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Mike Skerrett ’18

Writer of the Class of 2018’s Freshman Musical Wastelanders and the fall sci-fi comedy Another Sky, Mike Skerrett talks about writing, directing, and being funny at Harvard.

 

Year: 2018

House: Adams

Concentration: Government, with an English secondary

 

 

What got you in to writing plays?

Narcissistic personality disorder. No, I liked writing TV pilots and short screenplays a lot when I was in high school, and I did improv comedy too. I’ve always done a lot of theater, mostly on the acting side, and the whole process of making a play show-ready is a ton of fun, so writing plays was a pretty natural transition from that background. If the show goes badly, I have no one to blame but myself, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to blame other people.

 

What did you learn about writing from the Freshman Musical?

I didn’t know anything about musicals besides having been in a couple, so now I know more about structure and just how much rewriting needs to happen over the rehearsal process to make the show not terrible. Watching rehearsals is also important, because something that sounds really great in my head and looks fine on paper might just come across as not funny at all when it’s actually said by actors.

 

What is the most difficult part of writing a play?

Freezing the script. For those of you with friends, freezing the script means the writer can no longer make changes to it, actors can start memorizing, tech can start setting cues, etc. I’m really bad with this, as actors who work with me can attest, because I have a habit of coming up to them opening night and telling them to completely change a line. It’s hard to let go, because it always feels like there’s more editing to be done. Writing always feels easy when it’s in the abstract, but when there’s an audience of a hundred people watching it, my improv instincts kick in and I want to change everything.

 

What’s the difference between writing a musical and writing a play?

Plays are easier, for one thing, because you don’t have to worry about the timing and logistics of breaking into song every once in a while, with a full band behind you. Musicals tend to be, for lack of a better word, cornier, because you have to reconcile the action with the very weird and unnatural concet of singing the story every couple of minutes. People rarely do that in real life, so even though it can be much more moving than a straight play, it does take the audience out of the action a little. Though having only produced one of each, I still know very, very little. Don’t trust me on any of this, dear Her Campus Harvard readers. I would never want to lead you astray.

 

How do you incorporate your experience with IGP into your writing, if at all?

(IGP, for those of you who have yet to like us on Facebook, is an improv group, the Immediate Gratification Players.) Writing is essentially improv but with more time and no bloodthirsty audience in front of you, so the skills are certainly similar. All the principles you learn in improv, like agreement, character work, patterns and callbacks (remember Narcissistic Personality Disorder? Ha! Callback!), are helpful when you’re writing a scene. Years and years of doing improv teaches you a little bit about what is and isn’t funny onstage, so I like to think I’m not just making stabs in the dark to figure out what’s funny. Then again, I like to think a lot of things. Through my writing, that’s what I’ve come to realize binds all human beings: the propensity to think things. Quote me on that.

 

 

What is Another Sky about?

Another Sky is your classic sci-fi comedy about a reality show being filmed in a research station on a distant, Earth-like planet. It’s about two scientists, two reality show contestants, and the show’s host/ producer/ general crazy person getting trapped on the station and then trying to survive. How much pubbing am I allowed to do in this? I’ll pay everyone five dollars if they come see it.

 

What is your role as the writer of a student-written show throughout the production process?

Being the writer means you have to come in with a very clear idea of what the show needs, set-wise, light-wise, sound-wise, etc. While there are some awesome people working on designing all these things, they need to know what they’re supposed to be going for. My biggest job, though, is getting the script done in time, which is always difficult. I should be doing that now, actually, but Her Campus is more important.

 

What’s it like working with Adam Wong, who does improv with you, in a different context?

It’s great, he’s great. Really what every writer like me wants is to work with someone who understands him on a comedic level, and that’s what Adam does. We’ve done improv together for more than a year, and we’re also good friends, so it’s a dream scenario. He’s also a character in the show, and I’m assistant directing, so I can tell him what the stage looks like when he’s up there and doesn’t have the perspective. We’re both set on creating the best show we possibly can, and I’m really looking forward to it. Plus, he looks like Joseph Gordon-Levitt but handsomer. So that makes it easier on the eyes to work with him.

 

What makes you excited about this show?

On my end, I’m excited because it’s a show I’ve been really excited to write from beginning to end, and one that has only gotten better as I’ve workshopped it with Adam. It’s also the third play or musical I’ve written, so hopefully I’ll have learned from the mistakes I made in the others. I’m not known for learning from mistakes, but I’m not known for not learning from mistakes either. People tend not to notice whether or not I learn from mistakes, and I like it that way. In terms of cast and crew, I have an incredible group behind me that I could not be prouder of, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what we create together. Another thing that really excites me is the merchandise options that open up. Shirts, mugs, action figures… It’s time to start monetizing my shows and that’s what I plan on doing.

 

Where will we see you in a few years?

Ain’t that the million dollar question? You know those kids who hang around high school several years after they graduate? I don’t know if there’s a college equivalent to that, but if there’s not, I’ll create one. I have no idea what I’ll be doing. When I formulate specific post-college plans, you can be sure Her Campus Harvard will be the first to know.

 

Another Sky opens Friday, October 23 and runs until Sunday, October 25 in the Adams Pool Theater.

Hi! My name is Steph Ferrarie and I am a sophomore at Harvard. I like dogs, weird dreams, ice cream, and feminism.
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