Chisa Hutchinson: Welp, the jury's still out on "could"-- day jobs: making the possible seem impossible since the dawn of civilization-- but I can tell you all about the "should." I was a scholarship kid at a swanky private school where we had an art gallery (I know, right?). And in this art gallery, there was an exhibit by a photographer who took photos of Americans living in poverty. And there was one picture in particular of a woman-- a black woman who looked like she could have been my mama-- sitting next to a huge hole in her wall. And as I'm passing by this picture, one of my classmates, in utter and alarming earnest, goes, "Ew. Why doesn't she just get that fixed?"
And I really wanted to punch her in the throat. But I started writing plays instead.
Zoe Kamil: Do you think that identifying strongly with a particular racial or gender identity is limiting, or freeing to an artist?
Chisa Hutchinson: It's both. On the one hand, I'm never like "Whaaaaat am I going to write about?" You always have something to say when you're poor and black and a woman. On the other hand, it's a tremendous responsibility. You gotta rep hard and rep well and no matter what you write, someone will always be dissatisfied with your portrayal. Take, for example, DEAD & BREATHING. There's a trans character in it who, for this particular incarnation, is being played by a cis-woman. And you have to believe me when I say we resisted that until the very last precisely because we know how important it is to rep the under-repped in an authentic way. We felt like those jokers out in California (California!) trying to justify casting a white guy as the Chinese lead. My hope, though, is that we'll get some trans folks in the audience who are so moved by the story, by this character, that they can't help watching and going, "I could play the shit outta that role." And then maybe actually come out and audition for the next production. Sheeit. We'll do representation in phases, if that's what it takes.
Zoe Kamil: Your play “Dead and Breathing” is about the "right to die” issue. Has the time you’ve spent with this script led you to a personal conclusion about the issue, or simply raised more questions? Has it caused you to question preconceived thoughts about assisted suicide?
Chisa Hutchinson: I'm generally a fan of life. I like living it. I think it's a gift. But I have had some experiences that have led me to understand why some folks might have a harder time feeling that way. My Ma passed of cancer in 2011, and in the end, this woman who had worked sometimes three jobs to make sure her kids were fed, who chased my sisters with belts and slippers when they were misbehaving (never me because I was a good kid-- HA!), who actually physically intervened to protect a friend when her abusive husband went on one of his rampages... this woman was in diapers in the end. She couldn't speak or feed herself or nothing when it got real bad. And it made me question whether or not all life is worth living for sure.
Zoe Kamil: What do you think is the most aggressive setback to gender parity in theatre right now? How do we overcome this?
Chisa Hutchinson: Maybe this answer is super obvious, but we gotta get some more broads in taste-making positions. On the front-end and the back, meaning as producers and Artistic Directors aaaand as critics. If I read one more tone-deaf, dick-driven review of a brilliant play by a female playwright or hear one more male AD go, "There just aren't any really good plays by women out there," I'm gonna... well, I'll probably punch someone in the throat this time because there ain't no instant gratification in becoming a playwright.
There ain't no instant gratification in becoming a playwright..."
October 28 - November 23, 2015
Dead And Breathing
written by Chisa Hutchinson
National Black Theatre Inc.
2031 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10035