Global Taxi Driver Drives Into Intermedia Arts

Ova Saopeng, Shyamala Moorty, Nicole M. Smith, and Kevin Kaoz Moore.

Ova Saopeng, Shyamala Moorty, Nicole M. Smith, and Kevin Kaoz Moore.

Tonight marks the opening of a new play, by Leilani Chan (Refugee Nation) and TeAda Ensemble, that takes a look at the stories of taxi drivers from all corners of the world. Developed with a diverse ensemble made up of Los Angeles and Twin Cities artists, Global Taxi Driver opens this evening at Intermedia Arts, following a reception for the exhibit "100 Stories/365 Days" in the galleries.


Chan calls herself "the person behind the wheel," in creating the show, leading the ensemble in a devised process that occurred here in Minneapolis as well as Los Angeles. "I'm much more of a guide than a writer/director," she says.

The project began three years ago, by collecting stories from taxi drivers and riders about their experiences (though the show itself mainly reflects the taxi drivers' point of view). The piece also looks at those transformative moments when two people, who might not have crossed paths in other circumstances, have a life-changing experience.  

Chan sees taxi driving in America as a gateway occupation for many in the immigrant community, especially men. People who were formerly lawyers, doctors, and other professionals become taxi drivers here. The stories explored in the show are from places such as Mexico, Bangkok, and the rural part of the Lao Thai border. There's a story set in Alaska from a Russian taxi driver who was "possibly an ex-mobster," Chan says. In addition, there are stories connected to the Somali community, as well as the Latino community. 

Linking the stories is a tale that emerged through the workshop process, when in the lobby of Intermedia Arts Chan met a woman who had been a cab driver in Los Angeles in the '70s. Amoke Kubat was a single mom at the time, driving with her three-year-old daughter in the taxi. Her story is one that the ensemble returns to at various points throughout the performance. 

One of the challenges the ensemble faced in creating the show was to take the stories, which were told in the past tense, and turn them into dynamic moments through scenes and movement. At times, the production takes some creative license with the original stories in order to get out of the cabs and show more depth. 

There are also video projections by Media Active, an organization that works with young people. To make some of the images set in other countries, the young filmmakers had to get creative, taking footage of camels from Como Zoo, for example, and using found footage as well. In addition, sound designer Jake Davis has worked to create an aural picture of the taxi drivers' worlds using CB radios at times. 

Since she began collecting stories three years ago, the pieces don't account for recent shifts in the industry due to the emergence of Uber and Lyft. In some ways, Chan says that if the industry changes in such a way as to prevent the immigrant community from using it as a gateway occupation, the show may become a time capsule of a world that once existed. 

After the run at Intemedia, Global Taxi Driver heads to Los Angeles, where it will be reworked to include more Los Angeles stories. 


Global Taxi Driver

September 11-21

Intermedia Arts

The world premiere is tonight after the opening reception for "100 Stories/365 Days."

On Friday, September 12, there will be an after-party at Moto-i, and there will be a "community chat and chew" on Sunday, September 4, with City Council member Abdi Warsame and policy aide Marcela Sotela, moderated by Intermedia Arts' board chair Andrea Jenkins. Food will be served from Afro Deli.

Finally, there's a Taxi Talkback on Thursday, September 18, which includes a Q&A dialogue with the director and cast of the show.