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
PROCESS (PART 2)
PROCESS (PART 2)
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.
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.)?
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.
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."