Five Questions With: Dr. Glenn Hutchinson

Dr. Glenn Hutchinson is the interim director at FIU’s Center for Excellence in Writing. He earned a Ph.D in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Dr. Hutchinson teaches the peer-tutoring course, Processes of Writing (ENC 3491) at both FIU campuses and enjoys writing about service-learning and the rights of undocumented students. He also writes plays and acts, many of which have gone on to be performed at local theaters. We talk with him this week about writing, film, theater, and everything in between.

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. You’ve written quite a few plays over the years. One of them, The Pot, was actually performed here on campus last year for a few nights and it was well-received by students. The play talked about very real social issues like immigration and identity. You also had The Best Detective performed for a few weekends at the Microtheater Miami and that one was very much inspired by the term “alternative facts” that has been seeing some serious play in the last few months. The stories you write are obviously inspired by real-world occurrences, but I’m wondering if you ever find inspiration elsewhere.

  • Are there, or have there been, any films or directors in particular that have inspired any of your plays in some way?

When I was writing The Pot, I was thinking about the film, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, the 1967 film about a daughter bringing home her fiancé to meet the family.  The story focuses on the parents’ reaction to their white daughter marrying a man who is African American.  Although my play is quite different, I was interested in what would happen if a daughter brought home her fiancé to meet the family, and he is an undocumented immigrant.  The father has just been elected to the state legislature, and the play is narrated by the adopted son who is black.  The intersection of politics and the personal fascinates me!

Other favorite films include On the Waterfront—that scene with Marlon Brando and his brother in the back of the taxi is one of my favorites: “I coulda been a contender.”  That movie has such great acting and dialogue.  

  • Do you see any similarities between theater and film?

For me, the most important thing is a story.  I like theater and film that makes you think, but at the same time, the story needs to be engaging, interesting, and hopefully entertaining.

One question that I’m still thinking about is the political.  On the one hand, you could argue that most art is political in some way.  However, I wouldn’t want to write a story that preaches to the audience.  If I want to make an argument, then perhaps I should write an op-ed or an essay. But I’m finding that a good story can also have a point of view.  To tell a story with a fresh perspective.

  • Between teaching “The Processes of Writing” and your duties as the interim director of the Center for Excellence in Writing here at FIU, you are exposed to a lot of student writing. Have you ever had someone approach you with a creative piece like a screenplay and are there any workshops offered to students working on something like that?

I don’t think I’ve had many students at FIU discuss playwriting with me.  However, last year, I volunteered with a group called Exchange for Change and taught two playwriting classes at Everglades prison.  We had a great time writing short plays, reading them aloud in class, and workshopping them.  Also, we read two plays, which also have been made into films: Death of a Salesman and A Raisin in the Sun.

  • Some people might find the act of screenwriting and playwriting to be essentially the same, but they are different. You mostly write stage plays, but have had some experience with screenwriting in the past. What are some of the differences to consider when writing one or the other?

The main difference is that when writing a play, dialogue is usually the focus.  There is plot and action, but plays usually contain a lot more dialogue between the characters. When writing a screenplay, more time is spent on the camera—writing about what the audience is seeing.  Dialogue usually needs to be more concise and you can tell the story more with the camera.  In North Carolina, I collaborated with a friend who was turning her novel into a screenplay.  

  • Whether it’s film, theater, or literature, a compelling character is a compelling character. What do you think are the keys to writing a well-rounded and interesting character?  

I usually need to do a lot of writing to discover the character.  Sometimes that happens through dialogue with the other characters.  Other times, I do a lot of reflective writing and think about the characters: what is their background?  What’s a typical day like for this character?  And perhaps most important, what do they want?  When it’s really clicking, the characters start to talk back to me as I’m working on a scene and then I can follow what they want to say. Also, what’s useful for me is to hear a draft of the scene read aloud by actors.  I’ll listen to the scene and make notes when the dialogue sounds true or not true to the character.

  • Super Secret Bonus Question: Seen any good movies lately?

This past weekend, I saw The Lovers with Tracy Letts and Debra Winger. Besides being a great actor, Tracy Letts is an accomplished playwright who won the Pulitzer Prize for one of his plays.  I was very curious to see him on screen and I wasn’t disappointed.  It was a great film about a married couple cheating on each other but then start to rediscover their attraction for one another.  The ending surprised me—as I was watching it, I anticipated a different ending, but the one in the film was much better!  

Mario Avalos is a senior at Florida International University, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature, along with certificates in Film Studies and Professional and Public Writing.