Introduction : On Bangkok stages

First article of the report : Contemporian spoken drama in Thailand, an imported practice which is still in its infancy but promising.

Bangkok, November 2014

After having spent a few weeks in Bangkok and having met a bunch of actors, directors, stage designers, sound and light designers, etc. (amateurs or professionals, thaï people or expats), it comes out that, as in many countries, we can divide the performances we have on stage into two major categories : the productions which have an abundant budget and those which do not.


The productions which do not lack budget


We won’t go into details about this subject in this report, but it can be helpful for the comprehension of the Thaï stage to specify that, among this kind of productions, we can distinguish three types of shows :


First, there are international productions on world tour (mostly musicals) like “The Beauty and the Beast, The Original Broadway Musical Spectacular. These ones do exist but form a separate genre, not only because they are not produced in Thailand, but also because only a tiny part of the population can afford them.  Indeed, for the example of The Beauty and the Beast (which is quite representative), the prices varied from 25€ to 115€, while the average salary is about 390€ and a meal in a delicious street-food restaurant is about 1,50€.


Then, we can find the mainstream Thaï comedies.  Sometimes they are produced by foreigners, and sometimes by companies which can afford to ensure their popularity by themselves. This is what Kao explains us, a member of Democrazy Theatre Studio, an independent space offering some of the rare alternatives to Bangkok’s productions.

These last few years, we have seen Western classics  such as Miss Saigon, Moulin Rouge, the Rocky Horror Picture Show or Dr Frankenstein as well as shows inspired by Chinese history, which are very popular in most South-East Asia.


Finally, there are the Thaï traditional shows, such as Khon, a traditional dance which was formerly performed for the court, or the traditional puppet shows. They are funded by the government, particularly to promote “Thaï culture” towards Thaï people as well as towards tourists, who are very eager for this kind of performances.


Productions fighting for a decent budget


The second category – and the one we will talk about below – gathers the plays made by small budget Thaï companies such as B-Floor, Crescent Moon or Democrazy, the one we met. These companies present as well creations and foreign plays like Les Bonnes, from J.Genet, or The Search for Signs of Intellingent Life in the Universe, from Jane Wagner, two pieces that were being performed when we were there. James, an actor who was trained at the Oxford School of Drama and who lives in Bangkok for a few years now, explains us that the creations are often visual theatre, which “helps bridge the language divide”, since all English-speaking expats don't master Thaï language perfectly. When plays include text, they are generally subtitled. This was the case for The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe that we saw at Democrazy Theatre Studio, and which was performed in English, with Thaï subtitles. Nevertheless, James points out that “while many Thai productions provide English subtitles, I've seen the accuracy of translations vary a great deal.”

Next article:  A little history about contemporary spoken theatre in Thailand.


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