Ago: A Journey Through the Illusory World

Performance Workshop & Theatre Above

Written and Directed by Stan Lai


October 21, 2021, 17:00

October 22, 2021, 17:00

October 23, 2021, 17:00

October 24, 2021, 13:30

WHERE: Exhibition Hall 3

Duration: 390 minutes (including two intermissions)

Performed in Chinese, with English subtitles


With Ago, Lai continues a life-long project of spiritual and artistic transformation. Those who know Lai's work will spy familiar themes – of kinship, historical change, religious quest, catastrophe, as well as repair. They will also spy familiar forms, most notably Lai's signature circular stage, which surrounds and embraces the audience seated within… Featuring forms from a pan-Asian world, Lai mixes story and image, tragedy and comedy, the historical and the contemporary in a theater that feels both fantastical and familiar at once… Stan Lai is of course renowned throughout the world as one of the most innovative artists working on the international stage. With Ago, we have new reasons to understand why…

– Shannon Jackson (Professor, U.C. Berkeley, former Associate Vice Chancellor, Arts + Design), “AGO: Theatre for the 21st Century,” Commemorative Booklet on Ago, Shanghai: Theatre Above, 2019

It is almost inconceivable to imagine that there exists an artistic target of equal height, or even higher, after one has scaled the Mount Everest of theatre-creating achievements. Yet here it is, Ago, the perfect companion piece to A Dream Like a Dream, all but in name.

– Raymond Zhou, Twin Peaks, 2019

...[T]he array of characters, ranging from humans to animals to Time and Space, in their migration from the snowy mountains of the Tibetan plateau to the Twin Towers of New York City, composes an awe-inspiring symphony of past, present, and future.

– Tao Qingmei, General Introduction, Selected Plays of Stan Lai

(University of Michigan Press, 2021)

The complex form, structure, and content of A Dream and Ago, two epic plays 20 years apart, mark Lai's maturity, his original aesthetic vision, highly sophisticated playwriting, and profound concerns for life.

– Chiayi Seetoo, "An Illusion That Mirrors a Dream:

The Storytelling of Stan Lai," The Drama Review, 65:2 (T250) 2021

About Ago

AGO is a special theatrical journey, in which fate, time, space, man, beasts and nature are woven together in a mad dance between the real and the surreal, challenging perceptions through the lens of humanity's triumphs and failures, glory and folly. This theatrical tour de force by playwright-director Stan Lai can be seen as a sister piece to his epoch making A Dream Like A Dream (2000), having in common their breadth, depth and length, and sharing the special panoramic "lotus pond" stage configuration.

AGO takes Lai's creative journey into a new realm. The main characters in this six-hour work pass through almost three decades, first moving from the deep mountains of Yunnan to the gritty streets of Manhattan, then to the high mountains of India, and perhaps beyond, to a Pure Realm that even legends aren't sure exists. Among them are thinkers and idealists, and others who are simply living their lives. They face catastrophes, one after another, and are all survivors, seeking the meaning of existence. Here, not only "people" are seeking meaning. AGO offers cross-species dialogue—between humans and animals, mythical and imaginary animals, aliens, and even abstract concepts. There is a character that can see the entire past—"ago"— a self-proclaimed prophet, and another, perhaps genuine, who sees a beautiful, pure land in his mind that he wishes to make known and to lead everyone to.

Performed by Stan Lai's acclaimed ensemble from Theatre Above, with the addition of celebrated actress Hao Lei in the role of Pema, and pop star Jason Zhang as Dorje, AGO represents a theatre master at the pinnacle of his craft, an artist-philosopher's mature musings on life, time and fate.


Playwright / Director: Stan Lai


Hao Lei as Pema

Zhang Jie as Dorje

Wang Meng as Strong

Liu Wanling as Space

Dou Jin as JJ

Jin Jing as Caiyun

Yang Yuguang as Tashi

Zong Juntao as Sonam, Padmasambhava, Pigeon, and others

Gu Xuewei as Emma, Mrs. Wang, Snow Lion Attendant, and others

Ding Hui as Riley, Groom, and others

Yang Yi as Sage, and others

Feng Li as Time, Snow Lion, Meiling, Linda the Ra t, and others

Yang Zhibin as Chance, Dog Breeder, Harry the Rat, Talk Show Host, and others

Zhao Yimin as Deke and Deke 2, and others

Liu Yilin as Old Man, Jigme the Bear, and others

Li Xi as Old Lady, Tianqin, Ginger the Squirrel, and others

Ding Shanshan as Drolma, Prayer Wheel Woman, and others

Chen Guohui as Hostel Manager, Factory Line Boss, Young Tashi, and others

Ma Jingwen as Senji, Khandr o the Deer, Lucy the Cat, and others

Yuan Xinli as Tsering the Wolf, Young Dorje, No Name Dog, and others

Qi Yue as the Musician, and others

Ma Yunbao as Abominable Snowman, and others

Li En as Prayer Wheel Woman, Snow Lion Attendant, and others

Scenic and Costume Designs: Sandra Woodall

Lighting Design: Michael Lee-Zen Chien

Projection Design: Ethan Wang

Music composed: Hu Shuai,Music improvised: Qi Yue

Lyrics: Stan Lai

Poster Design: Huang Hai

English surtitles: based on Stan Lai's own translation; Lissa Tyler Renaud, Editor and Dramaturg

Senior Producer: Nai-chu Ding

Producer: Vanessa Yeo

About Stan Lai

Stan Lai was called "the best Chinese language playwright and director in the world" (BBC), "Asia's top theatre director" (Asiaweek), and "Asia's flagship playwright" (China Daily). Since 1984, Lai's plays have greatly influenced theatre in the Chinese-language world, including his most famous works, Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land, The Village and his epic 8-hour A Dream Like A Dream, which was called by China Daily "possibly the greatest Chinese-language play since time immemorial." Among other awards, Lai received a star on the Walk of Fame at the Sibiu International Theatre Festival. Twelve of his plays will be published in his own English translations this year in the United States.

Lai is the Artistic Director of Performance Workshop, Taiwan; and Theatre Above, Shanghai, a venue dedicated to the performance of his works. He is Co-founder and Festival Director of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival.

About Performance Workshop & Theatre Above

Performance Workshop (PW) was founded in 1984 in Taipei by Stan Lai, Lee Li-chun and Lee Kuo-hsiu, with a mission to create new works for the Chinese language stage. Many of Stan Lai's earlier plays were created with this Taiwan theatre group, with Nai-Chu Ding producing. In all, PW has produced over 50 original new works, many of which have become legends of the modern Chinese-language theatre.

Founded in 2015, Theatre Above is a 699-seat venue in the heart of Shanghai, designed by artistic director Stan Lai and dedicated to staging his own body of works for the theatre, as well as works new in the Chinese speaking world. The theatre has since established itself as one of Shanghai's leading venues for dramatic art, with its own acting company forming the nucleus of many new works. Nai-chu Ding leads the production and management team.

Together, venue and company finally realize the dream of producing Stan Lai's many works in rotating repertory.

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