David Henry Hwang continues his weekly report from
rehearsals previews of the Broadway premiere of his new play CHINGLISH, which officially opens this Thursday.
This is the part of the process I like least.
We froze the show — no more changes — last Friday. The new ending worked, so that’s the final text. Over this past weekend, critics started arriving. Thursday, October 27, is our opening night and, as those of you who followed the Chicago blogs may remember, reviews will start appearing online that same evening. In the meantime, there’s nothing to do but wait.
At the end of our final rehearsal last Friday, I told the actors that this is how I imagine I’ll feel when my kids go off to college. It’s time to let the child go out into the world, and make its own way. When an actor is the first to do a new part, he or she is said to have “originated” that role. In some cases, the CHINGLISH actors literally suggested line changes which got incorporated into the script. But simply by virtue of having embodied these characters, each one of them influenced how I continued to rewrite and develop this play, which, if we’re lucky, will have a future life and become part of American theatrical literature.
Now, the characters are theirs. To tell the story and share it with an audience. The show is in their hands, as well as those of the dozens of artisans it takes to make a production happen every performance: stage managers, stagehands, dressers, props people, and operators who run lights, sound, and projections.
Critics will write what they feel is true. Audiences will buy tickets, or not. Our show will either become part of that fortunate 20% of Broadway shows called a “hit,” or join the vast majority which were not deemed to have succeeded. That determination will have a big impact on whether or not the play has a future life, across the country and around the world.
It’s hard to let go.
So as I write this post, sitting here in limbo, my mind veers towards the philosophical, recalling the length of the journey. This play was conceived in 2005, when I visited a brand-new cultural center in Shanghai which was perfect, except for the terribly-translated signs. That gave me the idea of writing a play about doing business in China, using Chinglish as a jumping-off point to deal with the issue of language. In 2009, Leigh scheduled the first reading before I’d put a word on paper, giving me a deadline and forcing me to actually write the thing.
By December 2009, I’d only managed to finish the first act. We read it at the Lark Play Development Center in NYC, with a bunch of actors (including our leading lady Jennifer Lim), sitting around a table, using a power-point to simulate the surtitles. By January 2010, I’d finished the rest of the play. Our commercial producers came onboard shortly thereafter, as well as the Public Theater and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Over the summer of 2010, we went to China on a research trip. Then the march called production began, culminating this Thursday night.
We made it to the Finish Line. Broadway. Others will determine whether we are considered to have won the race, or lost. But getting there alone is huge cause for celebration.
Even more important than opening on Broadway, however — let’s face it, most excellent new American plays do not — is making the show you wanted to make. One that says what you wanted to say. One you can feel proud of.
No one knows what will or will not be commercial. Some people say they can, but they’re deceiving themselves. Therefore, all you can do as an artist is to create the art you wanted to see. Which took you on the journey you wanted to take, and helped you make the discoveries you hoped to make. For an artist, it’s the true meaning of success.
That’s how I feel about CHINGLISH. It’s the show I wanted to make. Now, we’ll see what the rest of the world has to say.
Our good friend, the award-winning photographer Lia Chang, came backstage last Saturday to document CHINGLISH on Broadway. Here’s a little of what she saw: