‘Global Taxi Driver’ offers driver’s seat view

Have you ever taken a taxi, only to have a surprising and memorable conversation with the driver? Or were you a little shy? A new production at Intermedia Arts allows audiences to sit in the front seat, and learn more about the people behind the wheel.

Leilani Chan and her husband Ova Saopeng compiled  “Global Taxi Driver” from numerous interviews while traveling for work.

“As touring artists we travel for business but we are not your typical business traveler.  We are more like migrant workers carrying costumes and props in our luggage.  We go where the work is, except we go by plane and often end up in taxis where the driver as our guide turns out to be a traveler, or migrant, or refugee as well,” explained Chan.

“From Somalian refugees in Minneapolis, to Cuban women in Alaska, to Nepalese youth in Portland — they are all navigating their way in a new world, facing similar struggles while still maintaining relationships in the country they came from,” Chan said. “We heard stories that echoed the transnational refugee experience from our taxi drivers.”

Global Taxi Driver runs September 11-21, 2014 at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis Photo courtesy of the artist

Chan says taxi driving is a common gateway profession for immigrants around the world, but many of the them don’t identify themselves as taxi drivers.

“It is what they are doing because it gives them the freedom to pursue other dreams,” said Chan, “but some are former farmers, rebel fighters, doctors and lawyers.  Others are specifically driving taxi to support their education or to supplement their income. More than one has given us scripts of their own after talking with us.”

The show includes stories of transformative rides that changed the perspective of either the driver or the rider, or both. Chan says some stories are postive, some negative.

“Overall, I think taxi drivers get a bad rap.  Even people who do not ride taxis regularly have strong opinions one way or the other.  Ultimately, riders think they risk their own safety when they ride a cab, being afraid of drivers.  In reality, being a driver is far more risky than being a rider. Most drivers I have talked to have stories of being robbed or held a gun point.”

Chan hopes the show gives audiences a more humanized view of taxi drivers.

“I long to see how we can break down the barriers of language, occupation and race,” said Chan, “and the human interaction of taking rides and offering rides is an opportunity to interact with someone you might not otherwise meet.”

The show comes at a time when different car-sharing businesses are popping up, creating new competition for taxi drivers.

“With the growth of ridesharing taxi alternatives threatening this occupation for immigrants, these stories become more even more urgent to tell, said Chan. “The conflict between taxis and ride-share drivers and their passengers has increased and consumers have become passionate on one side of the issue or the other. Regardless of your point of view, what does this debate say about the way technology is changing our world and the way we interact with each other.  Are the stories in this play going to be a time capsule for a bygone era? If the share economy is the wave of the future, will immigrant communities be a part of this?”

Global Taxi Driver opens tonight at Intermedia Arts, and runs through Sept. 21.