Stan Lai (Lai Sheng-Chuan)
"The best Chinese language playwright and director in the world."–BBC
"The preeminent Chinese playwright and stage director of this generation." –China Daily
"Asia's top theatre director."–Asiaweek
"The most celebrated Chinese language playwright and director in the world and his body of work - which to date includes over 35 original plays - has redefined how we think about the art form itself. " –Broadway World
Born in Washington, D.C. in 1954, Stan Lai began creating new plays for the dormant Chinese language theatre in the 1980s in Taiwan, writing and directing some of the most memorable theatre works in the Chinese world through a vigorous and free style using improvisation in creative rehearsals. Since 1998 his work has been performed in China, where he has become "the most renowned and beloved artist in the Chinese-speaking world." (Sibiu Walk of Fame)
Lai's first work with his theatre group Performance Workshop, That Evening, We Performed Crosstalk (1985) is credited with revitalizing the dying art of crosstalk (xiangsheng) in Taiwan. Arguably his most famous work, Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land (1986) has been called by the New York Times as "the most popular contemporary play in China," and “one of the world’s great theatre pieces” by the Barefoot Review (Australia). The Beijing News calls Lai's The Village (2008) "the pinnacle of our era of theatre." China Daily calls his epic 8 hour A Dream Like A Dream (2000) "possibly the greatest Chinese-language play since time immemorial." His latest work AGO, developed in English at Berkeley and performed in Chinese in Shanghai, has been called by Professor Shannon Jackson “a new kind of theater, one equipped to respond to the pressures of the 21st century.”
Lai has also written and directed two widely acclaimed feature films, The Peach Blossom Land (1992) and The Red Lotus Society (1994), the former which received top prizes at the Tokyo, Berlin, and Singapore international film festivals. 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. Lai is also an acclaimed opera director and event director (Deaflympics Opening Ceremony, 2009). Lai has also directed innovative versions of Western classics, including an evening of Samuel Beckett plays which he translated in an ancient Chinese garden, 3 Mozart operas set in Chinese contexts, and the Chinese language world premiere of Angels in America, which he also translated. His awards include Taiwan's National Arts Award, which he has won an unprecedented two times (1988, 2001), Taiwan's highest civilian honor, the Grand Cordon, Order of the Brilliant Star (2011), "Man of the Year" for Cultural Affairs, Newsweek China (2010), and a Star on the Walk of Fame at the Sibiu International Theatre Festival (2019).
In recent years Stan Lai has spent more time in the West, staging works such as his Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (2015), the opera Dream of the Red Chamber at the San Francisco Opera (2016), his immersive piece Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden at the Huntington Library and Gardens (2018) in Los Angeles, and a workshop production of his new work AGO at the University of California, Berkeley (2019).
Lai holds a Ph.D in Dramatic Art from Berkeley, and has taught extensively at the Taipei National University of the Arts, and at Berkeley and Stanford. His book Stan Lai on Creativity is a best seller in China and Taiwan. His plays have been published in numerous Chinese editions including a recent 9 volume set (Beijing, Citic Press), as well as in English versions from Oxford and Columbia University Press.
Lai is Artistic Director of Performance Workshop, Taiwan, Theatre Above, Shanghai, and Co-founder and Festival Director of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival, China.
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.