Unplanned success

March 14, 2016

Like many people, theater major Jeffrey Hatcher ’80 started life in one direction, then found real success in another.

“I thought I was going to be an actor. I always played the middle-aged guy — then I went to New York and realized it was already filled with guys who were fifty and they didn’t need me,” said Hatcher.

“I had a crisis of confidence and moved into writing plays.”

A fellow alum urged him to try his hand at writing. “It was a quintessential Denison, liberal arts experience. There are always going to be people out there who are reaching backwards and forwards, giving a hand and helping you up.”

Within a couple years, his work was getting produced and he was receiving grants and fellowships.

Fresh off his screenplay for “Mr. Holmes,” Hatcher is finding success where many writers before him have failed: adapting the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole to be performed on stage in Boston.

This novel comes with many difficulties, including an unlikable protagonist, a plot that “bubbles and swirls like the Mississippi River” as Hatcher described, and placing the essence of New Orleans on a stage.

Hatcher tried to strip the story of the extraneous to focus on the narrative: “At the heart of the story was a mother-son drama about a boy who has to leave home and doesn’t want to, and the mother who has to break free of this man-child who is dragging her down.”

Nick Offerman, known for playing Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation,” has been cast to play the outrageous and beloved protagonist: the overweight, arrogant, eccentric Ignatius Reilley.

“If the audience already likes the actor, you are halfway there. You know this person, you like this person, but now this person is going to do terrible things, but I bet you’ll still like him.” said Hatcher.

Hatcher distinctly remembers his time at Denison, the “dusty corridors” of the library, viewing films for Professor R. Elliott Stout’s class in the Slayter Hall Auditorium. And he recalls one specific moment during his college theatre career that continues to have meaning for him today.

Professor William Brasmer was directing a production of “Iphigenia in Taurus,” and during tech rehearsals, he announced that they would anoint the stage in Burke Hall by pouring a cold cup of coffee into a tiny box of sand. Hatcher never forgot what happened next.

“I was always going for a laugh and I’m sitting off to the side, and I said: “That is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen!’ Brasmer looked over at me like an Old Testament God and said, ‘Then you will never be actor!’ And I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’ve been cursed!” said Hatcher. “And sometimes I do think I was cursed.”

But if this was true, then Hatcher was the beneficiary – he’s had quite a successful career in playwriting.

“In a liberal arts education, you end up meeting people from disciplines other than your chosen field, so I’m absolutely certain that had I not met people at Denison who were interested in things other than theatre and cinema, I wouldn’t have gone on to do what I’ve done.”

“What Brasmer was saying was that the theater is sacred. I was going for a wise guy laugh, but he meant it. Now, whenever I think of the theatre, I think of it as a sacred place.”

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