their staff is wonderful.

Bill also took on the responsibility of casting most of it. From his PTP family, he brought in Valerie Leonard and Judith Chaffee. He also enlisted Dan Van Why. With the help of my friend, Glory Kadigan, I found Bill Jaffe. With Bill Army jumping in too, Crab on Its Back was cast. Still no director, so I reached out to Drayton Hiers, a friend from NYU, who was badass at staging a reading.

The day of our performance was intense. We all gathered at Tisch and spent the morning rehearsing. It was lightning fast and it felt like so much hadn’t been done. I didn’t know how they were going to pull it off that night. Are all playwrights constantly worrying or is it just me?

I attended PTP’s performance that evening, and it was excellent. Then it was our turn. Those actors got up there and kicked my play’s ass. Such incredible work. Each of them was embodying my characters wholly. I was so happy, sitting back and just experiencing it. Crab on Its Back is my only true comedy to date. It felt so good knowing it was in more than capable hands.

Thank you, Bill Army, for being my soldier. Thank you, Valerie, Bob, Judith, Dan, Drayton, and all the folks at PTP for welcoming my work and giving me that wonderful night.