Stan Lai or Lai Sheng-chuan (traditional Chinese: 賴聲川; simplified Chinese: 赖声川; pinyin: Lài Shēngchuān, born 25 October 1954) is a highly influential award-winning US born Taiwan based playwright and theater director, also known for his award-winning feature films, known for Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land. He has been described by the BBC as “probably the best Chinese language playwright and director in the world.”
Lai was born on 26 October 1954 in Washington D.C., where his father was serving in the Republic of China's Embassy. He returned to Taiwan in 1966. In 1976, Lai was graduate from Fu Jen Catholic University.In 1978, Lai married Ding Nai-chu (丁乃竺). After the marriage, the couple went to US for further studies. The couple have two daughters: Stephanie, an actress, and Celeste Lai, an animator.
He received his Ph.D. in Dramatic Art from University of California, Berkeley in 1983. He is also Professor and Founding Dean of the College of Theatre at Taipei National University of the Arts. In 1984, Lai and Ding founded Performance Workshop (表演工作坊), a contemporary theatre group that has become one of the most celebrated in the Chinese world. Lai became the Artistic Director while Ding is the Managing Director. Their work has revitalized theatre in Taiwan and had deep influence on the current theatre in mainland China.
Lai had been the recipient of Taiwan’s highest award for the arts, the National Arts Award, twice - 1988 and 2001, among many other awards, including being inducted into the Chinese Theatre Hall of Fame in 2007. His films have won international awards at Berlin, Tokyo and Singapore. In 2010, he was chosen by Newsweek China as Man of the Year in the field of Culture. In 2011, he received the Grand Cordon, Order of Brilliant Star from the Presidential Office, the highest civilian decoration for Taiwan.
In 2006 and 2007, Lai taught at Stanford University as Visiting Professor and Resident Artist for the I.D.A. program. In 2013 he lectured at Berkeley as Avenali Fellow and Artist in Residence.
A prolific author of 30 original performed plays to date, Lai was also director for the 2009 Summer Deaflympics, in charge of organizing the opening and closing ceremonies which were held in Taipei in September 2009.
Stan Lai's plays have been described as "The pinnacle of our era of theatre." (The Beijing News) Since 1984, his over 30 original plays have continually pioneered the way toward new horizons in modern Chinese theatre. China’s prominent literary critic Yu Qiuyu says that Lai’s work “always has the ability to touch the heartstrings of countless audiences.”
Lai's most famous works includes That Evening, We Performed Crosstalk (1985), which revived the dying art of "Crosstalk" in Taiwan; The Village (2008), described by the China Times as "a collectible treasure for our generation" ; the 8 hour epic A Dream Like A Dream (2000), described by prominent theatre critic Raymond Zhou as "a major milestone in Chinese theater, possibly the greatest Chinese-language play since time immemorial" ; and perhaps his best known play Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land (1986), described by the New York Times as "may be the most popular contemporary play in China…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 an astounding 1,000 performances. 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) “may be the most cosmic piece of theater in the Chinese-language canon," revealing Buddhist and universal themes of suffering and recurring life cycles in a unique performance format devised by Lai that places the audience in the center of the space, with performance surrounding audience.
Lai 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." International Herald Tribune says "His work is never one dimensional or linear, there are always layers to it." In 2013, Lai served as the Artistic Director of the Inauagural Wuzhen Theatre Festival in the scenic water town of Wuzhen, China. A Dream Like A Dream opened the festival.
Lai's main tool for playwriting is his use of improvisation in collaboration with the actors, which include many of the most respected names of the time. This is a method he learned from his mentor Shireen Strooker of the Amsterdam Werkteater, and he is one of the world's foremost exponents of using improvisation as a creative tool. His 30 plays are widely varied in style and reflect on the individuality of each project he undertakes, as well as the uniqueness of each cast he works with.
Lai has also written and directed two widely acclaimed feature films, The Peach Blossom Land (1992) and The Red Lotus Society (1994). The former received top prizes at the Berlin, Tokyo, 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 occasionally directs the works of others, including the Chinese language premiere of Angels in America, Part I, which he translated. He has also directed innovative versions of Mozart’s operas Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte and Figaro, all set in Chinese backgrounds, in collaboration with Taiwan’s National Symphony Orchestra. In 2009 Lai created the acclaimed Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the international Deaflympics Games in Taipei.
In 2007, Lai became a best-selling author in Taiwan and China with his book on creativity called Stan Lai On Creativity (Chinese Lai Shengchuan de Chuangyixue), based on a course on Creativity he taught at Stanford University. This book has gained a reputation in business as well as artistic readers as a unique take on how one can train in creativity. His plays have been published in numerous Chinese editions in both Taiwan and China, as well as in English versions from Oxford and Columbia University Press.
Plays, Writer and Director
Note: Lai's plays are often written in collaboration with his actors over a process of creative rehearsals which he initiates, structures and supervises, and is responsible for writing of the final script. Credit to collaborative members is given in each individual house program.
- We All Grew Up This Way - 我們都是這樣長大的 (1984)
- Plucking Stars - 摘星 (1984)
- The Passer-by - 過客 (1984)
- That Evening, We Performed Crosstalk - 那一夜，我們說相聲 (1985)
- Bach Variations - 變奏巴哈 (1985)
- Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land - 暗戀桃花源 (1986, revived 1991, 1999, Beijing production 2006, Taiwanese Opera version 2006, English version at Stanford University 2007, joint Cantonese/Mandarin version 2007, Yueju opera version 2010)
- Pastoral - 田園生活 (1986)
- Circle Story - 圓環物語 (1987)
- Journey to the West - 西遊記 (1987)
- Look Who's Crosstalking This Evening - 這一夜，誰來說相聲？ (1989)
- The Island and the Other Shore - 回頭是彼岸 (1989)
- Strange Tales from Taiwan - 台灣怪譚 (1991)
- Red Sky - 紅色的天空 (1994)
- The Complete History of Chinese Thought - 又一夜，他們說相聲 (1997)
- Open the Door, Sir! - 先生，開個門！(one-act, 1998)
- I Me He Him - 我和我和他和他 (1998)
- Menage a 13 - 十三角關係 (1999, Beijing production 2012)
- Lear and the 37fold Path of a Bodhisattva - 菩薩之三十七種修行之李爾王 (one-act, 2000)
- A Dream Like A Dream - 如夢之夢 (2000, Cantonese version 2002, Mandarin version revived 2005, Beijing production 2013)
- Millennium Teahouse - 千禧夜，我們說相聲 (2000)
- Singapore Impromptu - 新加坡即興 (one-act, 2002)
- Mumble Jumble - 亂民全講 (2003)
- Sand and a Distant Star - 在那遙遠的星球，一粒砂 (2003)
- Total Woman - 這一夜，Women說相聲 (2005)
- Shanghai Story - 上海故事 (2005)
- Stories for the Dead (in English, 2006)
- Like Shadows - 如影隨行 (2007)
- Light Years - 陪我看電視 (2008)
- The Village - 寶島一村 (2008)
- Writing in Water - 水中之書 (in Cantonese, 2009)
- Happiness Lesson - 快樂不用學 (2010)
- Crosstalk Travelers - 那一夜，在旅途中說相聲 (2011)
- Dreamers - 夢想家 (book and lyrics, 2011)
- The Bridge - 大橋上的對話與獨白 (2012)
- Footfalls: Beckett in the Ancient Chinese Garden, by Samuel Beckett, translated by Stan Lai, 1988.
- The Seagull, by Anton Chekhov, translated by Stan Lai, 1990.
- The Interview, by Jean-Claude Van Italie, translated by Stan Lai, 1991.
- A Servant of Two Masters, by Carlo Goldoni, adapted by Stan Lai, 1995.
- Angels in America, Part I: Millennium Approaches, by Tony Kushner, translated by Stan Lai, 1996.
- The Comedy of Sex and Politics, adapted by Stan Lai from Carlo Goldoni's The Mistress of the Inn, 2001.
- Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett, translated by Stan Lai, 2001.
- Journey to the West, National Theatre, Taipei, 1987.
- Don Giovanni, National Concert Hall, Taipei, 2004.
- Cosi fan Tutte, National Concert Hall, Taipei, 2006.
- The Marriage of Figaro, National Concert Hall, Taipei, 2006.
- The Peach Blossom Land - 暗戀桃花源 (1992 ; Silver Sakura Prize, 1992 Tokyo International Film Festival; Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, 1992 Golden Horse Awards Taiwan; Caligari Prize, 1993 Berlin International Film Festival; Best Picture, Best Director, FIPRESCI prize, 1993 Singapore International Film Festival)
- The Red Lotus Society - 飛俠阿達 (1994, Toronto, New York, Tokyo Film Festivals)
- All In the Family are Humans － 我們一家都是人 (1995-97).
Large Scale Events
- Opening and Closing Ceremonies, 2009 Deaflympics Games, Taipei. Creative Director.
- Opening Ceremony, 2010 Taipei International Flora Exposition. Artistic Director.
- 2011 Taiwan Lantern Festival. Miaoli, Taiwan. Creative Director.
- BBC, The Strand, 2009-03-05
- 《寶島一村》 他們台灣這些年
- Cosmic Dream Drama
- Acclaim in China for tried and true 'Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land'
- Cosmic Dream Drama
- Acts of Defiance, Lincoln Kaye, Far Eastern Economic Review, 1990-07-26
- A New Model Monkey King, Newsweek,1988-2-29
- Preserving Taiwan’s Collective Memory, New York Times, 2009-02-13
- Biography of Stan Lai on Stanford
- PW Shop Stan Lai
- Stanford Daily Interview
- International Herald Tribune Review of 'Secret Love In Peach Blossom Land'
- NY Times review page for Stan Lai