In what’s a great opportunity for Chiang Mai’s citizens, the ASEAN community and worldwide nations will participate in the Enchanting ASEAN Puppet Festival, to be held at the Centre for the Promotion of Arts and Culture, Chiang Mai University, from 22nd to the 24th February 2013. It’s a collaboration between the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the Ministry of Culture and Chiang Mai University, with the objective of promoting and fostering good relations between the Mekong region countries and the ASEAN community, as well as promoting cultural understanding and learning about techniques, skills, differences in the art of puppet plays – a historical legacy of each country.
The puppeteers will come from nearly all the ASEAN countries - Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. As Thailand is the host, we have the opportunity to showcase our puppeteers from all the regions –including the high-profile puppeteers from the Sema Thai Marionettes and the Joe Louis Theater, both of which have garnered medals both at home and abroad.
The Joe Louis Theater was formerly the dream of Sakorn Yangkhiawsod (‘Joe Louis’), a master of Thailand’s small puppetry art, to have a small puppet theatre, so as to develop and conserve this artistic heritage. His successors are Pisut and Surin Yungkhiawsod who founded the Joe Louis Theatre, first in Nonthaburi, then in the Night Bazaar in the centre of Bangkok. Her late Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra renamed the theatre, The Traditional Thai Puppet Theater (Joe Louis). The theater is now located at the Asiatic Riverfront, in restaurant in which customers can dine and enjoy the puppet show while the main theater is under construction.
Surin tells the story of his effort to keep the Joe Louis Theater in existence. “Any practitioners would want their field of art to be preserved and maintained at its best, but we cannot just stay still and demand help from governmental or private organizations alone. It’s also our duty to cooperate and work hand in hand with them. I myself want to make our troupe a successful organization able to promote and pass on this art form, whilst our employees get regular monthly payments and devote themselves to keeping things going just as in any company.
“I’m also thinking of such projects as involving teaching puppetry to children, creating contests and sending contestants to international stages. We did a project with support from the Ministry of Culture in which we travelled around the country, introducing puppetry to children, to enliven their imaginations. Vietnam is a good example of a country that promotes and preserves traditional puppetry, where the government is fully involved. Whoever visits the country cannot miss the Vietnamese water puppets – whether they go looking for them or not. I’ve been to Vietnam four times, and saw puppet plays each time.
“At the Joe Louis Theater in the Asiatic, every Friday, Saturday, Sunday we put on a variety of performances as we will this coming February. The theater has always had a good response from the public and I’m hoping that the interior design of the new theater will turn out as well as I picture it.”
Surin has toured his puppet plays around the world and seen the similarities and differences of the puppetry of each nation. Asian puppets have common features that are apparent to all, even though our cultures are different. I think if we put in enough effort and have the will to learn, we can create the kind of puppet performances we want.
In the eyes of foreigners, Thai puppetry is a high art form - fine, neat, elaborate and perfectly integrating its dancing, music and craftsmanship. People abroad look at our performances with awe, wondering how we have woven costumes of metallic threads. Thai puppeteers are required to breathe rhythmically and adjust their actions to be in sync and perfectly harmonised with their puppets and those of their fellow performers. Lately we have employed lighting and background to minimize the puppeteers’ actions, thus focussing attention on the puppets themselves
For this coming ASEAN event, the Joe Louis Theater will perform the legendary play ‘Garuda Fighting the Naga’, the story of enmity between two brothers of different mothers, climaxing with the God Narai coming down to pacify the brothers, in the process brining peace and happiness to the human as well as the heavenly realms. It will be a demonstration of a dazzling contemporary art form, in the unique style of the Joe Louis Theater – where, as Surin informed us, “The play conveys the idea that the Thai people all share the same King, like the sons who share the same father. We will proudly present a performance demonstrating the magnificence of the God Narai and the Naga, and I can guarantee there will be beauty!”
*Joe Louis Theater Co., Ltd. - Asiatique The Riverfront, 2194 Charoenkrung Road, Wat Prayakrai District, Bang Kor Laem, Bangkok 10120 THAILAND Tel : 02-108-4400 Website : www.joelouistheatre.com