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
DAVID HENRY HWANG: I believe we are moving towards the day, and that the proliferation of works dealing with stories from a variety of cultural backgrounds will continue, thus eventually making the term "ethnic theater" irrelevant.
US ASIANS: With American culture acknowledging that it is more "multicultural" - has the ideal of what's ethnic become irrelevant?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: I'm not sure what you mean by an "ideal" of what's ethnic. If I take your question in the most literal sense, I believe the notion that there is some "ideal" way to portray an ethnicity is irrelevant, and probably always has been.
US ASIANS: What is your assessment of the current status of mono-ethnic theaters such as the Asian theaters, the black theaters and the Hispanic theaters? Why haven't more of these mono-ethnic theaters formed coalitions pooling their resources together for the "greater good?"
US ASIANS: Recognizing your past reflection that the advancement of cultural diversity in the theater is based on the white establishment's willingness to give up control, do you see any noticeable tangible changes or do you subscribe to August Wilson's need to have an "ethnic theater" - theater from and for a specific ethnic community?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: To this day, there are very few examples of "mainstream" theatres led by an artistic director of color. George C. Wolfe at the Public was a notable exception. So the baby-boomer generation of not-for-profit theatrical leaders has not had much success at diversifying its top ranks. On the other hand, almost all artistic institutions have come to recognize the need to diversify their audiences. Though the desire exists, the means to achieve this end have been fairly anemic, perhaps because the top ranks of leadership remain largely white and male.
US ASIANS: Does the mono-ethnic theater still effective address an artistic apartheid situation, in which a minority effectively controls the cultural expression of all the other groups within an ever-increasing plurality society?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: An analogy can be made between mono-ethnic theatres and cutting-edge avant garde theatres. Both serve a specialized audience, but occasionally their works "cross over" to a mainstream audience. Mono-ethnic theatres are necessary to be the vanguard of new forms and content; most will never reach a larger audience, but their ideas and innovations will influence the mainstream in some other form.
DAVID HENRY HWANG: There has been progress in mid-level administration, but, as noted before, the very top tier remains overwhelmingly white and male.
US ASIANS: What do you think needs to happened before an Asian Pacific American writer has the artistic freedom to do Asian and non-Asian subjects, roles and/or issues freely and without prejudice?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: I feel we do currently, in a strict sense, have artistic freedom, but it's a question of whether these works are mounted and promoted by institutions and producers that can market and promote them to reach their widest possible audience.
DAVID HENRY HWANG: Two steps forward, one step back. I think I've gone into specific examples for specific genres in previous questions.
US ASIANS: What do you feel is the current status of APA (Asian Pacific American) theaters providing opportunities for upcoming talented writers to share tales of their search for authenticity within their lifestyle/communities, along with their financial support (buying tickets) of these artists? Where do you feel that APA (Asian Pacific American) writers will receive the greatest benefits - having their productions produced within an Asian/Asian Pacific American theater group or within an American theater group?
US ASIANS: What do you feel is the plight, progress and promise of artists of Asian descent in the American entertainment industry?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: I think we're already beginning to see a growing prominence by Asians in the American entertainment industry. Ironically, though, the majority of individuals involved are from the root cultures, rather than from America. For mainstream audiences, APAs (Asian Pacific Americans) for a brief time served as "stand-ins" to satisfy the audience's interest in curiosity about Asia. As the audience gains access to "real" Asians, however, APAs (Asian Pacific Americans) will increasingly compete with their root-culture cousins.
US ASIANS: Do you feel that today's Asian (and other ethnic minority) playwrights are still restricted of the stereotyping based on the color of the actors that you had encountered before your success with M. Butterfly?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: Yes, and, as I said before, I am still restricted to some degree also. "M. Butterfly" is widely produced, not only because it was a hit on Broadway, but because the lead is a white male, and only two of the principal characters are Asian.
US ASIANS: With artists such as Lea Salonga still having problems getting substantial roles in television for reasons that include "not Asian-looking enough, You must look really Chinese/Japanese/Korean, if I wasn't so mixed already - mga Pinoy, may halong ganito, may halong ganyan; 'Where do we put her?'" What do you feel is some of the main factors behind this situation and how prevailing is the "Yellow Ceiling" is in Hollywood? (For additional info on the "yellow ceiling" - click HERE)
DAVID HENRY HWANG: Well, now that audiences expect Asian characters to be played by Asian actors, we're living through a period where actors must look like Asians are "supposed to look." I think that, as more Asians appear on television and screen, the audience will gradually get used to the wide variety of "looks" within our gene pool. But then, we also will have to deal with the expectations of non-American Asian audiences, as exemplified by the current "Memoirs of a Geisha" controversy.
US ASIANS: With children's television programming and television ads providing an accurate picture of a multiracial world within their perspective programming, why you do feel that television for adults has not followed a similar path?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: Children's programming is supposed to have an "educational" component, which leads to programmers advocating multiculturalism as a desired value. In fact, some of the recent assault on PBS by conservatives has been motivated by these sorts of intentions. Adult programming does not serve any educational function, so they don't feel obligated to present a multicultural cast of chracters. However, slowly but surely, self-interest, in the form of wanting to reach a wider audience, is diversifying the casts of television shows. Interestingly, reality television seems to be more multiracial than scripted programming -- "American Idol" controversies aside -- which I think reflects the unease white writers and directors feel about creating characters of color.