“Look deep, you’ll see we’re all the same,” was the closing line of The Buddha Prince, a vibrant outdoor play based on the life and teachings of the 14th Dalai Lama and performed for free at Powderhorn Park Thursday night.
The “walking play” is literally that – a play whose cast of actors, singers and instrumentalists walk from scene to scene while vividly enacting different periods of the Dalai Lama’s life.
The play drew in a crowd of about 180 audience members. Viewers witnessed a detailed rendition of the Dalai Lama’s incarnation of his predecessor (the 13th Dalai Lama), journeyed to the invasion of Tibet during his adolescence, and were finally taken to his emotional escape to India.
The Dalai Lama currently lives in India and has led the exiled Tibetan government there since 1959.
Each of the six outdoor scenes allowed audience members to immerse themselves into the story’s organic set even though lighting and microphones were not used.
“I was pleasantly surprised. I thought the ‘walking play’ was an interesting concept,” said audience member Sol Ortiz.
Angela Giddings, another audience member, thought the play was “amazing. Walking just made you feel like you were part of it, more vested in it.”
The play’s script includes excerpts from the Dalai Lama’s teachings and autobiographies, and has been endorsed by the Office of Tibet in New York.
Play director Markell Kiefer said she was inspired to write the play because of the Dalai Lama’s message of basic human values like peace, compassion and dialogue as opposed to war.
“We all have different traditions and cultures, but at the very basic level, if we look deep, we all look the same. And that’s what everyone was left with,” she said.
The play has run in several cities across the country since 2001. However, this year’s performance is especially significant as part of the “50 Years in Exile” worldwide celebration commemorating the anniversary of China’s invasion of Tibet in 1959.
Previous showings this year were at New York’s Central Park and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.
Half of the cast’s 25 members are local Tibetan singers and performers while the remainder is comprised of professionals from diverse racial backgrounds. The play’s music is a blend of Western instruments and Tibetan songs and dances.
Kiefer said that because the play is outdoors, cast members must always anticipate the unexpected to happen.
“There’s always something like a plane flying over head or people just hanging out who couldn’t care less about the show,” she said.
Kiefer said sometimes people stroll through a scene and the actors have to improvise.
Asian languages, literature, and theater sophomore Yefei Jin played the role of the 15-year-old Dalai Lama, enacting the scene in which the Dalai Lama flees his homeland to seek refuge in India.
“Tibet will never be free until the iron bird flies and horses run on wheels!” Jin said in one of his most poignant lines in the play.
Although Jin’s parents are Chinese, he said what drew him to act in the play was its message.
The most distracting part about acting outside was the airplanes that constantly flew overhead, Jin said. He also noticed that the crowd at Powderhorn Park was a lot smaller than the 600+ crowds at previous performances in New York.
“But it was still exciting, we all had big roles and everyone was connected to the message of freedom,” Jin said.
Edina resident Thu Top is a native of Tibet who watched the play. He thinks the play is “very important because it informs people about what happened and how the Dalai Lama had to escape.”
Co-sponsored by the University’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, the play is also a celebratory launch for the center’s new Arts and Healing Initiative.
“This is a story of one man’s capacity to transcend the brutality and intrusion in his life. This is a story of healing,” Dianne Lev, the center’s director of development, said.
More showings of the play are at 5:30 p.m. this Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday with 2 p.m. showings on Saturday and Sunday.The play is free, but any donations go toward the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota.
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