Learn from the Playwright

David Henry Hwang, Tony award-winning playwright gave a talk  at CM Recto, UP College of Arts and letters. Theatre artists, teachers of literature and arts, and students gathered in this rare event. He was known for his play, M. Butterfly. It won Best Play in 1988 and had its film adaptation. He also wrote Flower Drum Song in which Lea Salonga was part of the cast.

He spoke about his humble beginnings as a playwright. He came from a home filled with music. His Chinoy mother was a class musician. But no one in his family had a particular interest in theatre. He learned to like theatre when he entered college. He discovered a poster of a play advertised in his dormitory. After he watched the play, he thought he could write a better play. He wrote one and handed it to his professor who showed interest in reading his play. When his professor had finished reading, he said to him, it was badly written. From there, he read more plays and applied as a student of a famous playwright, Sam Shepard.

In the playwrights’ forum, he shared some notes on playwriting:

Know many aspects of the play
The playwright should know how the lights hang, stage directions, costumes, props, etc.

Access the unconscious
Writing is most exciting when you go for something you do not understand.

His three ways of writing:
Start with a question, something that confused you
Know where you are starting and where you are going
Model your play to other plays

• The process of writing a play is comparable to writing a novel (in terms of making a plot and characters) but playwriting is more like writing music. It is concerned on how it sounds in the air. Learn the play by hearing it and rewriting it.

The audience is almost always right. When the audience members do not understand the play, it means there is something wrong with the play or the production.

• What should you write? It’s like falling in love for the first time. Write the things that make your heart beat. It needs to continue to excite you.

Failure is really important. Because if you are not failing, you are not taking risks.

Explore the mystery.


At the end of his talk, he inspired local theatre people to take a new artistic direction, playwriting.

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