I woke up at nine in the morning and thus arrived thirty minutes late for David Henry Hwang‘s talk and playwrights’ forum at the Carlos P. Romulo Hall in U.P.’s CAL Building.

Playwrights' Forum: A Talk by David Hwang

L-R: Chris Millado, Loretta Greco, Lloyd Suh, David Henry Hwang

I was there to document so the first thing I did was take photos. I know Mr. Hwang was talking about how to write a play when I got there but I could not listen to the full details while I was trying to be as un-intrusive as possible with my documentation.

The hall was packed with students as well as faculty members.

Playwrights' Forum: A Talk by David Hwang

Jorge Ortoll and May Adrales on the panel (lower left)

Playwrights' Forum: A Talk by David Hwang

Tony Mabesa, wearing black and Alex Cortez, wearing violet, in foreground

Playwrights' Forum: A Talk by David Hwang

Other members of the panel were:

Dr. Belen Calingacion, Chair of the Department of Speech Communication and Theater Arts
Elena Mirano, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters
Lloyd Suh, author of the American Hwangap
Jorge Ortoll, executive director of Ma-Yi Theater
Chris Millado, director
John Eisner, Lark Play Development Center‘s Artistic Director
Kate Loewald, Artistic Director of Play Company
Loretta Greco, Producing Artistic Director of Women’s Project and Productions
May Adrales, TCG New Generations Fellow at the Lark

Playwrights' Forum: A Talk by David Hwang

L-R: John Eisner, Kate Loewald, Jorge Ortoll

also present were:
Tony Mabesa, Professor Emeritus and Founder of Dulaang U.P.
Alex Cortez, Artistic Director of Dulaang U.P.

Playwrights' Forum: A Talk by David Hwang

Dr. Belen Calingacion

Here is a clip from the talk:

You may also view the other photos here.


When I finally sat down to listen, I found myself simultaneously nodding, beaming and being deep in thought.

Here are my personal thoughts on some of the things that were talked about in the forum from what struck me the most, or the most I could relate to, or the most I have learned from.

I was not writing down notes so whatever I have retained may not be exactly how it was said. I will not be quoting verbatim, but will be relating them as to how I understood them. In this case, I wish I brought a tape recorder instead and not a camera.

That being said, my thoughts and statements are subject to flaws. Nevertheless, these are the things that struck me the most or in the least, inspired me or made me think.

On writing a play

Inserting a random, out-of-the-context line, makes it good.

“… I put in there something about a duck, that was totally unrelated to the play… and the play starts out normally, when the bit about the duck comes up, that’s when it starts to get off.”

It’s been a long time since I tried to write a play, or write a short story, or even long-winded thoughts and conversations with myself. I did take up Creative Writing with Charlson Ong as a cognate back in 2007. The entire time, my classmates thought I was a Creative Writing major. My final output was supposed to be a love story that had poems in it, but Mr. Ong thought it had the material had too much dialogues that it could have been a play.

I wrote a very short play for my Dramaturgy class with Jose Estrella. “Bote Boys” was about three boys living in squatters area who went around the U.P. campus asking the students for their empty bottles, which they sold.

One of the boys was a victim of the Pepsi 349 fiasco, another of DAR’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) while the oldest of the three had simply been born in the slums of Metro Manila and have never actually seen a real carabao.

Someone had suggested I submit it to some award-giving body or perhaps as an entry to the Labfest but when I brought it up to my mentor, she said, “I don’t remember your play. The fact that I don’t remember it, it must have been pangit.” Hahaha!

I mean to work on it, expand it because at its present form it’s not long enough to run even as a one-act play because it’s only about 15 pages long, and generally improve it but I have not found the time nor the necessary inspiration.

It was meant to be a devised work, a work-in-progress and it’s been three years and it has yet to see a glimpse of anything that can be remotely called “progress”. I have not even finished my dramaturgy folder and thus garnered a whopping INC at the end of the term.

What struck me most about that statement about pitching in something totally out of context was that I never thought about that part or maybe I should have voraciously read all those playwriting books I borrowed from the library.

Writing for whom?

When a student from the Comparative Literature asked whether the playwrights, when writing their plays, wrote with the motivation that their play was going to be studied in class or simply staged, both David Hwang and Lloyd Suh were short of stupefied. They said it has never crosses their mind nor have they ever thought about it. Playwrights write with the intention that their play will be put onstage, brought to life by actors and directors – and not simply be studied in class.

I have not heard nor encountered anyone who said, “I’m going to write a play that will be studied in class, or photocopied repeatedly as readings by bored students forced by their class’ semestral curriculum,” BUT I have heard someone say, “I’m going to write a play I will submit to the Carlos Palanca Awards or the Virgin Labfest,” countless times.

Earlier in the talk, Mr. Hwang had said, “Every time we have a new play, we invite the critics, we invite an audience and watch them react to the play…. When I see the audience not laughing at that line I find really funny, I wonder what is wrong? Then I work on my material and rewrite…… because you know, the audience is almost never wrong. An individual in the audience may be wrong – but the audience as one organism is almost always right.”

That part had totally blown me away. I have to say that I went through a lot during the Labfest. I, who was audience member, photographer/documenter and blogger, went through a learning experience during the Labfest. There were a lot of issues and controversies. There were bruised egos, angry threats, backstage whispers, personal and not-so-personal talks so on and so forth during that time.

I had struggled with myself on where I was wrong when I said I did not like this or that play for this and that reason and unwittingly put it out there for everyone to read. I had said over and over again it was not a review nor a critique. I am in no position whatsoever to write either. It was just a simple personal opinion – a “blog”. And at the end of it all, we are all entitled to our own personal opinions, whoever we are, and in whatever context or role we say or write that in.

We cannot tell our audience not to judge us because of just one performance. We cannot excuse ourselves by saying, “This is a work in progress, come back and watch it again (and again and again and see us improve it).” Few members of the audience would want to watch twice – given time and financial constraints (transportation included).

If someone talked or wrote about your play, whether it was bad or good, aren’t you supposed to be happy that that person took the time to write about it or that the play meant enough to that person to be pondered upon, when it could have just as easily be forgotten and never brought up again anywhere or at anytime.

You cannot please everyone, but most importantly, you are not meant to. Theater is a personal experience. It is not your role, as playwright or director or actor, to impose. Suggest perhaps, is the best thing you can do – and the rest will be defined by the other person’s life experiences. And as life experiences can go, no one is the same as any other’s. Your life is yours and yours alone. Your thoughts and feelings are formed and defined by your own personal experiences – and those are yours and yours alone.

Theater is a collaboration among the artists – the playwrights, directors, actors, designers, choreographers, technical staff, AND the audience. The process is not whole nor complete without the audience. And in that sense, there should be mutual respect.

It is not theater without a community.

The theater has always been meant for the community.

Your degree of maturity is defined by how you can take something, anything, whether positive or negative, and take it as a learning experience.

When the playwrights were asked if they include directional notes in their plays and asked about the extent or degree of freedom they allow the directors with regards to staging their plays, David Hwang had said, “I don’t write directions in my play. That is why I need a director… to put an image to my play….. I allow my directors to work with as much freedom as they can… because it is interesting. It is interesting to see what they can come up with.”

But what about if there is no director, for example, you are reading the play all by yourself, how does your play come to life, the student had prodded, to which Mr. Hwang said, “Then YOU are the director. You are directing it in your head.”

On securing rights or permission to stage a written material

On too many occasions, I have heard the question, “What are we going to stage for our semester’s production? We have no material.” The usual answer to that is always, “Go find one. Get manuscripts, find the ones you like, and approach the playwright.” But we don’t have the money for buying the rights! And in that, the answer is always, “Then go write your own material.”

It is not always easy to come up with your own material, much more come up with it in a month or two’s time. Writing is a process, and depending on one’s maturity or life experiences or community or support group, the process might take a long time. If you cut the process short, you end up with a bad play that no one would even want to watch. A waste of time, a waste of resources.

Lloyd Suh had said, “I think you only have to talk to the writer. Writers are, I think, the easiest people to talk to….. and playwrights would always want to have their works staged.” It is not a play if it remains on paper. A play is meant to be “played” and not simply read. Or go straight to the library or readings in class.

David Hwang had said, “I think you can buy them at maybe $10, that is not that much. The most important thing is to ask for permission – let them know. Then, you can work on a collaboration.”

I have to admit that I came out of the talk totally overwhelmed and thinking, “Ah, its been a long time.” So overwhelmed was I that I had to put on my sunglasses even when the sun was hidden behind thick clouds that made the sky totally overcast. I even walked with my eyes closed.

This was a feeling I used to have, and loved, every time I came from a graduate theater class. I have missed it so much.

What is a theater practitioner, I thought again to myself. A random thought.

I have not written nor directed nor acted in years and I do not feel a serious desire to do so. What I do feel is a need to be involved in theater, not with my voice, nor my body, but my thoughts. I had wanted to be a dramaturg. I had wanted to be a theater scholar.

And at the end of this talk, I found myself, again, wanting to. I might be coming back to my thesis next year. I just might.

And maybe, just maybe, I might in the end, pursue that doctorate degree in Media, Technology and Society.

I am in love with its curriculum. It has practically everything I love in it.