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
HWANG'S CREATIVE PROCESS
HWANG'S CREATIVE PROCESS
US ASIANS: What aspects of the Asian/Asian Pacific American communities are you drawn to?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: Can't identify any particular characteristics, just whatever happens to attract and move me.
DEALING WITH EXPECTATIONS
DAVID HENRY HWANG: I think America's inability to distinguish Asian Americans from Asian nationals has proven both a boon and a burden for APA artists. On the positive side, the work has become popular because mainstream audiences feel they're getting an "authentic" glimpse into the root cultures. This means that our popularity and acclaim, however, are to some extent based on a lie. I certainly know less about the mainland China of my day than, say, Pearl Buck did about hers. I've tried to make it clear that I'm writing from an American perspective, but mainstream critics and audiences seem unable to absorb this distinction with much commitment. So all I can do is continue to write from my own experience -- the limited arena about which I do happen to be an expert -- and let the chips fall where they may.
US ASIANS: What special unique artistic and/or visionary qualities do you look for in artists of Asian descent that you have openly supported such as Julia Cho, Unsuk Chin and Lea Salonga?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: First of all, I would hardly claim to have "supported" Unsuk or Lea. Lea has been a star in the Philippines since childhood, and an international star since "Saigon." She supported me by agreeing to star in my "Flower Drum Song!" And Unsuk has won one of the most prestigious composer awards in the world. Julia, ok, maybe I've supported her a bit. But I think I look for the same thing in all my collaborators: someone who's work makes me sit forward in my chair, makes my heart beat a little faster.
US ASIANS: In addition to Julia Cho, Unsuk Chin and Lea Salonga - what other artists should we be aware of?
US ASIANS: What words of encouragement would you provide to the talented artists that you have taken a personal interest in?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: Hardly any artist ever "breaks through" by trying to change his or her voice to suit an audience, critic, or power broker. The best way to get noticed is to create something unique to you.
DAVID HENRY HWANG: By the time I went to Yale, I had already had "FOB" produced at the Public, with "Family Devotions" slated to premiere there. I went largely because I felt I hadn't had enough grounding in theatre history, and very much enjoyed the first-year drama history class taught by Jonathan Marx. During my year in the program, I wrote "The Dance and the Railroad" and "The House of Sleeping Beauties." "Railroad" then premiered at Henry Street to a rave from Frank Rich in the NY Times, and by the end of that first year, I won an Obie Award for FOB. So I was spending more time in the City than in New Haven anyway, and therefore decided to drop out of the program.
US ASIANS: Though it has been written that "The main weakness of his (your) writing is that its purpose often seems more political than literary, more attuned to social issues than to the private struggles of the human heart" - it appears that it also provided an effective outlet to continue your on-going debate various issues of race politics, religion/Christianity, prejudice, gender roles, diversity, Asian/Asian Pacific American issues - is this an accurate assessment?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: Yes, for better or worse, I am one of those authors who violates a cardinal rule of playwriting: my pieces are generally born from ideas, rather than characters or plots. I accept the criticism that my writing suffers to some extent from this emphasis on purpose, but, on the other hand, when I do a non-political work, such as "Sleeping Beauties" or "Aida," critics certainly don't seem to like me any better!
US ASIANS: What about the past films (i.e. Masaki Koboyashi and Masahiro Shinoda), writing (i.e. Sam Shepard, Frank Chin, Maxine Hong Kingston, etc.) and the stories (i.e. Yasunari Kawabata and Yukio Mishima) provided inspirations for your creativity?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: I think I've always been inspired and encouraged by works which cross boundaries, whether these be aesthetic, cultural, historical, or national. Though Frank and Maxine were certainly dealing with cross-cultural circumstances similar to my own, Sam also created a poetic mythology out of America's suburban West, while Tom Stoppard crossed historical erudition with music hall comedy, and Brecht wedded Marxist politics to dime-store potboilers. During my artistic coming of age in the 1970's, some of the most fresh and vital East-West fusion work was coming out of Japan, in novels, film, and fashion.
US ASIANS: Observing your past usage of the modes of television situation comedies (i.e. Family Devotion), does television and movies still have an important part of your creative process?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: Though I don't have time to watch as much television nowadays as I would like (for instance, I completely missed "The Sopranos"), I think it's very difficult to grow up in this culture and not be influenced by film in terms of storytelling pace and flow. Certainly contemporary Broadway musicals have embraced film techniques, such as crossfades and montages, in a way that was not technically possible before the 1970's.
DAVID HENRY HWANG: Er, to be honest, I'm not at all familiar with Wagner's "Theatre of the Future." I do think each of the different genres in which I work influences my pieces in the others. Many of my works have been influenced by opera, both Chinese and Western, as well as dance.
US ASIANS: With your strong interest in producing works for films, what aspects of this medium attracts you the most as a communicator of written words, conflicting emotions, long embattled issues and snapshots of people's souls?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: For the past 15 years or so, I've largely made my living in film. I have to say, though, that the big studio process has grown increasingly unattractive to me. I'd like to make the transition to smaller, independent movies, where I think interesting issues can still be explored and artistic experiments pursued.
US ASIANS: If the 1980s were about having a career; the 1990s about having a life - what do you want to accomplish in the 21st century?
DAVID HENRY HWANG: In the coming years, I will be interested in doing less commercial work, and pursuing more personal projects, as I did in the 1980's. Thematically, I am interested in exploring the transition from multiculturalism to internationalism -- personally, I am starting to feel less Asian American than Chinese, and am eager to pursue projects with Chinese artists, in China itself, and dealing with the developing relationship between the US and China.