May 29, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 182: Chisa Hutchinson
Hometown: Newark, NJ
Current Town: Maplewood, NJ
Q: Tell me please about about the Lily you just won. What is a Lily? What did you win it for?
A: The Lilly is the beautiful brainchild of some really smart, really serious theater folks who were pissed at the conspicuous lack of recognition of women's accomplishments in the theater (specifically by the Tony committee). They were like, "That's bullshit. We should do something about it." And they did. And it was good. When Gloria-effing-Steinem does your invocation, you know it's good. I got the Lilly for "Outstanding Playwright at the Beginning of Her Career" for two plays I had produced last season, DIRT RICH (City Parks Foundation) and SHE LIKE GIRLS (Working Man's Clothes Productions). Both are about young, inner-city folks dealing with stuff no one should have to deal with, so the award honors them, too. AND I got to sit on stage with the big girls. Hell yeah.
Q: You're reading something at the BE company's live reading series. Can you tell me what you're sharing?
A: At tonight's BEginnings, I'm going to be reading some prose, for a change. Deep in the dusty archives of every playwright's laptop is a manuscript for a novel that she sent out like, twice and then shelved. Yeah. That's what this is from. It's called DISMISSED and it's about a scholarship kid's initially soul-crushing but ultimately reinforcing adventures at a swanky private school. Yeah. I seem to really dig writing about kids from the hood. Still processing my own shit, I guess.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: Right now I'm working on two collaborative projects and ruminating on one independent one. 7 SINS IN 60 MINUTES (which kind of is what it sounds like) is a project I'm doing with six other writers. Each of us tackles one sin (I got "Lust"...mmhmm) and use the same four characters to weave our stories together. It's getting done at HERE this summer, Philly Fringe, and Edinburgh. Next is A GRIMM REALITY, a gritty, NYC adaptation of some of Grimms' fairytales by four writers. That goes up in Bryant Park the last two Saturdays in July and the first two in August. So stoked for that. When I'm in a good place with those, I can finally focus on this new thing I'm rearing to get at, a music theater piece for kids called TUNDE'S TRUMPET. Two words: Bunraku. Puppets. It's gonna be very different from anything I've ever tried, formwise, but I am so game.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: I went to a private, all-girls high school where there was (along with a dance studio, a field house, and a theater) an art gallery that displayed the work of famous, working artists. Once, it displayed the work of a photographer who took pictures of people living in sub-standard housing. I will never forget staring at one photo of a woman (who looked like she could've been my mama) sitting next to a giant hole in the wall, and hearing a girl behind me go, "Ew! Why doesn't she just get that fixed?" I was like, For real? You're that ignorant? I took it as a personal challenge to make those like me and my mama and the woman in the photo and anyone else who isn't readily visible... more visible. And that's why I write plays.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: The obvious answer to this would be I'd make it so that all theater artists could make a decent living doing what we love, but then who knows how much we would love it? Frank McCourt once said of all the hardships he endured as a kid, "My life saved my life." Right on. Where would we be if we didn't have anything to rage against? If we lived easy lives? I'll tell you where. Sitting in a Park Avenue co-op with a severe case of writer's block and an unhealthy penchant for scrapbooks. That's where.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Theater Heroes: Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, Tina Howe, Paula Vogel, Janet Neipris, Rinne Groff, Lynn Nottage, Diana Son, Melinda Lopez, Radha Blank, Lucy Thurber, Tony Kushner, Suzan-Lori Parks, anyone who has ever written a play about someone very different from themselves like Young Jean Lee and John Guare...soooooo many!
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: As I'm constantly surprised at the kind of theater that excites me, I'll just tell you what kind of theater doesn't excite me. I don't like self-indulgent theater or theater that fails to invite its audience into it. I am bored by theater that feels like a sitcom on stage. And I'd rather read a dictionary than see a play that's all head and no heart, all intellect and no emotion.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: GET AWAY FROM YOUR DESK. Everyone else is going to tell you to keep writing, keep writing, keep writing, and that's fine. You should do that. But you should also go out, see shows, get drunk, embarrass yourself by doing something unseemly on a subway, see more shows, meet people, support your writer peers. I'm serious. Two reasons: 1.) Good material. You gotta live life to write about it. No output without input, y'all. 2.) People will see your face. For years, I underestimated how important it is to actually be in a room with people you're sending scripts to or directors you've been yearning to work with. Better for you when they can put a face to the name. Which makes sense because hey, they need to know that they want to work with YOU AND your play, right?
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Plugs! Yes! Okay, obviously anything the BE Company does: http://www.theBEcompany.org. They just blow my mind with the quality of writers and actors they snag. The Lark Play Development Center is a must for ANY playwright or any producer looking for the next hot thing: www.larktheatre.org. If you go to their presentation of David Henry Hwang's CHINGLISH there on June 10th, you'll see me. If you don't know about the NeoFuturists, check'em out: www.nynf.org . Amazing shows at the Kraine Theater every Friday and Saturday. And THEY know how to invite an audience into a show. Ooo! And hit the parks this summer! Summer Stage (run by City Parks Foundation) has a LOT of good stuff going on, including plays by my girls, Radha Blank (AMERICAN SCHEMES) and Zakiyyah Alexander (ETYMOLOGY OF A BIRD): www.cityparksfoundation.com. If you're suffering from Recessionitis like I am, you'll be happy to know it's all FREE. Yes.