Interview with Nancy Moss, Playwright
Nancy Moss’s play, Will the Real Charlie Chan Please Stand Up?, about the Honolulu police detective who inspired the fictional Charlie Chan, will open at Honolulu’s Kumu Kahua theatre on August 22. It won the Hawaii prize in Kumu’s 2010 playwriting competition. Moss’s play Anna: Love in the Cold War, about the Russian poet Akhmatova, was produced by Honolulu’s The Actors’ Group (TAG) in 2002 and 2012; it had a 2010 New York showcase at Abingdon Theatre. Her ten-minute play The Pilot, about a drone pilot, was part of Oregon Contemporary Theatre’s 2013 April festival in Eugene, Oregon. In 2008, Kumu produced her play Hostage Wife, which won New York City’s Abingdon Theatre’s Wolk Award in 2005 and had a staged reading at Abingdon Theatre.
How did you get the idea to write about the real Charlie Chan?
I read a New Yorker magazine article about the book by Yunte Huang (Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History), and then I read the book itself.
What made you decide to incorporate the fictional Charlie Chan as a character in the play?
Chang Apana's life would make a great motion picture. He was a man of action, who fought with much bigger guys. He jumped out of windows! He used disguises and a whip instead of a gun. But he was a morally upright man who liked to cook breakfast for his wife. I thought a play needed more than a sequence of action scenes, so – enter Charlie. Charlie's odd characteristics--his use of a pidgin no one ever spoke, for instance, and his made-up adages, made a good contrast with the man of action. It was fun making up maxims for Charlie.
How did you go about your research – of the real Chan, the time period, the situation in Chinatown and Iwilei, etc.?
I read a number of the Charlie Chan books, which were fascinating, and watched one of the movies. Details about the time period mostly came from the Huang book, which had some photographs.
How was the play developed?
Reiko Ho directed a reading of the play for Playbuilders in November, 2011. I did a little revision based on the reading. Playbuilders takes oral histories from various places in the islands and constructs dramas from them. Terri Madden, who founded Playbuilders, has enlisted people to write them. I thank Terri for setting up the reading.
Are you currently working on anything new?
I'm working on a play about our security state – the government reading our emails and listening in on phone calls – which is suddenly timely. I hope to have some scenes read in a theatre here.
How and when did you first become interested in theater and playwriting?
I had been writing novels and romances (e.g. Island Ecstasy, under a pseudonym) and found I liked writing dialogue best.
How did you develop your playwriting skills? Formal classes? Workshops?
Like many others, I worked with Y York, sitting around her table and listening to her critique our work. She provided a sort of informal textbook, with terms (“inciting incident,” “bone structure”) and examples from accomplished playwrights. I also took a summer workshop at Kumu Kahua, led by Harry Wong and Dennis Carroll, where I learned about writing action in theatre. I have been in writing groups for years; it's so essential to hear words out loud – especially if you're trying to be funny! Because I had a full time job, I was never able to take a playwriting course.
How many plays have you written? How many have been produced?
I have thrown a number of plays away, but I have nine, including a ten-minute play, that I'll own up to. Of these, six have either have been or will be produced.
How would you advise young playwrights to proceed – writing, finding a theater to produce, etc.?
I would advise a starting playwright to find a group and look for a nearby theatre. Online sources like nycplaywrights.org are also valuable in listing theatres and contests. Kumu has an excellent contest; look for contests or theatres likely to have a limited number of submissions. For instance, The Pilot, my ten-minute play, won out in a contest limited to Oregon writers. Finally, develop a thick skin. Being rejected, rejected, rejected makes the occasional production sweet!
You recently moved from Hawaii to Oregon. What do you miss most about the islands? Least?
Oh, my. I miss the music and the beauty. The northwest is beautiful, but there's something about Hawaii. The mixture of races – Portland is pretty white bread. For “miss least,” I have to say mass transit. Here, you can hop on a streetcar or MAX and get to most places. I can't believe Hawaii will ever do as well.
Opening Next Week:
Will The Real Charlie Chan Please Stand Up?
by Nancy P. Moss
Welcome to our 43rd season of producing plays that reflect and touch our lives here in Hawai'i. Our upcoming season includes Hawaiian folklore, two plays focusing on generations of families here, one wild-ride of a play written by the imaginative local, Eric Yokomori, and our season opener, a tale about the charming, brilliant and quietly exciting Charlie Chan and his inspiring cohort, Chang Apana.
Our cast includes familiar KKT actors: Daryl Bonilla (Da Mayah, Folks You Meet at Longs, Super Secret Squad), Neal Milner (Kamau, Way of a God, Massie Kahahawai), and Stu Hirayama (Da Mayah, Voices from Okinawa, All That Remains). Director Reiko Ho also directed Voices from Okinawa and The Joy Luck Club on our stage!
August 22nd through September 22nd - Tickets On Sale Now!
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Throughout the season, prior to auditions for each of our production, we will offer workshops to familiarize actors with scripts and characters, also giving them an opportunity to become comfortable with the style of each production director.
On Sunday, August 28, at Kumu Kahua Theatre, we will offer a free audition workshop for actors - the focus will be auditioning for the upcoming production of Lee Cataluna's Flowers of Hawai'i.
Kumu Kahua Artistic Director and director of the production Flowers of Hawai'i, Harry Wong III, will present the workshop.
This workshop will be limited to the first 20 students. Email the office today to reserve your spot!
Auditions will be held for Lee Cataluna's Flowers of Hawai'i at noon Saturday, August 24 & 6pm Sunday, August 25, 2013.
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