Stan Lai

Stan Lai (Lai Sheng-chuan) is the most celebrated Chinese language playwright/ director in the world, renowned not only for creating some of the most memorable works of the contemporary Chinese stage, but also creating bold new genres and staging innovations. Based in Taiwan, Lai has continually pioneered new horizons in modern Chinese theatre, writing of the beauty and frailty of the human spirit, which is expressed through unforgettable characters and imaginative structures. China’s most prominent critic Yu Qiuyu says that Lai’s work “always has the ability to touch the heartstrings of countless audiences.”

Lai’s 30 original plays have been described as being “rare works that delicately blend fine art with popular culture.” His most famous work Secret Love In Peach Blossom Land (1986), which 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 20th century. Lai’s 2006 Beijing production has become an icon of recent Chinese theatre for the breadth and depth of its influence. The New York Times said it “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.” In 2007, Lai directed his own English translation of the play at Stanford University. His recent play The Village(2008), about refugees from the Chinese civil war, is the most acclaimed Chinese work of the current decade, and has been called “the pinnacle of our era of theatre” by the Beijing News.

Lai’s “crosstalk” (xiangsheng) plays, starting with the groundbreaking That Evening, We Performed Xiangsheng (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) has been called “a masterpiece” of modern Chinese drama, and has drawn comparisons to Peter Brook’s Mahabharata. This compassionate work traces the path of a man with an undiagnosable illness, 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. For many, this special play is a life-changing experience.

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. The Peach Blossom Land in particular enjoys almost mythical status in China, where the bootleg tape of a film festival copy led to wide underground circulation that has influenced a generation of film and theatre artists. To date, over 1,000 unauthorized productions of the play version have been performed in China, and the film version is standard material for courses at the Beijing Film Institute and the Central Academy of Drama.

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 theatre Hall of Fame.

While becoming the premier playwright in the Chinese world, Lai maintained a long teaching career. He taught for over 2 decades at Taipei National University of the Arts, where he was Professor and Founding Dean of the College of Theatre. His students make up the core of Taiwan's theatre 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 Drama Academy, and lectured at Beijing University and recently at Yale University, where he conducted a week of workshops and classes in his honor.

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 will be published in the upcomingColumbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Drama.  In the Moment – the Theatre of Stan Laiis 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. The Lai’s reside in Taipei, which remains the creative base for most of their work. 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.