Tony 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:
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.
Jamie H.J. Guan brings his formidable Chinese Opera skills to our show. Bruce’s Father, Lee Hoi-Chuen, was a well-known performer in Hong Kong’s Cantonese Opera, specializing in clown roles. So Bruce grew up in a theatrical family, and his complicated relationship with his Father is a central part of this play. Jamie is another artist with whom I’ve worked for years – we met way back in 1988, when he choreographed the original Broadway production of M. BUTTERFLY. As a child in China, Jamie was selected by Madame Mao herself, Jiang Qing, to be a performer in her company, where she created the eight model “revolutionary operas,” among the very few shows allowed to be performed during the Cultural Revolution. So he brings a wealth of knowledge and history to any production.
Pulling all this movement together is our rock star choreographer, Sonya Tayeh. Born in Brooklyn, raised in Detroit, she created a style called “combat jazz” with her own company in San Francisco. Since then, Sonya has worked with everyone from the Los Angeles Ballet to Florence + the Machine to Madonna, and gained international fame as a choreographer on the TV show SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE, where she was nominated for an Emmy. Cole Horibe, our Bruce Lee and a former contestant on SYTYCD, said long before he joined our company that Sonya had been his favorite choreographer on that show. Like I said, there are 17 numbers to create, so Sonya has a tremendous amount of work to do in about three and a half weeks. She is endlessly inventive and deeply disciplined, yet also calm and flexible – a dream collaborator.
Now that you’ve met the dance creators, here’s some video of Sonya working with the cast:
Given the physical demands of this show, it’s a good thing everyone’s so hard-working and enthusiastic. On Tuesday, we did a run-through of Act I for the first time – and only had to stop once! Today, we start digging into Act II.