Jess Hutchinson

In the Room Where It Happens, Episode 1

Introducing a new monthly column by Jess Hutchinson, an Austinite who's the NNPN producer-in-residence at Kitchen Dog Theater for a year. She'll be writing about her exploration of the DFW theater ecology.

published Sunday, November 22, 2015



wanna be in

the room where it happens.

The room where it happens.

from Hamilton, the musical


Dallas — When Aaron Burr sings these words, everything changes. This is a vital pivot point in Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking new musical. It leads to the inevitable conclusion of Burr and Hamilton’s story on a crisp morning in Weehawken. (“Everything is legal in New Jersey.”) This musical is the stuff dramaturgical dreams are made of. Just look at all the goodness LMM has packed into this one moment: Alexander Hamilton (played by Miranda) has been asking Burr (played by Leslie Odom, Jr.since their first meeting what he stands for—but this is the first time he asks him what he wants. And it’s the first time that Burr recognizes that his answer to that question—what he really wants—is in. Burr has been a passive, contemplative, cautious man who’s determined to “Wait For It.” From now on, he’ll seize every opportunity he sees, no matter the cost. In an instant, Burr transforms from Hamilton’s foil to his antagonist. It’s a 180-degree turn that certified Genius LMM and the amazing Leslie Odom, Jr. make on a dime—and in a spotlight of tone and tempo to make sure that we don’t miss it. We pull all the way down to a whisper and get to watch Burr discover and immediately own what’s really been driving him all along.

During my second listen through the original cast recording, the impact of Burr’s transformation really started to hit me—the dramaturgical splendor of it, yes (I remember saying “Damn, Lin...” out loud waiting for the bus), but also the deep connection I felt to the simplicity of what Burr articulates.

I wanna be in the room where it happens, too.

Photo: Mark Oristano/TheaterJones
Jess Hutchinson

When Mark Lowry learned that Kitchen Dog Theater was bringing on an NNPN Producer-in-Residence this season, he approached them to see if she—that is, me—would be interested in writing about the experience for TheaterJones. It’s an opportunity, he told me during our first meeting over coffee in the Design District near Kitchen Dog’s temporary home at the Green Zone, to watch someone new to Dallas become acquainted with this particular theatrical ecology. I jumped at the chance. Mark asked me to start thinking about titles for the monthly column, that is, this monthly column.

Like a truly impressive cross-section of America, I’ve spent the last several months happily obsessed with Hamilton and the history it’s making in Manhattan (see what I did there?). Since the NPR First Listen dropped, it’s rarely been far from my mind. This is smart, sophisticated, fresh, new work, and it’s putting people who have been traditionally marginalized in the center of the story. It’s unapologetically theatrical, earnest, infectious, and helping to reframe our industry’s conversation about diversity and inclusion. LMM is providing access to his process—remember the PDF lyric sheets he posted to Twitter?—to himself, making the interview rounds, sure, but also on social media, authentically engaging fans with questions, personally responding to and spreading the love that his work has created. This all feels revolutionary while also deeply linked to the ancient impulse to connect, understand, and see ourselves in the story at the heart of theater as an art form. This is the kind of work and way of working that I want to emulate.

The song and its sentiment so elegantly capture the essence of why I make theater, see theater, and what I’m out to do during my time in Dallas. Mark was listening to the cast recording when he read my e-mail suggesting it. Synchronicity is real, y’all.

I initially met Kitchen Dog while studying at UT Austin; I graduated with my MFA in Directing last May. When I learned they were core members (and for a good long time the only Texas members) of the National New Play Network, I became even more intrigued. As a new play director and dramaturg, NNPN is my exact jam. A network of theaters across the U.S. all committed to new American plays, working toward their supported development and continued life during and after the world premiere production (or productions)? This is the consortium of folks I aspire to have as my collaborators and peers.

While spending most of my time in Dallas over the next eight months, I’m also working with some good pals (all brilliant playwrights) in Austin to create groundswell, a theater company dedicated to new plays, especially those in various stages of development. KDT is a mission-driven, artist-centered company with a long track record of creating courageous work. It’s the way we worked to run the company I was part of in Chicago before I went back to grad school. It’s the kind of company I want to build. I want to learn what it’s like in all the rooms—rehearsal to board—where Kitchen Dog happens, and this residency is opening those doors. I’m also looking to meet the other companies, artists, audience members in the other rooms where revolutionary work is happening in Dallas. I’m looking for guides, tips, pals, collaborators, new tools to build new rooms to make the work that comes next.

As a director, dramaturg, and producer, I’m looking for the rooms where creativity, inventive storytelling, empathy, compassion, surprise, delight, challenge, and inquiry combine to create unique, inimitable moments shared by the people who create and witness them. In the short time I’ve been here, I have already felt an undeniable energy in this community, and the feeling that something remarkable is always brewing. I’ve had several folks tell me that Dallas is in the middle of a new renaissance, establishing a new voice on the national stage. I am hopeful that our whole industry is entering such a time in our history.

Hamilton, Fun Home, the work of my favorite playwrights, actors, designers, my fellow directors and dramaturgs and producers in Texas and across the country all make me incredibly optimistic. I think this is a remarkably lucky time to be making theater in America. I’m not blind to challenges we’re facing as a community—there are plenty of those, too. The more I learn about all the good in Dallas, I suspect the particular challenges of this community will reveal themselves, as well. Between now and the end of June, I’ve got this chance to take it all in, and the gift of this space to create a conversation with you about what I find—and I don’t intend to throw away that shot.


» Jess Hutchinson is a director, dramaturg, and producer dedicated to new plays and getting to know Dallas/Fort Worth for the first time. She recently earned her MFA from UT-Austin, is currently the NNPN Producer-in-Residence at Kitchen Dog Theater, and a founding member of Austin-based groundswell. She'll be writing about her exploration of the DFW theater and arts ecology in this monthly column on TheaterJones. Learn more about her and her work Thanks For Reading

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In the Room Where It Happens, Episode 1
Introducing a new monthly column by Jess Hutchinson, an Austinite who's the NNPN producer-in-residence at Kitchen Dog Theater for a year. She'll be writing about her exploration of the DFW theater ecology.
by Jess Hutchinson

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