This Boy’s Own Story

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Chris Hatcher never came out to his mother. A choreographer and a dancer, she often took him around to see shows that she was working on. However, she didn’t want him to do theater and, as he looked back, Hatcher thought it might have been because she knew that environment was more accepting of gay people. “She must have known about {my sexuality},” Hatcher said.

When he was 10 years old and his family was living in Pennsylvania, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy and experienced a recovery. Two years later, however, the cancer returned, having spread to her liver and other areas. She died when he was 14 and the family was living in Dallas. Hatcher’s father, an international businessman whose work frequently brought the family to exotic locales over the years, got a new job, eventually remarried and they moved to Chicago.

While visiting his family over Thanksgiving break during his first semester at Texas State in San Marcos (he went on to earn his BFA), he came out to his dad and stepmother, who both took it pretty well. The following day, his dad shared some information that Hatcher could not have predicted.

“He said, ‘I might not be your biological father. I love you and I want to be honest with you,’” said Hatcher, who was shocked at the news and generally unhappy about the timing. Mike, the man who raised him, gave him the name of another man, Dean, who could be his biological father. Because this was 1994, before the Internet was in its current form, Hatcher found a business name in a national telephone database at the library. He called the number, asking the man who answered if he ever knew a woman named Kay Roberts (Hatcher’s mother). Dean was disturbed and responded by saying “no.” Hatcher, who simply wanted to know the truth, then wrote him a letter, which led to a phone call and dinner invitation from Dean six months later.

Based on their physical similarities, they knew immediately that it was a match. So they kept in touch, had their blood tested to confirm it was the real deal, and not long after Hatcher visited San Diego to stay with Dean and his wife.

“Then I had two dads, all the sudden. One who I did not grow up with who is just like me, his personality, temperament, profession,” Hatcher said. “And another who I grew up with and who I have a strong father-son bond with, but we didn’t see things eye to eye, and he’s very conservative and athletic.”

2-6Although he now has a great relationship with each man (Dean lives in San Antonio and Mike lives in Fort Worth), the timing of the events still wore him down, and it took a few years for Hatcher to move past it. Even so, Dean is a video producer, something Hatcher never thought would become his career, and Mike’s business sense later influenced how Hatcher formed his production company, Chris Hatcher Pictures.

Before he made the connection to what would ultimately become his career, Hatcher was primarily a put-on-a-show kind of guy. And theater is still something he’s passionate about. He loved to entertain his friends and embraced the theatrical world with gusto. His first performance was at summer camp as a nine-year-old playing a reporter; his acting continued later in high school and throughout college. After living in New York City for a year post-college, Hatcher knew that the actor’s life–in which your personality really becomes your brand that you must always market–wasn’t for him.

When Hatcher was acting in a 1997 production of Grease before moving to Austin, he connected with Jason Hays, a fellow actor and video production collaborator, who has become a good friend. Hays directed Hatcher in an Arts on Real production of Jeffrey, and they’ve worked together on other projects.

“Chris is always a force of creative energy, hard work and inspiration when it comes to putting a project together,” said Hays. “He always puts the quality and well-being of his work ahead of ego and creative differences.”

While Hatcher was living in Chicago, he became involved in post-production photography. He continued in high school and a bit more in college, working in photo labs. His eureka moment came when he saw someone using Photoshop at Texas State. A self-taught perfectionist, he mastered the program by doing precise photo restoration of old family pictures. He also began using video as another means of delivering messages and telling stories. “Transitioning to moving pictures was a combination of all those skills, so when I had the opportunity for an apprenticeship as a video editor, I took it,” he said.

Hatcher connected with Spruce, the custom upholstery and furniture design shop on North Lamar, last summer via his first cousin, who is the store’s retail manager. Working with owner Amanda Brown, he filmed the staff to produce a TV pilot. As a result of many months of hard work, the pilot has had 15,000 views on YouTube and initiated a meeting with people from TLC, among other networks. They’re now producing a how-to series of DVDs to teach the basics of upholstery.

“Watching his work evolve has been exhilarating and emotional,” said Brown. “When I sat down for the first round of the TV pilot, within fifteen minutes I experienced all over again the last four years of hard work, struggle, and triumph all through the lens of his camera. It was very surreal.”

One rainy morning last year, Brown was looking for wingback chairs for the soon-to-open W Hotel in Austin. She found what she wanted on Craigslist. “The next morning, Chris and I were driving to Seguin in the pouring rain. Cloaked in a tarp, Chris trudged through the attic of a dark old barn with his camera rolling while I excavated two amazing chairs,” she said. “Then he helped me load, tie down and tarp the pieces. It wasn’t a glamorous day, but he was eager to participate in the soggy adventure for the sake of the pilot.”

“So much of the magic in video production comes in the edit. That’s where the story gets built, the emotion is shaped with sound, music, and the timing of when an audience learns new information,” said Hatcher. “I loved that process, and got more and more into the conceptualization and production of video, so I had a hand in the storytelling from beginning to end.”

Hatcher’s childhood experience with discrimination also spark interest in specific educational projects.“In fourth or fifth grade, there was this guy who bullied me a lot,” he continued. “I got called fag a lot and I never was very athletic, which I wanted to be, desperately. A lot of that was my gender identity–I never felt like things had to be so set and defined. For a while I was like, I’ve got to figure out how to fit into that. Now, it’s like, I’m just going to do whatever I want and be whomever I want.”

Those early experiences with bullying fuel his interest in social advocacy work. In 1998, he started working with Theater Action Project, which focuses on creative arts that prompt social change and raise awareness. Their two-person show called The Courage to Stand had many costume changes and took place across space and time. The five-day show’s audience is fourth- graders, and its intent is to teach children about the history of discrimination against a wide range of groups; the production touches on the Civil Rights Movement to the Holocaust and more.

“Kids figure out ways to help the person being bullied. They’re courageous bystanders and they find ways to help the target without becoming targets themselves,” said Hatcher, who played seven characters in the show for the past two-and-a-half years. “You go on a trip around the world and through time. It’s very interactive.”

Theater will probably always be in Hatcher’s life, regardless of where his video production company takes him. One show, written in the 1980s about Miss Gulch, the crotchety older woman who took away Dorothy’s dog in The Wizard of Oz, is a dream for Hatcher to put on–and star in. Loaded with double entendre-laden songs, Miss Gulch Returns features the dour woman who later morphs into the Wicked Witch singing cabaret and playing piano, wicker basket and all. Hatcher said he hopes to find the appropriate venue, one that’s intimate and serves alcohol, adding, “I loved the show the first time I heard it and immediately learned all the songs.”

Hatcher mused about the beginning of his love for video. His grandfather was the first person he knew with a video camera. A fashion photographer in Dallas, he always supported the young man’s creative endeavors and allowed him to sit in on photo shoots. Both his grandparents loved the movies, and Hatcher credited them with helping to spark his own love affair with the visual arts. Around the age of six, he watched Auntie Mame for the first time and, like many others, wanted to be that little boy, gallivanting through Greenwich Village and learning life lessons from Rosalind Russell. “I don’t think there’s a gayer movie than that,” Hatcher said, laughing. Auntie Mame’s sage lesson–“Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”–is one that Hatcher has taken to heart.

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