With this post, Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (or DHH) has been “upgraded” from Guest Offender status to full blown Offender. DDH continues his weekly report from rehearsals for the Broadway premiere of his new play CHINGLISH. Today, week 4…
This has been a busy week for our show. On Wednesday, we finished our last day in the rehearsal hall, and celebrated with a Sour Fish Soup banquet, organized by our Cultural Advisors Joanna & Ken. Sour Fish Soup is a specialty of Guizhou Province, where our play is set. I’ve eaten it twice on previous trips to China, and, since hot and sour are my favorite flavors, had a craving for it ever since. But, so far as I’ve been able to tell, Guizhou cuisine has not yet made it to either New York or LA. So Ken & Joanna brought back the necessary ingredients from their last trip to the region, and Wu Liang Ye, an excellent Sichuan restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, kindly agreed to prepare it for us. The dish proved too spicy for many of our group, which left more for me! (I had four helpings.)
Then it was on to the Longacre Theatre. You may recall from Chicago that this particular meeting of superstitious cultures — Chinese and theatre people — has led Joanna to create good luck rituals for us. So we carried incense (in a counter-clockwise direction, per Daoist tradition, so I’m told) from our rehearsal hall on 42nd Street to our theatre on 48th St. Right through the heart of Times Square.
The next day, Tech began. Technical Rehearsals are possibly the most tiring portion of the rehearsal process. Up to now, we’ve been working primarily on the script, acting, and staging. In Tech, we add all the other elements: set, lighting, costumes, sound. This means going painstakingly through the show, adjusting and co-ordinating with the designers and their respective crews. For the actors and me, it involves a lot of sitting around and waiting, while Leigh and her teams do their important work. We work twelve hours a day: from noon to midnight. YOMYOMF readers from the world of movies would find the atmosphere familiar. In fact, when recently on the set of Quentin Lee’s upcoming movie WHITE FROG, I felt like the entire shooting period was one big Technical Rehearsal.
Broadway has its own rules and traditions. For instance, no one except the Stagehands can move anything onstage. That’s their domain. Tech is the time when you hopefully get all your mishaps out of the way. Our show features a complicated set with two revolving turntables, as well as chairs and tables that track on and off mechanically. Over our four days of Tech, we had three accidents — the set crashing into the stage frame and leaving a big dent, that sort of thing. So there’s lots of pressure to work quickly. Leigh is extraordinary in her ability to miss nothing and maintain a firm hand, yet keep things pleasant and relatively fun for everyone.
Our Tech ended yesterday night, with an invited dress rehearsal for our friends, producers, and others connected with the production. Leigh and I were incredibly nervous — as, of course, was everyone else on the show. After all, this was the first time we’d be exposing the work to a New York audience. And although our Chicago reception was great, I’ve had work that has done well “out of town,” but, for one reason or another, failed to ignite in New York. Not to mention, that I’ve made changes to the script, Leigh has added new elements to the production, and we have a new actor. To top everything off, this would be the first time we’d ever run the entire show — top to bottom — with technical elements. In front of 600 people!
I always think invited dress rehearsals and first previews should be counted a success so long as no one falls off the stage. Happily, our invited dress went considerably better than that. No, it wasn’t flawless; yes, mistakes were made. But we got through the whole play without having to stop, the story came across clearly, and the audience responded with big laughs and hearty applause. We still have a lot more work to do, with our first preview for a paying audience this Tuesday. But we’re off to a strong start!