Thailand’s largest showcase of contemporary theatre welcomes more foreign artists and spectators
CANCELLED LAST year due to the death of King Rama IX, Bangkok Theatre Festival (BTF), organised by Bangkok Theatre Network (BTN), is back and kicks off this Thursday with more programmes, and many foreign works. Thanks to the strong support of the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), there’s also a new section targetting overseas audiences, scholars, producers and presenters.
“BTN has more than 40 member companies and in the recent past we’ve about five foreign productions in every festival,” says Pradit “Tua” Prasartthong, BTF’s founder and BTN’s chairperson.
“BTN is not organising this festival all by itself, but cooperating with Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), as part of its Performative Arts Festival (PAF), the Alliance of Performing Arts in Higher Education of Thailand (PATH) and the Thailand centre of International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC). In other words, BTF is by artists, scholars, students, critics as well as a multi-disciplinary arts centre.”
The first recipient of Silpathorn Award in performing arts continues, “The fact that BTF is clearly more international this year is based on our strong potential for developing into a major festival in Southeast Asia, one that combines and balances both local and international content in the programming. Also, we have received major support from Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau who also sees BTF’s potential as an international event that’s not only drawing foreign visitors to Bangkok and Thailand but also serving as a platform for regional artists to showcase their works.”
B-Floor’s Teerawat Mulvilai and Anatta’s Duangjai Hirusri in Oriza Hirata’s “Bangkok Notes”, BTF 2017’s curtain raiser
Luckana Kunavichayanont, director of BACC, adds, “This is the sixth time we’re working with BTF, which is like a mid-to-late teenage and attractive girl now. BTF programmes, both traditional and avant-garde ones, have significantly contributed to our PAF. An arts centre would be barren without artists creating and presenting their works here and so I think BTF and BACC’s PAF are supporting each other and BACC hopes that BTF will continue to grow into a mature adult.”
Tua agrees wholeheartedly, saying, “The fact that BACC is organising PAF also strengthens the links between theatre, dance and music as well as to film, visual arts and literature. The fact that BACC’s PAF has combined many existing festivals [instead of starting its own new festivals], like the BTF, the International Dance Festival, the International Butoh Festival Thailand and Asiatopia, under one umbrella is commendable and should be a model for others to follow.”
BTF always has a theme and this year it’s “Sharing Moments”. “Nikorn Sae Tang (BTF 2017’s artistic director and another Silpathorn artist) came up with the theme,” Tua explains. “And he notes that performing arts, theatre included, is different from other |genres of arts as it is being created live in front of the audience. One performance is always different from another, with the same group of actors and yet different audiences. Every year, BTF is a short moment where artists and audiences share our dreams, inspiration, ideas, happiness as well as misery.”
BTF 2017’s artistic director Nikorn Sae Tang on stage in “No Name”
Japan Foundation Bangkok has been a major supporter of BTN and BTF. Their production of “Red Demon”, the Thai translation of Hideki Noda’s “Akaoni”, brought together theatre artists from several groups two decades ago, and that bond led to the subsequent founding of BTN and BTF. With their strong support, Thai theatre artists participated in a workshop by another internationally acclaimed playwright and director Oriza Hirata in 2004. Two years later we watched a Japanese-language production of his most acclaimed play “Tokyo Notes” by Seinendan Theatre; in 2012 his android theatre “Sayonara”, with both Japanese and Thai actors and a humanoid; and just two years ago, “The Metamorphosis (Android Version)”, with Academy Award-nominated French actress Irene Jacob and another humanoid.
Will B-Floor Theatre’s Oranong Thaisriwong get another call from the military junta for her solo performance “Sawan Arcade”?
This year, the international exchange takes a further step up. Hirata, a professor at Tokyo University of the Arts, has been at Chulalongkorn University for the past two monthsteaching a playwriting class and working with 20 Thai actors, both professionals and students though no humanoids, on “Bangkok Notes”, Sawita Diteeyont’s adaptation of “Tokyo Notes”. Among the stellar cast are Anatta Theatre Group’s Duangjai Hirunsri, B-Floor Theatre’s Teerawat Mulvilai and Sao Soong Theatre’s Nut Nualpang, all three of whom were also in “Red Demon”. Also on stage are three recipients of IATC Thailand’s acting kudos, namely Sumontha Suanphol- rat, Varattha Tongyoo and Splashing Theatre’s Thongchai Pimapansri.
Veteran actress Mullika Tungsangob, top centre, leads the cast of Blank Space’s “Crimes of the Heart”.
And in a year when we’re also celebrating the 130th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Japan and Thailand, the Japanese ambassador to Thailand himself will preside over the opening ceremony of BTF and the premiere of “Bangkok Notes” at Chulalongkorn University’s Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts this Thursday evening.
Other BTF highlights include Babymime’s new work “The Teacher”; “No Name”, a collaboration between 8X8 Theatre and Babymime; Blank Space’s adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winning drama “Crimes of the Heart”; Wannasak “Kuck” Sirilar’s adaptation of “Man of La Mancha”; Anatta Theatre Group’s lakhon chatri (traditional Thai dance theatre) “Nang Sipsam” and B-Floor Theatre’s “Sawan Arcade”, a solo performance by Ornanong “Golf” Thaisriwong, whose previous work “Bang Lamerd” was closely monitored by the military junta.
Other must-sees include Nophand Boonyai and Full Fat Theatre’s “Sleepwalkers” about which he says, unlike his previous works, “It’s something physical”; and three English-language works by two local companies – Peel the Limelight’s, just back from Melbourne Fringe, “Spoonface Steinberg” and Culture Collective Studio’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and “Salome”, both Oscar Wilde masterpieces.
Among the kid-friendly shows is Grandma Puppet’s “The Goal”.
This year’s most prolific company Splashing Theatre has two new works for BTF, namely Thanaphon Accawatanyu’s “Godspeed You! Blue Strawberry” and Thongchai Pimapansri’s directing debut, the physical theatre piece “What I Talk When I Talk about Grinding”.
From November 14 to 18, BTF will introduce a new section called Bangkok International Performing Arts Meeting (BIPAM), entirely in English, with paper presentations, discussions, talks and performances, a networking opportunity for artists, scholars, critics and students from many countries. It’s noteworthy that while the performance programmes of BTF are open for all members of BTN, those of BIPAM, called BIPAM Showcase, are curated by a committee of artists, scholars and critics.
And if you have visited BTF’s website and Facebook page recently, you may notice that they’re both bi-lingual now. Also, in the past few months BTN has been collaborating with many partners in organising a range of events that prepare both artists and audiences for BTF.
For example, Octavian Saiu, a member of IATC’s executive committee, stopped by to give a talk on Sibiu International Theatre Festival (SibFest) and discussed its potential relationship with BTF. Japan Foundation Bangkok and Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC) supported BTF’s talks and workshops for artists and audiences on such topics as international performing arts festivals, international collaboration, writing of press releases and artist’s profiles, archiving and photography.
And last month at Siam Pic-Ganesha Centre of Performing Arts, high school students met with representatives from performing arts departments of several universities and BTN member companies in the inaugural BTF Expo.
It looks like BTF’s artists, audiences and patrons are more ready than ever before.
Are you ready for BTF 2017?
BOOK YOUR TICKETS NOW
Bangkok Theatre Festival 2017 is from Thursday to November 19 at BACC (BTS: National Stadium station) and many other venues in the city centre.
There are several free-admission programmes. For ticketed ones, book online and find more info, in Thai and English, at www.BangkokTheatreFestival.org.