The Pivot Point
Chisa Hutchinson. Photo by Seth Freeman.
Chisa Hutchinson. Photo by Seth Freeman.

It happened this past summer.

Or, well, it was happening long before then; that’s just when I really noticed it. I have somehow transitioned from starved for guidance and opportunity to offering it. And if I’m being honest, I feel woefully unprepared. I thought I’d have my shit way more together before I got to this point. I’d hoped to have at least been nominated for a Pulitzer, had one Broadway credit under my belt, maybe an Obie or two. Instead, I haven’t had a New York premiere of a play since 2019; of the six Times reviews I’ve gotten, just one of them remotely qualifies as good; and just when I was starting to get a little traction on the film and TV front, we went on strike. I’ve got two TV credits and one indie film out that you have likely never seen. You probably looked at the byline of this article and went, “Hutchinwho?”

All that notwithstanding, this summer was an inflection point for me. This summer, I received four awards. (It should be noted that none were for my writing. Three were for citizenship.) Creatively? I haven’t done anything extraordinary. But for whatever reason, people invite me to participate on panels, judge contests, teach workshops, and speak to their undergrads like I’m somebody. I typically say yes despite suffering from major imposter syndrome. I say yes because I get that often the person in the best position to help a fellow climber reach the next foothold is not the one who’s already made it to the top, but the one who’s juuuust ahead. Perhaps you find yourself in a similar position. Or will. And long before you win your Tony, lemme tell ya.

What’s helped me push through the awkwardness that this pivot has precipitated is remembering that when I was just starting out, I would have given a kidney to ensure that I would get where I am today. Twenty-two-year-old me would be like, “Biiiiiiiiiish, we’ve had how many productions? We made a movie?! And we get paid how much to teach two writing classes a week?!?! THAT’S FOR-REAL HOW WE MAKE OUR LIVING?!?!?!?!!!” All I wanted was to spend the majority of my time doing stuff I love, and here I am doing just that. I may not be fancy. I may not have achieved legendary status as a writer, but I am a writer, dammit. There are folks out there—perhaps reading this—who should also be where I am right now, but who have yet to find an on-ramp. And that chafes me. It fucks with my sense of meritocratic justice.

Mentoring, regardless of how qualified I feel, unchafes me. The Universe is like, “Okay, lady. You want balanced scales? Put your thumb right here.” When I think about how many thumbs it took to get my scales anywhere near balanced, it leaves no time to wonder if my little thumb is gonna make a difference to someone else. That’s beside the point, really. The point is I forfeit the right to complain about a disservice if I am not willing to serve.

And then there’s this other thing: all the reasons I think theatre is important? All the spiritual and sociopolitical benefits I get from making art? I get those same benefits from helping others make art. For starters, plugging into a community, one filled with enthusiasts and believers, is one of the best things about theatre, in my humble opinion. And I’ve found that landing a production is not the only or even the most fulfilling way to do that. 

Further, if I call myself trying to validate the experiences of black folk, poor folk, women folk, queer folk, all folk with my art, then it tracks that I’d be down to support others who do the same. I get actual delight watching promoters of what I consider to be valuable messages reach a platform. Is it dope when a play of mine gets selected for a season? Absolutely. It’s a pretty close second when a writer I connected to a company lands a production there. Would I be proud if I ever did win a Tony? Shit yeah. But I might be just as proud if a Tony-winner got up and thanked me in their speech for simply speaking their name into a room that I barely got into myself. Like shit, there’s a goal I never knew I’d take aim at.

I guess what I’m trying to say is when your dreams include only you, that severely limits your potential for happiness. Mentoring increases that potential exponentially. It’s possible to find joy and pride and even reward in the most unexpected places when you also dream on behalf of others.

I highly recommend it. Five stars.

Chisa Hutchinson
Chisa Hutchinson

has written a bunch of plays, most recently a radio drama called Redeemed that you can listen to on Apple Podcasts (hint-hint). She’s won a bunch of awards and all that’s cool and good, but mostly she just wants to figure out how to cure racism with words.