Parents and toddlers will also enjoy Bangkok’s first full-scale theatre festival for young audiences
Friends who have young children often ask me if there are more international stage performances for their kids to enjoy here other than “Disney on Ice”, which their kids not only look forward to but also dress up for in cartoon character costumes. Now, thanks to Arts on Location and Democrazy Studio who are joining forces in organising the first Bangkok International Children’s Theatre Festival – BICT Fest for short – I can give them a positive answer.
“We’re not saying that what’s available now is neither good nor insufficient; we’re simply offering more alternatives, the contents and creation process of which differ from the mainstream,” says Adjjima Na Patalung, founder and artistic director of Arts on Location and the brains behind the BICT Fest.
“Apart from having an impact on the audience, both children and adults, we’d also like to boost and expand relationships between foreign artists working in children’s theatre and their Thai counterparts. As a result, we hope that their works will reach a wider public and prove that there’s also art in the masses.”
For many years, Adjjima has been dividing her time and creative efforts between Bangkok and London and it was with Theatre Rites in the English capital that her perspectives on children’s theatre underwent a complete change.
“I’d always believed that children’s theatre was only about storytelling and for young audiences only. Then I saw how Theatre Rites would spend two years researching and creating to develop one work and how their adult audiences were affected by the performance as well. And so, Theatre Rites was the first company I put on the programme for BICT Fest and their leader Sue Buckmaster will also conduct a workshop on object-led theatre,” she says.
“I also knew the Portuguese company Companhia de Musica Teatral, which specialises in working for toddlers and their parents. And so, BICT Fest started with two professional companies of high standard from two countries. I then pitched the idea of a BICT Fest to Democrazy Studio’s Pavinee Samakkabutr who instantly jumped on board.”
The festival then asked for and received support from the British Council and the Embassy of Portugal. Meanwhile, the search for other companies from other countries who would match the standard of their curation continued and they found Israel’s Key Theatre.
“We are very grateful to the Embassy of Israel, who originally introduced us to another group, for listening to our proposal and pledging their kind support to bring Key Theatre to the BICT Fest.”
Talking about the BICT Fest’s curatorial scheme, Adjjima says: “Instead of works that directly teach the children the 1-2-3 of how to do things – and our main target is from toddlers to 13 years old – we prefer performances that arouse their curiosity and spark their creativity. We believe that children have high levels of imagination and they can enjoy both complex and abstract works.”
With the Japan Foundation the most active cultural organisation here for many decades, no theatre festival in Thailand would be complete without a work from Japan.
“We were also looking for other genres that audiences here don’t usually associate with children’s theatre and the Japan Foundation Bangkok kindly introduced us to a truly unique performance artist Kaiji Moriyama who works for both children and adult audiences. His solo work ‘Live Bone’ shows the importance as well as the wonder of the human body, and is very different from others in the programme,” she says.
Adjjima and Pavinee have also invited the Indonesian puppet theatre company Paper Moon to perform at the fest. Although better known for their political puppet theatre works for adults, the company recently conducted a workshop with families in Japan and for Bangkok will be holding a five-day ‘Pop-Up Puppet’ workshop with families here. Paper Moon will later perform in the showcase.
“Here too, we’re receiving the support of the Japan Foundation,” she says.
The BICT Fest will also present works by Thai companies, namely Kid Jam, Wandering Moon and B-Floor.
Adjjima explains, “Wandering Moon’s ‘The Yellow O’ is a special performance which Monthatip Suksopha and Sujittra Prasert co-created with deaf and autistic children as the shadow puppet artists tried to find best ways to communicate with them. On a related note, British dramatherapist Sue Jennings will hold a workshop which autistic children can also attend.”
And of course the choice of B-Floor, who’s more renowned for their physical and political theatre works, may raise many eyebrows.
Adjjima says, “They presented this object theatre work ‘Yoo Dee’ in Japan last year and so they’ll present it here at the BACC Library.”
In addition to the performances, almost all of which have no spoken dialogue, BICT Fest aims to do much more than entertain as they’re organising workshops, for parents and children and even toddlers, teachers and professional artists. There’s also an academic forum, exploring how arts and theatre can regain leading roles in Thai educational institutes, led by leading children’s theatre scholar and practitioner Panida Thapanangkoon from Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand.
Most events will take place at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, which is fully supporting this festival.
Unfortunately, like a number of projects initiated by contemporary theatre artists and not by government agencies here, BICT Fest’s request for funding has been turned down by the Culture Ministry’s Office of Contemporary Arts and Culture and therefore needs public support through the IndieGoGo crowdfunding website.
“Despite the immense support from foreign cultural institutions and embassies, we are still waiting for answers from many corporations. Anyhow, we have to go forward full-throttle even if we don’t reach our target in IndieGoGo. We strongly believe that BICT Fest is important and that our society needs it,” Adjjima says.
Indeed we do.