Huong “Lyn” Nguyen ’15 has often felt that being a non-native speaker of English hinders her ability to communicate. But playwriting has helped her find her voice and given her an outlet to express herself.
Nguyen (Upper Darby, Pa.) is the author of On the Way, which explores the lives of a Vietnamese family after the Vietnam War and which draws on her own memories of growing up in Vietnam.
The play was a 2010 Philadelphia Young Playwrights (PYP) playwriting festival winner. As the result of that honor, On the Way was performed at Temple University last year. In December it was performed by a professional cast of actors at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia as part of the 2011 Professional Productions presented by PYP.
Watching her written play take shape on stage was a powerful experience for Nguyen.
“I’ve seen different versions of On the Way staged as it takes shape and the actors surprise me every time,” she says. “They bring life into my characters and regardless of how much I think I know the words that I write, I always discover another layer to my play seeing it performed on stage.”
Seeing the play staged also allowed Nguyen to see gaps in her timeline or places where the dialogue didn’t work when spoken aloud, leading to rewrites.
“Even though I dread cringing at unexpected moments in my play when I see it acted out on stage, it’s these moments that help piece my play together,” she says.
Nguyen first got involved with PYP through a playwriting course that she took as an eighth grader. At that young age, she wrote Losing You, Too and then got the opportunity to work with a cast from University of the Arts to revise it.
“Being around that kind of atmosphere—away from the desks and the grades—made me realize that playwriting was more than just another class for me. That was the first time I felt really excited about writing,” she says.
Nguyen spent her early years in Vinh Long, Vietnam, and moved to America with her family when she was eight years old. Memories of her childhood in Vietnam influence her writing.
“Sometimes the structure of my dialogues resembles those of the Vietnamese language, and it works,” she says. “Also, my Vietnamese-American mentality influences different aspects of my plays like the type of conflicts, the settings, and my characters’ interactions with each other. So working with Philadelphia Young Playwrights has helped me find my voice through written words and embrace my roots.”
Although she is considering a minor in theater or music, Nguyen expects to major in math. She sees the two fields as being more closely related than they might appear.
“I do think my creative side does help me in studying math. Although math has right and wrong answers, it is not always black and white—just like theater. The open-mindedness and curiousness that playwriting requires help me to find multiple approaches to a problem and to constantly question why certain methods don’t work.”
Nguyen continues to write and is currently working on a play that deals with sacrifice and acceptance (or lack of acceptance) towards homosexuality. While studying at Lafayette, she hopes to continue writing plays and finding opportunities to work collaboratively with a Lafayette cast.
“Theater is my outlet. Where I can communicate what is special to me, what frustrates me, what makes me think in hidden forms,” she says. “It is where I can piece answers to my own questions. Where I can fix situations that cannot be fixed in real life.”