Q&A with visiting playwright Jeffrey Hatcher
By Mike Moore
After Broadway and Hollywood actors brought his characters to life, Jeffrey Hatcher lent his writing talent to Carthage.
By Jeffrey Hatcher
Adapted from the novel by Wilkie Collins
7:30 p.m. March 7-9, 13-15
During his time as 2013-14 guest artist in the Theatre Department’s New Play Initiative, the renowned playwright and screenwriter has written “No Name.” The original performance, adapted from a novel by Wilkie Collins, continues through March 15 in the Wartburg Auditorium. Performances are scheduled at 7:30 p.m. each night.
Mr. Hatcher is best known for his plays “Ten Chimneys,” “Compleat Female Stage Beauty,” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” for which he received the Edgar Award for Best Play in 2009. He wrote the screenplays for films such as “The Duchess,” starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes; “Casanova,” starring Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, and Jeremy Irons; and “Stage Beauty,” starring Claire Danes and Rupert Everett.
Before a recent rehearsal of “No Name,” Mr. Hatcher shared his thoughts on the collaboration with Carthage.
On why he chose to adapt this book to the stage:
For one, Mr. Hatcher always has appreciated Wilkie Collins’ storytelling. The 19th century writer was known for the “sensation novel,” conveying cold, fear, or physical danger.
“He could write scenes that would make the reader sweat,” Mr. Hatcher said. “Even his villainous female characters, he’s able to identify with in specific and grounded ways.”
More practically, the book fits the demographics of the Carthage cast.
“‘No Name’ has lots of female roles,” he said. “You don’t have to stretch and find, ‘Can this doctor be a woman?’ or ‘Can this machine gunner be a woman machine gunner?’”
On the value of producing new theatrical works:
For students, Mr. Hatcher said, it’s critical. While Shakespearean plays and other classics are essentially “frozen texts,” original plays go through constant revision. He pointed out that gets young actors accustomed to the fact that the writer has the last say.
“When you’re working on something new, you have that experience that professional actors go through,” he said. “It’s good to experience that at least once between the ages of, say, 18 and 23.”
From Mr. Hatcher’s perspective, sometimes a new play gives him the flexibility to craft a larger role for a character based on the talent he spots. He joked that audience members might wonder, “Why does the maid have so much dialogue?”
On what he has seen from the Carthage theatre students:
“I’m surprised how many of them come in with developed accents,” he said.
Those mainly are English and Scottish accents, given the setting for “No Name.” Mr. Hatcher added that, in general, humor comes more naturally to young actors. On the flip side, he said they must work harder to find the underlying emotional foundation for a character.
On what he enjoys about working with college students:
It’s his third time collaborating with students at this level.
“There’s something about their energy level,” he said. “You just can’t get that eager look, the wide eyes, and willingness to try something else. They make things fresh and new that have seemed old and maybe tired to you. In watching them discover it, you’re rediscovering it for yourself.”
He’s realistic enough to know that not all of the cast members will make theatre a lifelong career, but encouraging their involvement has a side benefit.
“They’ll get married and have kids, and their kids will become theatre-goers,” he said. “You’re always kind of seeding the profession.”