Kung Fu Journal (February 22, 2014)

KUNG_FU_JOURNALTony Award-winning playwright/Offender David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) is currently in previews for his new play KUNG FU, which has its World Premiere at the Signature Theatre in New York on February 24 (this Monday) and has been extended to March 30. This is his weekly blog series giving our readers a glimpse into the rehearsal process for KUNG FU. Read previous entries here.

Well, my work is done.

From left to right: me, associate choreographer Al Blackstone, Leigh, and stage managers David Lurie & Jillian Oliver (well, her back), juggling incense and oranges. Photo by Alan Muraoka.

From left to right: me, associate choreographer Al Blackstone, Leigh, and stage managers David Lurie & Jillian Oliver (well, her back), juggling incense and oranges. Photo by Alan Muraoka.

This past Wednesday, we “froze” the show. For our last rehearsal, Joanna Lee & Ken Smith, our Cultural Advisors, led an End of Rehearsal ritual – sorta culled from Taoist traditions, but mostly improvised. We processed through the “house” (audience area) and stage, holding sticks of incense, while sprinkling rice wine, all intended to seal in the good energy we generated doing our work here. Given contemporary fire and smoke regulations, we were limited to six sticks of incense, so that’s how many we used. Joanna had us parade counter-clockwise, only making left turns, to circumnavigate the theatre. Afterwards, we each received a clementine to eat. Will this ritual do any good? Can’t hurt. And the sandalwood incense smelled nice.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

Kung Fu Journal (February 15, 2014)

KUNG_FU_JOURNALTony Award-winning playwright/Offender David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) is currently in previews for his new play KUNG FU, which has its World Premiere at the Signature Theatre in New York on February 24 and has been extended to March 30. This is his weekly blog series giving our readers a glimpse into the rehearsal process for KUNG FU. Read previous entries here.

Cole Horibe, Phoebe Strole, and the cast of KUNG FU. All photos by Joan Marcus.

Cole Horibe, Phoebe Strole, and the cast of KUNG FU. All photos by Joan Marcus.

Apologies for this tardy post, but as I noted in my previous entry, previews are the most intense part of the production process. With new pages flying, dances being reworked, and technical elements redesigned, the premiere of a new show requires a company and creative team to be flexible and talented, with a Protean work ethic. Leigh, our director, is a stunning leader, cramming into one four-hour rehearsal schedule changes that would require a week to incorporate during your average Broadway preview process. Which is a good thing, too. This show resembles a Broadway musical in its number of moving parts. And the big Broadway musicals I’ve written have gotten up to six weeks of previews (another show, SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK famously previewed for almost six months). We, however, have about two and a half weeks to get our work done.

Kung Fu Journal (February 6, 2014)

KUNG_FU_JOURNALTony Award-winning playwright/Offender David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) is currently in previews for his new play KUNG FU, which has its World Premiere at the Signature Theatre in New York on February 24 and has been extended to March 30. This is his weekly blog series giving our readers a glimpse into the rehearsal process for KUNG FU. Read previous entries here.

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This past Tuesday, we had our first preview: the first performance of our show before a paying audience. The actors were amazing, and earned a standing ovation at curtain call. But this is no time to rest. On the contrary, this is when the real work begins.

A couple of major Bruce Lee fans showed up for our first preview. Photo by Joanna C. Lee.

A couple of major Bruce Lee fans showed up for our first preview. Photo by Joanna C. Lee.

We’re in the most intense part of the process, when the creative team learns from audiences what is and isn’t working. While the opinions of individual patrons may or may not be correct, the audience as a whole is rarely wrong. If we think something is funny, and the audience doesn’t laugh, it’s not their fault, it’s ours. Maybe the line doesn’t work. Maybe the actor isn’t delivering it effectively. Maybe the staging is sabotaging us. Or the lights. Or any number of other variables. So we listen to the audience every night, and continue making changes, in all areas.

Kung Fu Journal (January 30, 2014)

KUNG_FU_JOURNALTony Award-winning playwright/Offender David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) is in rehearsals for his new play KUNG FU, which has its World Premiere at the Signature Theatre in New York on February 24. This is the first of his weekly blog series giving our readers a glimpse into the rehearsal process for KUNG FU. Read previous entries here.

On Tuesday, January 28, we started technical rehearsals, or “Tech.” Mondays are usually days off in the theatre world, so our last day in the rehearsal room was Sunday the 26th. We did our third run-through of the show, with a small audience in attendance. Not only did the actors go from beginning to end without stopping, incorporating all the dances, but their performance was exhilarating, thrilling, and totally bad-ass. An incredible amount of work had been achieved: a new show, built virtually from scratch, all in just three and a half weeks. We were ready to move onto the stage.

Christopher Vo, Phoebe Strole, and Reed Luplau, in their new backstage robes at the start of Tech. Chris let me lift this from his FB page.

Christopher Vo, Phoebe Strole, and Reed Luplau, in their new backstage robes at the start of Tech. Chris let me lift this from his FB page.

Of course, the fact that the run-thru felt triumphant doesn’t mean my job is done. On the contrary, immediately afterwards, I huddled with Leigh and dramaturg Oskar Eustis, who is generously taking time out from his day job as the Artistic Director of New York’s legendary Public Theatre. We decided to rearrange the order of scenes at the end of the show. So the actors showed up for Tech to be greeted by 23 new pages (of a 107 page script)!

Tech is intense. We add all the design elements to the show – sets, costumes, lights, music, projections, and many other components. The workdays are long –noon til midnight. The audience portion, or “house” of the theatre, looks like something out of Mission Control: dotted with tech tables, each designer hunkering over computers with his or her assistants, supervising different aspects of the production.

Kung Fu Journal (January 23, 2014)

KUNG_FU_JOURNALTony Award-winning playwright/Offender David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) is in rehearsals for his new play KUNG FU, which has its World Premiere at the Signature Theatre in New York on February 24. This is the first of his weekly blog series giving our readers a glimpse into the rehearsal process for KUNG FU. Read previous entries here.

On Tuesday, we did our first run-through of the entire show. As I’ve written in previous posts, KUNG FU consists not only of scenes but numbers – fighting and dances, underscored with music. The amount of work often requires that various components be created separately. We have two rehearsal rooms going at almost all times. Leigh might be rehearsing a scene, while Sonia’s working on dances in another space, Jamie might be teaching Chinese Opera, or dialect coach Deb Hecht could be coaching actors on the authenticity of their accents. Like a movie, we’ve rehearsed many elements out of sequence. So putting everything together from the first time is exciting – and teaches us a lot.

Left to right: Fight Director & cast member Manny Brown, with actors Clifton Duncan and Francis Jue.

Left to right: Fight Director & cast member Manny Brown, with actors Clifton Duncan and Francis Jue.

The run-through went surprisingly smoothly. All the preparation of our show’s various parts, plus the cast’s dedication and hard work, paid off. We didn’t have to stop once. Afterwards, the creative team – including Leigh, Sonya, fight director Manny, Leigh’s assistant Alan Muraoka, and Sonya’s associate Al Blackstone – huddled to discuss what we’d learned.

Kung Fu Journal (January 16, 2014)

KUNG_FU_JOURNALTony Award-winning playwright/Offender David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) is in rehearsals for his new play KUNG FU, which has its World Premiere at the Signature Theatre in New York on February 24. This is the first of his weekly blog series giving our readers a glimpse into the rehearsal process for KUNG FU. read previous entries here.

We’ve now been rehearsing for two weeks, and a tremendous amount of work has taken place. Putting together a production team is like creating a short-term family – you hope everyone gets along, that the group will be harmonious rather than dysfunctional – but you never really know until people start working together.

At least for the moment, we have a very happy family. The atmosphere in the room is positive and supportive; everyone works extremely hard, and is really excited about the show we’re creating. My concept was to put together an entire cast of actors who are also martial artists and dancers. There are 17 numbers in KUNG FU – each some combination of martial arts, Chinese opera movement, and/or dance. Here the artists who are creating these numbers:

Here’s a photo of Manny that I copied and pasted from his FB profile.

Here’s a photo of Manny that I copied and pasted from his FB profile.

Emmanuel “Manny” Brown is our fight director as well as a cast member. He holds black belts in kung fu and several other martial arts forms, and most recently, comes from the cast of SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK, along with several of our other performers. Manny’s been working on my Bruce Lee project almost as long as I have. Back when I was trying to write it as a musical, Manny was part of those early workshops. Besides being incredibly skilled, he has a warm, positive spirit, and is an encouraging teacher. I feel very lucky that he’s stayed with this show as long as he has.

Kung Fu Journal (January 8, 2014)

get-attachment.aspxTony Award-winning playwright/Offender David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) is in rehearsals for his new play KUNG FU, which has its World Premiere at the Signature Theatre in New York on February 24. This is the first of his weekly blog series giving our readers a glimpse into the rehearsal process for KUNG FU.

We’re just finishing our first week of rehearsals for my new show KUNG FU, about the great martial arts and film legend, Bruce Lee. Our first rehearsal, on January 2nd, was particularly emotional for me. Probably because it had taken twenty years to arrive at that day.

Me with my long-time artistic partner, director Leigh Silverman, at the first day of rehearsals for KUNG FU. Photos by Erik Carter.

Me with my long-time artistic partner, director Leigh Silverman, at the first day of rehearsals for KUNG FU. Photos by Erik Carter.

I first had the idea to do a show about Bruce Lee back around 1993. Even then, it seemed clear that China was rising, and would regain its centuries-old status as a world power. When I was a kid in the 1960’s, however, the image of China was completely different: poor, uneducated, hopelessly dysfunctional, the “sick man of Asia” (a phrase Lee used in his movie FIST OF FURY). Bruce Lee gained international stardom in the 1970’s, as that image was just beginning to change. He therefore became the first pop culture manifestation of a New China. I wanted to write about that.

The ‘Chinglish’ Journal: A New Chapter

On January 29, 2012, CHINGLISH played its last performance on Broadway. Towards the end of 2011, I’d been encouraged as the annual “Top Ten Best in Theatre” lists came out from different publications and we made about a half-dozen of them. TIME Magazine even named CHINGLISH the Best American Play of the year. Our producers put up a new poster in Schubert Alley, at the heart of Times Square.

Still, we didn’t sell enough tickets each week to keep from losing money, so they eventually had to close the show. We ended up lasting about three months – a respectable run, though we certainly would’ve liked to have run longer. Although I’ve learned from my experiences that however long a show a runs, you always feel it should’ve run longer.

Should we have cast a big movie star in the play? In retrospect, that would probably have helped us sell tickets and stay open. Nevertheless, I appreciate that our producers loved this show enough to gamble on going into the cutthroat commercial market of Broadway without one. I’m proud they were brave enough to buck that trend.

The ‘Chinglish’ Broadway Journal: Post-Opening (Nov. 21, 2011)

We’re into the fourth week of our Broadway run, and I’m happy to report that things are looking pretty good. If you’ve followed the CHINGLISH blog posts, you’ll remember that Broadway is a commercial venture, and therefore all about profits and losses. True, we don’t have particularly large weekly grosses when compared to some of our counterparts. However, since we don’t have a big movie star in the cast, our running costs are also very low. Therefore, as of this writing, we’ve made money — not a huge amount, but some — every week, including during previews.

Significantly, our producers continue to believe in our show and are in this for the long haul. Their original budget included a large fund to cover potential losses, which we’ve not yet had to tap. So we’re in good shape. Of course, the hope is that good word of mouth kicks in, and our weekly grosses will continue to grow.

The ‘Chinglish’ Broadway Journal: Week 7 (Nov. 1, 2011)

Playwright David Henry Hwang continues his weekly report from rehearsals opening night of the Broadway premiere of his new play CHINGLISH, which officially opened last Thursday.

If you’re a dramatist lucky enough to get a show on Broadway, you know Opening Night will be one evening you’ll never forget. I’m fortunate beyond words, because CHINGLISH was my seventh Broadway show (though only my sixth opening; I had one play that closed in previews, but we’ll save that story for another post).

CHINGLISH opened on Thursday, October 27. It’s customary to present little gifts and cards to everyone involved with the show. Weeks ago, Leigh and I had decided to give chops — you know, those Chinese name stamp things — reading “Chinglish.” Joanna had them made for us in Hong Kong, and Ken served as our tireless mule, lugging a hundred across the Pacific from his recent trip there. The last two preview performances, Leigh and I hunkered in her dressing room, listening to the show on the backstage speakers while writing thank-you cards.

October 27 dawned cold and rainy. A Broadway opening is sorta like a wedding. Friends and relatives from around the world show up to cheer you on. I got a limo and traveled with my family, first to a reception for the Goodman Theatre, which had so beautifully hosted our show in Chicago, and then to the Longacre for Joanna’s ritual burning of incense and presentation of the roast pig.

Check out THIS awesome Opening Night gift, from understudy Vivian Chiu: CHINGLISH cookies!

Speaking Chinglish

Let’s face it… I’m not a New Yorker. When I got off the plane, I was already trembling on the Air Train. How would I get to my friend’s place in Chelsea? Well, somehow with the directions from my iPhone I got there. I have rarely had a good experience with New York since college. I got into a fight or broke up with almost every one of my boyfriends there. But I came again because I really needed to see David Henry Hwang’s new play, Chinglish. And my mission for the day was to pick up the opening tickets at the Longacre Theater and go to a hip-hop class. With courage, I did both.

Timely, smart and totally hilarious, Chinglish rewrote New York for me, just like it will rewrite the relationship between China and America and inform and entertain those who have inklings of doing anything in China. Very much like his own smash hit M Butterfly, it’s a comedic critique of the dysfunctional relationship between the East and West. In M Butterfly, it’s sexuality and gender roles. In Chinglish, it’s aptly language and translation.

The ‘Chinglish’ Broadway Journal: Week 6 (Oct. 25, 2011)

David Henry Hwang continues his weekly report from rehearsals previews of the Broadway premiere of his new play CHINGLISH, which officially opens this Thursday.

DHH in front of the theater (photo by Lia Chang)

This is the part of the process I like least.

We froze the show — no more changes — last Friday. The new ending worked, so that’s the final text. Over this past weekend, critics started arriving. Thursday, October 27, is our opening night and, as those of you who followed the Chicago blogs may remember, reviews will start appearing online that same evening. In the meantime, there’s nothing to do but wait.

At the end of our final rehearsal last Friday, I told the actors that this is how I imagine I’ll feel when my kids go off to college. It’s time to let the child go out into the world, and make its own way. When an actor is the first to do a new part, he or she is said to have “originated” that role. In some cases, the CHINGLISH actors literally suggested line changes which got incorporated into the script. But simply by virtue of having embodied these characters, each one of them influenced how I continued to rewrite and develop this play, which, if we’re lucky, will have a future life and become part of American theatrical literature.