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.
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.
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.
For instance, moving from a scene where Bruce attends his Father’s funeral in Hong Kong to a sound stage in Hollywood, requires lights to change, set pieces to move, and music to accompany a dance number which takes us viscerally into the new setting. Moreover, actors who, moments ago, were playing mourners in Hong Kong, “quick change” into new costumes, and reappear as variety dancers on a 1960’s American TV show.
At the center of it all is the director, functioning like a production’s CEO. YOMYOMF readers who have been on a film or TV set will find this atmosphere familiar. When I’ve worked on movies, the entire shooting schedule feels to me like one long tech rehearsal. As the playwright, I’m somewhat less involved during Tech than at other stages in the process. Generally, everyone’s focusing on production, rather than story, and it’ll be awhile before we can run the whole show again from beginning to end. I’ve managed to rewrite a few pages anyway, but by and large, I’m watching others work, adding my occasional comment. Last night, I went out and got cookies. And I think my table is turning into the company snack stand.
On Tuesday, we learned that our run has been extended an additional two weeks – even before our first public performance. So now, we’re playing through March 30. We’re working towards our first dress rehearsal on Sunday, February 2, so it’s fair to assume we won’t be paying much attention to the Super Bowl. Oh – and coming to work today, I found these left for me by the very gracious Layhoon Tan, Signature Theatre’s Associate Production Manager.
So Happy Year of the Horse, everyone!