Playwright in Residence: Interview with Actor and Author Christopher Hackert

Christopher Hackert
Christopher Hackert is a playwright, actor, and director who has been involved in the theater industry for over two decades. He is now the Playwright-in-Residence at the South Shore Theatre Experience on Long Island.

Christopher Hackert is a playwright, actor, and director who has been involved in the theater industry for over two decades. Currently serving as board member and Playwright in Residence at South Shore Theatre Experience (SSTE) in Lindenhurst, New York, Christopher is known for producing one-full length play per year on average whilst also acting in other writer’s plays.

Christopher is known for his quick wit and comedic writing. The quirky characters he dreams up are so memorable that his plays are frequently licensed out to various venues. Since his implementation at the SSTE, he has debuted six full-length original works which have garnered acclaimed and sold-out shows. Christopher has gained a loyal following around Long Island. Among his most popular plays is “Walter’s Wish” (a fantastical comedy about a man who makes an unusual birthday wish) which earned a Best Play award from “Broadway World” magazine. Chris is also a skilled writer of one-act plays which have been produced all over Long Island. At SSTE he teaches improv classes, and heads up the company’s Bad Apples Comedy group which produces regular improv and sketch comedy shows throughout the year. He has also worked regularly with other Long Island groups including Middle Class American Productions and SEE Saw Comedy.

Despite his very successful career in the theater, Chris is also a business owner. When he isn’t working on a theatrical production, he can be found operating the East Meadow Florist which he has owned since 1996. Chris is an active member of the community, having served on various committees, as board member, and officer positions in both the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce and The East Meadow Kiwanis Club.  He also served as the President of both organizations.

Recently, Chris granted an exclusive interview where he discussed his career in theater, the arts on Long Island, and more.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your talent for writing and why do you gravitate towards playwriting in particular?

Christopher Hackert (CH): I’ve always enjoyed writing stories. When I was young, I wrote comic and illustrated my own satirical comic books, usually spoofing popular movies and TV shows. My reading habits tended toward the likes of MAD Magazine and that influenced my writing quite a bit. I tended to write my books in sort of a scripted style rather than narrative story telling which probably led me to gravitate toward playwrighting.

MM: You’re also an actor and stage director, so how did you get into that?

CH: I was a contributing playwright for a local theater group, Middle Class American Productions, and after attending several of the performances of my plays I decided I’d like to try my hand at acting. The director of the company, John Blenn, cast me in my first play and I was hooked ever since. I went on to perform in many of his original comedies and continued to write and even direct for them as well. It was through MCAP that I met Deborah Cascio Pleazia, and we worked together on several shows. Once she formed her own company, South Shore Theatre Experience, I was asked to write for and act in their very first adult production, a night of one act comedies. I’ve been with SSTE ever since and I’ve had the opportunity to write, act, direct and teach classes and workshops for many years now.

MM: You’re well known as the comedy writer, so why do you care for that genre in particular?

CH: I’ve always gravitated toward comedy. I enjoy laughing and especially making others laugh. I always enjoyed sketch comedy shows, especially “The Carol Burnett Show,” and loved the idea of a small ensemble creating and bringing to life these silly characters and situations week after week. Comedic acting is such a difficult skill to master and I believe it’s a very natural ingrained sense of timing and delivery that is challenging to teach and wonderful to watch when executed on the genius level. I think I have a bit of that gift and I love putting words on the page that when brought to life on the stage by skilled actors will leave the audience rolling with laughter. It’s such a thrill.

MM: How many plays have you written and what are they about?

CH: I’ve written dozens of one acts and sketch comedy pieces that have been performed in many venues on Long Island. The subjects on those vary from common family and relationship situations to outright ridiculous concepts. I just sit down and start writing and before I know it, for some reason I’m writing about a man who can’t figure out why his family butter churn manufacturing business is in decline in the year 2010. Who knows what makes me think of this stuff?!

In addition to short pieces I’ve written six full length comedies. The subjects vary but a few of my favorites are “Walter’s Wish” a fantasy comedy about a disgruntled middle-aged man who discovers he actually living an unhappy life brought upon himself via a misguided birthday wish granted by a second-rate genie. Another one was the absolutely ridiculous “The Taco Palace Incident” in which a down-on-his-luck scientist finds himself at the center of an intergalactic plot involving his own sister, his quirky neighbor, and his boss at the Taco Palace who turns out to be an alien attempting to transport his cryogenically frozen alien lover from a forbidden rival planet. Most recently my newest play “The Scarecrow and Ms. Gale” was a dark comedic sequel to the “Wizard of Oz” which takes place some 15 years later. Dorothy is now a dysfunctional single mother who thinks the only way out of a bleak Kansas existence for her and her son is to get back to Oz. But when she returns, it is a very different place.

MM: How did you get involved with the South Shore Theatre Experience and what does being a playwright-in-residence entail?

CH: I met Deborah when we were working together at MCAP and, when she formed her own group years later, I began acting and writing with SSTE. Being the playwright-in-residence essentially entails me writing one new full length show annually as well as contributing one-act plays to our annual one act festival. The festivals are fun as we choose a different theme each year and invite local writers to contribute. It gives new writers a venue to get their work produced. I also write lots of short sketches that I use in classes, workshops and sketch comedy shows.

MM: You teach improv classes and lead a comedy troupe, so what’s most rewarding about that and what’s the most important thing you try to instill in your students?

CH: Teaching the classes and running the Bad Apples Comedy Troupe is so much fun. As I said, comedic acting is such a challenging skill to master, and it’s such a thrill to discover, along with my students and comedy troupe, the nuances and skills that will result in the funniest possible ways to elicit laughter from the audience.

MM: You also own a florist shop, so how did that come about and how, if at all, does that professional influence you creatively?

CH: I owned the East Meadow Florist since 1996. I purchased it from the previous owner after working for them since I was a teenager. Being a florist is a challenging career which combines business sense and creativity as well as solid communication skills to achieve a high level of customer satisfaction. I think my favorite thing about owning the florist when it comes to theater is that I have lots of creative supplies at the shop which allow me make some fun props when I need them for shows!

MM: You are very involved in the community, so why did you decide to serve your local governments and what do you wish towns on Long Island would do more of regarding the arts?

CH: I initially got involved with the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce and The East Meadow Kiwanis Club as a means of networking and to generate new business. But it also became a means of giving back to that community through service. I ultimately served on many committees helping out with various fundraisers and improvement projects. I also served in various officer and board positions for both organizations and ultimately served as President of each of them as well.

MM: What are your ultimate career goals?

CH: It looks like I’ll be a florist for a long time to come, unless I get “discovered” by some talent agent with a big suitcase of money that wants to make me a star! I’m happy in my job, though it’s challenging and the hours are long. The florist industry as a whole is going through lots of changes and many traditional florists have closed their doors. I’ve tried to stay ahead of the trends and have continuously adjusted my business model to maintain a viable business.

MM: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about?

CH: I very proud of the work that Deborah and all of us SSTE do, especially the programs for the kids! We do classes and shows including kids from elementary through high school and they continually amaze audiences with their skills and talents. I think theater is truly great for kids, especially in this time of technology and digital communication. Theater kids are taught very important skills of communicating clearly, verbally projecting and speaking with confidence, and interacting with adults in a team setting. They come to rehearsal and their phones go away and they are immersed in the moment. I truly believe they are developing unique skills that no other activities can quite provide in the modern world of technology.

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To learn more, visit The South Shore Theatre Experience website and Facebook.