The journey to publishing for a playwright is different from what is typical for most authors. As award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang says, “First you write a play, and you send it to people who hopefully are interested in producing it.”
For Hwang, the process is filled with constant rewrites: “The first draft is really just a suggestion of how the play is going to eventually turn out.” In the case of Chinglish (published this month by Theatre Communications Group), about a Midwestern American looking for a lucrative business contact in China, the playwright used the resources of Manhattan’s Lark Play Development Center to develop the work. “This is a place where I can take the play, hear it read by actors, and as soon as I hear it read, I usually want to change things,” says Hwang. “We only had the first act, and of course Chinglish is bilingual, so it involves the use of sur-titles. We had a bunch of actors sitting around a table, and we set up a PowerPoint program to simulate the effect of what it would be like to have to read titles, just to see if the concept would work. And that reading felt good, and then I went on and finished the full play.”
Chinglish debuted in Chicago before its Broadway opening last fall. “Every step along the way, the play is being rewritten, often on a daily and sometimes an hourly basis, and at some point they make me stop rewriting. ‘The critics are coming and we have to “freeze” the show—you can’t make any more changes,’ which is always the saddest day for me.”
Hwang continued reworking his play when the production went into rehearsal for Broadway. He made changes every day—sometimes major changes, sometimes just tweaking it. “Then the show opened on Broadway, and that is the official ‘frozen’ version. There is a saying that plays are not finished, they’re abandoned—which means at some point they make you stop and that’s the final version. And that’s what gets published.”
Theatre Communications Group has had a long relationship with Hwang. Publisher Terry Nemeth tells Show Daily, “We published David’s first play back in 1980 as part of a series called Plays in Process. It was a play called FOB, which was the first play he wrote—he did it as a student at Stanford—and we’ve been publishing him ever since.” Nemeth notes that TCG, which is a service organization for the American theater, started publishing individual plays in the late 1980s. “A lot of publishers will just pick and choose plays that are hits. We pick the writer and then go along for the ride—it’s much more fun that way.”
Hwang will be signing copies of Chinglish at the TCG booth (3905) today, 1–2 p.m.