Joshua R. Pangborn is the creator of the independent television series Skeleton Crew. Skeleton Crew is a low-budget series with a BIG heart focusing on themes of the LGBTQ+ community and are produced by SideKick Productions, which focuses on producing body positive media. Skeleton Crew features a mostly plus-size cast, including Rev. Yolanda , member of both the Blues and the LGBT Hall of Fame, Greg Gunter (BearCity Trilogy), Lloyd Kaufman (founder of Troma Studios) and Bianca Leigh (Hurricane Bianca).
Joshua might have a doctorate in English Literature and work in English Language Education as a day job, but his love for comics and the”nerd culture” is what heavily influences his work and became the turning point in his career. He grew up in a very small town in Northern NY State, about an hour south of Montreal, Quebec, moved to NYC area at 18 and has lived there since. Joshua has worked on the Off-Off-Broadway theatre circuit since 2005, primarily as a playwright. His work deals with body positivity, matters of gender and sexuality and identity, and “normalising” elements of society some might find to be “extreme”.
Skeleton Crew has opened a lot of doors for Joshua to a bigger world artistically, and has really focused him on what he want to do with his career. So it’s both a culmination for him and the beginning of something new.
YASS Magazine met Joshua R. Pangdom and here is the exclusive interview.
Tell some a little bit about yourself.
It’s funny. This is the first question, but it’s the last one I’m answering. Probably because I’m much better about talking about my work than myself! I’ve always measured myself by my accomplishments, and they have defined me (yes, I did quote Anthony from Season One of Skeleton Crew, but, then, a lot of me is in him). It’s easier to talk about what I’ve done than talk about myself. But, let’s try a bit of both:
I grew up in a small town just south of the Canadian border. The town I lived in had about five hundred people or so, give or take (we were in the mountains and so spread out, no one was counting). But everyone knew everyone. I knew I was gay at a very young age, but that wasn’t something you ran around shouting in those days (wow—the 90s have become “those days”—which means I am getting older!). All I had to look up to were Ellen and Jack on Dawson’s Creek. The idea of a plus-sized gay man didn’t even exist until I discovered the internet (we got this magical window into another world when I was older because of how far away from civilization we lived). I did drama club all through school, was the proverbial big fish in the small pond, and knew from a young age I was going to NYC for school and for life. And I did—sort of. I graduated with a double major in English and Theatre and a double minor in History and Psychology from Manhattanville College in 2005 (200 credits in four years—I took a lot of classes), and then I moved into the Bronx. I started The Living Room Theatre company which lasted for about two years, producing three shows (and winning one award!), before that folded for several reasons. I took a hiatus, focusing on grad school and my doctoral program (which I completed in 2014—so yes, you can refer to me as Doctor Joshua R. Pangborn if you’d like). But I missed theatre and I was growing tired of seeing underrepresentation of body positive actors and characters and stories, so I decided to return with SideKick Productions in 2010. We produced a few shows throughout the years, but then in 2015 I decided to try my hand at something completely different, and, well, Skeleton Crew was born.
How did you decide to create the independent television series Skeleton Crew?
I’d been writing for the theatre all my life, and truthfully I never imagined I’d switch to film or television. But living in NYC, you eventually realize everyone and their mother is a playwright, and the sheer volume of theatre being performed every night is simply overwhelming. Unless you have a celebrity or a crack marketing team, you are lost in the flood of Off-Off-Broadway and beyond. I’d been producing work for about five years, both in festivals (and being nominated and winning some awards) and independently, but this is an awesome amount of work for what is ultimately three to five nights (if you’re lucky) with an audience of maybe ten to thirty people a night (if you’re lucky). I was tired of seeing the amazing work my actors were putting up go unappreciated by a wider audience. That’s when I wrote my play, The Skeleton Crew. It was the first play I had ever written which ended without neatly wrapping things up at the end. And it was the first play I’d written which had stories I could imagine continuing. I’d been wanting to find a way to transition to independent television, and I realized I may have found a way. Being online meant we could have maybe 100, 200 people watch the series eventually—it would be something which lived on so the actors’ hard work could be appreciated, and the mission of SideKick Productions could start to reach a wider audience. So I grabbed a few of my regular collaborators—including Stuart Kiczek, my co-director and co-star—and we sat down to a fried chicken dinner. And we talked about the possibility of trying something none of us had any experience with, and we agreed to do it anyway. So, we dropped the “The” from the play, I wrote twelve thirty-minute episodes, and Skeleton Crew was born!
You have made it to Season 4. How has the series evolved over the years?
The series has evolved in ways I never really expected. If you look at Season One, I don’t think anyone would have thought we would become what we are now. As I said, not one of us really knew what we were doing then—and from a technical perspective, that shows. So maybe the greatest evolution for the series is from the technical side. And maybe locations (not everything is filmed in my apartment anymore!).
From the story side, I guess I never really thought the core of the series would center on Hunter and Anthony—I certainly didn’t set out to write myself a starring vehicle (and funny story there, for fans of the show—I originally cast myself as Eddie, Hunter’s brother, a part which later went to the great Dustin Alan Ingram). But after Season One, that was the feedback I was getting—this is the story of Hunter and Anthony, and the people around them. So, I embraced that, and I really started to embrace the wacky and weird elements which I think people appreciate. We’ve really leaned hard on our genre—the melo-dra-gomedy (melodramatic-tragicomedy), which, I believe, Skeleton Crew might be the only example of to date. And every year we’ve tried to reinvent the show just a bit. For instance, Season Two we paid little homages to some cult classic films such as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? And An American Werewolf in London. In Season Three, we tried our hand at a traditional sitcom setup centered around a bar, a la Cheers or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And now, for Season Four, we are leaning hard into genre television like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Doctor Who.
However, I think the biggest change for the series, the biggest evolution, is for the cast—some of us have been playing these roles for four years now. We’ve really become a family, as corny as that sounds. Just seeing one another on set is such a joy. And we have really come to learn how to work with one another. Stuart and I may be the directors, but we are a family that wants the best product, and we’re at a point where we don’t feel weird helping each other during a scene or sharing ideas or suggestions. There’s no ego involved, there’s just a passion for the product, and a love for one another.
Of course, there’s been other changes. We’ve lost a few cast members due to other commitments, we’ve gained some new faces (one character even “got” a new face), and some characters have had to go to further the story along. But the sense of family, of loving the people you choose to put in your life, that’s always been there from Day One at that horrific Halloween party, and I think it will always be there until the end of the series.
Which is your biggest audience?
It’s hard to know exactly who our biggest audience is, but certainly our most vocal audience is the bear community around the world. And they are so incredibly supportive—they talk about what they like, what they don’t like, they send art inspired by the series, I had one fan even write a spec script for a scene for Hunter and Anthony that I still want to film when I have a chance! I’m so grateful to every single person who watches the show, and I hope they know this.
What is the source of your influences and inspirations?
I suppose what has influenced me depends on the season. Pre-Skeleton Crew, much of my work centered on classical stories at the core, so Season One of the series was inspired by the Greek play Medea. Season Two, I was inspired by cult films, Season Three by subverting classical sitcom tropes, and now in Season Four by genre television.
Along the way, I’ve also been eager to find ways to present audiences with lives and people and interests they might find extreme without drawing attention to how “extreme” they are. For instance, Hunter is a character interested in fattening his lover—I’ve tried very hard to make this something “normal” to the character without making it the “oh my God, can you believe it?” moment of the series. The series isn’t about the secrets and the “weirdness” of the characters’ lives and interests, it’s about them, living those lives and interests.
I’ve also turned to the actors for inspiration—as I’ve said, some of us have been playing these characters for four years now. Before Season Three and Four, I spoke with several actors about ideas and directions they’d like their characters to go. I can’t say I used all of them, but they made for some inspiring suggestions.
Lastly, the fans have helped too! Or rather, they’ve inspired me to push harder and make the less obvious choices for the characters. There was a storyline in Season Two for instance that was completely changed in post-production because of comments I’d gotten from an audience member. I realized this viewer was right, and I was leaning into the easy choice, so Stuart and I made some post-production fixes and we were better for it.
How has the gay “nerd culture” affected your work?
The Gay Nerd culture can’t escape being an influence on my work—I am a gay nerd—a cosplay dressing, genre-watching, comic book-reading gay nerd. And this season, my nerdiness is really coming out through the storylines. But it’s been there all along really. Last season, we had the fun adventure of Anthony and Hunter dressed as superheroes saving Rhys in Rhys’ tall tale/origin story. And we’ve had our own resident superhero since Season One, the Midnight Marauder, always on hand to rescue a lost glove or return a missing umbrella.
What does Skeleton Crew represent?
Skeleton Crew the series represents family. Not the family you’re born into, that you have no control over. That is a roll of the dice; you may end up with the sweetest people in the world, or you may find yourself in something toxic, all through no choice of your own. But the family you surround yourself with, the people you choose to let into your life, that is real family. And I really believe at Skeleton Crew we view ourselves that way, as a family, both on screen and off.
The series also represents the opportunity for people who do not get to see themselves depicted in mainstream entertainment to find representation. As a child, I don’t remember ever watching a series or a film with a plus size couple, much less a plus-size gay couple. And the few examples we have on television don’t really reflect a real relationship. The couple may be “in love,” they may have some small moments of kissing or hand holding, but you don’t see them in bed together, you don’t see them in the shower, you don’t see them feeding each other (well, to be fair, you rarely see that anywhere). I wanted this series to be about people, of all sizes, without calling attention to their size. That’s why the characters don’t talk about dieting on a regular basis. That’s why, generally, the characters don’t talk about feeling ugly because of their size. Skeleton Crew represents a world where many body types are beautiful, sexual, and the actions the characters take reflect this.
What is the mission of SideKick Productions?
SideKick Productions was started with the idea of size-blind casting. At its core, SideKick Productions is a body-positive production company which tries to utilize actors of all body types. The work we do isn’t about being plus-sized, though—it’s about people, and these people happen to be plus-sized.
-You have had some great and very exciting cameo performances over the years by Greg Gunter (BearCity Trilogy), Lloyd Kaufman (founder of Troma Studios), and Bianca Leigh (Hurricane Bianca). How do you feel about this achievement?
I am the luckiest person in the world whenever I have anyone agree to be on this show—I know that sounds like a pageant answer, but it’s the truth. There are two sets of people I couldn’t make this show without—the fans, and the actors. And so working with these actors really is a treat, something I look forward to every week we are in production. And I think they like working with me, otherwise they wouldn’t come back, right? (he asks, hopeful) That being said, we’ve been very fortunate to work with some big names in the independent film and LGBT community. Lloyd, Bianca, and Greg were so great to work with—I admit I was terrified of feeling imposter syndrome before I got them on set, but they never once made me feel like a phony. I hope we find a way to get them all back on set some day!
But, then again, I feel impostor syndrome whenever a new actor joins the cast for the first time. I remember I was terrified of Barbara (Carla) before I met her—she looked so polished and professional, and I had so many scenes with her, I worried about disappointing her or making her regret being a part of the show. But every day on set with her is a gift, and I’ve never once felt like she thought we were a waste of her time. Same with LGBT and Blues Hall of Fame member Rev. Yolanda. I didn’t know what to expect from someone of her calibre, but now I can’t imagine doing the show without her. Then there is Maggie (Veronica, Season Two-) who not only has taken on the challenge of playing a role created by another actor, she does it while traveling two plus hours back and forth every time we film! I thought for sure she’d quit with all the work and travel involved, but here she is, three seasons later. I was fortunate I knew Stuart (Anglicus), J. (Hunter), Paul and Andrew (Dennis and Chaz), and Ashley (Appolina/Piper) before we started filming (and I can’t ever imagine not making the show without them, so they better not get any ideas of leaving!), but most of the cast are people I somehow convinced to work with me along the way, and my world is brighter and better for it. I really wish I could talk about all of them here, but given how many people have appeared in Skeleton Crew over the years, we’d probably be here all week then. So I just have to trust they know how much working with them has meant to me.
One of the things I really love about this show, though, is the opportunity it has given to me to bring in actors without much experience, some without any experience, and really integrate them into the cast. At the end of the day, though, and here’s the pageant type answer again, I am always in shock that anyone agrees to do the show, and anytime I get to work with these people on set or off is an achievement.
What are the issues and the topics you aim to raise awareness for through your work?
We’re a weird and wacky show, and we love to make people laugh. But we also want to make people realize the power in their own identity, in being who you are and who you want to be. We want people to know it’s okay not to be ashamed of who you are, what you like, who you like, and what you want. Body positivity is especially important for us, and we want people to know big is beautiful, sexy, and powerful. And just because you have a sexual desire that is outside the mainstream does not mean there is anything wrong with you—our characters all find themselves drawn to passions and fetishes different from what you might find in a mainstream show, but they aren’t judged for it (generally).
What is the best comment you have received from your audience?
We’ve received so many great comments, honestly, it’s hard to pick just one. I read everything people send to us, and I try to respond as much as I can. But I love hearing from fans. It’s almost not fair to pick one comment, but there is one that stands out to me, from early in Season One. A fan told me he started watching the series with his boyfriend, and this helped them both grow closer. It feels really great to know we’ve helped people connect with their loved ones better.
Did you expect the huge popularity of the series?
I mentioned earlier I thought we might get one, maybe two hundred people watching. I never thought the thousands of people who have tuned in would be a reality. Our very first episode, flaws and all, is clocking in at almost 18,000 views on YouTube. I mean, something we made in my living room has been seen by almost 18,000 people, how cool is that? And we’ve been seen around the world. YouTube lets me see the countries of the viewers, and we have been watched in forty different countries!
What are your future plans?
We’re working on Season Four right now, and then after that, hopefully, we’ll keep going! SideKick Productions is also working on developing three new series over the next year or two, so there will be a lot of exciting content coming. And I’m also working on my own acting career, so if anyone needs a short, round, ginger, well, let me know!
If you want to contribute to making Skeleton Crew Season Four come to life, please visit the fundraising campaign here: