STANLEY LAI Sheng-chuan believes if you look carefully, you can find signs that point to your path in life. The Taiwanese playwright and director responded to those signs to become one of the most influential theatrical artists in Chinese society. Lai, 47, who has a doctorate degree in theatre, has produced 19 original plays to fill Taiwan's quiet stages. His journey in theatre began in the 1970s. Interested in painting, photography, music and creative writing, he thought theatre was a natural combination of these elements. He married before applying for graduate school. Then came a sign. He wanted to study at the same place as his wife, but it was not to be. 'I applied for theatre and creative writing, but I couldn't do those subjects at the schools my wife got into. The choice then became very easy,' he says. The next sign came years later. One day as Lai was preparing for his PhD exam, two strangers walked past his window and muttered his name. 'I looked out of the window, and they looked at me. It was very embarrassing. I broke the ice and said, 'Excuse me, but I just heard my name being mentioned.' ' The trio went for lunch and had a great time. A few weeks later he received an invitation from Yao I-wei - father of one of the strangers and a pioneer of theatrical arts in Taiwan - to teach at the National Institute of the Arts. 'I'd say, that's a sign: somebody you do not know walks past your window and speaks your name. If you are to decline the offer, you have to have a very good reason,' he says. By then he had discovered that theatre was not a combination of his interests. 'They are only components. The soul of theatre is interaction between people. It's communication. It's how people act, behave, think and interact.' Looking back, Lai marvels at how he had gone down the wrong road, yet it had turned out to be right. 'How people discover their life's passion is often not a rational process. It's quite mysterious,' he concludes. He believes the Buddhist concept of karma, or the cause and effect of one's every action, answers those mysteries. 'Why we are doing what we are doing today comes from very complex causes that go back a long way.' A follower of Tibetan Buddhism for 25 years, his beliefs have challenged him to seek out the most significant motifs for every piece of work he does. 'When you understand yourself, you are more prepared to do better work,' he says. 'Buddhism teaches one how to stay calm in the face of work pressures. This tranquility is essential for creative work,' he says. 'Theatre is a fragile art form. You can spend months getting ready, then someone gets sick and the whole thing has to be cancelled, or technical things go wrong and you can't even get your curtain up. That's happened to me. 'As a Buddhist, you realise this is the result of a lot of complicated causes. You do your best, plan and hope for the best. But if the best doesn't happen through no fault of your own, then you also accept it.'