Interview: Chris Hietikko of HAND TO GOD at Nutley Little Theatre

Nutley Little Theatre presents HAND TO GOD by Robert Askins

By: Jun. 16, 2023
Interview: Chris Hietikko of HAND TO GOD at Nutley Little Theatre
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Interview: Chris Hietikko of HAND TO GOD at Nutley Little Theatre

Hand to God by Robert Askins is an insane twisted comedy about a foul mouthed possibly demonic sock puppet who upends a family, the idea of “right and wrong”, and a Christian ministry - all while proving just how funny flowing blood can be.  This is NOT a children’s puppet show!

I had the pleasure of interviewing Director Chris Hietikko of HAND TO GOD at Nutley Little Theatre.

Please tell us about yourself

I knew I wanted to be an actor and in the theatre before I even knew that was a real job. Seriously, I had no clue. Lol  By the time I got to graduate school, the possibility of a career in acting was confirmed, but more importantly the understanding of just how rewarding a path in the arts can be.  I moved to NYC after graduation and was fortunate to have spent the majority of my adult life in some of the greatest regional theatres in the country.  Here I learned about life within this craft from extraordinary artists, directors and playwrights. In the early days between gigs out of town, the soap operas were my stomping ground.  When I started raising my family after a stint in Los Angeles, in order to stay home more, I shifted my focus to producing and directing educational videos as a means of new story telling in addition to being an actor.  Directing for the stage was the next logical progression in my creative journey.  Along the way, I also started a headshot photography business (www.chrishietikkophotography.com) as another way to tell people’s stories.

Please tell us about your involvement in theater.

This may sound corny but the theatre is my core center and I always find myself returning to it. Whenever I am feeling lost in the world I pick up a play or see a show searching for connection in it’s purest form. What’s more life affirming than a bunch of people sitting in a room experiencing the same thing together? It changes you.  A performance can never be repeated in exactly the same way ever again, it’s special.  When the lights go out just before a story begins, it’s just magical.  For me it’s like coming home.

What inspired you to direct this piece?
I saw the original production of Hand to God on Broadway and I was blown away by how fierce the writing was and how my sides hurt from laughing so much.  Two things fascinated me about this play, the first being the notion that the more someone tries to be good and deny who you really are, the more their true heart will explode causing damage.  It’s like a tire being over-inflated until it can’t contain itself and suddenly bursts. I see all these characters in Hand to God like that – they all are trying so damn hard to do the right thing at the detriment of hurting themselves and everyone around them.  Growing up in a Midwestern pseudo-Christian environment where emotions were never allowed to be expressed, I struggled a lot with the notion that it wasn’t acceptable to just to be my authentic self.

Secondly, I wanted to see what this play would be like in a small intimate space.  Nutley Little Theatre has one of the smallest stages I’ve ever worked with, and I am excited that our production feels small and huge at the same time.  The material thrives in this kind of world and it just tickles me to no end.  There is nowhere to hide.  Great for the characters and story but it did create all sorts of unexpected challenges I relished as a director. The backstage action during the short show is like a game of Tetris on steroids.

What do you want your audiences to take away from this show?

I love watching the audiences we have had thus far laughing their assess off but then being kind of shocked at the things they are laughing at.  The play lives on this wonderful knife edge.  What would I like them to take away after this production? That it’s ok to stop trying to be good and to just be.  Embrace the messy – laughter and pain – that’s where the meat of life really is.

Any upcoming projects you will be working on after this? (Directing, acting, etc.)

I am heading to Tulsa at the end of the summer to direct a production of Falsettos which I am really excited about. And I still act - in fact I have a few self-tapes that are due this week. 

Anything additional you would like to add?
Thanks for chatting with me!  I am extremely proud of my cast and entire creative team, each and every one at the top of their game.  As Tyrone, Hand to God’s demonic (?) puppet would say, “These MOTHER  FU#@ERS are all BAD AS#!!.” 

CAST

JASON/TYRONE—Nikolas Elrifi

MARGERY—Caity Brown

JESSICA—Katie Toledo

TIMOTHY—David Israeli

PASTOR GREG—Stephen A. Mennella

CREATIVE TEAM

DIRECTOR – Chris Hietikko

PRODUCTION STAGE MANAGER – Jeff Parsons

DESIGN CONSULTANT: Edward Pierce

COSTUME DESIGN: Pixie Pierce

TECHNICAL DIRECTION: Thomas J. Donohoe II

MUSIC/SOUND DESIGN: Jaime Valente

PUPPETRY COACH, DESIGN & BUILD: Kay Koch

FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY: Paul White

DIALECT COACH: Jeff Woodman

INTIMACY COORDINATOR: Dora Gordon

SCENIC ARTIST: Evelyn Pierce

MASTER CARPENTER: Dave Tadiello

BOARD OPERATOR: Lilliana Van De Zilver

COME SEE HAND TO GOD Thru June 24th !

https://nutleylittletheatre.com/



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