By Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul
Musicals are traditionally based on books, movies, history, folk tales, even the animal kingdom but in a first for Thailand if not the world, coming to the Bangkok stage tomorrow night is one based on a life-coaching workshop.
The brainchild of Dr Cherie Carter-Scott, who is sometimes referred to as the “Mother of Coaching” and a best-selling author, “The Workshop, A Dress Rehearsal for Life!” is having its world premiere at the small hall of the Thailand Cultural Centre.
“Dr Cherie has now than 40 years of experience as a life coach and wrote this musical based on her life and the characters she encountered in her profession,” says stage director and lyricist Napisi Reyes, who also wrote the musical book.
“It is totally different from other musicals. I have seen many Broadway musicals about athletes, actors and even singers but none about a therapist. That alone makes it an interesting, challenging and rewarding experience.”
“Dr Cherie dreamt of producing a musical relating to her career and was able to do so almost on her own as she has a talent for writing songs and the script,” she continues.
Napisi was approached late last year by Stefan Paul Sanchez, an opera singer and producer who lives in Thailand. She is responsible for performance, direction and concept, while Sanchez serves as producer and artistic director and Darren Royston is the choreographer.
“It’s been a challenge as it’s a new story without any reference, so we had first to determine the direction we should take and how it could be staged. It was also important to find performers who could create and understand their characters by themselves, without any references. Not many Thais know what life coaching is and how it works. Dr Cherie took us to see her coaching method and that helped us understand. It’s really about psychology but is completely different from psychiatry where the patient is helped to make decisions. A life coach has a set of questions and the patient has to understand and unlock the problem by himself. It isn’t therapy but a guide. Anyone coming to see the musical will be able to observe how Randi, the life coach and workshop leader, guides the participants,” she says.
The mainly Thai performers must communicate in English language.
Dr Cherie wrote the play with her sister, Lynn, so that larger audiences could share this human experience. The characters in the play are everyday people who face the same challenges in contemporary society as many of us do – boundary management, being overweight and/or overworked, abuse, discrimination and communication breakdowns.
The workshop participants are made up of 11 individuals of diverse ethnicity, occupation and sexual preference. All have individual challenges and are seeking solutions. Their stories are funny, sad and moving and told through more than 17 songs written by Dr Cherie and set to a diverse range of genres – classical, gospel, Western country, even a German beer song. Every character has his/her own special song, which defines and differentiates them.
Remarkably, the English-language musical is performed by an mainly Thai cast. Pete Pol plays the transgender Venda, Janya Thanasawarngkul is Karen, Nutchapong Asavakarn is Lee, Pavichya Ruengjitsang is Ashley, Pitchaya Kemasingki is Ernie, Woramon Santikarn is Lindsey, Panurut Pongpitakkun is Nigel, Bussayapat Aunchittikul is Randi, Mahannop Panasaratool is Maurice, Sutpatorn Masamran is Reena, Anuttra Kitiyakara Na Ayudhya is Tamara, and Chorlada Suriyayothin is Rose.
“I’m not completely the same as this character as I haven’t yet changed gender. However, I can relate to being bullied as a child. It is my first time performing a musical and it is hard for me to speak English, although I practised hard. My character is rather complex and multilayered. My song ‘Am I this or am I that’ is asking myself what I am really – male or female,” he says.
“Karen is an 40-something overweight woman from Texas who suffers from an eating disorder. Her real problem stems from her father who has never allowed her to be herself. She can’t disobey him but the one thing he can’t control is her eating. Texans are known for eating large dishes and she thought by devouring lots of food, she could conquer her father. And when she’s stressed, eating is what makes her happy,” says Janya.
“I’m fat because of hyperthyroidism but I’m learning to balance my body.
“My song is ‘Metabolically Challenged’, which is about challenging the metabolic system with many temptations such as sweets and ice cream. As Stefan says, it’s strange that all 11 member of the cast actually have lots in common with the characters they are playing,” she adds.
“I’m Maurice, an American man of colour who works in Hollywood as a film director. His problem is racism, No matter how proficient he is, he doesn’t feel he is accepted. On one occasion, when he drives his Mercedes-Benz to the entrance, a guard asks him who he is picking up. The guard thinks that he is from Uber or Grab. It’s a hard role to play. The reprise of my song ‘Let It Be Me’ emphasises ‘look at me, listen to me,” Mahannop explains.
With such a diversity of characters and problems, what does Napsiri think the audience will take home from the musical?
“First of all, it’s entertaining – there’s drama, a good story, singing and dancing. Our aim is to have the audience members feel that they are part of the workshop and that they are involved rather than just onlookers. The characters develop as the musical unfolds and they solve the problems by themselves. We hope that the musical will bring hope, happiness and comprehension to those who watch it,” she says.
Life’s little challenges
- “The Workshop, A Dress Rehearsal for Life!” is being staged at the small hall of the Thailand Cultural Centre tomorrow and Sunday and from May 29 to June 1.
- Showtime is 7.30pm.
- Tickets priced from Bt800 to Bt2,500 are available at Thai Ticket Major counters. Call (02) 262 3456 or visit www.ThaiTicketMajor.com.