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 from June 18-July 24. DHH has graciously agreed to blog regularly (tentatively every Monday) throughout the rehearsal process to give our readers a glimpse into how a major theatrical production comes to life.
We are now two weeks away from Opening Night on June 27. You try to write the best play you can, give it a home at one of the country’s leading theatres, work with the most skilled director, hire talented and experienced actors and designers – but you never really know what’s going to happen.
I’m best-known for a play called M. BUTTERFLY, which won the Tony Award back in 1988 and was a hit around the world. But when that show first premiered, in Washington D.C., the critics were far from impressed. The WASHINGTON POST wrote, “You will not have an easy time wending your way through M. BUTTERFLY … Hwang’s net is riddled with holes and the elusive prey flutters forever out of reach.” VARIETY declared, “This is not Broadway material.” One of our producers, Stuart Ostrow, continued to believe in the show and literally mortgaged his house to get us to New York, where, fortunately, the story had a happy ending. But it could’ve easily gone the other way.
Fast-forward to the present. Both the shape of CHINGLISH and its individual moments seem to be playing well, so I haven’t felt a need to do many rewrites. I’ve had the luxury to begin trimming the script, putting it on a diet. I told the actors this is the “Death of a Thousand Cuts” part of the process, where I remove a sentence here, a word or phrase there. Since they’ve already memorized their lines, I think it must be difficult (and maybe a little annoying) to relearn new variations, but no one’s complaining. By the end of the week, I’d taken six minutes out of the first act.
(I, on the other hand, have been gaining weight. Too many Chicago hot dogs, deep dish pizzas, and Italian beef sandwiches, plus not doing yoga? That couldn’t possibly be the problem.)
It’s been exciting to go downstairs from the rehearsal hall to the stage, and watch the set being built. There comes a time in every production when I look around and think, “Wow. Someone actually took me seriously.” That’s one of my favorite things about being a scriptwriter: you dream something up in your head then, if you’re lucky, it one day comes to life before your eyes. This video from the Goodman gives a sense of everything that’s been going on in the theatre:
Yesterday, we finished our fourth and final week in the Rehearsal Hall. Leigh began full run-throughs of the show regularly, to get the cast used to its flow and work up stamina. Particularly because so much of this play is comic, it takes a lot of energy to perform. Eventually, our actors are going to have to do eight performances a week.
The award-winning photographer Lia Chang visited our rehearsal. Some of these pictures may end up in Lia’s Archive at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and/or as part of her display there from July 23-30, 2011.
For yesterday’s final run-through in the Hall, we invited a few friends so the cast could begin to feel what it’s like to perform before an audience. Afterwards, Alden, our Production Stage Manager, talked everyone through the process of moving down to the stage. We got our dressing room assignments and removed our stuff from the room that’s been our artistic home for the past month.
On Tuesday, we’ll begin “tech:” adding the other elements – sets, props, costumes, lighting – to complete our show. By this time next week, we’ll have played our first four performances – before actual preview audiences.
On top of everything else, the Chicago premiere of my 2007 play YELLOW FACE begins preview performances this Tuesday and opens next Sunday, June 19, at Silk Road Theatre Project: