Swarthmore College Theater Department Presents Production of Gao Xingjian's "The Other Shore"

Anita Pace

Swarthmore College Theater Department Presents
Production of Gao Xingjian's The Other Shore

by Anita Pace
03/11/2008

The Swarthmore College Department of Theater Production Ensemble presents a production of Nobel Laureate Gao Xingjian's The Other Shore, a compelling meditation on the complicated tensions that exist between mass consciousness and the individual's right to be human on Thurs., Mar. 27, 8 p.m.; Fri., Mar. 28, 4:30 p.m.; and Sat., Mar. 29, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. All events are free and open to the public and will take place in the Lang Performing Arts Center, Frear Ensemble Theater.

Born in 1940, nine years before the establishment of the People's Republic of China, Xingjian was heavily influenced by the absurdist drama of Beckett, Sartre, and others which he read while studying French literature in his late teens and early twenties. He began producing absurdist-inspired theater while still a college student and his works have retained their curiosity, urgency, and cultural hybridity throughout his career. Xingjian, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000, is considered a pioneer of absurdist drama in China, where Signal Alarm (1982) and Bus Stop (1983) were produced during his term as resident playwright at the Beijing People's Art Theatre.

Xingjian is a writer of what he considers to be staunchly apolitical literature. Choosing to focus his work on the struggles of identity and of the individual, Xingjian believes that "If ideology unites with power and is transformed into a real force then both literature and the individual will be destroyed." However, in a communist-realist theater world heavily censored by the Chinese government, Xingjian's Buddhist- and European-inspired absurdist pieces were considered subversive. Soon after rehearsals for The Other Shore began in Beijing, Xingjian fled China and his works have never again been produced there. In France, his new home, Xingjian's literary career has taken off, and he has continued writing what one critic called "Literature...born anew from the struggle of the individual to survive the history of the masses."

The Other Shore is a stunning collection of vignettes examining multiple aspects of the human condition and the struggle and collaboration between the individual and society. Spirituality, hope, violence, and hatred are just a few of the themes explored in the piece. The cast and crew of The Other Shore hope to capture the underground, avant-garde spirit undoubtedly felt by Xingjian's first Beijing cast when they were practicing in secret, afraid the production would be stopped at any moment. Through the striking archetypes Xingjian creates, the ensemble explores the deepest corners of the human subconscious. The piece, inspired by Chinese Opera traditions and Buddhism, and also by western aesthetic, is complicated and all the more relevant in light of the increasing cultural globalization of the twenty-first century.

For more information contact Liza Clark at (610) 328-8260 or email lclark1@swarthmore.edu.