The Faculty of Arts invited the esteemed American playwright David Henry Hwang to discuss his latest musical, Soft Power, with Professor Joanna Mansbridge and Professor Michael Ingham from the Department of English, in a talk titled “David Henry Hwang in Conversation – Soft Power on Broadway: American Theatre Post-pandemic,” which was held on 2 December 2022.
Professor Hwang discussed with Professor Mansbridge and Professor Ingham the origins and interpretations of his latest musical. Inspired by the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I, Soft Power was intended to be a reversed version of this classical play. Partly based on a random attack Professor Hwang experienced in 2015, the play features the protagonist, a Chinese businessman who travels to America for work, enters a musical “fever dream” after being stabbed in the neck in a racially motivated attack. He imagines America being viewed in the same simplistic way by the Chinese as the former views other countries.
Professor Hwang also discussed with the two English Professors, his most enduring work, the gender-bending M. Butterfly, and how Broadway theatre was adapting to a post-COVID world.
Professor David Henry Hwang is an acclaimed playwright and librettist. A professor at Columbia University School of the Arts, he is a Tony-Award winner, three-time OBIE-Award winner, Grammy-Award winner, and three-time Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. His stage work includes the plays M. Butterfly, Chinglish, Yellow Face, Golden Child, The Dance and the Railroad, and FOB, as well as the Broadway musicals Aida, Flower Drum Song and Disney’s Tarzan.