WINTERSVILLE — “Writers are vultures. We are scavengers,” playwright and screenwriter Jeffrey Paul Hatcher told many who gathered in the auditorium of the new Indian Creek High School on Wednesday for the latest in the Herald-Star speaker series, which was presented by the Eastern Gateway Community College.
Hatcher said the writers regularly draw inspiration from the lives of others as well as their own before sharing excerpts from plays inspired by things he’s heard about or experienced in the Ohio Valley.
A Steubenville native and graduate of Wintersville High School in 1976, Hatcher has written numerous plays for the Broadway and off-Broadway stages as well as episodes of “Colombo” and “The Mentalist” and movie scripts, “Casanova” with Heath Ledger; “Mr. Holmes”, with Ian McKellen; and “The Good Liar” with McKellen and Helen Mirren.
Hatcher said his experiences at a funeral and a conversation with a local funeral director proved quite fruitful, generating ideas for a few pieces after learning that pacemakers must be removed from corpses before they are cremated or explode and that some would have paid tribute to the deceased stole jewelry from their bodies.
His memory of the children’s etiquette class that inspired his comedy, “Mrs. Poli” drew grateful laughs from several in the audience, who noted that they had also learned tap dancing from his hulking instructor.
Hatcher also admitted to drawing many local names, including those of his parents, for characters in his works.
He said when one of his plays was to be staged in Wheeling he considered changing the names to avoid offending anyone, but his mother suggested they might be disappointed not to s hear mentioned.
Hatcher revealed that while he wrote short plays in his youth, his path to professional writing was not direct.
“I always wanted to be an actor” he explained, noting that as a member of the Wintersville High School Thespians he appeared in productions of “The importance of being serious”, “The Egg and Me” and other shows.
When he went to Dennison University, he clung to that dream even though there was some pretext that he might actually explore a career in journalism or law.
Hatcher said while in high school and college, “I often played people older than me – guys in their 40s, 50s and 60s.”
But when he pursued such roles after graduation, he learned that theater companies could tap into a pool of older actors for such roles.
Hatcher said he was like many who are drawn to acting out of a desire to act but then divert their talents to other backstage roles or leave the stage altogether.
He said a friend from college suggested he try writing plays, something he had tried his hand at before.
Hatcher recalled in high school writing a short parody of “Colombo”, appearing as the murderer with Herald-Star editor Ross Gallabrese as the eccentric detective.
The two shared a few lines from the piece for the attendees.
Hatcher said the TV series has been one of his favorites. So it was a dream come true when the show’s producers, including star Peter Falk, accepted his idea for a story involving an undertaker who uses his professional skills to cover up the murder he committed. .
Cast in this role was Patrick McGoohan, star of “Secret agent” and “The prisoner,” two other favorite shows.
“I tried for years to make a version of ‘The Prisoner'” Hatcher said.
He said a meeting with Falk revealed that the actor understood the elements that made the show so successful.
And it was chemistry between him and the “guest murderer” and full of clues, “which must be great and pop at the end,” Hatcher called back.
Hatcher also talked about working with actor Andy Garcia on a stage version of the Humphrey Bogart vehicle, “Largo key.”
He said some feared the movie star was making a smooth transition to acting, a new medium for him, “but Andy turned out to be a real show pony on stage. He loved it.
Hatcher paused during the lecture to allow three students from Indian Creek High School to perform a scene from his play, “Good ‘N’ Plenty” under the direction of Robert Zinsmeister, the school’s drama teacher.
He explained that the play was inspired by a classroom experience in which Craig Thompson, who taught Democracy Issues, recruited his students to take on the roles of drug dealers, police officers, prosecutors and others involved. in the court system to teach students about court procedure.
Ahead of the conference, Hatcher said he was impressed with the overall look of the new $45 million school and the functionality of its auditorium.
“But more important than the money invested is the dedication and support of staff and administration,” he said.
Hatcher noted that the school offers lessons in acting, makeup, lighting, and other aspects of acting that Wintersville High School’s small Thespians group and their counselors could only dream of.
He said theater “saved the lives of many who were shy and clumsy in their youth”, providing an avenue for self-expression and creativity that they might not have considered.
Hatcher said young people in big cities, where there are more theaters, are more likely to consider working in this field, and such programs in smaller schools often serve as an introduction to students.
“I think you have to keep all the possibilities open while recognizing that there are more opportunities in the larger areas,” he said.
Opening the conference, Michael Geoghegan, President of Eastern Gateway Community College, suggested, “What better motivation than seeing someone from your own town succeed in a trade?”