Current ACC Individual Fellowship grantee, Cheng-Han Wu, is a dramaturg, playwright, translator, and critic from Taiwan. He received his MFA in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism from the School of Drama at Yale and teaches at National Taiwan University (NTU). He also organizes the Musical Theatre Writing Program at Taipei Performing Arts Center and serves as the Regional Managing Editor for The Theatre Times and the Programming Director for PLAYground, the first new work development center in Taiwan.
He recently sat down with ACC’s Marketing and Communications Manager, Caroline Lim, to speak about his ongoing Fellowship experience in New York.
Wu first gave a description of his ACC project: “My main project is to study and learn about new play development. New play development identifies the timeline and process of how a play gets fully produced and developed. More specifically, I am learning how playwrights develop their ideas, how long it takes them to create a play, and how theaters support playwrights and artists. In order to do this work, I have interviewed many artistic directors, dramaturgs, and playwrights from over 30 theaters and institutions to hear their experiences. So far, I have discovered that different theaters have specific ways and philosophies that dictate how they run their programs.”
Cheng-Han Wu speaking with Abrons Art Center Executive Artistic Director Craig Peterson during an ACC Enrichment Program trip.
In conjunction with Wu’s primary interview work in uncovering the processes of new play development, he has also taken the initiative to see as many shows in New York City as possible. At the time of interview, Wu had seen 111 shows over the course of 5 months. “I will say, I have never done such a thing before in Taiwan or in the States. I think it is a good experience because I have to force myself to think [about] theater almost every day.”
“In every single show, I can see different cultures, subject matters, and problems that people are trying to solve. I believe that culture shapes our thinking and our perception of time. This different way of thinking/these different cultures put [forth] another method of storytelling, presenting diverse ways that cultures and selfhood can be represented. While we all face the same problems, we position ourselves in our own culture.”
ACC Fellows and staff meet up prior to a visit to the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) for an ACC Enrichment Program trip.
Ultimately, Wu’s perspective on his learnings thus far in the US are centered around the collective instead of the individual.
“I didn’t see as many possibilities for theater when I was in Taiwan, but in New York there are so many cultures that are being covered on stage now representing different people, which allows me to see more possibilities for how to present a story...This experience has made me regain trust in the idea that theater can change the world and ourselves – I mean this less in a blatantly optimistic way, but rather in a philosophical way.”
ACC Fellows explore the MoMA Library and Archives Department for an ACC Enrichment Program trip.
When asked how Wu intends to translate the US model of new play development for a Taiwanese community and audience he said, “One of the main problems I will run into in trying to translate these learnings is that theater in Taiwan is not mainly run by nonprofit organizations. So, figuring out how to get money to new play development centers will certainly be a hurdle to overcome. Additionally, figuring out how to get money to plays that may not initially draw in a lot of money due to its subject matter will also be difficult. However, because of my experiences here and connections I have with the theater community back in Taiwan, I can certainly try to have conversations with the national institutions and theater directors who organize theater projects in Taiwan. Because they are already aware of my ACC Fellowship work here, folks have already requested oral reports and debrief meetings with me when I return, so I will at least be able to have a talk with them about it.”
“My ultimate goal is to have a new play development center in Taiwan. At this center, I would hope to help playwrights create something they really like and foster a way to perceive the world through their own eyes, that is not bound by financial concerns, strictly linear storytelling, or audience pleasing constraints. A mission like this is also why I find the arts to be so important: because even through our existence in a confined, manmade societal structure, the arts can be a place where we can break that reality to perceive new possibilities.”
Wu hopes to continue international collaboration with the networks he has built here in the US in organizing performances, initiatives, and programs in the future.
ACC Fellows and staff get a tour of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) for an ACC Enrichment Program trip.
“I think that, after this trip, I have become an even more open-minded person to welcome all kinds of possibilities. Professionally, the ACC grant has given me the opportunity to watch many shows and be in contact with so many relevant people in the field. On a personal level, I have been able to use this time to visit with old friends and teachers that mean a lot to me, and I really cherish that time.”