The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Pradit Prasartthong
Pradit Prasartthong
Director and actor of the theater company Makhampom and secretary general of Bangkok Theatre Network

Bangkok Theatre Network and Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space joint productions
Akaoni and Nogyo Shojo

Date: Nov. 19 – 23, 2009
Venue: Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space Mini Theatre 1, 2

The current status of Thai theater (source: Japan Foundation “Arts and Cultural Exchange Basic Information”)

Traditional Dance
Traditional Thai dance is taught intensively at the Royal Academy of Dance and in the Traditional Dance Dept. of the national university. Primary school children also learn traditional dance and music as part of their classroom studies and many citizens acquire aspects of these arts. Although the traditional dances and music are often performed at tourist spots (restaurants, etc.), there are actually few opportunities to see formal, quality performances of these arts.
The popular likay comedy theater is an art form that is often performed at festivals or temple rituals and events, but full-fledged Khon mask theater performances are only given a few times a year. The likay style slapstick comedy is continues to be popular in contemporized forms performed regularly on TV variety shows. The more than 100 year-old puppet theater form called Hun Lakhon Lek is now performed regularly through the cooperation of the Joe Louis Theatre in Lumpini Night Bazaar. The famous shadow puppet plays of southern Thailand called Nang Yai come in many versions and many theater troupes perform them in inventive styles to carry on this tradition.

Contemporary theater
In the field of commercial theater, musicals starring the top stars are popular in recent years. As for small-theater type art theater, the audience apparently remains limited. The number of theaters is also limited, which leads many of the small companies to find and innovate venues like spaces in restaurants or rooms in buildings for each productions and there are very few companies that continue performances of their repertoire on a regular basis.
Among the companies that have their own theater space are the Patravadi Theatre and the Moradok Mai Theater (seating capacity: approx. 80). Other companies include the physical theater-oriented B-Floor and the company 8 × 8 that presents urban theater led by playwright Nikorn Saetang. The company Crescent Moon formerly led by Pipit Nimit Kun is somewhat less active since he left the company.
There are also companies like Makhampom and Maya Box that receive support from educational institutions and international organizations and actively conduct contemporary theater workshops in regional schools and communities. Furthermore, the drama departments of the various universities also host performances actively on a regular basis. In particular, the performances by the theater departments of Chulalongkorn University, Thammasat University and Bangkok University attract large audiences and are written up in newspaper reviews.
Presenter Interview
Bangkok Theatre Network An organization sparked by a Thai version of Akaoni 
Bangkok Theatre Network An organization sparked by a Thai version of Akaoni 
In addition to the active role of traditional dance and commercial theater starring popular actors in Thai society, the activities of small theater companies also play an important part of the country’s cultural life despite their limited numbers. One leader among these companies is Pradit Prasartthong, the representative, director and actor of the theater company Makhampom, a company actively involved in community-based programs. In this interview he talks about the activities of Makhampom and about the Bangkok Theatre Network he helped found in 1997 at the occasion of a Thai-language production of Hideki Noda’s Akaoni (Red Demon) resulting from a workshop in Thailand by the playwright Noda.
(Interviewer: Miho Sentoku; interview: Oct. 9, 2009 in Bangkok)

May we begin by asking you to give us a self-introduction and telling us how you became involved in theater?
My name is Pradit Prasartthong (laughs). As a child, my mother often took me to see the traditional Thai “Khon” mask dance theater. That inspired a love of traditional Thai arts in me and made me decide to go to study all the traditional forms of Thai music and theater besides Khon when I went to Suan Kularb High School.
 I went to Thammasat University (a university known as a center of the student democracy movement in the 1970s) and was active in the theater club while majoring in anthropology in the Sociology Department. That was a period of political turmoil during the late 1970s into the ’80s and political theater called Lakorn Karnmuang was very active. The civilian government established after the student rebellion of 1973 proved short-lived, and this was a time when it was replaced by military rule again after a military coup d’état. It was at that time that I met the politician, literati and thespian Kukrit Pramoj (1911-95; representative intellectual, Prime Minister from 1975-76, recipient of Special Prize of the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize).
 The reason I am able to act the roles of the prince and the monkey in Khon drama is because Mr. Pramoj had me do the monkey role. In Khon theater the roles of the prince, the monkey and the demon are usually given to different actors based mostly on their physical attributes. Under the conventional actor training system, once that role is given, the actor trains intensely in the conventions of that one particular role and never performs either of the other roles, but Mr. Pramoj was a teacher who watched the character of his students carefully and assigned them different roles according to their actual talents. That is why I was able to try the monkey role as well. His influence is surely the reason why I continue to break the rules of traditional Thai music performance and Khon directing today.

Would you tell us in a bit more detail about the relationship between theater and the political realities of Thailand during the 1970s?
With the student rebellion of 1973, the military regime saw the power of the students, and that led them to tighten their control over the people and the students. There were cases where farmers who opposed the military government’s policies were abducted and kill. Amidst these dire conditions, we thought that rather than just talking with people about the problems, the most effective method could be to make tem the subject of theater. That is why I wrote plays and held performances of them. I was very much afraid as I did it, because I knew there was the danger that I would be arrested by the police or attacked those who opposed us, but it was also very fulfilling to be active in that way.
 It was at that time that I began participating in the activities of the theater company Makhampom as a volunteer. I was very much moved by the plays the Makhampom company performed and decided to join the company when I graduated from university. Presently I serve as the company’s administrative director, artistic director and program director.

Please tell us about the activities Makhampom is engaged in.
Makhampom is a group with a strong concern for political issues. It has always been a company that did plays reflecting the voices of the common people, especially the weaker members of the society and the people from the provinces, and from the time I joined the company it was already involved in community programs. That community involvement was particularly strong in the area education. Today, Makhampom is involved in activities in four main areas.
 The first is our Community Theater Projects, in which we do performances at the grassroots level with the aim of educating the people with regard to various issues. These projects are conducted in the provinces as well as the urban centers.
 The second is our Theater Education Projects that target teachers and students at the grassroots level with theater as the medium of communication. These activities are also held outside the schools.
 The third is our Performance Projects, for which I am personally responsible. These are activities that seek to promote communication within the society and communities through the medium of theater.
 The fourth is our International Projects. Here we work to strengthen international exchanges with theater people around the world. The events are held in Thailand but the participation of foreign directors and actors in the performances and workshops enables various international exchange.

What is the organizational structure of Makhampom like?
Makhampom was established in 1980 and in 2005 it was granted status as a foundation. We have five people on our administrative committee, 10 directors and for each project we have staff ranging from 20 to 30 people. The five members of the administrative committee have regular salaries but the project director and staff are paid on a piecework basis. There are also unpaid volunteers working for us.
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