Thursday, Feb. 3, Tony award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang conducted both a master class and a reading as part of the Winter with the Writers series. The first playwright to ever have been hosted by Winter with the Writers, Hwang has also been appointed the 2010-2011 Irving Bacheller Professor of Creative Writing by the English department. As the Bacheller Chair, Hwang conducted four open workshop sessions with students interested in playwriting, along with the master class he taught with the Winter with the Writer interns.
Hwang adapted well to each environment, offering helpful advice to those established in theater and in writing scripts, and giving great startup suggestions, ideas, and techniques for those with fiction and poetry backgrounds. With both groups, he provided timed writing exercises, suggesting, “Try writing as fast as you can. This sort of short-circuits the editor in our minds.”
To the master class, he stressed the need to acknowledge different draft s and to allow the first draft to be rough, saying, “First draft s require you to transcend your craft.” He also touted the random, adding words and phrases every 70 seconds that the students had to incorporate quickly into the scenes they were writing. To the workshop students, he de-emphasized the need for exposition, teaching them to write through the characters’ senses with another writing exercise that first focused on personal sensory observations, then moved to sensory description monologues by the characters. Students discovered that what they had written in the monologues about what the characters saw, smelled, tasted, felt and heard revealed much more about their characters’ personalities and settings than a paragraph of obviously expository writing would have done.
During his reading Thursday night, Hwang described the evolution of his works and style, beginning with a singular focus on Chinese-Americanism. He described this period as “You know, gongs and dragons and stuff ” and trying to answer the salient question, “Is this face my destiny?” As he developed as a writer, he came to the understanding that “specificity leads to universality.” He remained specific in his focus on East-West issues, but at the same time expanded his characters and storylines to include multiple cultures. He now feels that he is ready to begin moving the spotlight onto internationalism with his new play Chinglish, which explores U.S.-China relations.
Hwang read from Chinglish, Broadway hit M. Butterfly, Yellow Face, and F.O.B. The latter he read solo, both monologues and dialogues; for the former, he was joined by actor Professor Eric Zivot of the Department of Theatre Arts & Dance. Hwang read the part of an American businessman wanting to go into business with the Chinese, and Zivot played across him as an Australian businessman living in China and well-versed in Chinese culture.
Hwang is easily one of the strongest visiting speakers that Rollins is hosting this year; each of his audiences applauded enthusiastically and stood in line to thank him for coming. This year’s Winter with the Writers series will conclude today with a double-header of Rhonda Pollero and Lydia Peele. Peele will conduct a master class at 2 p.m. in Woolson House, and Pollero will teach a master class at 4 p.m. in Bush Auditorium. Both authors will read at 8 p.m. in Bush Auditorium, followed by a Q&A session and book signing. If you have not yet taken advantage of the opportunity to hear and learn from the great writers brought to Rollins this year, come today.