5 Questions I’ve Never Been Asked: Chisa Hutchinson

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Headshot Op 6 IIKia Clark is a young black teenager on the verge of an old devil: self-discovery. At the center of Chisa Hutchinson’s She Like Girls, being produced by Working Man’s Clothes at the Ohio Theatre, Kia has the misfortune, according to the press materials, of revealing this self-discovery to a “non-accepting, insular community where falling outside of the norm is difficult and dangerous.” It doesn’t take a leap of intuition to know where this story might be going.

But that, as playwright Chisa Hutchinson reveals in the 5 Questions interview below, is precisely the point. Comedies and tragedies of teenage self-discovery, not to mention its eventual revelation to the wider world, is everywhere around us yet nowhere at once. Why is this play different from other teenage-gay-angst plays? Hutchinson points to demographics: How many plays about teenage girls of color moving from “friendship to something more” can you name?

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Hutchinson is, by the way, is everyone at once all of a sudden. Currently pursuing her MFA at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, her plays have already been presented in various forms by the Lark Play Development Center, Vital Theater, the Atlantic Theater Company and the aforementioned Working Man’s Clothes. Awards are also circling her, waiting to land: she has been nominated twice for the Wasserstein Prize, twice for the Weissberger Award and other honors that don’t have “Weiss” in their name.

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Jared Culverhouse, a Working Man’s Clothes co-founder, directs She Like Girls, which runs Dec. 1 through 30 at the Ohio Theatre (66 Wooster St.). For tickets, call 212-352-3101, visit www.theatermania.com or www.workingmansclothes.com.

And now, 5 questions Chisa Hutchinson has never been asked — and a bonus question:

1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
After the reading of She Like Girls at the Lark, someone asked if there was any part of the play that I was embarrassed to watch. Which is a great question, because writing a play is generally such a private thing that you don’t think about what your mother, for example, might think of it when she sees it. My Ma refused to come see the reading (she doesn’t approve of homosexuality), and even after I’d successfully guilted her into coming to see the barebones presentation, all she could say about the play immediately after was, “Where do you come up with this stuff?” Which was discouraging. But a couple of days later she called me and left a voicemail (which I still have saved) that let me know that she’d spent a great deal of time thinking about the play and what its message might be. It made me realize how essential embarrassment is to anything worth writing.

2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
A producer from a reputable house that was considering producing this same play asked if I really thought it was necessary that my protagonist get shot in the end. He wanted me to consider changing it. Yeah.

3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
A woman I did a radio interview with kept randomly bringing marionettes into our exchange about a kind of serious play of mine that was about to be mounted. With live, human actors. Apparently, she was a really big fan of puppet theater.

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4) How do you, in writing a play about the awakening of one’s sexual orientation, avoid falling into the ABC Afterschool Special trap? Did you ever have a moment with this play in which you asked (or someone asked you), “What makes this play different from all the other plays I’ve seen out there?” What would your answer be?
I think that the worst thing a writer writing about sexual discovery could do is underestimate how dirty kids can be. When I was 15, everything was sex. The impulses were always there, even when I wasn’t acting on them and even when I didn’t know exactly what I was doing when I did. Teenagers are intrepid, man. Turn the lights out and somebody’s getting groped. Putting that on stage is not gratuitous. It’s just honest. The next worst thing would be to assume that there aren’t real and deeply felt emotions attached to the groping. Actually, you could argue that the love that young people feel for each other is purer than adult love because there’s not all the extraneous shit — no financial stress, no deafeningly loud ticking of biological clocks, no decades of accumulated emotional baggage — to keep them from falling in love with the true essence of a person.

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And as far as what makes this play different, apart from the very specific population that it highlights — poor, gay, teenage girls of color — there’s really not much that differentiates this play from any other play you might see about forbidden love. Which is sort of the point.

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5) You’re pursuing your MFA at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Given the breadth of artistic opportunities and experiences you’ve already had in the professional theater, what did your Tisch experience teach you that you’d never have known about otherwise?
Something I’m really getting is that every time you start a new play, you become a novice. NYU is preparing me to be okay with that. I’m getting to know what questions I need to ask myself. I’m getting to know my patterns, fears, strengths and weaknesses. I have really awesome peers (and really awesome professors) who share the same anxieties and blind spots. We can look at each other’s work and see pretty immediately what’s missing, unnecessary or alienating. Much harder when it’s your own work. I definitely plan on staying invested in the work of my classmates and feel pretty confident that they’ll support me, too. So, yeah, grad school. Good times.

Bonus Question:

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6) What’s the most enlightening and challenging aspect of having a play mounted by Working Man’s Clothes?
The most enlightening aspect of having this play mounted by WMC really is also the most challenging: fundraising. What a pain in the ass. I didn’t realize what a pain in the ass this is. BUT. I do kind of like having a concrete measure of how much conviction people feel for this work, myself included. I feel very lucky that the people at WMC share my conviction to such an extreme extent. Like if the play needed a pint of blood or a kidney, we’d all just draw straws. Hell, that would still be easier than finding money right now. Blood and kidneys we got. Economy sucks, but we’re almost there. And when we get there, just watch what we do. The play’s like a great little converting machine thingy — we pour countable dollars in one end and immeasurable satisfaction comes out the other. It’s kind of a neat trick, when you think about it.