Stan Lai (Lai Sheng-Chuan)
“Stan Lai is Asia's Top Theatre Director.” -- Asiaweek
"The best Chinese language playwright and director in the world, and pretty prolific too." –BBC
“Many consider him the greatest Chinese playwright of our generation, ranking with Cao Yu and Lao She who were in their prime in the first half of the 20th century.” -- China Daily
"Lai's most famous work Secret Love In Peach Blossom Land may be the most popular contemporary play in China.”--New York Times
“Few theater artists can claim the kind of far-reaching impact Stan Lai has achieved.-- Orange County Register, U.S.A.
Stan Lai (Lai Shengchuan) is the most celebrated Chinese language playwright and director in the world. Based in Taiwan, where he founded the influential theatre group Performance Workshop, Lai's work has profoundly transformed the path of theatre in Taiwan and China today.
Lai's over 30 original plays have continually pioneered new horizons in modern Chinese theatre, and have been described as being “rare works that delicately blend fine art with popular culture.” China's most prominent critic Yu Qiuyu says that Lai's work “always has the ability to touch the heartstrings of countless audiences.” His most famous works includes That Evening, We Performed Crosstalk (1985), which revived the dying art of "Crosstalk" in Taiwan; Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land (1986), described by the New York Times as "the most popular contemporary play in China"; The Village (2008), described by the Beijing News as "The pinnacle of our era of theatre"; and the epic A Dream Like A Dream (2000-2013), which has been compared to Peter Brook's Mahabharata and hailed as "The most elaborate theater work in Chinese history" and "possibly the greatest Chinese-language play since time immemorial" (China Daily).
Lai's most famous work Secret Love In Peach Blossom Land (1986), which is perhaps the single most influential modern theatre work in China, combines tragedy and comedy in a most creative way, has toured worldwide, been made into an award-winning film (1992), and in 2007 was chosen as one of the top ten Chinese plays of the 20thcentury. Lai's 2006 Beijing production has become an icon of recent Chinese theater for the breadth and depth of its influence. The New York Times says “by the end, the audience is left to contemplate the burdens of memory, history, longing, love and the power of theater itself.” Unauthorized productions of the play in China alone number over 1,000 productions. In 2007, Lai directed his own English translation of the play at Stanford University.
Lai's “crosstalk” (xiangsheng) plays, starting with the groundbreaking That Evening, We Performed Crosstalk (1985) have virtually forged a new theatrical genre. These hugely popular works have resuscitated the dying traditional performing art form of xiangsheng. His epic 8 hour A Dream Like A Dream (2000-2013) is often referred to as his masterpiece, and for many is a life-changing experience, revealing Buddhist and universal themes of suffering and recurring life cycles in a unique performance style devised by Lai that places the audience in the center of the space, with performance surrounding audience. In May 2013, Dream opened the Inuagural Wuzhen Theatre Festival in the scenic water town of Wuzhen, China. Lai is the founding Artistic Director of the Festival.
This year Lai has 4 plays being performed in different cities in the Chinese world. He remains a significant cultural bridge between Taiwan and China, and his influence on contemporary Chinese culture continues to grow. Aside from his creative base in Taipei, Lai has been commissioned to create new works in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Beijing. In 2009 Lai was also chief director of the Deaflympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies held in Taipei, which received high acclaim for their aesthetic beauty and representation of the deaf spirit. The Far Eastern Economic Review describes his work as "the most exciting theatre in the Chinese-speaking world." Newsweek calls it "the most recent piece of evidence that Taiwan is creating the boldest Chinese art in Asia today." The International Herald Tribune says "His work is never one dimensional or linear, there are always layers to it."
Lai has also written and directed two widely acclaimed feature films, The Peach Blossom Land (1992) and The Red Lotus Society(1994), which received top prizes at the Tokyo, Berlin, and Singapore international film festivals, including Tokyo’s Silver Sakura prize, Berlin’s Caligari prize, and Best Picture, Best Director, and FIPRESCI prizes at Singapore. His improvisational experiment in television, All In the Family are Humans (1995-97), was a surprising alternative hit on Taiwan TV and ran for 600 episodes. He has also directed innovative versions of Western classics, including an evening of Samuel Beckett plays in an ancient Chinese garden environment, Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte set in a Shanghai opium den, and the Chinese language world premiere of Angels in America, which he also translated.
Born in Washington, D.C. in 1954, a diplomat’s son, Lai was educated in America and Taiwan, and received his Ph.D. in Dramatic Art from U.C. Berkeley in 1983. He has received Taiwan’s highest award for the arts, the National Arts Award, an unprecedented two times (1988, 2001). In 2007, Lai received the prestigious Taipei Cultural Award, and in Beijing was elected into the Chinese theater Hall of Fame. In 2011, in Taipei he received the Grand Cordon, Order of the Brilliant Star Medal from President Ma, the highest civilian honor of the Republic of China.
While becoming the premier playwright in the Chinese world, Lai maintained a long teaching career at Taipei National University of the Arts, where he was Professor and Founding Dean of the College of Theater. His students make up the core of Taiwan's theater culture. In 2000, he returned to Berkeley as Visiting Professor. In 2006 and 2007, he taught at Stanford University as Visiting Professor and Resident Artist. He has also taught at Beijing’s Central Academy of Drama and the Shanghai Theatre Academy, and lectured at Beijing University, Yale, Columbia, Charles University in Prague, and at Berkeley as Avenali Fellow and Artist in Residence.
In 2006, Lai published an innovative study of creativity called Stan Lai on Creativity (Lai Shengchuan de chuangyixue) which became a best seller in Taiwan and China and has become required reading not only for artists and writers, but for many corporations as well. These years Lai has lectured extensively on creativity, bringing his message that creativity can be learned through proper methods. For his work in creativity studies, Lai has received numerous awards, including “Most Creative Person Award” at the 2007 Beijing Creative Industries Fair.
Lai's plays have been published in numerous Chinese editions in both Taiwan and China. His own English version of Secret Love In Peach Blossom Land was published in the Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Drama. In the Moment – the Theater of Stan Lai is a full length study of his works. An “International Conference on the Works of Stan Lai” was held in Taipei in 2006.
Stan Lai has been married to Ding Nai-chu for over 30 years and they have 2 daughters. Ms. Ding is producer of all of Lai’s work, and acted in the first version of Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land, where she created the role of Yun Zhifan. Aside from creative work, they also are noted translators of works on Buddhism. Lai’s translations into Chinese have focused on the work of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Matthieu Ricard, including Enlightened Courage, Journey to Enlightenment, The Monk and the Philosopher, and Happiness – A Guide to Life's Most Important Skill.
Plays, Writer and Director:
- We All Grew Up This Way, performed by National Institute of the Arts, Taiwan, premiere Jan 1984, Tien Educational Center, Taipei.
- Plucking Stars, performed by Lan Ling Theatre Group, premiere March 1984, Taipei Cultural Center.
- The Passer By, performed by National Institute of the Arts, premiere June 1984, National Arts Hall, Taipei.
- That Evening, We Performed Xiangsheng, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere March 1985, National Arts Hall, Taipei; revived for Taiwan and international tour, 1993.
- Bach Variations, performed by National Institute of the Arts, premiere June 1985, Taipei Cultural Center.
- Secret Love In Peach Blossom Land, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere March 1986, National Arts Hall, Taipei; revived for Taiwan and international tour, 1991, and again in 1999. Adapted and revived for Taiwanese Opera performance 2006; China production and tour of Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities, 2006; English performance Stanford University 2007; adapted for Yueju Opera performance 2010, tour of China and Taiwan.
- Pastorale, performed by National Institute of the Arts, premiere June 1986, Taipei Cultural Center.
- Circle Story, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere March 1987, National Arts Hall, Taipei.
- Journey to the West, a contemporary opera based on the classical Chinese novel Monkey, performed by Performance Workshop in collaboration with the National Theater, Taiwan, premiere Dec 1987, National Theater.
- The Island and the Other Shore, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere May 1989, Taipei Cultural Center; international tour 1990.
- Look Who's Cross-talking Tonight?, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere Sept 1989, National Arts Hall, Taipei; international tour, 1989-90.
- Strange Tales from Taiwan, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere Feb 1991, National Arts Center, Taipei.
- Red Sky, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere Sept 1994, National Theater, Taipei; international tour,1994. New production for the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, 1998; new production for historical first China/Taiwan joint production, Beijing, 1998-99.
- The Complete History of Chinese Thought, Crosstalk Version, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere Aug 1997, National Theatre, Taipei.
- Open The Door, Sir!, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere Hong Kong, Jan 1998, at the invitation of the Hong Kong Arts Centre. Performed in Taipei, 2000.
- I Me He Him, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere Apr 1998, Novell Hall, Taipei; and performed in Hong Kong at the 2nd Chinese Theatre Festival, 1998.
- Menage a 13, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere Apr 1999, Novell Hall, Taipei. Beijing production, 2012.
- Lear and the Thirty-seven-fold Path of a Bodhisattva, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere Kwai Ching Theatre, Hong Kong, March 2000, as part of the Experimental Shakespeare festival. Performed in Taipei, 2001.
- A Dream Like A Dream, English workshop production performed by the Center for Theater Arts, University of California, Berkeley, Feb 2000. Full eight hour version performed by National Institute of the Arts, Taiwan, premiere May 2000, National Institute of the Arts' Theatre, Taipei. Workshop version, Central Academy of Drama, Beijing, 2001. Hong Kong production performed by Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Center, 2002. Taiwan production: performed by Performance Workshop in collaboration with Taipei National Unviersity of the Arts, at the National Theatre, Taipei 2005. 2013 production co-produced by Magnificent Culture, Beijing.
- Millennium Teahouse, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere Dec 2000, National Theatre, Taipei. China tour 2001, Beijing and Shanghai. Beijing production 2002. Portion chosen for performance at CCTV's annual Chinese New Year gala, 2002, broadcast to 1 billion viewers.
- Singapore Impromptu, created for performance in memory of Kuo Pao Kun, with the assistance of Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, premiere Nov 2002, Esplanade Studio Theatre, Singapore.
- Sand and a Distant Star, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere May 2003, National Theatre, Taipei. Singapore Esplanade performances 2004.
- Mumble Jumble, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere Nov 2003, National Theatre, Taipei.
- Total Woman, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere Jan 2005, Metropolitan Hall, Taipei. Singapore Esplanade performances 2005. Beijing production 2007.
- Shanghai Story, workshop production created through collaboration with the Shanghai Theatre Academy, premiere Oct 2005, New Space, Shanghai, China.
- Stories for the Dead, created through collaboration with the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, Stanford University, premiere March 2006, Roble Studio Theatre, Stanford University.
- Like Shadows, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere Dec 2007, National Theatre, Taipei.
- Light Years, commissioned by China Central Television (CCTV), premiere Sept 2008, Shenzhen Grand Theatre, Shenzhen, China.
- The Village, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere Dec 2008, National Theatre, Taipei. Singapore Esplanade performances 2009. Subsequent China tours starting Jan 2010, U.S. tour 2011.
- Writing in Water, performed by Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, premiere March 2009, Arts Centre, Hong Kong.
- Happiness Lessons, (based on Writing in Water) performed by Performance
Workshop, premiere July 2010, National Theatre, Taipei.
- Crosstalk Travelers, performed by Performance Workshop, premiere April 2011, National Theatre, Taipei.
- Dreamers, (writer and song lyrics writer) rock musical to commemorate the Centennial of the Republic of China, premiere Oct 2011, Taichung.
- The Bridge, workshop production created through collaboration with the Shanghai Theatre Academy, premiere Dec 2012, Shanghai.
- Dream Walk, a site specific immersive play performed in an old estate in Wuzhen, China, unannounced at the 2nd Wuzhen Theatre Festival, premiere Nov 6, 2014.
- The Blue Horse, a children’s play, performed by Performance Workshop Shanghai at Theatre Above, Shanghai. premiere Aug 3, 2016.
- Footfalls: Beckett in the Ancient Chinese Garden, 6 plays by Samuel Beckett, translated by Stan Lai, performed by National Institute of the Arts, Taiwan, 1988. Chinese-language premieres of Play, Footfalls, Ohio Impromptu, What Where, Come and Go. Performed in traditional garden setting in the China Movie Studio, Taipei.
- The Seagull, by Anton Chekhov, translated by Stan Lai, performed by National Institute of the Arts, 1990, National Arts Hall, Taipei.
- The Interview, by Jean-Claude Van Italie, translated by Stan Lai, , performed by National Institute of the Arts, 1991, Studio 206, Department of Theatre, National Institute of the Arts, Taipei.
- A Servant of Two Masters, by Carlo Goldoni, adapted by Stan Lai, performed by Performance Workshop, 1995, National Theatre, Taipei.
- Angels in America, Part I: Millennium Approaches, by Tony Kushner, translated by Stan Lai, performed by Performance Workshop, 1996. Chinese-language world premiere, National Theatre, Taipei.
- The Comedy of Sex and Politics, adapted by Stan Lai from Carlo Goldoni's The Mistress of the Inn, performed by Performance Workshop, 2001, National Theatre, Taipei.
- Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett, translated by Stan Lai, performed by Performance Workshop, 2001, National Theatre, Taipei.
Writer and Director
- The Peach Blossom Land,
produced by Performance Workshop Films and Long Shong Films, 117
minutes, Taiwan, 1992. (Silver Award, Tokyo International Film
Festival, 1992; Golden Horse Award, Taiwan 1992; Caligari Award, Berlin
International Film Festival, 1993; Best Film, Best Director, Fipresci
Award, Singapore International Film Festival, 1993. Also shown at New
York Film Festival’s “New Directors, New Directions” at MOMA, and at
other festivals around the world. Chosen to represent Taiwan at the
1993 Academy Awards Best Foreign Film category.)
- The Red Lotus Society,
produced by Performance Workshop Films and Long Shong Films, 120
minutes, Taiwan, 1994. (Selected to the New York Film Festival,
Toronto, Tokyo, Berlin, Torino, Vancouver Festivals, , and at other
festivals around the world.)
- Producer for Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day, 1992.
subtitling for all Hou Hsiao-hsien films 1984-92. This work was all
voluntary in support of these important award-winning works that put
Taiwan cinema on the world map.
- Don Giovanni, by W.A. Mozart, National Symphony Orchestra, Republic of China, at the National Concert Hall, Taipei, 2004.
- Cosi fan Tutte, by W.A. Mozart, National Symphony Orchestra, Republic of China, at the National Concert Hall, Taipei, 2006.
- The Marriage of Figaro, by W.A. Mozart, National Symphony Orchestra, Republic of China, at the National Concert Hall, Taipei, 2006.
Television (Writer and Director)
- Created, produced, wrote and directed series All in this Family are Human,
a prime-time, week-nightly hour-long sit-com aired in Taiwan, scripted
through improvisational methods daily in comment on breaking news and
world events. Wrote and directed 244 episodes, 1995-97.
- Created, produced, wrote and directed series All in Two Families are Human,
a prime-time, week-nightly half-hour sit-com aired in Taiwan, created
in response to the serious divisions in Taiwan society after the 2004
presidential elections. Wrote and directed 59 episodes, 2004.
- Millennium Teahouse,
portion of play performed at China’s Central Television New Year’s
Special, 2002, broadcast to 1 billion viewers. First such performance
from Taiwan to be performed at this annual event.
- Host, “The Inspiration of Improvisation,” pioneering jazz show designed
for the Broadcasting Corporation of China, Taipei, 1988-91.
Stan Lai on Creativity
(Lai Shengchuan de Chuanyixue),
Commonwealth; Beijing: CITIC Press, 2006)
This highly acclaimed book asserts that creativity is not something to be sought for from without, but to be discovered from within, through a process of self reflection.
A result of Stan Lai's two decades of prolific creative work and teaching, and assimilating his studies in Vajrayana Buddhism, Lai asserts that creativity CAN be
learned, as long as we understand clearly what actually happens during the creative process. Lai dissects this seemingly mystical process using his innovative “Creative Pyramid,” which represents an organic view on how to become creative. The explanation of the Pyramid breaks down all the areas that we need to work on to become more creative.
Lai points out that each individual has erected a barrier, of varying solidity, that separates us from our own creative source. He explains in detail how the barrier has come to be, and how it can be dismantled through re-learning “How to See” the world in a creative mode.
Lai notes that most of the way creativity is taught today focuses on technique. Drawing from Buddhism, he points out that Wisdom and Method are inseparable components in spiritual training and in any successful endeavor. The great irony of modern democratic societies is that “wisdom” has become an ambiguous term, and no one is responsible anymore for the imparting of it. Yet learning in creativity must take place in both the fields of Wisdom and Method, in the separate but
intersecting domains of Life and Art. Each domain has its special skills to learn and assimilate.
Lai integrates ancient Eastern wisdom with modern creative sensibilities. Rich in practical methods to enhance one’s creativity, it is suitable for artists as well as executives and anyone involved in creative work.
Stan Lai on Creativity spent 8 weeks at the #1 bestseller spot on Taiwan’s Finance Books list, and was released in China Sept 25, 2006 by CITIC Press, where it has also made the best seller lists.
- Revel, Jean-Fran?ois and Matthieu Ricard. The Monk and the Philosopher. Taipei: Xianjue Press, 1999.
- Ricard, Matthieu. The Life of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Taipei: Citi Press, 2001.
- Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Enlightened Courage. Taipei: Shechen, 2005.
Tao Qingmei and Hou Suyi (Taipei: China Times, 2003)
In the Moment: The Theatre Art of Stan Lai
From Chapter 1
In the early 1980s, the sealed atmosphere of Taiwan's society emitted the anxiety that comes before change. Martial law, repression of the press, control of news and thought, Taiwan’s society longed for democracy, but needed a medium through which to conduct the collective social emotions.
This is the “social geographical background” when Stan Lai began making his theatre. In Taiwan, from martial law to its easing, from dictatorship to democracy, there were many who worked hard to cultivate the theatre. They broke from convention, lighting many little lights of life. It is hard to imagine that the medium, through which the collective social emotions could be conducted, was this theatre.
In those years, everyone used the theatre as a place to discuss social problems. Though feisty, it was at the same time tolerating. The theatre didn’t seek to exclude anyone, but included all who came. Audiences came to the theatre to see a good play, and at the same time, take part in a social forum. Stan Lai’s earlier plays, like Plucking Stars, That Evening, We Performed Crosstalk, and The Peach Blossom Land, all dealt with topics that were very sensitive at the time: the failure of the social welfare system, the death of traditional values, the hesitation to open up dialogue with China. Most essentially, these plays dealt with the issues of cultural and national identity. These explorations were left for after the laughter in the theatre, and served as an accompaniment to the ensuing turbulent change in Taiwan society.
Perhaps this is the ideal situation: Theatre is art; it can give the people sensual and spiritual pleasure; yet it also is a social forum, focusing on the issues of society, faith, thought. It lets everyone think together, explore important social issues. Athens in the 5th century B.C. was like this; Taiwan in the late 20th century once blazed like this, however short the time was.
Of course, we cannot bring back the splendor of the ancient Greek theatre in our contemporary society. In our social geography, society is so large, where is there place for theatre? Theatre is so small, how could it possibly hold so large a society? For Stan Lai, his method of communication is culture and spirit. He seeks to awaken the collective cultural consciousness in each individual, in order to build a social forum. Concretely, he speaks of each individual living in this society, he listens to each person’s story, examining each special feeling. Through these fragments of emotion, he displays the disease enveloping society. It is as if he only touches on the small pulses that each individual is concerned with, but at the same time he makes the whole society tremble with shock.
And so, for people a hundred years from now, if they want to know the face of late 20th century Taiwan, instead of going to old newspapers or photos, it would be better to see a play by Stan Lai.
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, U.S.A.
New Drama of Freedom Opens Taiwan to the World of the Stage
Paul Hodgins, December 9, 1994
Few theater artists can claim the kind of far-reaching impact Stan Lai has achieved. The Taiwanese playwright and director, 40, has almost single-handedly created contemporary Taiwanese theater. Since its inception 10 years ago, Lai's Performance Workshop of Taipei has been the catalyst for a vibrant, burgeoning theatrical culture in a country that, for decades, had virtually no dramatic tradition....
Ni Mingran, Stan Lai, and People’s Art
Xu Jiang, May 17, 2005, p. 14
The establishment of Stan Lai's theatre model has changed the old passive way that people used to go to theatre. It cleverly shifts and lets out the audience’s understanding of and dissatisfaction with things happening around them in everyday life. Within the process of shifting and letting out, the people’s attitudes toward life and theatre have been upgraded, they become once again participants in the serious world view of the theatre. This is of utmost importance. To be able to make the common masses find again for themselves a feeling of self-importance, and yet not become overly-arrogant – even for one evening – this kind of art is high class. It is avant-garde, it is democratic. If we can go back to the original meaning of the term “People’s Artist” and choose a new “People’s Artist” who is alive and well, I would choose Stan Lai. Because he has returned the power of theatre back to the people, and he has returned the direct passion of life back to the theatre.