His original goal was to be in New York by the time he was 30, but Paris Crayton III has modified those plans. A recognized playwright in Atlanta, he’s now the leader of his own theatrical troupe.
Crayton is the artistic director of 3 Hill Productions, established last year, which staged his “Brothers of Affliction” as its maiden production. A family drama about three brothers trying to find out who they are and who they are to one another, “Affliction” is inspired by Crayton’s own family. He played youngest brother Tyriq.
“Brothers of Affliction,” which Crayton also directed and produced, ran for a weekend at 7 Stages last November. Of the five stagings, three sold out. “For a theater company that was three months old, that is an amazing feeling,” Crayton says. “We got great feedback.”
The play was accepted in the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival and the DC Black Theatre Festival before 3 Hill re-staged it at the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts and Community Center this season. It will also be performed twice at the second annual Atlanta Black Theatre Festival this weekend.
This time, however, Crayton didn’t have to submit the play. Festival officials asked that “Affliction” be part of it. “Toni Simmons Henson [the festival’s executive director] told me, ‘I have to have this in my festival,’ ” he says. “I didn’t want to do the role any more, but she really wanted it.”
Henson was sold the moment she saw it. “It was brilliant,” she says. “I don’t know that I’ve seen a play this good since I’ve been in Atlanta.” Submissions for the festival had technically already closed, but she found a way to include it.
The repeated stagings have given Crayton confidence. “At one point I wanted to throw it away,” he says. On his voice mail, he now identifies himself as a future Pulitzer Prize winner, extolling the virtues of positive thinking.
A native of St. Louis, Crayton has been acting since age 11 and writing since around the same time. He crafted his first play in fifth grade, about a seal that finds its mother. He jokes that “Finding Nemo” stole the idea from him. “My imagination was better back then — I could write about seals,” he says. “Now I write about life.”
In high school he penned more plays, but it wasn’t until college that he took it seriously. He attended Brooks College in Long Beach, California, graduating in 2004, and a few years later went to the Conservatory at Act One Studios in Chicago. In 2009 he moved to Florida, where he got involved in the Holy Land Experience, a biblical theme park, as a performer and wrote and produced two plays: “Eye of the Beholder,” about a family dealing with a father who’s been away for 13 years, and “Laying Where No One Can See,” in which four college roommates meet a pair of neighbors who change their lives.
When he realized that New York was too expensive, Crayton decided to move to Atlanta. He’s been here three years and has taken to the city. “Atlanta is a theater town,” he says. “I have heard so much about the city. I still love New York, but this is a great place for the arts. I think I made the right decision.”
He decided to start 3 Hill Productions with Kirk D. Henny and Robb Douglas last August when he saw that there were fewer opportunities for African-Americans than he had hoped. “A lot of actors said there is not a lot of work for African-Americans,” he says. “I wanted to change that. If you don’t think there’s enough work, make work happen. I tried to set a standard, to show you can make it happen.”
The 2013-14 season will be 3 Hill’s first full one. “It’s scary and exciting,” he says. “Next year we’ll be a real theater company. We’ll have month-long runs, not just weekends any more. People will take us more seriously.” The goal is productions in May, August and November, including a new play by Crayton, “The Best Games.”
As he approaches his 30th birthday, he has two other immediate goals. One is to have a theater company “held in high esteem and be proud of the work.” The other is to make his passion a full-time one. He works as a server in an Italian restaurant, but vows that “30 is the year I am quitting and pursuing this full force.”
A turning point for him as a writer came in 2009. “When I first started writing, I was always afraid to offend,” he says. “I didn’t use language in my writing. I thought, my parents will see this or my grandmother will see this. And it hindered me. I heard a poet say your story doesn’t start until you tell the truth. Once I heard that, my life opened up. I want to tell the best story possible.”
Learning to juggle the artistic and business sides of his troupe has been an adjustment. “It’s extremely difficult. I would love to do just the artistic side, the acting and writing and directing. That would be a dream. But in theater you have to do the business. That is the part I’m not crazy about, but I’m doing it, to make the company run. The business end is something I am still learning.”
Religiously, he sees a play every week — taking off from work every Thursday — and calls “August, Osage County” at the Alliance Theatre the best production he has seen locally. As long as he gets to pursue his love of theater, he’s content to stay here. “I will be here as long as people want my work here and support it,” Crayton says. “Theater is my heart.”