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DAVID HENRY HWANG INTERVIEW
It's OK to be Wrong and/or It's OK to be Hwang
Presentations of idiosyncratic history pageants with a sense of humor and musicality
A Creative Soul, Successful Playwright, Screenwriter and Librettist with All the Work He can Handle

 

CREATIVE PROCESS (PART 2)
Learn about the highs, lows and pressures of working with others within the entertainment industry. Understand the reasons and joys behind working with various world-class artists such as Lea Salonga and Unsuk Chin - along with the pressures that the general public/media places upon artists of the highest caliber.

 
Unsuk Chin
 
JOY OF WORKING WITH UNSUK CHIN
US ASIANS: What prompted your initial interest (recognizing your long-standing interest) in writing for various tales such as "Alice in Wonderland?"

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I actually, for some reason or another, have never been particularly attracted to "Alice in Wonderland" per se. I took on this project in order to work with Unsuk. (To learn more about Unsuk Chin, read her interview by clicking HERE.)

US ASIANS: What were some of the unique creative aspects and discoveries of the creative process that of co-writing the libretto (drawn from Lewis Carroll's classic "Alice in Wonderland") with Unsuk Chin?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: When I do an opera libretto, I generally start by sort of armchair-psychoanalyzing the composer, because I feel that one of my primary duties in this particular medium is to inspire the music. Unsuk, however, completely resisted my attempts to unearth the psychological links between her and this story. It took me three days of meetings before I finally understood: she wants the opposite of psychology, she loves these stories because of their absurdity, because they don't make sense! Once I grasped that principle, I could write the libretto and have fun with it.

FAILURES
US ASIANS: Remembering your words that "A playwright has to have the right to fail" and you've "learned more from failures" (i.e. Rich Relations, Face Value, etc.) in becoming a first class writer, what lasting creative processes have been incorporated within your writing through these type of experiences?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Each failure carries its own particular lesson, or blessing. "Rich Relations" taught me that I would always be a writer, while "Face Value" helped me to jettison the weight of expectations stemming from "M. Butterfly," and simply go back to being a writer again.

US ASIANS: What are the differences between the lessons/failures/process/success in the theater (as mentioned above) when compared to your past television/film efforts (i.e. Possession, Lost Empire, Golden Gate, M. Butterfly, etc.)?

 
Calvin Jung's Responses
 
 
Calvin Jung
 
This is Part 3 of the interview.
Read Part 1 by clicking
HERE.

What is the quality level of acting existing within the Asian Pacific American communities

There are Asian American theater groups who purport to be the place to study and work. Unfortunately these groups are filled with medicore expectations, teachers and visions - limiting themselves to an insular standared.

The industry recognizes these groups as places to seek out talent due to this mediocroity of training. There is still a stigma that Asian Pacific American actors can't act.

What do you feel are reasons and/or purposes behind this "stigma?"

The groups started with a wonderful intent to showcase Asian American talent. This a great idea, unfortunately the groups seem to become this clique and if you are not "in" - you are "out."

I was one of the original founders of the Asian American repertory theater in New York City. I was the person responsible for getting the company into Theater La Mama in 1970.

There was a Chinese director/writer who got notoriety for a play called "Won Ton Soup." I read about him in the New York Times. I saw him walking down 72nd Street and invited him to a meeting our group. He empathized with our plight of "lack of opportunity" and got us into La Mama within 2 weeks as an Asian/Asian American theater company La Mama, at that time, was the most renowned experimental theater in the world. Still to this day, the La Mama experience was the most creative 2 years of my life.

Here was one of the problems of those times, I was the youngest member of the company and I had more taining then almost everyone. The older people were mentally trapped in coing commercial-type crap, as opposed to embracing this new theater.
To continue this interview, click HERE
To learn about Calvin Jung, click HERE
To discover the Calgon commerical, click HERE

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Well, I've never really enjoyed much real success in film and television. I think my failures in those mediums should be teaching me that I have to gain the level of artistic control that I'm used to in the theatre, but that's a very difficult thing for a screenwriter to achieve. I'm still struggling with the lessons of my TV/film experiences, but am concluding that I have to approach those mediums in a different way than I have in the past.

US ASIANS: Recognizing the lack of success (i.e. ratings, portrayals of Asian Pacific Americans, themes, etc.) that were associated with the NBC production of "Lost Empire" - what would you do different upon given another opportunity to participate in a television mini-series based on Asian/Chinese material/story?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: "Lost Empire" was a total misfire on my part, and agreeing to write it was one of the few genuine regrets I have in my life. If given another opportunity to participate in a TV miniseries based on Asian/Chinese material, I think I would probably run the other way! If I agreed to get involved, it would have to be with a director and producer who I felt genuinely understood the underlying material, preferably of Asian origin themselves.

PRESSURE
US ASIANS: Were there unique pressures of becoming successful at a young age and known as the first important dramatist of American public life that can fuse politics and humanity since Arthur Miller - younger than Arthur Miller (33) with "Death of a Salesman," Tennessee Williams (36) with "A Streetcar Named Desire" and Edward Albee (34) with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Wow, I didn't realize I was younger than those guys at the time of their breakout successes. There are certainly pressures which follow that kind of success, though I don't think mine are particularly unique. In America, a writer tends to get associated with his/her first major success, spends the rest of his/her life trying to recapture that acclaim, and, for the most part, fails to achieve that goal.

After "Golden Child" was sort of dismissed by the critics, I basically decided I was going to stop seeking approval from a group of people I didn't much respect, that doing so would be an impossible task anyway. One of the great joys of "Aida" was going to opening night without worrying terribly what the NY Times was going to say about the show. I think the conventional critical wisdom about me at this point is that I haven't really lived up to my potential. But the machine in this country is set up so that no one ever does.

At least I've been able to do interesting work on a variety of projects, enjoyed developing my craft, and explored different forms as a writer. That means more to me than worrying about what the critical establishment might think of me for writing Disney musicals. Anyway, even Albee once wrote the book for a musical based on "Breakfast At Tiffany's," which closed in previews, btw.

US ASIANS: With all Asian American authors such as yourself constantly aware of their emotional and familial existence between the countries from which they or their families departed and the nation of which they are now a part either by choice or birth - what guidelines/formats do you utilize to assure that you are going in the right direction(s)?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I don't think I utilize any guidelines/formats, I just sort of follow my gut -- which at the moment feels my relationship with China to be more interesting than my relationship with America. Anyway, who really wants to work so hard to be considered American when W. is the President?

US ASIANS: Did the pressure/scrutiny from the Asian/Asian Pacific American communities greatly increase after the success of M. Butterfly when you became bankable in Hollywood as someone who could write anything?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Yes, the pressure/scrutiny from APA's became more intense, but I'd actually been innoculated earlier by more personally-intimidating experiences. The first performance of "FOB" in my Stanford dorm was followed by a "community criticism session," modelled after Maoist practice, where I was taken to task for the sexual implications of Steve trying to acquire Grace's "box." Similarly, when "FOB" was first performed in NY, a now-defunct Asian American newspaper, the SF Journal, wrote that I had set back Asian America twenty years. And I was only twenty-three at the time! Those experiences taught me that criticism from the community would be part of my job description, and that, as they say in "The Godfather," "this is the life we chose."



In the next section of our interview, David will share his views on collaborating with other artists by clicking HERE.

Discover David's Viewpoints on the Wide Spectrum of Subjects by Clicking on the Below-Listed Links
AUTHENTICITY
CULTURE
CREATIVE PROCESS
DIVERSITY
MUSIC & MUSICALS

Applications
Authenticity vs. Stereotypes
Definition
Frank Chin Battles
Stereotypes - David's Views

THEATER
1000 Airplanes on the Roof
Chinese Railroad Workers
Dance and the Railroad
Family & Christianity
Family Devotion
FOB
Golden Child & Christianity
Origins of Interest
Rich Relations
Sound of a Voice
Steve Allen's Meeting of Minds
Trying to Find Chinatown

 

 

Critical Thinking
Cultural Symbol
Debating Issues
Ethnic Isolationism
Its Issues
Representations

PERSONAL INFO
2nd Marriage & Its Joys
David on Ismail Merchant
Henry Hwang (Father)
Kathryn Hwang (Wife)
Overview
Parents & Relatives
Parting Words
Personal Facts

SUPPORT
Financial
Needed from APA Artists
From Our Communities

 

Choices
Collaborators

Days of Education & Learning
Dealing with Expectations
Failure's Particular Lessons
Inappropriate Characters
Influences & Inspirations
"Lost Empire" Experience
Pressures with Success
Role Models
Working with Lucia Hwong
Working with Philip Glass
Working with Unsuk Chin

NEW & PAST PROJECTS
Chinese Mafia-type Films
Desired Projects
Hello Suckers
Inspiration of China
Status of Past Projects
Tarzan
Texas Guinan
The Fly
Yellow Face

 

APA Theater Organizations
Blind-Casting
Calvin Jung
Current Status
Daring Films w/Asian Males
Definition of an APA
Ethnic Theater
Life as a Librettist (Ainadamar)
Life as a Role Model
Ms. Saigon Protest
Perceptions
Proteges & Artists
Recognizing APA Artists
State of Asian Women Writers
Welly Yang Learning History

LIFE AS A SCREENWRITER
Across the Nightingale Floor
Experience with Hollywood
Golden Gate & M.Butterfly
Interculturalism & Objective Truth
NBC's Lost Empire
Neal Labute's "Possession"

 

Its Importance
M.Butterfly
Today's APA Communities
Working with Prince

FLOWER DRUM SONG
Anna May Wong
Arabella Hong-Young
Background Research
C.Y. Lee
Creative Choices
Its Importance
Original Version
Remembering Our History

REVIEWS
Yellow Face

       
       
       

 

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