Published on January 18, 2008
Patravadi Theatre, "Home for Performing Artists", is ready to hold its largest festival ever, starting today. The government's mourning period for HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana may have been extended, and we all feel the sorrow of this great loss deep in our hearts. Yet, the late princess was one of the country's greatest patrons of performing arts. So, it's appropriate that Bangkok Fringe Festival 2008, unlike other commercial events, will not be postponed. After all, this is arts and culture, not entertainment.
Started in 1999, this annual showcase has developed to become one of the most significant events on Bangkok's performing arts calendar. With more support from local and foreign state and private agencies than ever, and with this year's five-weekend schedule filled with the promising line-up, Bangkok Fringe will certainly delight, amuse, entertain, intrigue, inspire, and provoke us more than its previous seven editions.
But wait a minute. We thought this was supposed to be an annual event. So, what happened to Fringe in 2007? Let the two forces behind this year's festival explain.
"The theatre was supposed to hold the festival from December 2007 through January 2008, but frankly, the program for December was not ready," says Patravadi Mejudhon, grand dame of Thai performing arts and the festival's producer. "Foreign artists would rather come in January to avoid Christmas, New Year,'s etc. From now on, we'll have BFF in January, which I think is the best time for everyone."
Toby To, the festival's programme director, adds, "This is my first Fringe Festival, and I am very lucky to be benefited from the inputs from Ms Patravadi and our colleagues. The programming started last year in February so we have some time to spread the news, meeting artists, gathering information, and generating ideas.
"I mainly worked on the programming of international artists, due to my low Thai competency, and our Thai programme director Anurak Praeroj liased on other local programmes like short films and music. It will be very exciting to see artists of different cultures, different art forms, and different experiences to come to Bangkok."
Particularly in the latter part of the year, Bangkok audiences have been to many performing arts festivals. So, what makes BFF stand out from the others?
"The fact that the BFF is located at Patravadi Theatre is a blessing," says Toby. "We have this complex of an open-air theatre, a black box theatre, an arts gallery - all that amidst the setting of Thai gardening. It blends arts, people, and space effortlessly. A lot of artists love to join the festival because of the charm of the theatre. I know a lot of people think the theatre is a bit out of the way. But once they come here they fall in love with the place."
This unique performing arts venue is easily accessed via a three-minute ferry ride across Chao Phya from either Chang or Phra Chan piers. As a traffic-free alternative, take the BTS to Saphan Taksin, then take the Chao Phraya Express to Wang Lang Pier.
Bangkok Fringe is an international festival, but it doesn't ignore local arts. This is evident by the performances of not only the host company, but also another internationally renowned local troupe, the Life Work Company led by Silpathorn Award honoree Pichet Klunchuen. New to this year's festival is "Off Fringe", an opportunity for dance and theatre students to show their budding talents. Selected to join this year is Chulalongkorn University's Dramatic Arts Club's "The Tragedies of Bellies", a satire on contemporary beauty myth performed in Thai with English surtitles, and a prize winner from Bangkok Theatre Festival 2007.
Bangkok Fringe is also multi-disciplinary, with room for music, visual arts and films sharing the spotlight with dance and theatre.
"I hope the dancers will become a little bit more interested in others," says Patravadi. "But we hope to welcome film lovers, art lovers, and all kind of artists to meet at least in the coffee shop. Artists and art lovers should meet and mingle and become friends."
As sharp-eyed Weekend readers who glanced through the schedule printed in last week's edition have notice: it's indeed quite extensive, and you're not going to be able to make it to all the shows. So what are the must-see events?
"Very difficult question," says Toby. "There's always something I like in a week."
His choice is the second week, January 25 to 27, when the Amsterdam-based cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural troupe, Magpie Music Dance Company, performs. "I was caught by their unique energy in working impromptu with live music and dance," he says.
Patravadi fans will want to see tonight's "Osmosis", a multimedia collaboration of the theatre's young acrobat with Canadian musician-director Jerry Snell. There is also "Sang Thong", the "Thai market musical", running every weekend in February. It's a play adapted from a Thai fable, featuring Patravadi Mejudhon herself and Silpathorn honoree Manop Meejamrat.
If you're seeking spiritual solace, try "7 Graces", a solo operatic offering into the aesthetic realms of Goddess Tara by Indian contemporary dance icon Anita Ratnam. Or, there's "Being In or Out", physical theatre about the search of the sense of being that lies within oneself as well as that of the external world by Mobius Strip.
Family fun can be had with "@S", a poetic and fun-filled puppetry theatre, performed in English by Yheppa from Spain.
Rule breakers might appreciate "Wangnin Family" by Wangnin Bumei" or "Magpie Melt Bangkok", an exploration of new ways to create music and dance, with the participation of Thai artists - every show will be different. "Kafka Listening to The Wind" is a a site-specific dance theatre inspired by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's "Hear the Wind Sing". Other recommendations are "All God's Children Can Dance" and "Kafka on the Shore" by Macau's Comuna de Pedra. "BSP08" is an organic, physical essence of dance on an empty stage by the Bare Stage Project, comprising eight Hong Kong dancers and choreographers. Or there's "Clytemnestra Invisible", a spectacle of music, movement, speech and silence, inspired by the character of Clytemnestra and dedicated to all the women who remain silent rather than shout out by the Kinitiras Dance Spectacle of Greece.
"The present program cannot be realised without the support of foreign cultural agencies," says Toby. "Ten foreign participants enjoyed support from various agencies like the embassies, arts councils and various foundations. The festival operates on a self-sustaining model and their support is very important to the festival."
Patravadi shares another good piece of news: "We just received an okay for some [financial] support from the Ministry of Culture's Office of Contemporary Arts and Culture. Though not very much, it is much better than last year. They will also support the arts market. Finally, our organisation is being recognised by a Thai government agency."
Lastly, Patravadi sums up, "Through the festival I would like to open this place for all. Bangkok Fringe is never about making money but for people to get to know each other, locally and internationally. So let's open arms for new friends and support more artists, open more eyes, more hearts, even though there are only a few."
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bangkok Fringe Festival runs from tonight until February 17 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at Patravadi Theatre on Soi Wat Rakang. Tickets are Bt600 for one evening of programmes at Theatre in the Garden, Bt300 for events in the studio, and Bt100 for short films. Music events are free. Students get 50-per-cent discounts. Tickets can be purchased at True Coffee, True Life and True Move shops, as well as at www.weloveshopping.com. For more information, call (02) 412 7287-8 or see www.patravadi