Supporting creative work by women
Playwrights envision the future and re-imagine the past. They are the idea makers who bring audiences together under one roof to experience a new story, a new world, a new way of looking at the people around us. It’s no surprise then that The Bedrock Initiative is the brainchild of renowned, fierce playwright Chisa Hutchinson (Somebody’s Daughter slated for Second Stage later this year). The initiative brings together two ideas–crowdfunding and micro-finance–to support the American Dream.
Chisa spoke with Works by Women about The Bedrock Initiative, art in our current political climate and what it’s like to teach college students these days.
WORKS BY WOMEN: What was the impulse to create The Bedrock Initiative?
CHISA HUTCHINSON: The Sunday after election night, there was a piece on CBS Sunday Morning about McDowell County, West Virginia, a place that went hard for [Donald] Trump because, economically speaking, it had nothing to lose. It’s coal country out there and that industry’s been failing since the 60’s. And I’m sitting there watching this, being all judgy like, “Why don’t they just do something else? Start some other kind of businesses?” And no sooner than I had that thought, the answer came to me. Who the heck can afford to “start some other kind of business” when life is paycheck-to-paycheck? And that’s where these folks are. And that’s limiting as fuck. One woman said something like, “I hear the candidates talking about the middle-class and the very rich, but nobody’s talking about the poor. Nobody’s talking about me.” She chose not to vote at all.
I get that. I grew up impoverished in Newark, New Jersey. Like sometimes all we had in the house was grits and jelly, you know what I mean? If it weren’t for people investing in me and presenting me out-of-the-box opportunities, I’d still be that poor girl from the hood with outsiders looking at me like, “Why doesn’t she just do something else?” I never would’ve gotten the skills and connections I needed to move past poverty.
The Bedrock Initiative is me trying to pay that forward. And maybe help ensure that people who find themselves desperate enough to vote for a tangerine tyrant have another option.
WBW: How did the initiative go from idea to reality?
CH: Friends. I crowd-sourced the hell out of this, seeking advice from all kinds of folks, mostly on Facebook, where I’m friends with people who live in West Virginia, for example, or whose parents are from Kenosha, Wisconsin. I tapped folks with business expertise, fundraising expertise. I’m still reaching out to community organizers. Together we’ve come up with what we hope is a solid plan for encouraging and supporting American entrepreneurship. I’m very lucky to know a LOT of people who are generous, knowledgeable, and passionate about helping others.
WBW: The Bedrock Initiative’s mission is to micro-finance the American Dream. How do you think the American Dream is defined today?
CH: I think there are as many American Dreams as there are Americans. And that’s beautiful. But the common denominator, I think, is that people just want to be able to eat and have a purpose.
WBW: You are a professor. I’m curious what it’s like teaching the next generation, especially thinking about the prospects for jobs/career. What is your take on that? And how students need to be prepared for post-college life?
CH: From what I’ve observed, the next generation is anxious as hell. You can kinda tell from the flood of dystopian narratives coming out. And can you blame them really? They get so much more information than we do in so many more mediums than we had available to us… they don’t even have to really be paying attention to be freaked out. The horror just finds them.
I’m frankly at a bit of a loss as to how to prepare them for the future since the future just got so damn unpredictable, it’s stupid. But I try my best to show them how to amplify their voices, how to follow up on an idea because somewhere down the line, one of those ideas will rock our world in a most fantastic way. And any of those voices may restore order to the world.
WBW: Where does the arts fit into this? As a playwright, where do you think theater fits into the current cultural and political climate?
CH: The arts, I think, has the potential to ground politics in humanity, to make us feel things about stuff we’d ordinarily only think about. Look at Beyonce’s Formation. Love it or hate it, you felt something. Look at Ava DuVernay’s 13th. Look at Donald Glover’s Atlanta. Lynn Nottage’s Sweat. Don’t even get me started on Hamilton.
As artists, we have a responsibility to get people feeling some kind of way about shit that’s happening in the world. As a playwright, I try to synthesize cultural and political stuff into something we understand not just with our minds, but with our souls. So my play Somebody’s Daughter, for example, is an illustration of what happens when a culture says to a girl, “You are worth less than a boy.” I use some humans– a brilliant but diffident young girl, her challenging mother, and a fierce guidance counselor– as case studies, as examples. I put that gender-bias bullshit on ’em and see how they deal with it, how it affects their paths. And hopefully people will watch that and go, “Wow. That’s fucked up. I hope that doesn’t happen to me,” or “I hope I don’t treat my daughter like that” and then behave a little bit differently around issues of gender.
WBW: What/who gives you hope right now? Why?
CH: Oh man. Wrong question to ask right about now. I can’t really answer that. I’m not sure that what I’m feeling at this particular moment can be characterized as hope. Determination, maybe. Hope? Ehn.
WBW: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
CH: Make sure you have five things to look forward to at any given moment. Short-term, long-term, big or small–always give yourself something to look forward to. Focus on that. It’s saved my life.
Chisa Hutchinson photo credit: Seth Freeman