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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

 

THEATER PIECES
Recognizing that David's success started in theater, we've asked him to elaborate his experience with the various plays that he has brought to the stage such as FOB, Sound of a Voice, Rich Relations and Trying to Find Chinatown. Since David has achieved great success in his theater projects, we seek to examine how he has negotiate the arduous, treacherous and narrow paths on these theater productions.

FOB - CHINESE THEATER
US ASIANS: Has the usage of traditional Chinese Theater/Opera provide the ability to present a clear definition for the audience of the differences between Asian/Chinese to Asian Pacific American to American values/mindsets? From your perspective, would today's audiences appreciate/understand/accept the just-listed parameters to provide characteristics that definitively define each of the characters' mindset?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I think Chinese Opera, still relatively unknown by American and even APA audiences, continues to serve as a wonderful theatrical metaphor and manifestation of traditional culoture, which can then be fused with more Western forms of presentation.

THEATER: "SOUND OF A VOICE"
 
US ASIANS: Despite that the two plays based on traditional Japanese theater share themes and structures, how would you define the differences between the two productions and how they fit together?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: "Sleeping Beauties" is probably the most dialogue-dependent play I've ever written, with very little stage action, which means the production succeeds or fails largely on the strength of the acting performances. "Voice," on the other hand, is highly visual, almost cinematic, which probably accounts for the fact that it's been twice made into a short film. I think the plays compliment each other because of these differences, which present an audience with theatrical variety pursuing some common questions and themes.

US ASIANS: Did many of the audiences understand the deeply embedded loneliness of the characters and their painful inability to escape their isolation to connect with other people?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I think audiences do understand this play, particularly "Sound," which has generally proven more popular and better-reviewed over the years than "House." Interestingly, when I was 29, Laurence Olivier wanted to tape "House" for British television with himself and Joan Plowright playing Kawabata and the madame. Olivier was already in poor health by then, and his friends (including John Dexter) saw this as an opportunity to keep him active. I went to Olivier's townhouse in the Chelsea district of London, where he met me with all the enthusiasm of a young actor looking for his first job. His enthusiasm led to him reading my play to me -- playing both parts -- in his living room. It was a magical experience I'll never forget. Sadly, Olivier died before the project could go forward, which incidentally saved me from being placed in the awkward position of casting Caucasians as Asians! This was one of those occassions for which Asian American Studies does not prepare you!

US ASIANS: Describe the invaluable things you learned to carry a common theme/line from the first scene of the first opera to the last scene of the second opera, to have that line going unerringly, without faltering, without hesitation, always knowing where it was going at the age of 22?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I don't know that the theme/line goes unerringly through both plays, but I appreciate the compliment!

US ASIANS: If Mako didn't cast John Lone or if Bob Ackerman didn't encouraged you to incorporate Chinese opera, what other options were you considering to provide your characters the ability to communicate their definitive differences to the audience?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: In the production I first directed at Stanford, I used a sort of Merce Cunningham-influenced (Merce Cunningham is an acclaim avande-garde/free form dancer and choreographer) formalist stage presentation for the Chinese mythological sequences.

US ASIANS: What was your knowledge base on Chinese Opera and what facet of Chinese Opera did John Lone (through his training in the traditions of Chinese opera in Hong Kong before coming to the U.S. to study Western style acting) highlighted as applicable to your production?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I knew virtually nothing about Chinese Opera at the time I began working with the form in FOB.

US ASIANS: Do you find it ironic that the conflicts (i.e. immigrant/"Steve", rejecting one's Chinese heritage/cousin/"Dale" and trying to accommodate both cultures/cousin's girlfriend/"Grace") focused on in FOB regarding the issues of assimilating in America are still very prevalent in 2006?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Not really, given the prevalence of immigrant and first-generation Americans in the APA (Asian Pacific Ameican) population of today. I do feel that shame for one's root culture is probably less intense today than it was during my generation, given the country's greater acceptance of multiculturalism, particularly in major American cities.

US ASIANS: Could you share the creative origins and inspirations that were the genesis of employing Chinese theatrical techniques to present your characters as figures from Chinese mythology?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I have to give credit to Bob Ackerman for first coming up with the idea at the O'Neill, and then to Mako for really integrating Chinese theatre in a meaningful and authentic sense for the Public Theatre production.

US ASIANS: In F.O.B., are the "yellow ghosts" that Dale spoke still firmly embedded within the Asian/Chinese American culture in 2006?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I think tensions between immigrant parents and first-generation offspring remain just as prevalent and intense in 2006.

US ASIANS: Isn't it interesting that many within the APA (Asian Pacific Ameican) communities are like "Dale" - remain a "perpetual other, doomed to live forever on the outside" because they are "alienated" from the Asian Pacific American and Asian/Chinese culture because they don't know and/or won't learn?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Yes, although with time, my attitudes about this have mellowed somewhat. I think it's possible for individuals to find some satisfying sense of identity in passions and activities other than those related to ethnic background.

 
STEVE ALLEN'S
MEETING OF MINDS
 
 
 
Cast Members
Steve Allen created what one critic called "the ultimate talk show" on the PBS network, a series called Meeting of Minds which was constructed in a typical chat-show format, but featured guests who played important roles in the drama of history. Among those who appeared were Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, Marie Antoinette, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Paine, Francis Bacon, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire and Charles Darwin.

 
Steve & Jayne
 
Allen clarified at the time "The idea is that every syllable will be part of an actual quotation. The degree of the exact quotation varies from character to character. In the case of some people who played important roles in the drama of history, of course, there is no record of anything they ever said or wrote. Two examples that come to mind are Cleopatra and Attila the Hun. "

Meeting of Minds encourages the viewer and reader, who may be historically illiterate, to become more familiar with the great thinkers and doers of the past and to whet their appetites for more research and study.

 
  Click HERE to Purchase
"I felt that putting the greatest figures of all time together and showing them interacting was an entertaining way not only to have a better understanding of what is going on in the world today, but also to be in a better position to make decisions for the future."

It took Allen some 18 years to bring this project to fruition. When it finally reached the national marketplace, it was honored with a multitude of awards, among them the Peabody Award, one national Emmy, three national Emmy nominations, a TV Critics Circle Award, the Encyclopedia Britannica Award and the Film Advisory Board Award.
Click HERE for more info . . . .

US ASIANS: It appears that your attempt to have Fa Mu Lan and Gwan Gung meet in a Chinese restaurant is your version of Steve Allen's "Meeting of the Minds." Was this concept one of the creative "building blocks" to F.O.B.?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I'm not familiar with "Meeting of the Minds," but I certainly tried to foment a cultural and political debate by placing Maxine Hong Kingston's Fa Mu Lan and Frank Chin's Gwan Gung together in the same environment.

US ASIANS: Isn't it ironic and sad that issues that serve as the foundation for F.O.B. are still firmly embedded issues of contention that hasn't been resolved - such as was highlighted by Grace's choices between traditional Chinese, modern American ways and injustices that immigrant families are suffering?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Yes, although if I were to write the play today, I might represent Dale as even more successful at having been "accepted" by the dominant culture.

US ASIANS: Was one of your points to have audiences saddened by the character "Dale" - someone who is desperately trying to be hip and trying to be white at the sacrifice of having any substantial knowledge of the history of the Asian Pacific American (as noted at US Asians' "Timeline Section") or Chinese (in the U.S. and in China) communities? In addition, the irony Dale and Steve have taken the identity of the invisible American in the eyes of the general public - since their respective histories are not usually written in today's history books, they are not considered a "minority group," their highlights not generally recognized, their business/financial dealings are scrutinized from an assumed agenda that other interests are involved in their decisions, etc.?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Yes, I do think Dale is a sad figure, though there is some hope at the end of the play that his world view has been disrupted, and that some growth might eventually result from this.

US ASIANS: Is the irony that first generation immigrants ("Grace" and Steve") are portrayed as having closer ties to their history/culture than Asians born in the U.S. ("Dale") still in existence today - especially considering since the majority of Asians in the U.S. are immigrants?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Well, Dale is an ABC, not an immigrant, who grew up in the 1960's and 70's, so it's not surprising that his ties to his root culture are almost non-existent.

RICH RELATIONS
US ASIANS: Within this spiritual farce about your family - though portrayed by non-Asian characters, in what creative areas did your first critical failure liberated you?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I realized I could live through a failure, and remain excited about being a writer, as well as satisfied with my own creative journey. This was extremely liberating in terms of showing me that I would always be a writer.

TRYING TO FIND CHINATOWN
US ASIANS: Are there any hidden parallels between the character "Ronnie" and yourself - recognizing that the character plays violin and is upset that one's "face" means that one knows where things are Chinese?

 
 
DAVID HENRY HWANG: I can certainly identify with Ronnie, and perhaps he represents the type of individual I referred to in an earlier question, who finds his identity in an activity not related to his ethnic background.

US ASIANS: Is Benjamin (Caucasian looking person adopted by an Asian American family at birth) a representative of a person who is Asian by his culture, not his "face?"

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Yes.

US ASIANS: Recognizing the themes expressed in "Trying to Find Chinatown" - would you describe a person who has was born in the United States, lived in Asia (China and Japan) for over twenty years, speak fluently (without any accent) Chinese/Japanese/English), reads fluently (Chinese/Japanese/English) and lived in the United States for over twenty years an Asian Pacific American in your "intercultural" world of plurality - even though he is Black? (Note: This is a real person)

DAVID HENRY HWANG: If this individual identified himself as an APA (Asian Pacific Ameican), I would accept his self-categorization.

  Realizing that David has utilized various theater productions to examine the history of the Asian Pacific American communities. Recognizing that David's career started with his success in theater,
let's review his journey 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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