Interview with David Henry Hwang: International Play Reading Festival

BY Zoe Contros Kearl, May 14, 2019

Organized by Dean Carol Becker and David Henry Hwang, the second annual Columbia University School of the Arts International Play Reading Festival will present readings of three plays by living international playwrights that were not originally written in English alongside conversations with the playwrights and translators. The festival runs from June14-16, 2019.


Featuring: The Sickness of Stone, written by Blanca Domenech, Spain, You Shall Love, written by Pablo Manzi, Chile, Snow, written by Blandine Savetier and Waddah Saab, France. The event will also host a Translator Panel Discussion titled How Did This Play Get into English? with translators Taylor Gaines and Caridad Svich in conversation with Director of Translations, Susan Bernofsky, as well as a Playwright Panel Discussion, featuring Blanca DomenechPablo ManziBlandine Savetier, and Waddah Saab in conversation with David Henry Hwang.


David Henry Hwang headshotWe spoke with Playwriting Concentration Director David Henry Hwang about the upcoming International Play Reading Festival. 



How did the International Play Reading Festival get its start? Has anything changed since its first year?


With the opening of the Lenfest Center, the School of the Arts gained a world-class venue where bold new programming can be presented to New York. Carol Becker and I saw a need to bring more international theatre, particularly from non-English speaking nations, to this country. There was a time, particularly during the Cold War, when our national government prioritized international cultural exchange and diplomacy. Sadly, during the current era when such understanding is arguably more important than ever, the present Administration has turned even more inward and myopic. So the Festival became an opportunity for the School of the Arts to do our part and fill this vacuum of leadership.


The first year proved to be a success, and we learned some lessons we are attempting to apply in 2019. Specifically, we want to increase opportunities to foster community between the artists themselves, an important collateral benefit of such an exchange. Moreover, the first year’s selection process was a bit rushed, so we have allowed more time this year to assemble what we hope will be an even more exciting Festival.



Could you tell us a little about this year's pieces? 


The selection process starts with four American theatrical instructions well-versed in international work — the Lark Play Development Center, PlayCo, Under the Radar, and the Sundance Institute — each of which nominates a couple of works that particularly impress them. Columbia's Global Centers are also invited to submit plays. A Selection Committee composed of faculty from the School of the Arts then meets to decide the three works which will be presented.


This year’s line-up is wide-ranging in form and content. The Sickness of Stone by Blanca Domenech from Spain, features a suspenseful and timely story where the ghosts of an authoritarian regime come back to life. You Shall Love by Pablo Manzi from Chile, dissects the human impulse towards division with theatricalism, absurdity, and whip-smart humor. Snow by Blandine Savatier and Waddah Saab from France, adapts the acclaimed novel by Orhan Pamuk, who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, about a Turkish poet who returns home after years in exile.



Do you and Dean Becker have plans for the future of the International Play Reading Festival?


We hope this will become a regular event at Lenfest and an important contribution to the NYC artistic landscape.



All festival readings and events are free and open to the public. Registration can be found at the links above.