March 27, 2024

Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater & Music Theater presents Flight of a Legless Bird

The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater and Music Theater at Princeton University presents Flight of a Legless Bird, a new play by Princeton senior Ethan Luk. The play follows and braids the lives of Robin and Leslie, two queer artists, from the 1980s to the 2000s. Robin, a filmmaker in New York’s West Village, confronts the reality of a HIV/AIDS diagnosis; Leslie, an accomplished Cantopop star and actor, grapples with his personal hurdles and newfound fame in Hong Kong. This is the first full production of the play which was developed in part in collaboration with New York Theater Workshop’s Mind the Gap Program. The production is directed by Luk, who is also in the cast, in collaboration with playwright and retired Lecturer in Theater R.N. Sandberg. Performances are April 5, 11 and 12 at 8 p.m. and April 6 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place. A post-show conversation on intergenerational queer mentorship follows the April 6 performance with Tony Award-winning theater artist James Nicola and Director of Education and Community Engagement at New York Theatre Workshop Alexander Santiago-Jirau. Tickets are $12 in advance of show dates, $17 purchased the day of performances at the box office, and $10 for students available through the McCarter Box Office. The Berlind Theatre is fully accessible with wheelchair and companion seating and an assistive listening system. Guests in need of other access accommodations are invited to contact the Lewis Center at at least one week prior to the event date.

Flight of a Legless Bird represents Luk’s work in pursuit of a certificate in the Program in Theater and Music Theater and is his senior thesis in the Department of Comparative Literature. He began writing the play three year ago. During his first year at Princeton, which was virtual due to the Covid pandemic, Luk participated in New York Theatre Workshop’s Mind the Gap program via Zoom. The program matches New Yorkers aged 60 and up with young people aged 14 to 19. Participants interview each other over the course of 12 sessions, learning about their partners’ lives and dreams. They write or devise short plays based on the material they gather and in a culminating celebration hear their scripts read aloud by professional actors or perform their own work. Luk was partnered with an artist who lived through the AIDS crisis in New York City. He then had the opportunity to develop the play further at Chuang Stage, Boston’s Asian American theatre company, PAO Arts Center, a collaboration between Boston Chinatown Neighborhood and Bunker Hill Community College, and Asian American Theater Artists of Boston (AATAB). Through funding from the Lewis Center, Luk was also able to make his play available for a developmental production in Beijing at Lang Yuan Vintage as part of the PRISM Mini Theatre Festival. The play has already been a finalist for the 2023 National Playwrights Conference at Eugene O’Neil Theater Center and the 46th Bay Area Playwrights Festival of Playwrights Foundation.

An actor crouches down talking to another actor sitting in a wheelchair.

Sophomore Abby Lu as Wut-Hoi (left) and senior Ethan Luk as Leslie in rehearsal for a production of Luk’s new play, Flight of a Legless Bird. Photo credit: Allison Ha

In the play, Robin and Leslie’s worlds collide by chance, establishing an emotional bond between the two men that defies time and space. Fusing multiple languages, geographies, and temporalities, the play’s fictional intertwining reflects a desire to forge new queer mythologies and connections, while probing the fraught relationship between art-making and times of societal crisis. The play is mostly in Cantonese with Mandarin and English with the non-English dialogue translated via supertitles.

The discussion following the April 6 performance will focus on intergenerational queer mentorship and will include Tony Award-winning and former Artistic Director of New York Theatre Workshop James Nicola and Director of Education and Community Engagement at New York Theatre Workshop Alexander Santiago-Jirau, moderated by Luk.

Luk was born and raised in Hong Kong and is majoring in comparative literature and pursuing certificates in theater, dance, and creative writing. His work has been recognized by 92Y, The Kennedy Center, One Teen Story, and The Adroit Journal, among others. In February he premiered an original choreographic work, but me you have forgotten, as his senior independent work in the Program in Dance, where he has also performed in new work and/or repertory by Merce Cunningham (reimagined by Silas Riener), Kyle Marshall, Susan Marshall in collaboration with Rebecca Lazier, and Bill T. Jones (staged by Catherine Cabeen). He is a member of the student dance group diSiac Dance Company. Luk’s performance credits in the Program in Theater and Music Theater include Little Shows About Death, Arlington, Vietgone, Proof, Take Care: A Collective Circus Project, and Clara: A New Musical. He directed Theatre Intime’s production of The Laramie Project and co-directed Disorder: An Immersive Theatrical Installation with Reed Leventis ’23 at the Lewis Center. He is also writing a poetry collection titled Richard & David for his independent work in the Program in Creative Writing. Michael Dickman, Lecturer in Creative Writing, is his faculty advisor on the project.

Sandberg, who retired in 2021, taught in both the Theater Program and English Department at Princeton and is a professional theater director and playwright. He has directed a number of past Lewis Center productions including Machinal, Cloud 9Madman Robertson, Uncle Vanya, and How I Learned to Drive, as well as Princeton Summer Theater productions of Pygmalion and The Heidi Chronicles. His plays have been seen in Australia, Canada, England, Japan, Panama, and South Korea, as well as at theaters throughout the U.S. He has been commissioned by, among others, George Street Playhouse, McCarter Theatre, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Seattle Children’s Theatre, and Merrimack Rep. Sandberg is a Princeton alumnus and in 2014 received the University’s President’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

In addition to Luk, the student cast includes Tiffanie Cheng, Xander Constantine, Sabina Jafri, Abby Lu, Andrew Mi, Wasif Sami, and John Venegas Juarez. The professional production team includes alumnus Wesley Cornwell as scenic designer, Mel Ng as costume designer, Nathan Leigh as sound designer, and Department of Architecture graduate student Danny Landez as projection designer. Student members of the production team are Kerstin Fagerstrom as lighting designer, Emily Yang as stage manager, and Molly Lopkin, Jackie Qin, and Giao Vu Dinh as assistant stage managers. Sandberg and Director of the Program in Theater and Music Theater Jane Cox are faculty advisors on the project.

Visit the Lewis Center website to learn more about this event, the Lewis Center for the Arts, and the more than 100 public performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts, lectures, and special events presented by the Lewis Center each year, most of them free.

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Steve Runk
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