Stan Lai to Present New Site-Specific Work at The Huntington

Stan Lai to Present New Site-Specific Work at The Huntington

In a groundbreaking creative partnership, CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP) and The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens have joined forces with the internationally acclaimed playwright Stan Lai to produce a new, site-specific work written exclusively for The Huntington's Chinese Garden. Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden will have its world premiere at The Huntington Sept. 21-Oct. 26, 2018.

"I have written an immersive play for the Chinese Garden that is inspired by classical Chinese dreams, where a lifetime can be played out before a bowl of porridge cools down, and a maiden can die of love for a man she met in a dream," said writer/director Stan Lai. "I find these dreams to also be very contemporary and very Californian, so I have juxtaposed the tortured dreams of a Chinese playwright of the 16th century with those of a Latino artist in 1920s Southern California. The nexus of the two dreams is the Huntington estate in San Marino, at a Chinese opera performance of The Peony Pavilion."

One of the preeminent voices in contemporary Chinese theater, Lai helped revolutionize modern theater in Taiwan in the 1980s; his work also influenced a new generation of artists and theater-goers throughout mainland China as his plays found enthusiastic audiences there. His 35 original plays include many acclaimed Chinese-language works, including Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land (1986), The Village (2008), and the epic, eight-hour A Dream Like a Dream (2000). Performances of his work in the United States have included a production of Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, and his direction of Dream of the Red Chamber for the San Francisco Opera in 2016.

In 2016, The Huntington, in partnership with CNP, invited Lai to create a new work for performance in its renowned Chinese Garden-a classical-style landscape that has become a nexus of cross-cultural exchange since it was established a decade ago. Known by the poetic name the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, Liu Fang Yuan, the landscape was modeled after scholars' gardens in Suzhou, China, that date from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Lai's play, Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden, also draws upon historical influences for inspiration. Set against the mystical backdrop of the garden, lake, and pavilions at night, the play weaves together elements of the famous Chinese romantic tragicomedy The Peony Pavilion written by dramatist Tang Xianzu in 1598, with tales of early 20th-century California.

During the month-long run of the show, a small audience of 40 individuals each night will become an integral part of the performance, moving through the garden as the story unfolds around them like scenes from a Chinese scroll painting. The play is performed in English with some passages from The Peony Pavilion sung in Chinese to the original music.

"Nightwalk is the embodiment of our garden's mission: to inspire artistic expression that furthers intercultural understanding," said Phillip Bloom, the June and Simon K. C. Li Curator of the Chinese Garden and Director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies at The Huntington. "This contemporary production draws extensively on Chinese traditions of performance, yet it transcends generations and cultures to engage all audiences."

The ethnically diverse cast of 20, comprised of professionals and CalArts students and alumni, includes accomplished Chinese opera performers from the Shanghai Kunqu Troupe as well as actors, musicians, and dancers.

"This project emerges from the garden and its transcendent beauty," says Travis Preston, Artistic Director of CalArts Center for New Performance. "Nightwalk activates the poetry and lyricism of this magical site, placing the audience in intimate connection with the thrall of love and the dreams it inspires. It is an absolutely singular theatrical experience."

Born in the U.S., educated in Taiwan and the U.S., and now based in China, Lai holds a Ph.D. in Dramatic Art from the University of California, Berkeley, and has taught extensively at the Taipei National University of the Arts, as well as at Berkeley and Stanford. He is the 2018 Cheng Family Visiting Artist at The Huntington.

Tickets for Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden will be available beginning August 1. For details, visit huntington.org/nightwalk.

Photo: Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden at The Huntington. Photo: Steve Gunther, Courtesy of CalArts

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