Growing up gay and goth in Texas: David Crabb performs his ‘Bad Kid’


Adolescence is hard.

And David Crabb can tell you some stories about it. About being goth and gay in San Antonio and in Seguin in the 1990s and skirting dangerously close to too much self-destructive trouble before finding his way past it.

The New York-based Crabb brings his critically acclaimed one man show “Bad Kid” to the Long Center for the Performing Arts for an extended run through Oct. 5.

Co-written and directed by Josh Matthews, “Bad Kid” is a funny yet poignant theatrical telling of Crabb’s socially tumultuous high school years. With minimal props and staging and no costume changes, Crabb plays multiple characters, from his hard-edge gal pal Sylvia to his skinhead best friend Zach. Crabb even plays his parents — his well-meaning yet unintentionally humorous mother and his kind yet terse father.

The show “is a valentine to my friends and family,” says Crabb, 39, speaking recently from his home in Brooklyn. (And yes, his parents, who both live in San Antonio, will be attending the show in Austin.)

The 2011 debut of “Bad Kid” in New York and a second run the next year garnered Crabb a host of positive reviews and led to opportunities to stage the show elsewhere. He also netted a book contract for a memoir that will be published next spring by Harper Perennial.

“People respond well to a coming-of-age story regardless of what social clique or culture is represented because growing up, making it through the teenage years, is a universal experience,” he says. “Everybody has tough times growing up.”

An only child of divorced parents, Crabb felt isolated through middle school. But when he landed at San Antonio’s MacArthur High School, he found his tribe in a group of goth kids.

If coming out was not a problem with his parents, a large suburban high school was not an easy place to be gay. The outsider alternative goth subculture offered a clique that dovetailed with Crabb’s feelings of already being an outsider.

The makeup and fingernail polish, the dyed black hair, the midnight screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and the outrageous clothes (think predominately black outfits, combat boots, dog collars worn as necklaces) — all of it had an outré appeal for Crabb.

So did the drug-fueled partying at warehouse dance clubs.

“The goth crowd certainly opened a new door for me socially, and I felt like I had found my people,” he says. “But a lot of what I was up to wasn’t necessarily good behavior.”

When his mother remarried and moved to Seguin, Crabb was living with his father, who was mostly out of town on business.

“Unintentionally I was on my own,” he says. “My parents trusted me when they probably shouldn’t have.”

A move to Seguin offered a way to put the brakes on the bad behavior.

“I can smile about it now, but it was shocking,” Crabb says of his move to the small Central Texas town. “I felt like Jane Goodall off in the wilderness studying a difference species. Or like I was suddenly participating in an enforced cultural sharing project.”

Switching to a more thoughtful mood, Crabb continues: “There’s a real comfort to being a part of a clique when you’re young. But to the extent that you never learn to swim in other waters, you never learn to get along with others that are not like you, being in a clique can be very isolating.”

But Crabb found acceptance among a diverse group of friends when he let his guard down enough to realize the compassion in people who weren’t exactly like him.

“I found people who were clever and kind and who cared about me,” he says. “And they became my friends. Never mind they were nothing like me.”

If anything, Crabb says, the underlying message of “Bad Kid” is one of acceptance and understanding difference.

After high school, Crabb went on to Texas State University in San Marcos, where he earned a degree in visual studies with an emphasis on photography. He next headed to the prestigious Cranbrook Academy for graduate studies in art but began to shift his creative energies toward performance and video.

“Increasingly in graduate school, I started making performance videos that were really spoofs of the art world,” he says.

Moving to New York City after finishing graduate school, he quickly became involved with the noted comedy club Upright Citizens Brigade. Crabb also found his way to the Moth, the now nationally recognized organization that promotes and produces live storytelling shows, a podcast and “The Moth Radio Hour.”

Crabb is a regular “Moth” host and participant — a gig that brought him to Austin last season when “The Moth” played the Paramount Theatre. Playing to what is for all intents and purposes a hometown crowd has its theatrical advantages, Crabb says.

“In New York, you have to do a little more work to explain Texas. But when I did ‘The Moth’ in Austin all I did was mention the giant pecan (landmark) in Seguin and the audience cracked up.”

Crabb also performed at the Long Center several times in the past couple of years with “The Soundtrack Series,” the New York-based live storytelling showcase.

A longtime instructor of performance storytelling, during the Austin run of “Bad Kid” Crabb will teach two afternoon-long public workshops on the craft.

And as a way to build community in advance of his memoir release, he’s opened an online photo blog, the “Bad Kid Project,” www.badkidproject.com, that celebrates alt-youth and invites anyone to send in their pictures of their alt-youth adolescence and to share a brief story about themselves. He also mentors veterans across the country as a writing instructor with the Writers Guild Initiative’s Wounded Warrior Project.

“By nature I am a nostalgic person,” says Crabb. “I love to go back to places from my past — drive by houses I lived in or schools or clubs or restaurants I went to. My friends joke that I’m a compulsive ‘returner’ in that serial killer kind of way — I have to go back and look at the scene of the so-called crime. But it’s the psychological and emotional associations you make with places that make them so important to you.”

Not surprisingly, the Austin run of “Bad Kid” has turned into something of a homecoming for Crabb.

“Friends and family have been telling me which show they’re coming to see, who they’re bringing with them, how they’ve got a babysitter all lined up, where they’re going to have dinner first, ” says Crabb.

“It’s all so sweet. People who figured so importantly in my life now get to see the show that’s really about them.”



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