5 Questions with Chisa Hutchinson
Chisa Hutchinson (B.A. Vassar College; M.F.A NYU – Tisch School of the Arts) has happily presented her plays DIRT RICH, SHE LIKE GIRLS,THIS IS NOT THE PLAY, SEX ON SUNDAY, TUNDE’S TRUMPET, THE SUBJECT, MAMA’S GONNA BUY YOU, SOMEBODY’S DAUGHTER, ALONDRA WAS HERE and DEAD & BREATHING at such venues as the Lark Play Development Center, SummerStage, Atlantic Theater Company, Working Man’s Clothes Productions, the BE Company, Partial Comfort Productions, Mad Dog Theater Company, the Wild Project, Rattlestick Theater, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the South Orange Performing Arts Center and the Contemporary American Theater Festival. She has been a Dramatists Guild Fellow, a Lark Fellow, a Resident at the William Inge Center for the Arts, a New York NeoFuturist and a staff writer for the Blue Man Group, and is currently a second-year member of New Dramatists. Chisa has won a GLAAD Award, the John Golden Award for Excellence in Playwriting, a Lilly Award, a New York Innovative Theatre Award, the Paul Green Award, a Helen Merrill Award and has been a finalist for the highly coveted PoNY Fellowship. A recent foray into screenwriting won her Best Narrative Short at the Sonoma International Film Festival. By day, Chisa writes copy for a retail company. To learn more, visit www.chisahutchinson.com
1) What was the inspiration for THE WEDDING GIFT?
The short answer is slavery. The longer answer is I feel like America’s getting brave enough to start being honest with itself about its history of brutality against and oppression of blacks. You can see it in the movies that are coming out. But the way in which we’re examining it strikes me as both insultingly literal and from too safe a distance. White America can go, “Oh, it’s a good thing we don’t chain them up and beat them like that any more” (except they kinda do) or “Oh, it’s so terrible what happened to those black people hundreds of years ago” (except it’s still kinda happening). Hence, 12 Years A Slave gets every accolade ever, but Fruitvale Station and Dear White People get the shaft. It’s too soon to be facing up to shit that happened just now. But look. I get it. White people don’t want to have their faces rubbed in their persistent reputation as entitled, oppressive assholes any more than I wanna have my face rubbed in my chronic victimhood, over and over.
So I’m trying something different. A new context for the discussion, a new vehicle to drive the point home. Something just strange enough and just familiar enough to be engaging. And vaguely science-fictiony. Because white folks love science fiction. We’ll see how it lands. In any event and however people feel about it, it was fun as shit to write and even more fun to see actors play with it.
2) The Dramatists Guild of America recently announced the winners of its annual awards. You received The Landford Wilson Award for early-career work. Where were you when you got the news and what was the first thought you had when you heard you won?
I was in my house, already in a terrific mood because my grandparents were visiting me from Evansville, IN. (I frickin’ love my grandparents.) And my phone rings and it’s an unfamiliar number and I’m like, “Aw shit, what bill haven’t I paid?” And I almost didn’t pick up because whatever, my grandparents are here and it’s Christmas time and who the hell wants to be dealing with bill collectors at Christmas time, right? But I did pick up. And I’m so glad I did. And the first thought that went though my head was, “For real? But I was just an alternate!” Because I was put forth as an alternate nominee by Emily Morse at New Dramatists after having my name pulled second from a hat for the nomination lottery. I had no idea I was nominated by like 4 other people, apparently. No idea.
3) You recently decided to give screenwriting a try. What do you find are the most similar elements between playwriting and screenwriting and which are the most different?
The biggest similarity: they’re both HARD AS HELL. Every time. No matter how many times you do it. Biggest difference: for a play, you can have two people just sitting around talking to each other in a living room for 90 minutes and call it interesting. Not so much for screenplays. You better get those fools out of that damn living room and have something explode. Or at least a car chase.
4) By day, you write copy for a retail company. How did you come by this opportunity? Any “Seinfeld J. Peterman” moments you can share with us?
Dude. I got the job through Craigslist. Never underestimate Craigslist. Craigslist has paid many a bill. And HA! Yes. Seinfeld J. Peterman moments. I actually post some on Facebook as a series called “Today’s Bad Copy.” I just posted one right before answering these questions:“Today’s Bad Copy: ‘Sure, the whole point of it changing color is to let you know when it’s hot enough to cook in and all, but come on. That’s just f*cking cool.”– the Color-Changing Ceramic Pan“
5) What is the most unique wedding gift you’ve ever given?
I usually just stick to the registry. It’s just practical. But one time, I was so broke because I just spent over 800 precious, inter-gig dollars on a bridesmaid dress, bridal shower gift, travel, hotel etc. and had literally $48 left in my account before I did my Craigslist voodoo and got my J. Peterman job, but my bestie from college was getting married so what else could I do, right? So I humbly framed the poem that she asked me to read at the ceremony. Simple. Unique. Affordable on a $48 budget.