Girl Playwright Power: An Interview with Chisa Hutchinson & Melanie Jones
Melanie Jones Chisa Hutchinson
Among the noteworthy facts about this year’s Eighth Annual NY IT Awards was the sweep by female playwrights in the writing categories: Chisa Hutchinson received the Outstanding Original Short Script for This Is Not the Play, Melanie Jones was presented with the Outstanding Original Full-Length Script for Endure: A Run Woman Show, and Donetta Lavinia Gray received the inaugural Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award. I spoke with both Hutchinson and Jones about the experience:
NYIT: What was the experience of receiving the IT award like for you?
CH: Total. Utter. Surprise.
MJ: The experience of receiving the IT awards was such an utter and complete joy. To be evaluated alongside such talented writers and such a huge pool of work was an honor. I look at my IT awards every day. They are validation to keep risking and pushing boundaries in my writing, which is the greatest gift a writer can receive.
NYIT: Were you aware that women won all of the writing awards?
MJ: Sorry, dudes.
CH: I did recognize that a lot of women were honored, though I wasn't keeping tabs on how many and in what category. You really can't help noticing because compared to other award ceremonies, which seem to be pretty Y chromosome-dominated (except for the Lilly's, of course), it was soooooo much more reflective of the actual percentage of women doing awesome things in the theater. Like in reality. And it figures that we can do it on a smaller budget. Kind of like how Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but in heels. Hooray for off- and Off-Off-Broadway. Hooray for heels.
NYIT: Is being a female playwright something about which you are conscious?
CH: Only periodically. Like every time the Tony noms are announced.
MJ: Absolutely. For a while there it stymied me, actually, because this is a play about sports and the gravitational pull to write toward a male audience and perspective was strong. But the story is a very "female" story, so much of my process was owning it. Owning the fact I'm a female voice telling a female story. The more I embraced those things, the more I understood it's a human story I'm telling and my voice is simply my own. Accepting a label is sometimes the best way to release its power.
NYIT: Is it important to you either professionally or thematically? Does gender inform your work in any way?
MJ: I love that women writers are breaking through right now. In theatre, in film, in TV and comedy. I'm very proud to be a part of this moment in history because it's not just women's voices, it's queer voices and diverse cultural expressions. Does gender inform my work? All of my contexts and experiences inform my work. They're the lens through which I see the world.
CH: Well, it keeps me feeling angry enough to always have something to write about, for starters. I think it's what subconsciously motivates me to produce my own [work] when, say, a male grad school chum lands a Broadway production just a year and a half out from graduating. Now that I think about it, I might get bored if I weren't treated differently as a woman in this industry. I might be writing sitcoms for the stage, doing a lot of thumb-twiddling and sighing like, "Ho-hum, another Times profile? Oh okay, I guess I can shower for that..." Plus, if there were gender equality in theater, it would be that much more likely that my play really is just sh--ty if it gets panned. Yup. Don't know what I'd do without this whole gender gap thing. Good thing I'm also black.
NYIT: Are there any distinct differences between the work of women writers and male counterparts, or is that unfair?
CH: Only in how it's perceived. I'm convinced that if Theresa Rebeck had used the pseudonym Tom Ribaldi or something, s/he would've been heralded as a visionary a LOT sooner than she was. Kind of like how everyone's always so impressed with how well John Patrick Shanley writes women – and he does –but if he were Jane Patricia? Crickets.
MJ: I feel like the men vs. women binary no longer applies. Ours is a very gender-fluid arts community where even male/female pronouns are under fire. We're in a place where it's all getting blown apart: ideas of gender, ideas of theatre, ideas of where one thing ends and another begins. I feel like our task now is to try and hold it all. Make room for it all. Celebrate the multidimensionality of who we are and the stories we tell. Used to be there was one dominant perspective on things, now there's so many the English language can't even describe them all.
NYIT: What are each of you working on next?
MJ: Well, I'm putting my money where my mouth is on the multidimensionality front. My current project is another audio theatre piece: a 'simultaneous trilogy' exploring three disparate perspectives on one objective series of events. Like the movie Timecode in your earholes.
CH: Oh yay. Shameless plug time. Appropriately enough, my next project is about two chicks who get fed up with a dystopian society and decide they're going to do something violent and dangerous and probably very stupid. It's called Alondra Was Here. It opens at the Wild Project in May because I and about 100 generous, supportive friends decided it was worth producing. We're still fundraising for it on the "Slated Projects" page of my website, www.chisahutchinson.com.