Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) is in rehearsals for his latest play CHINGLISH in Chicago where it will have its world premiere at the historic Goodman Theater now-July 24 (opening night is tonight). DHH has graciously agreed to blog regularly throughout the rehearsal process to give our readers a glimpse into how a major theatrical production comes to life.
As a baby boomer, I can’t help but remember, “This Is It,” the theme song (written by Mack David & Jerry Livingston) from THE BUGS BUNNY SHOW, whenever I get to an opening night. This evening, Monday, June 27, 7 pm Central Standard Time, is indeed “It.”
We had a very productive week of preview performances. The new ending which I wrote and Leigh staged at Tuesday’s rehearsal seems to work very well, giving our show a “button,” and our audiences a little more to think about as they leave the theatre. Leigh continued to polish the acting and production, while I trimmed lines that weren’t buying us anything. If a moment is neither funny nor adds to our understanding of the plot or characters, it’s gotta go. Two weeks ago, Act One ran an hour and fifteen minutes, without scene transitions. Today, including scene changes, it runs an hour and eight. As a writer, I geek out over those kinds of numbers, they make me incredibly happy.
Our final rehearsal was Saturday afternoon. This is always a bittersweet moment. I imagine it’s akin to watching your kid graduate from college (which I also expect to experience in the coming decade). This has been an unusually blissful rehearsal process. The cast gets along incredibly well, and we all believe so much in what we’re doing here. This Is It: when the creative team hands over the show to the actors and running crew. It’s been ours; now, it belongs to them.
Joanna and Ken (our Chinese Cultural Advisors) had been talking about doing some kind of final rehearsal ritual, an idea Leigh heartily endorsed. Theatre people are pretty superstitious to begin with. How can you help it, when the future of a show feels as unpredictable as a horse race? Add the Chinese propensity for cultivating good fortune, and a ritual seemed very much in order. So Joanna and Ken went down to Chinatown to purchase the necessary implements.
To be honest, they basically made up the thing. But it was consistent with Daoist principles and practice. This was a Ritual to Seal In Good Energy generated during rehearsals. It began by lighting incense, which carries prayers to heaven. We processed around the theatre, starting in the tech booth, then proceeding counter-clockwise, which is apparently the Daoist custom.
…. and each actor was presented with a bamboo plant and a lucky cat (I’d always thought those cat things were Japanese, what do I know?). Leigh and I received coin emblems to ward off evil spirits – in this case, protection from evil critics.
Will the ritual work? Hey, it can’t hurt. Joanna and Ken are preparing another ceremony for our Opening tonight. Something involving a 35-pound pig. Really.
I expect to post this coming week to update you on the aftermath of our opening. If you feel like sending up a lucky thought for us tonight, we would be deeply grateful. We’ve spent the last few weeks and months raising this child. Now it’s going out to face the world.