February 18, 2009

The Buddha Prince [a walking play about the childhood of the Dalai Lama; Markell Kiefer, Waylon Lewis, Tiger Lion]

From the Autumn 2005 Issue

It’s no secret that, no matter where you look these days, there seems to be bad news. It’s become increasingly difficult to weed through the steady barrage of media and world-wide confusion for a clue as to how to carry hope as something more than a pretty idea on a Hallmark card.

Markell Kiefer, born and raised in the Shambhala community of Boulder and recently relocated to Minneapolis, has chosen to tell a story of hope with The Buddha Prince, a play celebrating the early life of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Directed by Markell, and co-written by Kiefer, Michael French, Carlyle Coash and Waylon H. Lewis, the play is performed outdoors as a “walking play.” The audience follows the actors and musical troupe from site to site, witnessing dramatizations of key events in his life. Narrated by excerpts from the Dalai Lama’s teachings and Freedom in Exile, his autobiography, The Buddha Prince is at once an unfolding of his coming of age and a series of essential Buddhist teachings. Both are made immediately available to
the audience through the visual magic of song, dance, mask, puppetry and clown work, as well as homespun and traditional
Tibetan music instruments. It is theater at its best, depicting an extraordinary human story. At times it’s hysterically funny, at times truly heartbreaking.

“He’s a completely universal figure in our lifetime,” says Markell. “Not only for his own people, the Tibetan people,
but for the world at large.”

There is a poignancy to the tremendous sadness experienced by the Dalai Lama that he has managed to transform into tremendous joy. We are, for the duration of the play, in the midst of all of this joy and pain, free to respond with the unique in-the-moment authenticity of live theater. Markell’s belief in live theater’s ability to hold that space that fueled
her inspiration: “The principle message is that of peace. Both the peace that we can develop within ourselves and the peace that we can actually manifest and create in the world. It’s an incredible medium to change the world.” The end result is total celebration.

The example set by His Holiness of kindness, courage and humbleness in the face of aggression, fear and the paranoia
a power-hungry regime reinforces a feeling that simple human warmth and hope, combined with conviction, is enough.

In the mind of playwright Michael French, “To say, ‘this is what is was like when I was alive.’ I can’t think of anything more joyous to say than that. And the Buddha Prince represents our time. It represents the noise of our time. Where people such as the Dalai Lama become whispers because there’s so much else to listen to.”

Perhaps most inviting is the outdoor setting, which is sure to gather a diverse audience. The play’s been performed in California, in Minneapolis, and, next, will appear in Central Park itself! For the seasoned theater-goer, the interactive nature of the narrative will keep you on your toes. For the avid nature-lover, the appearance and reappearance of the cast of characters in brilliant masks and impeccably mastered costumes from fish to tigers, birds to yaks, charges the environment with an undeniable sense of wonder. Productions like the Buddha Prince are the perfect éntre into an appreciation of the often duplicitous human life. As Markell puts it, “The intention of the play is to celebrate our own goodness!”

The Buddha Prince was first produced at the Peace Garden in Minneapolis during the Dalai Lama’s visit there in May
of 2001, and last spring. Kiefer moved the production to Pasadena, again, during his April visit. The Buddha Prince is now in planning its next tour, set to follow the His Holiness’ tour of the United States in the fall of 2005.
For more: [email protected] Emily Vorhees is the sweetest: [email protected]

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