Published on July 4, 2007
Anyone walking or driving past the Saphan Kwai intersection recently may have noticed a change to the neighbourhood.
At the Southeast corner, behind the traffic police booth where a bomb exploded on New Year's Eve, is a shop house painted in colourful hues. On some evenings, black curtains prevent the curious from peeking in. No, this is not a trendy new bar or restaurant but the new home of Makhampom Studio, and, not withstanding its size, Bangkok's newest theatre space.
For almost three decades, Makhampom has been the most active company in promoting theatre as a means of community cultural development in Thailand.
These days, the troupe travels more than any other group, with a good number of theatre performances and development programmes held here and abroad throughout the year.
The setting up of the Makhampom Studio is long overdue. But with the Culture Ministry apparently concerned more about "coyote" dancers and the length of female students' skirts than the development of contemporary arts, it's perhaps not surprising why it has taken Makhampom this long to find a home.
Subtitled an "alternative space for art lovers", Makhampom Studio, with a maximum capacity of about 70 people, is designed as a venue where this prolific troupe can more consistently present their works and communicate with the public about their activities.
It's hoped that it will also be a space to promote cultural activities by the Saphan Kwai community, and is available for rental by other arts organisations at a reasonable fee.
Directed by the troupe's secretary general and oldest member, Pradit "Tua" Prasartthong, the debut play "Saphan Kwai My Love" underlines Makhampom's commitment to the community.
The play is preceded and followed by a short film on the history of Saphan Kwai and includes brief interviews with people from all walks of life who live and work in the area.
Developed from surveys into this vibrant neighbourhood, relevant newspaper articles, and additional improvisations during rehearsals, the one-act, four-character satirical comedy is filled with hilarious breakaway musical episodes, ranging from pop to country music and enhanced by fantastical lighting and costumes.
Thanks to the well-penned script with true-to-life characters and dialogues delivered through well-honed performances by four young actors and actresses, the audience was hooked from the start.
Set in the parking lot of Big C Superstore, possibly a landmark in the area nowadays, the intriguing dramatic situation involves a security guard, a clothing factory worker, a gold shop owner, and a pizza delivery man carrying a mysterious box from which comes a regular ticking sound. Although it seems like a local situation, the play actually reflects what's going on in Thailand as a whole, with people of different social, cultural, economic, and political backgrounds trying their best to happily coexist.
With their new home, Makhampom joins three other well-established contemporary theatre troupes who run other small converted theatre spaces, off-off Broadway style.
In May, Crescent Moon Theatre opened Crescent Moon Space at the Pridi Banomyong Institute with the "Women in the Moon: Women Playwrights and Directors Festival".
For the past two years, 8X8 Theatre has been very active, filling 8X8 Corner with theatre productions, workshops and festivals. In fact, this space also served as the headquarters for last year's Bangkok Theatre Festival (BTF). However, the lease of the venue, also a shop house, runs out at the end of this year, as the land owner wants to make more profit by turning the market into another shopping centre.
And although we have not heard the name Chang Theatre for many months now, we have found out that PK Life Work Company is relocating to a new venue on Pracha Uthit Road in Thon Buri.
With these breeding grounds for theatre works and nurturing spaces for theatre people, we can rest assured, at least for now, that the troupes will be more consistently productive - as already proved by 8X8's recent works and as promised by Crescent Moon's annual plan.
And because these troupes are major parts of the BTF, we can also anticipate works of higher quality at the annual theatrical feast in November.
This month, Makhampom is taking its English-language play "Mahajanok - Never Say Die", inspired by the after-effects of the 2004 tsunami, to Hong Kong and Korea.
In September they'll take the likay production "Naga Wong" to Japan.
In addition, applications are now being accepted for Makhampom Theatre Lab, running from October 22 to November 4. This intensive workshop on Thai theatre and inter-cultural performance will take place at the troupe's Living Theatre in Chiang Mai's Chiang Dao district. Five to 10 spaces are up for grabs for non-Thais and 10 for Thais with some performance experience. Partial financial support is available for Australian nationals. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
or call (02) 616 8473.
The troupe's official website is available in Thai and English at www.makhampom.net.
The writer can be contacted at Pawit.M@chula.ac.th