Making Art from Dirt


Heidi Kraay explores the art of living and dying.

By Elisabeth McKetta
Photography by John Webster

Heidi Kraay always has a whole bevy of projects going on at once (“I say yes a lot,” she admits.) “Boise is an organic crazy mess of music and theater and art that is happening right now,” she tells me. “It’s so fantastic! All of these new ideas starting.”
For Kraay, the creation process definitely looks more like fun that like work. One front-burner project that Kraay loves to talk about is called Dirt.

Dirt originated as a story that had been “smoldering around” inside her for years, and finally Heidi decided to work on it collaboratively with a group called HomeGrown Theatre (which she describes as “a lot of smart people doing wild stuff.”) “With Dirt, I had a story in mind at first, based on a proverb—but as we went deeper into it, we made all sorts of discoveries.”

For Dirt, Heidi has also been interviewing local professionals in the death industry—a new form of collaboration for her. “Our play deals with the professionals who work with our dead (funeral home directors, forensic pathologists and their team, coroners, cemetery crews), and so talking with people in the community who do just that has been a key factor in character development.”

Heidi moved to Boise with her family thirteen years ago—and in the years since, she has become a creative force in the Boise theater community.

She says, “I learned in college to do prop and tech work, so that I could always have a job to support my habit.” The jobs include teaching and working in tech at the Morrison Center, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, and others; the habit is creating plays for stage.

In addition to theater, she also writes and publishes prose and poetry, and she teaches through The Cabin’s “Writers in the Schools” and Idaho Writing Camps program, and also alongside Dwayne Blackaller at Boise Contemporary Theater’s TheaterLAB.

“The teaching is so fun!” Heidi says. “I learn so much! I love the feeling of coming into a group of fourth graders and knowing that they can create something majestic. We tell them to make something true, honest, something that is beautiful to them. We tell that that they’re no wrong answer, ever.”

“Most of us suffer from over-control, from being afraid to take risks and improvise,” she says. “This is fine if you are in a profession like medicine—obviously I don’t want my doctor to improvise!—but it makes for stagnant, colorless art.”

Collaboration is her favorite part of the writing process. Several years ago she wrote a script called “Robots in the Ring” and had the opportunity to work closely with a musical composer. “Until then, I had never collaborated so intensely with anyone!” Heidi says. “I never knew how loose and flexible the creation process could be.”

And this flexibility has shaped her art-making ever since.

In addition to everything else, Heidi is applying to graduate programs in theater. “I’d be terrified and sad to leave Boise,” she says. “But to bring something back would be good.”

Learn more about Heidi’s current and future projects at: