Kean University Crosses to The Other Shore

Cast members of The Other Shore

UNION — Kean University Department of Theatre presents The Other Shore by Pultizer Prize winning playwright and author Gao Xingjian.  This thought-provoking avant-garde production will be performed in the Zella Fry Theatre on the university campus in Union from November 12th through the 20th.

Written in 1986, The Other Shore was originally scheduled to be produced by the Beijing People’s Art Theater, where the playwright was an artist in residence.  For political reasons, however, it was banned and never staged in mainland China.  Thematically, the play addresses issues of collectivism and individualism—themes that Xingjian has addressed throughout his career, and ones that are considered to be highly volatile in the Communist Chinese context.


“Xingjian was pushing a lot of political buttons at the time,” said Anna DeMers, Assistant Professor of Theatre at Kean University, where she concentrates on movement for the actor training.  DeMers directs the production, adding, “I wanted to explore with the students a piece that asked to be developed through the body.  My training as an artist and my specialty is in physical theatre and movement.”

Stylistically, Xingjian’s works seldom follow conventional narrative modes, so The Other Shore lends itself to DeMers’ choreographic approach.  That the play was never allowed to be produced in China is somewhat ironic given the fact that Xingjian originally wrote it as a ‘‘pure drama’’ and has steadfastly stated his belief that literature should remain independent and free of political considerations.

The work nevertheless raised the ire of authorities, and it proved to be a turning point in Xingjian’s life: although it was not the first of Xingjian’s works to be banned, the state’s decision on The Other Shore convinced the playwright that if he was to continue to write unhindered by state controls, it would not be inside mainland China; Xingjian left his native land for France, where he lives in exile.

The play’s title refers to the concept of ‘‘paramita’’ or ‘‘nirvana,’’ the land of enlightenment in Buddhism. According to Buddhist belief, humans experience an actual visible life full of suffering, but by living according to the virtues of ‘‘paramita’’—morality, patience, meditation and wisdom—they can cross the ‘‘river of life’’ to the other shore and experience enlightenment.

“The Other Shore has many themes that overtly begin with a Chinese cultural perspective,” continued DeMers.  “In fact, there is a moment in the play when a Zen master speaks about Buddhism.  But we’ve incorporated phrases of prayers from many religious sects into the production – Christian, Muslim, Islamic and Jewish.  The journey of self discovery is universal.”

With a Master’s of Fine Arts from Sarah Lawrence College focused on directing and movement, DeMers’ passion is creating new performance pieces, which have included: Scherzo (Blueprint Theater Project/NYC), Comings & Goings (VOCI Dance), Feedback on an 8 Count (Harwood Dance), and Phobias (Empty Spaces).  She has written and produced her plays at various festivals, such as Fe-or-Male (Orlando Playfest), Solo Face and Hidden Mandala (Orlando Fringe).  As a long time collaborator with Empty Spaces Theatre Co. in Orlando she choreographed and/or co-directed Beckett Festival, Ubu Roi, Stripped, and Oedipus.  Regionally, DeMers served on the creative teams of Gone Missing (Mad Cow), 9 Parts of Desire (Sarah Lawrence) and Twelfth Night (Kean University).  Last May at Kean she previewed her dance-media performance Look This Way,that investigates the intersection of dance, live media, postmodernism and deconstruction.

The cast of The Other Shore features: Becca Bowe, Brandon Elia, David Farrington (who was seen this past fall with Kean University’s professional theatre in residence, Premiere Stages, in Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods starring Emmy-winner Kim Zimmer), Shabazz Green (who frequently understudies roles with Premiere Stages, and performed in their production of HUMBUG), Steve Sharkey, Samuel Spare, Natalie Bailey, Megan Bandelt, Becca Dagnall, Cara Ganski, Cathy Garcia and Katelyn Morgan.

“Using their own physical landscapes, the actors were crucial to how the production developed,” noted DeMers.  “We built a sense of ensemble and trust first and added the script later.  We picked moments that they themselves created through asking, ‘When do you trust what you want to do as opposed to what the crowd is doing?’ and ‘How does the spiritual journey fit in to day to day living?’”

The Other Shore performs November 12, 13, 17, 19, 20 at 8 p.m., November 13, 14, 20 at 2 p.m. and November 18 at 5 p.m.  A discussion with the cast follows the Nov 18th performance.  Tickets are $15 standard, $12 for seniors and Kean faculty, staff and alumni and $10 for students, and can be ordered by calling the box office at 908-737-SHOW (7469).  Group rates are available for parties of 10 or more and can be arranged by calling Paul Whelihan, audience services coordinator at 908-737-4077.  Visit the website at

PHOTO:  Courtesy of Kean University Department of Theatre

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