"My hope is that the Trump Presidency, in all its chaos and incompetence, will damage the brand of white nationalism and the far-right for another generation or two."
David Henry Hwang is veteran in the global theatre community. Having written a number of notable works including M Butterfly, Golden Child, FOB, The Dance and the Railroad, Family Devotions, Yellow Face and Chinglish, Hwang is a formidable writer with legendary status.
For the Asian acting community, Hwang has demonstrated that stories from the east matter, and that there is market for our stories in the west. As an Asian American himself, Hwang shares the nuances of the Asian diaspora experience and injects elements of the culture in his work.
Last year, director Andrew Keates brought Hwang’s play Chinglish to the UK. In an interview with Resonate, Keates explained how Hwang’s writing inspired him to import the play for British audiences. “Because of David’s extraordinary ability to write from the heart, there are moments that I find deeply moving where I’m laughing one moment but have tears rolling down in the next,” Keates said.
To kick of 2018, a book containing the first collection of modern dramatic writing by British East Asian writers has been published. Foreign Goods features eight contemporary pieces including full plays, short plays and monologues. Its new material is relevant for actors and new plays are available for production.
Hwang, who has fought hard for Asian representation, wrote the foreward for the book.
An event to promote the book will be held on 1 February 2018. The event will include a reading of Kathryn Golding’s Suzy Wong: Fitting in and fucking up by actress Jessica Woo. Actress Julie Cheung-Inhin will also perform her play No More Lotus Flower!
Speaking to Resonate, Hwang discussed Foreign Goods and the current state of Asian representation on stage.
CC: What exactly is this new work about and what is it trying to achieve?
DHH: The publication of this book heralds the emergence of a new generation of BEA theatre artists, young authors writing their own stories and from their own unique perspectives.
CC: How important is it to the Asian theatre community?
DHH: Publication means these theatre pieces will reach a larger audience, through reading as well as the likelihood of more productions, both in the U.K. and perhaps throughout the world.
CC: How important is it to the Asian acting community?
DHH: When the iconic actor/director/activist Mako became Artistic Director of East West Players, America’s oldest Asian American theatre, in the late-1960’s, one of his first priorities was to cultivate the creation of new plays which would speak to this experience. He understood this reality: for the Asian acting community to grow, it would need new literature.
CC: How did you become involved in the project? What was your role?
DHH: I have admired Jingan Young’s work for years, and informally mentored her.
CC: As a veteran in the industry, what has been the hardest challenge for you as an Asian playwright?
DHH: The most difficult challenges for me have been the perception that my plays are difficult to produce due to a lack of Asian actors, and critics who don’t necessarily understand the cultural point of view from which I write.
CC: Has it got easier over time?
DHH: I think there’s a greater awareness nowadays that the Asian American acting community is large and gifted. My experience with critics has arguably gotten more difficult, at least where the NY TIMES is concerned, since their head critic during my 20’s supported me, but the reviewer who has held that job for the past 21 years has not responded to my work.
CC: How do we overcome these issues?
DHH: We need to diversify the critical profession, and advocate for more casting of PoC actors in general, including Asians in particular.
CC: How damaging is whitewashing to Asian actors?
DHH: Producers and theatres will often complain that Asian actors can’t be found, so will lazily whitewash Asian roles instead. This creates a vicious cycle, rendering these performers even more invisible. Because I have insisted that my Asian roles be cast with Asians actors, theatres and casting directors may have to work harder, but we have always found great actors, and discovered some stars.
CC: How about stereotyping?
DHH: Stereotyped roles also perpetuate a vicious cycle where Asians are perceived as less than fully human. That said, I would much rather have an Asian actor in those roles, who can at least add some degree of humanity.
CC: It’s been just over 1 year of the Trump presidency. How has America changed during this period? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
DHH: America has become more divided, with the 30% of the population which supports Trump feeling freer to express their racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., as our government pursues short-sighted and oppressive policies. My hope is that the Trump Presidency, in all its chaos and incompetence, will damage the brand of white nationalism and the far-right for another generation or two. Then again, it may take several decades to undo this damage. Or our President may start a war.
CC: Chinglish recently came to London. Will we be seeing more Hwang plays on our stages?
DHH: Chinglish was sufficiently well-received that we are currently looking to bring it back in a larger production, perhaps on the West End.
CC: What’s next for you?
DHH: My new show Soft Power is a play that becomes a musical, a collaboration with composer Jeanine Tesori, whose Fun Home won the Tony for Best Musical three seasons ago and will soon be seen in London. Our show will premiere in Los Angeles this May, then travel to San Francisco, and presumably come to New York.