Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Kym Moore, Visiting Professor of theater, is directing the Production Ensemble I class in a performance of Gao Xingjian’s “The Other Shore.” The show will run this Thursday at 8 pm, Friday at 4:30 pm, and Saturday at 3 pm and 8 pm, in the Frear Ensemble Theater.
Moore described “The Other Shore” as “a parable on Zen Buddhism, a training in the way of the Middle Path. For the playwright [Gao Xingjian], he couldn’t sell it that way [for fear of government censorship]; … he talks about it as training for actors.” Born in 1940 in China, Gao was heavily influenced by European absurdist theater and Beijing opera; in 2000, his work won him the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Moore recalled, “I had taught the play [“The Other Shore”] for years. I had always felt it had a good heart.” She believes this play is a strong choice for the Production Ensemble class because it “was written to train actors; it’s a completely ensemble piece.” Stage Manager Jackie Avitabile ’09 agreed, saying that “The Other Shore” is “way more an ensemble show than most.”
“The Other Shore” examines the relationship between the collective and the individual. The theme is “the main tension of the play.” Actor Miriam Rich ’11 noted that performing in Gao’s play gave her a very different experience than traditional Western theatre performances. Rather than developing characters from the inside out, she explained, the students worked “from the outside in; the movements create your character.” The actors’ vocalizations range from animated monologues to haunting, repetitive group chants. The incorporation of extended ad-libbing may come as a surprise to the audience, particularly given the stylization of much of the acting.
Most noticeably, the play is a series of scatterings and convergences. Each scene of the play tells a distinct story while remaining part of the whole. Characters emerge from the group individually, only to unite again. No sooner has the group on stage defined itself than the scene changes once more. “It is definitely a meditation,” said Moore. “It follows the structure of a meditation; all the thoughts that cross your mind are real in the moment.”
The actors are in constant motion throughout the play, walking, falling, rising, writhing, and dancing. “I love the set,” said choreographer Joanna Wright ’08. “It’s a dream to work on. … It’s just different enough.” The circular, raked stage is illuminated in turn by purple, pink, orange, and blue lighting, and the actors move around, on top of, and even under the stage. The most memorable lighting effect is the periodic juxtaposition of blue-purple and orange-yellow light. These opposing colors mirror the opposition in the action of the play; the coolness of the purple and the warmth of the yellow call to mind other opposites, such as death and birth.
The sound effects include rock songs, a heartbeat, voiceovers from commercials, and the chilling “duck and cover” song from an instructional 1950’s cartoon. “I reinterpreted certain moments to speak to an American audience,” Moore explained. She said that although Americans think of Chinese society as rigidly governed, the commercializion in American society is just one of “all kinds of forces working on us all the time that we’re not aware of.”
Lauren Dubowski, Bryn Mawr ’08, described “The Other Shore” as an “accessible show … rock-concert-esque.” Assistant Stage Manager Jessie Bear ’09 called it “an all-encompassing theatrical experience.” Basically, said Moore, “It’s just a cool ride.”
The student actors are Nell Bang-Jensen ’11; Judy Browngoehl ’09; Sarah Choi ’08; Sam Goodman ’10; Chris Klaniecki ’10;; Miriam Rich ’11; Sasha Shahidi ’09, Isa St. Clair ’11 and Jesse Paulsen, Haverford ’09.