Playwriting tips from David Henry Hwang

by Kitty Felde

Theatre J here in Washington DC just revived the 2007 comedy “Yellow Face” and I was lucky enough to hear David Henry Hwang talk about his writing process. Hwang is about to open a big off-Broadway show – “Kung Fu.”

As you know, Hwang makes himself a character in “Yellow Face” – a technique he says was inspired in part by all the times he’s been asked to play himself in small, indie films. Why not try it in a play?

I can’t quite imagine writing Kitty Felde as a character, but it’s something to chew on.

He says he knew two things when he sat down to write the play: he wanted to start it with the controversy that enveloped the Broadway opening of “Miss Saigon” where Cameron Mackintosh cast Jonathan Pryce as the Asian Engineer. Hwang was outspoken on the issue and became embroiled in the debate over colorblind casting. He also knew he wanted to end with a “New York Times” article suggesting his banker father had broken the law. How those two events were connected, he wasn’t sure when he sat down to write the play.

Whether he successfully connected the dots is for you to decide, but what a terrific way to attack a play!

He also knew that the emotional spine in the middle of the comedy and political commentary was his relationship with his father. The humanity shone in those scenes.

Again, a good lesson to learn: what’s the emotional spine in our plays?

An evening of theatre and a playwriting class for one ticket! Quite a deal!

About Kitty Felde

Award-winning public radio journalist, writer, and TEDx speaker Kitty Felde hosts the Book Club for Kids podcast, named by The Times of London as one of the top 10 kidcasts in the world. The Los Angeles native created the Washington bureau for Southern California Public Radio and covered Capitol Hill for nearly a decade, explaining how government works to grownups. Now she explains it to kids in a series of mystery novels and podcasts called The Fina Mendoza Mysteries. Kitty was named LA Radio Journalist of the Year three times by the LA Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.

One thought on “Playwriting tips from David Henry Hwang

  1. I love hearing David Henry Hwang talk about the writing of plays. I don’t care how many times I hear him, I learn something that enhances the way I “attack a play”. Thanks, Kitty, for sharing these jewels.

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