From Tony Award nominee and book writer of Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations Dominique Morisseau and Tony Award–winning director Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Skeleton Crew centers on workers at a small automotive factory in 2008 Detroit during an impending industry collapse. The show stars six-time Emmy nominee Phylicia Rashad.
Dominique Morisseau: Anytime I’m telling stories about Detroit, my family is my biggest resource. [When writing Skeleton Crew] I spent a lot of time talking to different family members who work in factories, from the floor to management. But the impetus for writing it was to create three plays about my hometown. This is the third installment of a Detroit series of plays.
When I wrote [the play] over 10 years ago, I had never seen a factory onstage. So I just wanted to see that, but I also wanted to tell a story about what was happening in the foreclosure crisis and the auto industry collapsing in Detroit. My family and friends, people that I love, were impacted by that. I was interested in understanding who the laborers were behind the veil of the auto industry.
Detroit is also a city full of essential workers. So now that terms like “essential workers” and “frontline workers” are being popularized, I think of Skeleton Crew and how these factory and warehouse workers are starting to try to organize, unionize and fight for their labor rights, especially health care. It’s also about what it means for this family of workers to be looking out for each other—the sacrifices people will make for each other when they work together and they love each other and they create a bond together.
My interest in telling this story was to crack open the lens of who’s building our nation. Detroit is built on the Black working class, and this nation is built by the hands of the many working class people of all cultures and backgrounds. In many ways, I am hoping that this can just create space to show who the working class actually is. I don’t just want to express what they’re dealing with, but more what hinders the working class from having the things that they believe that they’re working toward. What systems are or are not in place that are causing our working class to be vulnerable and to be an expendable class? That’s not OK. Part of my interest in telling the story is to reveal the humanity of the laboring people of this country.
Like the rest of the world, in 2020 I experienced a lot of loss in my personal life. I lost a lot of people to Covid in Detroit. I’ve lost a lot of family members. But I know out of loss emerges new things. My family is from Haiti. When the earthquake happened in 2010, I experienced Haitian films and documentaries, saying, “Hey, I’m not afraid to start over.” You build; God takes away; you rebuild. There is a resilience in there. Hopefully, our artist community also has that resilience and we’ll rebuild.
Previews begin Tuesday, December 21; the show opens January 12, 2022, at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 W. 47th St.).
Connect with Dominique Morisseau at @domorisseau