Asian American playwrights lend support to their Filipino counterparts

Asian American playwrights lend support to their Filipino counterparts
By Walter Ang
October 18, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Tony Award winning playwright David Henry Hwang noted the importance of supporting local playwrights as part of efforts to establish Philippine theater in the global arena.

"[The Philippines] has a unique, beautiful and complicated identity that needs to be shared with the world," he said at a reception at the Ayala Museum hosted by the Asia Society Philippine Foundation in cooperation with the Lark Play Development Center.

Hwang's most famous work is the play "M. Butterfly," which has been staged in the Philippines several times by theater groups such as Dulaang UP and Repertory Philippines. His "Golden Child" has also been staged by Tanghalang Pilipino.

Hwang co-wrote the libretto for the Disney musical "Aida" and wrote the libretti for the Disney musical "Tarzan" and an updated version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Flower Drum Song," which was initially slated to be staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines this year but has been postponed.

Hwang admitted to having more than just a unique perspective of the Philippines: his mother's family is from Cebu. "The works of playwrights," he said, "need to be honored by being produced for the stage. Theater can help shape identities of communities, of nations, of peoples. There are many local writers who deserve to be heard."

The reception featured short excerpts of plays written by members of the Writers Bloc, a support group for Filipino playwrights headed by multi-awarded playwright Rody Vera.

A scene was performed from Layeta Bucoy's play, "Anatomiya ni Hermano Puli," to open the program. Stage readings were done for the works of Vincent De Jesus' work-in-progress musical "Dragon Tales;" Mariane Villalon's play "Streetlight Manifesto;" and Floy Quintos' play "Fake."

Korean American playwright Lloyd Suh's play "American Hwangup" was also featured. His play is currently being staged by Tanghalang Pilipino. Performances in English and in a Filipino translation by Joi Barrios-Leblanc, in mixed-schedules, run until October 3.

The local staging of "American Hwangup" is done in cooperation with the Lark Play Development Center. The center in New York City provides resources for writers in developing plays and has international programs to "seek out and embrace unheard voices and diverse perspectives, celebrating differences in language and worldviews."

Hwang is a playwright advisor for the center and Suh is a former fellow.

Both Hwang and Suh demonstrated, through the readings of their plays, the revision process that they've had to go through to polish their works for successful runs.

Hwang reminded playwrights to ensure that they hear their works being spoken out loud as part of their revision process and to finally "have them produced however way you can." He recounted how he himself directed his first play in his college dormitory, which served to open doors for him in establishing a career as a playwright.

"David articulated everything that we've envisioned for Writers Bloc and the Virgin Labfest," said Rody Vera. The Virgin Labfest is the annual staging of output from the Writers Bloc's pool of playwrights. "It's wonderful that we have the same mission regarding playwrights' development in the country."

Prior to the reception, the Asia Society hosted a panel discussion titled "Breaking through Barriers" that focused on diversity and theater's role in cultural exchange.

Asia Society executive director Arnel Casanova said, "Theater serves as a platform and a bridge for different voices to be heard."

Founded by John D. Rockefeller III, the Asia Society promotes understanding of Asia through education. To this end, it conducts lectures, exhibitions, films, seminars, conferences and travel tours to encourage intercultural communications between Asia and the United States across the fields of policy, business, education, arts and culture.

Held at the Filipinas Heritage Library, speakers included John Eisner, Lark artistic director; Kate Leowald, Play Company artistic director; and Jorge Ortoll, Ma-Yi Theater executive director.

Headed by Ortoll and artistic director Ralph Pena, Ma-Yi Theater is known as one of the leading incubators of new Asian-American plays. It received a Special Drama Desk Award for Excellence this year.

Hsu's play was premiered Off-Broadway by Ma-Yi Theater. He is also co-director of Ma-Yi Writers Lab, the largest resident company of professional Asian American playwrights.

Joining the discussion were Asia Society's fellows for arts and culture Martin Lopez, Far Eastern University President's Committee on Culture head; and Cagayan De Oro-based Mozart Pastrano, Pasundayag Community Theater artistic director.

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