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A Look into the Lives of Playwrights
Mitch Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher

By Carly Higley

 

The Novelist

Mitchell Albom, the second of three children, was born May 23, 1956 to Rhoda and Ira Albom and recalls, “I’ve been blessed with wonderful parents who wanted me to fly and to aspire and to do things. I grew up in a small, middleclass neighborhood from which most people never left. But my parents said, ‘don’t expect your life to finish here. There’s a big world out there. Go and see it’” (Mitch Albom, Biography, www.mitchalbom.com/fivepeople.html).

As a child, Mitch developed a love of comics and music, and with the help of his uncle Eddie he learned to play the piano, which would become a means of pleasure and creativity throughout in his life. (Albom). He was involved in various bands in high school and later utilized his skill as a pianist to help earn his college tuition (Albom). It was as a sociology major at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, that he would meet his beloved professor Morrie Shwartz, the man who would change his life and be the catalyst in a successful writing career (Reading, Bridge to a Wider World, www.duluth.lib.mn.us/Programs/Morrie/Albom.html).

After graduation and touring in Europe and throughout America as a singer and pianist, Albom dabbled in journalism, taking a job working in New York for a weekly newspaper, the Queen’s Tribune (Albom). Journalism suited Mitch so well that he returned to Columbia University to attend graduate school with it as his focus. He received a master’s degree in both journalism (1981) and business(1982) (Reading).
His career as a sports columnist began in Florida, but it was after relocating to Detroit in 1985 that he began to receive national attention for his sports commentary for the Detroit Free Press (www.answers.com/topic/mitch-albom). Eventually he would be a regular on ESPN and SportsCenter, and the Sports Editors of America would give him the title of “#1 Sports Columnist in the Nation” multiple times (Reading). Albom is also a seven-time APSE feature writer winner, an honor no other has managed to receive more than once (www.roycecarlton.com/Mitch-Albom-Biography).

The year 1995 was eventful for Albom: he married his wife, Janine Sabino, and reconnected with Morrie Schwartz, then dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. The result of this reunion would be weekly interviews that would become the bestselling book Tuesdays with Morrie, the success of which would lead to Albom being named National Hospice Organization’s Man of the Year and pay for Morrie’s medical bills (Answers). With other bestsellers such as The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2003) and For One More Day (2006), Albom’s books would sell over 26 million copies worldwide (Answers).

Albom used his writing to remind people of what is most precious in life and help himself, as well as all his readers, remember to savor and pursue love and human connection above all other endeavors. According to Mitch, “I have been exposed to people dying at various stages in my development. That may be more positive than it sounds. Each of those events ultimately taught me the value of cherishing everyday, and the foolishness of pretending death isn’t a real part of life. . . . I have realized that loss, love, and finding meaning in your life while you are here are all universal themes” (Albom). Albom put these lessons into practice on a large scale as a founder of three charities in Michigan. The Dream Fund is dedicated to helping underprivileged youth experience the arts, A Time To Help organizes volunteers monthly to perform humanitarian projects, and S.A.Y. Detroit funds homeless shelters (Answers).

Mitch Albom is a member of The Rock Bottom Remainders band, along with Steven King and Dave Barry among others, which donates money to literacy promotion programs (Albom). He currently lives in Michigan with his wife, continues his writing, and hosts two radio talk shows broadcast in thirty-eight states (RoyceCarlton).

The Playwright

Jeffrey Hatcher grew up in Steubenville Ohio, a “gritty Ohio river town better known for its mob connections, houses of ill repute, and industrial detritus than for its literary sons and daughters” (www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Jeffrey_Hatcher). As Hatcher himself says wryly, “Remember in It’s a Wonderful Life when George finds out what the town would have looked life if he hadn’t lived? Pottersville? We’re Pottersville” (Toby Zinman, Jeffrey Hatcher Can’t Dance [Theatre Communications Group, 2006]).
After his father died when he was a child, he and his mother had the extra burden of dealing with his father’s old debts and shady connections (Zinman). Hatcher recalls, “My mother was a traditional 1950s housewife who was not brought up to deal with guys named Vinnie who wanted cash deposits or else something bad would happen” (Zinman). These exact difficulties would, however, become the inspiration for later successful writing.

His decision to pursue a career as a playwright was due in large part to his high school drama teacher Glenda Dunlope, “an old school thespian” gem (Nationmaster). However, it was not writing plays but the desire to actually act in them that inspired him to study in New York. Hatcher reminisces, “I really very much wanted to be a character actor. I went to New York, went to NYU for a while, did some off-off-off-Broadway. That was all fun, but I don’t think I ever really had the stamina or grit required of an actor. It’s a ghastly life” (Zinman). Years later when Hatcher performed in The Three Viewings, he said, “It was fun to do again, but only because it was my own stuff, and I could get away with casting me” (Zinman).

After time in New York, Jeffrey Hatcher went to Minneapolis, Minnesota “on a fellowship from the Playwrights Center” where the artistic ambiance delighted him so much that he ended up settling there with his wife (Zinman). His original plays include Scotland Road, Fellow Travelers, Sockdology, Turn of the Screw, and Compleat Female Stage Beauty.

However, it was in writing adaptations of existing plays for the screen and the stage that would garner him the most recognition with successes like Stage Beauty (2004), Casanova (2005), and The Duchess (2008).

This addition to his repertoire was “not by accident but firmly be design. . . . Sometimes when you’re writing a lot of your own material you can go to the well a little once too often (Jeffrey Hatcher, interview with Howard Sherman and John Von Shusten, www.americantheatrewing.org/downstagecenter/detail/jeffrey_hatcher). One of the perks of adaptations, according to Hatcher is that “usually I work with authors who are dead and can’t argue with you.”

Additionally, it “reenergizes you for the next time you do one of your own, original pieces (Sherman and Von Shusten). Jeffrey Hatcher continues to enjoy success as a playwright and is a member of New Dramatists, the WGA, Dramatist’s Guild, and The Playwright’s Center.


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