A role in Inherit the Wind set theater kid Danielle Hatchitt on a path that led to the law
Published in 2020 Texas Rising Stars magazine on March 31, 2020
At an age when most kindergartners are learning how to cut and paste, Danielle Hatchitt was learning how to play dead for a live audience.
At 5, Hatchitt auditioned for a production of Macbeth at the prestigious Alley Theatre in her hometown of Houston. Her tryout for the role of a murdered child required crawling slowly across the floor. She and the other child actors were instructed to move like snakes in peanut butter. Hatchitt was one of the last to make it across the floor. Afterward, she told her mother she probably didn’t get the part because she couldn’t keep up with the other kids. Much to her surprise, she was chosen. “Now I’m sure I did get the part because I couldn’t crawl across the floor,” she says with a laugh.
Playing one of the Macduff children in Macbeth led to other parts in Alley productions, including a small role as Melinda in Inherit the Wind when Hatchitt was 10. The play used an old-fashioned courtroom set, and when Hatchitt wasn’t in a scene as Melinda, she was watching the trial scenes unfold. They captivated her. Being a lawyer seemed similar to acting, which is about telling a story, but trying a case had the added element of greater real-world consequences.
“I remember telling all the cast members that I might decide to be an actress, but my backup plan was to be a lawyer,” says Hatchitt.
She continued to participate in theater in high school, but took note when her drama teacher told the class: If there was anything they thought they could succeed at other than acting, pursue that. “Even though I loved acting and it was really fulfilling, I knew the likelihood of my making it was pretty small,” says Hatchitt.
Two decades later, what was once a backup plan is now a thriving practice. At Weisbart Springer Hayes, Hatchitt, 33, focuses on complex commercial litigation involving oil and gas deals, real estate disputes and employment issues. One of her current and most challenging cases is a series of Title IX lawsuits involving Baylor University. “We represent Baylor, and we’re hoping to get to trial soon,” says Hatchitt, who earned her J.D. from the university.
Hatchitt’s early stage experience still informs her courtroom style and trial prep. “I like to come up with the reason that we’re in court, and I think the opening, the direct, my crosses and my closing are all built on that reason,” says Hatchitt. “If what you’re talking about doesn’t have to do with that reason, then you shouldn’t be wasting everybody’s time.” Then she focuses on rehearsing, going over and over her arguments until she has them down cold. “It’s like I’ve memorized a screenplay before I go into a trial,” she says.
There’s still theater in her life. Hatchitt and her husband, James Hatchitt, also an attorney, love to catch productions at Austin’s ZACH Theatre and the Bass Concert Hall on the University of Texas campus. James even proposed to Danielle in New York during a whirlwind trip to see several Broadway shows.
Even so, she suspects her theatergoing will be put on hold. In January, she gave birth to their second child, Julia, who joins 2-year-old John: “I’ll be watching a lot of Sesame Street.”
Asking Danielle Hatchitt to list her five favorite theatrical productions isn’t quite like asking her to choose between her kids—but it’s close. “It’s almost impossible to narrow down my favorites,” says Hatchitt, who sat behind composer Andrew Lloyd Webber at an opening night production of Evita in London and managed to introduce herself. Not surprisingly, a few of the attorney’s top picks feature famous trials.
- To Kill a Mockingbird—“Atticus Finch embodies the person, attorney and parent that I aspire to be.”
- Evita—“Evita is a fascinating character to me: so full of life, charisma and tenacity.”
- The Crucible and Inherit the Wind—“I must have a thing for courtroom dramas.”
- Legally Blonde—“I can always use a little more Elle Woods (and pink) in my life.”