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Podcast 049: Shortcuts to the Soul with Chisa Hutchinson

In the Season 4 finale, Tori and Mabelle talk with Chisa Hutchinson about her path into theater, the inspiration for her plays “Amerikin” and “Whitelisted,” and the vast possibilities of writing for the stage. Other topics include Chisa’s love of teaching, her process as a playwright, and the recurring themes of justice and accountability in her writing.

Writing Prompt (courtesy of Chisa Hutchinson)

Writing Through The Hate.  This is a writing exercise Chisa introduced in a Kennedy Center workshop. Use theater as a tool to chip down to the humanity and try to understand people who might hate you. To start, consider a character whom you don’t like and who would not like you. But you have to write them into a situation/scene where they are dealing with some really human shit–for example, they might be caring for a parent who has Alzheimers, or found out that they had cancer, or maybe they just got dumped in the most public and horrible way. Or, maybe it’s someone with a newborn baby (like the character of Jeff in “Amerikin”). Write that character, that person you hate, into a very human situation. What do you learn about them? See if you can tap into some sort of empathetic something. You might surprise yourself!

Connect with Chisa:

Chisa’s bio:

Chisa was born in Queens, New York to young, irresponsible parents.  She spent the majority of her formative years under the care of a much more responsible, but chronically broke woman who was technically her godfather’s mother, but who would later— in the fine, it-takes-a-village tradition of the broken family— simply become “Ma.”  Chisa grew up in the company of what seemed like hundreds of unofficially adopted brothers and sisters in Newark, New Jersey, where she excelled in school and philosophized with cockroaches about the ultimate merits of poverty.  Her favorite six-legged pest, who called himself Swifty on account of his uncanny ability to elude the bottom of any shoe, once told her with a wistful chuckle,“One day, you will be able to look back and romanticize all this shit.”

That day appeared on the horizon of Chisa’s future when, at fourteen, she got a scholarship to what she thought was a boarding school.  It turns out, however, that having more than one building—indeed, having a campus— does not a boarding school make. (Chisa was naïve and probably should’ve read the brochures more carefully.)  So she moved about ten miles and a whole galaxy away from Newark to Short Hills to live with a host family comprised of a quirky, Buddhist psychologist, her then husband, a nature-loving, piano-playing Jew, their three kids, and an ancient dog named Baboo.   It was a rough transition.  But one which has, nevertheless, shaped Chisa and her writing for the better.  Probably.

A couple more awesome, supportive parents and several scholarships later, Chisa has earned a B.A. in Dramatic Arts from Vassar College and an M.F.A. in Playwriting from NYU.  She’s landed some pretty cool gigs since then, such as writing and performing with the New York NeoFuturists and being a Staff Writer for Blue Man Group. As she tends to write plays about underrepresented folks that require a minimum of five actors, she doubts very much that you’ll see any of her plays on Broadway any time soon, but encourages you to support the intrepid companies that have presented her work, which include the Lark Play Development Center, City Parks’ Summerstage, the New York NeoFuturists, Partial Comfort, Mad Dog Productions, Atlantic Theater Company, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, New Dramatists,  Rattlestick Theater, Midtown Direct Rep, Writers’ Theatre of New Jersey, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC),  the Working Theater, Project Y, the Contemporary American Theater Festival, National Black Theater, Second Stage Theater, Delaware REP, Salt Lake Acting Company, Red Twist Theater, Forward Flux, Arch 468 (UK), Primary Stages,  South Coast Rep, Keen Company, Audible, Alley Theater, FilmGym Prochaine Films, Lifetime, Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and Walt Disney Studios.

Presently, Chisa teaches creative writing at the University of Delaware, is standing by for production on a new TV series she helped write for Showtime (Three Women), and is about to embark on another with producers Karamo Brown (Queer Eye) and Stephanie Allain (Hustle & Flow, Dear White People). Her first original feature, THE SUBJECT, an indie about a white documentarian dealing with the moral fallout from exploiting the death of a black teen, is available on various VOD platforms after a successful film festival circuit during which it won over 30 prizes. 

Here is the debate Chisa attended between August Wilson and Robert Brustein: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dfc_u3Xdyf8

Listen to Chisa’s play “Proof of Love” on Audible here: https://www.audible.com/pd/Proof-of-Love-Audiobook/B07T4GZSVX

Listen to Chisa’s play “Redeemed” via the Dorset Theatre Festival here: https://dorsettheatrefestival.org/redeemed

Check out Chisa’s play “Whitelisted” at the Contemporary American Theater Festival: https://catf.org

Watch Chisa’s film “The Subject”

Check out the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) National Conference on July 28-31. Mabelle will be on two virtual panels on Saturday!

Mabelle’s play “The Sunset Tour” is the winner of the 2022 Playwrights for Change Contest, sponsored by the American Alliance for Theatre and Education Check out Mabelle’s play on New Play Exchange

Check out Tori’s monologue “The Spoon Bend Band” on August 1: Some1speaking:https://www.hearmeoutmonologues.com/some1speaking

Check out the Smith & Kraus website! Tori’s monologue will appear in an anthology in March 2023 WE/US Monologues for Gender Minority Characters: https://www.smithandkraus.com