Thai actor, director, dancer and choreographer Sun Tawalwongsri has not only launched a new performing arts space on Bangkok’s Silom Road, but he’s also celebrating the badly under-represented voices of local LGBT artists and audiences by introducing Bangkok to its first Queer Theatre Festival.
He’s been wanting to do something along these lines for a while, he explains, but study commitments meant the plans had to be put on hold.
“I started the Sun Dance Theatre in 2008. At the Bangkok Theatre Festival that year, we created dance, theatre as well as Nang Yai performances. The troupe needed to pause while I went to London for my MPhil studies in drama and theatre [at Royal Holloway University of London].
“I came back in July and one evening, while I was relaxing on Silom Society’s roof watching BTS trains go by, I realise I needed to do something there. I used to frequent this cafe when I was at college though in those days it was called Coffee Society. I talked to Carl, the new owner, and pitched the idea of making it a performing arts space, which he liked.
“The original idea was to make it a dance studio but because I’ve been studying both dance and theatre, I decided to launch it with a theatre festival. Later, we’ll start offering classes in performing arts.”
While Sun is pleased to see that more small studios have opened in Bangkok during his absence, among them Creative Industries on the second floor of M Theatre and Thong Lor Art Space, he points out that in comparison to other urban centres, the number is still tiny.
“As Bangkok’s population has grown, the interests of its residents have become more diversified and complicated. These are people of the world, not just Thais. I’m particularly interested in this diversity and how we can promote understanding of the diversity of sexual orientation, nationality, religion as well as culture,” he explains.
“Our location near Silom Soi 2 [opposite Silom Complex] is a prime location for nightlife and the LGBT community. And so the Bangkok Queer Theatre Festival was born naturally. At first, I was thinking of using the word ‘Diversity’ but then decided that ‘Queer’ came straighter to the point, and, let’s face it, it’s more marketable too.”
Sun notes that while Bangkok is known as the gay capital of Asia, no support has been given to this sub-culture and queer tourism has never been officially promoted.
“To the LGBT community, it’s quite surprising that this queer theatre festival is a first for Bangkok,” he says.
“Viewing us as marginal is narrow-minded. In fact, when a group of marginal people become stronger, they become a major marketing force. There’s a large number of queer tourists around the world, and they have strong buying power too.
“I’d like the festival audiences to realise that this diversity is not fixed and that ‘queer’ is not gay only’. There are many other gender issues that we’re dealing with and hence the term LGBTIQ, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning. Human beings change and evolve everyday and it’s truly outdated that our gender, nationality, social class or political inclination need to be clearly specified.”
Sun says that in curating this festival he started from looking for dance and theatre artists working on this issue and has invited five directors to present six works.
“While we’re promoting true understanding in the diversity of sexual orientation, it naturally relates to other social, cultural and political issues as well.”
Sun Dance Theatre is holding an open house for the public this Thursday at 7pm. Then starting from Saturday, Bhanbhassa Dhubthien, winner of IATC Thailand’s best directing award last year, will stage “4 Sisters+1″, a reworking of Shogo Tanikawa’s “4 Sisters” seen in early 2010.
Also coming up in the first Bangkok Queer Theatre Festival are 18 Monkeys Dance Theatre’s double-bill, site-specific performances “My Betrayal Is Beautiful” and “Le Funambule”; Sangsan Santimaneerat’s solo performance “TARO: The Little Poodle” and Panuwat Inthawat’s “Drunk”. The festival will close with the highly anticipated return of award-winning actor Wannasak “Kuck” Sirilar in “I Shall Pass”.
The first Bangkok Queer Theatre Festival runs from Thursday to December 15 at Sun Dance Theatre at Silom Society, opposite Silom Complex (BTS: Sala Daeng, MRT: Silom). Performance times vary, contact 088 018 5966 or check https://www.Facebook.com/SunDanceTheatre.
Tickets are Bt600 with one drink.