By Shelby Robinson
First Draft Theater’s 2014 Playwright-in-Residence
Chris Stezin has a new role in the art community, one where he is mentoring other writers and working with them on new plays that will join the ranks of other Helen Hayes-awarded theater. Stezin is First Draft Theater’s 2014 Playwright-in-Residence.
As he works with other playwrights and strategizes ways to push the work out to the masses, Stezin, 45, is also working on his own play “The Amateur.” He is also “plotting world domination.”
After graduating from Clemson University in the early ’90s, Stezin began acting classes in New York City.
The experience turned him onto writing plays and screenplays, so he shifted his focus. Although, you can still find him on stages throughout D.C. “Writing plays became a way to stay connected to the theater. There were no big breaks [in acting], but I remember it fondly … it was the period where I started writing seriously.”
In 2005, Stezin began working at WILL Interactive, Inc., where he writes screenplays for interactive films. “[It’s] like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel with the goal of teaching the user skills they need for a job,” he says. “[When writing] we seek out the best possible outcome, the worst possible outcome, a few in between, and dramatize the choices that lead to those outcomes. … The idea is: Experience is the best teacher.”
These films help individuals with high-stress jobs—army veteran or an NFL player—deal with rocky transitions like returning from war or modifying behavior off of the field. Stezin has even collaborated on interactive films that help train the FBI for hostage negotiations.
Stezin finds inspiration in everyday consumption of magazine articles, music and 60-second reports on NPR.
Ryan Adam’s song “So Alive” was the inspiration for Stezin’s current play “The Amateur.” While listening to it, Stezin visualized an action movie “about a guy who gets abducted and chased by gangsters,” so he turned it into a “movie for the stage.” In 2003, Stezin read Michael Paterniti’s GQ article, “The Most Dangerous Beauty,” about the controversy surrounding Eduard Pernkopf’s “Topographische Anatomie des Menschen” (translated as “Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy”).
Pernkopf’s anatomy atlas, once regarded as a scientific masterpiece, has been shunned after his connection to the Nazi regime brought forth questions over who the subjects are. “The questions it raised haunted me, so I started a play called “William Anderson’s Anatomy,” which I am still working on, fitfully, more than 10 years later.”
When asked about his future Stezin answers, “Oh, as an utter failure, yelling at my kids, sitting on my couch in a wife-beater.” After a grin he adds, “Actually, I’m finally at a place where I understand that a good deal of my plays will end up in a desk drawer and never be seen, and that’s OK. I just want to keep writing, without worrying if I’ll ‘make it.’”