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Interviewing Playwright Paul Schutte

Get to know Paul Schutte. The NASA employee who wrote a Richmond Theater Critics Circle Awards nominated play.

Matthew Miller | October 14, 2011

Richmond native, Paul Schutte, didn’t know that his home grown play Pirates of the Chemotherapy would qualify for a Richmond Theater Critics Circle (RTCC) Award.

“I was very excited. For a while I didn’t think we were going to get any critics to see the show. It [the nomination] will have a positive impact and I hope it will make more people want to see it.”

It’s a play centered on six breast cancer patients. It toured in Richmond over the summer and received favorable reviews from local theater critics. To recognize local playwriting talent and the merits of his strong cast, it did qualify and the RTCC nominated his work for Best Ensemble Acting.  This Sunday, he finds out who takes home the honors.

Schutte (pictured left in a 2005 production of White Christmas) is not a full-time playwright. After 30 years on the job, he continues to work at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton and has a MS in Computer Science from William and Mary as well as an MS in Experimental Psychology from VCU. He currently works on designing cockpit systems that are less error prone.

In spite of his success in the field of science, he experienced, what he labels, a “midlife redirection” in 2003. He became involved in community theater and started writing plays.

“I have always wanted to write. I started the great American novel that everyone has in them. But I always got lost in the details. I decided to try writing a stage play because I was restricted on the details and had at most 2 hours to tell the story.”

Pirates is his second play to be produced. The idea for the story came from seeing a woman undergoing chemo wearing a scarf and hoop earrings.

He didn’t intentionally set out to write a play about breast cancer.

But, he recalls, “I soon realized how appropriate the pirate metaphor was – missing parts, fighting a battle, cheating death. Breast cancer seems to attack all that Madison Avenue tells us makes a woman a woman – hair and breasts. It just fit.”

He researched the issues that affect breast cancer patients. The two things that seemed to have the most personal resonance were questions of womanhood and mortality.

“These seem to have the greatest emotional strength. They are the plot pillars of the play.”

He admits that the play does not appeal to everyone. Pirates has been called a “chic flick” on stage and not many men attended when the show ran in Richmond.

“The men who have seen it have laughed and enjoyed it, but you’ve got to get them in. The play has a huge marketing problem in general – not just to men. People see Chemotherapy in the title and they think that it’s going to be a downer or preachy. They don’t see how it could be entertaining.”

Despite this marketing drawback, Schutte foresees a bold, expansive future for Pirates. “I love writing,” he says and Pirates was recently performed at The Public Theater of Kentucky in late September followed by a stage reading at the Strathmore Mansion in Maryland this October.

And after that? “There are a couple of production possibilities in the works and I am working on a screenplay version. I couldn’t have plotted its course thus far so we’ll see what happens next.”

For more information on Paul Schutte and his play “Pirates of the Chemotherapy”, please visit: http://www.piratesofthechemotherapy.com/. The Richmond Theater Critics Circle Awards will be held on Sunday, October 16th at The Empire Theatre. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased from the Barksdale Theatre box office by calling 804-282-2620 or visiting http://www.barksdalerichmond.org/rtcc.html.  Photo by Perrin Cottage Studios.