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LIKE SHADOWS: One Play's Journey Through Global Exchange

Global Exchange
Stan Lai B.JPG
Stan Lai, playwright

Like Shadows by Stan Lai is a story about death and time, families and friends, reality and perception. First developed at Stanford University in 2006 as Stories for the Dead, the play now known as Like Shadows was then brought to Taiwan with the support of Stan's performance group Performance Workshop at the National Theatre. Now it's having a Studio Retreat here at The Lark. It's an incredibly imaginative story, told from different perspectives, with plenty of twists. The richness and braveness of the story telling has only been advanced by its time abroad. This kind of international exchange of a playwright's work is exactly the type of development The Lark advocates for because it benefits not only the play and playwright, but also the cultures by which the play is received.

When asked about the necessity of such exchanges and Like Shadows, Lark Artistic Director, John Clinton Eisner, says, "Stan Lai's unique bicultural play development process at The Lark is part of our long term plan to foster grassroots opportunities--in both China and the U.S.--for artists from different cultures to see the world through each other's eyes by sharing and translating each other's stories." This ability to see each other's worlds is essential to cross-cultural exchange. It enhances the work involved but also our spirits as we are able to collaborate within a different culture. John also extends his hopes that, "experiments in creativity and collaboration like this residency will lead to enhanced respect between cultures, mutual understanding, and works of art that connect us through our shared humanity."

Equally excited by the prospect of a continued exchange is Global Exchange Apprentice Maia Safani. Her experience has been that "By putting people in a room together who approach a text differently (either by training, personality, culture, or a language difference), I have seen new understandings arise around what a text is saying, what it could be saying, why the writer has chosen to voice a given statement in a particular way, and how that choice can be conveyed in a different language. Similarly, writers from other cultural backgrounds have a different set of experiences that shape the stories they are drawn to write. Through exchanges, artists and audiences are able to experience the stories of another culture, yes, but they are really just finding the points of connection each of us have to the work that makes the story universal." Reaching people through creative work is an immensely rewarding aspect of art and through global exchange, artists may see their work reaching vastly wide and varying audiences they didn't know it was possible to reach.

But global exchange is not necessarily a smooth process. Cultural differences can make it challenging to bridge gaps, but Stan believes, "True exchange is understanding the differences, accepting them, and learning from them." Truly, if one is to reap the benefits from such rewarding and demanding work, one must be willing to allow a process of change to come over them. Working abroad will change the work, but also how one sees their own world and the world around them. 

Playwright David Henry Hwang, who has led the Chinese Language/U.S. Playwright Exchange in the past, says, "The evolution of the China - U.S. relationship will likely prove one of the most important stories of the 21st century. Both countries are very interested in, but know very little about, each other. Theater provides an effective means of creating community, of simultaneously demonstrating cultural differences, as well as the common humanity beneath. A global theatrical exchange therefore offers the U.S. and China what both nations need at this moment: greater understanding." Stan also adds, "China and the US are both not easy to understand, and I believe they understand each other far less than they think. China’s ancient philosophies have much to teach the world about openness, expansiveness, and a non-intrusive way of living peacefully on the planet; in many ways the ideals of the United States as a democracy point toward similar aspirations and possibilities. Global exchange will not only let the two countries learn from each other, but let each country look at itself and its past in a more profound way." By finding a way to understand and connect with each other, global exchange allows us to connect to our own past while reflecting on the history and teachings of another country.

The essence of what all these global exchange collaborators are talking about is this idea of understanding and bringing together communities, two things the theater strives for in its themes and core goals. In an ever expanding world, global events shape our entire collective as humans on this planet. Through programs of global exchange, we can reach out to one another and share work revealing we are connected by universal struggles and successes.


Interested in our Global Exchange programs? Have thoughts about this or past exchanges? Visit our website or write on our wall on Facebook to join the conversation!