Thailand 2014 (Newsletters 1-5)

February 8, 2014

About Interact Thailand – Newsletter 1

Since 2010, the RIDC (Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development) in Chiang Mai has hosted Jeanne Calvit and other Twin Cities theater artists to help develop an integrated theater program based on the model created by Interact Theater in Minneapolis.  RIDC is an international hospital that works with hundreds of children from across the disability spectrum.  The effort is coordinated by Dr. Samais from RIDC and Mike Lemming from Chiang Mai University and, over the past four years, has grown from a fledgling idea to a program that has eight full-time staff as well as a support team that provides lunch, medical services and transportation.   This year, the actors in the program had six months of theater training with staff prior to the arrival of the American team.

In the past four years they have raised the money for and are almost finished building a massive multi-purpose hospital that holds two theaters, a hotel and a restaurant.  The building is spectacular although it’s difficult to photograph because you can’t get far enough away to capture a good shot.  Instead, I have a couple photos of the lobby and a view from the piano keys.  (I will keep working on procuring a really good photo.)

About the Show – The Song of Songkran

A prominent part of Thai story-telling revolves around ghosts and spirits.  These stories permeate all aspects of the culture (class, sex, age) and include humorous stories such as Phi-pop who is a spirit that takes a human form and likes to eat people’s innards (we don’t understand why this is funny) or Nang Tani, the spirit of the banana trees who is very sexy and can float through the air.   There are also scary, helpful and inspiring spirits that I will describe in later correspondence.

We have decided to use a Western ghost story  – A Christmas Carol – as a framework to tell some of these Thai ghost stories in a fun and creative way.  Instead of Christmas we are celebrating the Thai New Year called Songkran.  Thai New Year is during April  (the hottest month in Thailand) and involves a three-day public water fight where everyone soaks each other all day long.  Additionally, people bring handfuls of sand to the temples and build sandcastles to recompense dirt they carried away by their feet during the year.  Also, there are a variety of talent shows with prize-winners throughout the country.

Our miserly Scrooge/Grinch character (official name TBD) hates Songkran and does everything he can to make it fail – trying to shut off the water supply, vacuuming up the sand from the temple, cancelling the talent show.   He is wildly (and humorously) unsuccessful.   He will be visited by three Thai spirits.   While we have yet to determine all three, the “ghost of Christmas present” will be Nang Tani and will be played by one of the staff named Pong – a muscly brutish guy who will be dressed in traditional Thai dress and a Carmen Miranda-style fruit-bowl hat.   His song is called ‘Do You Like My Bananas?’ and includes and island dance number by the entire company.

Meet the Thailand Interactors!

This is Add.  This is his third year in the program.  Add is really a leader among the performers.  He’s the first one to jump up for any exercise.  He commits fully to whatever he’s doing and while he has limited verbal skills, he makes up for it with his dancing.  He loves break-dancing and movement in general.  He recently won an award at the hospital for his general attitude and overwhelming desire to be helpful.  He’s the only one who has won such an award.  He always has a smile on his face, but this week was able to find a neutral face for the first time during exercises and received a lot of applause.

This is Fah.  This is her third year in the program.  Jeanne has been particularly impressed with Fah this year because in prior years she had absolutely no attention span.  She would get up and walk in and out of rehearsal, wouldn’t participate in exercises and had a generally apathetic attitude.  Now, she takes part in everything, has gained a great deal of concentration and is the first one to greet everyone in the morning.  She’s really come out of her shell and has become a great company member.

Both Add and Fah are proof that, if given a chance and the time to grow, artists with disabilities can contribute a great deal to their communities and be inspirations to everyone around them.

Interact Newsletter No. 2 (January 13 – 17, 2014)

About Interact Thailand

This week I’m hoping to help people understand how Interact Thailand came to fruition and introduce you to all the people who helped make it happen. As you will see it’s a mixture of visionary ideas, serendipity, determination and a large helping of generosity. Also, I think it’s important to note that all of this started because someone was changed and moved by the Interact performers in Minneapolis. Interact Thailand great example of how the Interactors in Minneapolis are changing lives every day – even when they don’t it – halfway across the world.

Meet Doctor Samai!

Doctor Samai is the Director of RIDC (Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development) in Chiang Mai. One of Dr. Samai’s primary responsibilities is the research and implementation of new programs and technology that will help the development and growth of people with disabilities or those undergoing rehabilitation.

“Why is Interact Thailand important to you?”

In Thailand, we have taken several steps to promote the development of our citizens with disabilities. In the past we’ve use the term ‘force’ in regard to people’s improvement. Then, we progressed to providing ‘choices’ to help them. But there needs to be more. We must ‘inspire’. The Interact Thailand program allows us to do that. It inspires the participants while they inspire others. At the same time, we’ve noticed it simultaneously develops their social skills and learning skills while increasing their motivation.

“What are your goals for Interact Thailand?”

When we started, we tried a drama and music program with the staff at the hospital, but it became clear (with Jeanne’s guidance) that we needed more specialized artists focused in that area specifically. Over the past four years we have continued to add staff in order to grow the program. Eventually we hope the program will go year-round like Interact in Minneapolis.

It is my dream that our program will become more radically inclusive and include children and parents from throughout the hospital, not just those with disabilities. Once we have established the program in Chiang Mai we hope to replicate the Interact Thailand model in other hospitals throughout Thailand and Asia.

Meet the Lemings!

For many years, both Ann and Mike Leming have been professors at St. Olaf College in Northfield. They currently split their time between Minnesota and Chiang Mai.

In 2001, Mike and Ann co-founded Spring Semester in Thailand ( – a program that encourages students from across the United States to study in Thailand for a semester. In past years, part of the students’ experience includes work at Baan Sanook (the Happy House) which a center for adults with disabilities. At Baan Sanook the client artists do Thai weavings they can sell to support themselves.

In 2002, Interact toured to St. Olaf where Ann was teaching a course on children with disabilities. Ann was inspired by the Interact performers and started using Interact’s promotional video as a resource for her class. Six years later, Ann finally met Jeanne at an Interact art show at the University of MN.

Ann instantly saw the connection between Interact and Baan Sanook. Then in 2009, Ann and Michael came to Northern Lights Southern Cross and decided they’d like to explore building an Interact program in Thailand. Ann introduced Jeanne to Mike and within a month Jeanne was in Thailand doing a workshop. “No grass grows under their feet,” Ann said when I interviewed them.

Another part of the students’ experience from Spring Semester in Thailand was to work with Dr. Samai and the staff at RICD so the Lemings included him in the initial planning. Once Dr. Samai heard about the program and Jeanne’s initial visit, he provided space and connections with professional theater artists.

Four years later, students from Spring Semester in Thailand (both from this year AND years past) are participating in the Interact Thailand performances (as are the Lemings themselves)!

About the Show – A Song of Songkran

This week, three new songs were written for the show: My Heart Will Never Break Again (a duet between young ‘Scrooge’ – we still haven’t found a Thai name – and old ‘Scrooge’), Songkran! Songkran! (a chorus number written by Interact Thailand’s music director and choreographer, Pong and Bam) and The Silver Lining to the Cloud (the closing number). They are in both Thai and English – a huge and exciting challenge. For fun, I have included the English lyrics to The Silver Lining to the Cloud below.

Ning Nong (our ‘Scrooge’) character has really embraced his role. We have a created a scene where everyone is begging for money and he turns them down. Bah Humbug! The real challenge is to get everyone to stop laughing because Ning Nong is one of the nicest people in the world and he REALLY gets into his curmudgeonly character.

In our production “Marley’s Ghost” has taken form of a frog and is played by an actor named Tom. Tom has such incredible muscle control he can stay crouched like a frog for what seems like an eternity and then bounce around – he really looks like a frog. When he croaks he says “Op, Op, Op” – the Thai word for GREED (thank you, Kevin Kling for another brilliant idea.) This moment is evidently really funny for the younger actors. They laugh a lot while we’re rehearsing.

We have developed about five scenes all of which are full of energy and sanook (joy). Much like the staff in the U.S., the staff here is in charge of energizing people when things get tedious. They run around doing a thousand jobs at once and work endless hours. Like at Interact in Minneapolis, you can tell the staff wants the show to be the best it can possibly so that the audience is truly awed by what the actors with disabilities can do. And just like at home, the staff performs side-by-side with the Interactors – blurring the lines between who is disabled and who isn’t. Sometimes, the lines become invisible.

Meet the Thailand Interactors!

Meet Fluke! Fluke is playing the “Tiny Tim” character. He has been a performer for over four years and is a particularly good singer. The singing helps strengthen his diaphragm – a muscle that is underdeveloped because of his cerebral palsy and being in a wheelchair. “I’m very excited to work with Interact Thailand and I’d like to keep performing… but only if in the future I can play the villain!” (NOTE: Fluke’s dad is Ning Nong… our ‘Scrooge’ character.)

Meet Riang! This is her first performance – a surprise since she is an incredibly expressive singer and fantastic actor. She loves playing the role of the workhouse boss because finally gets the chance to bark orders at people and command a room. Unlike some of the other Thai actors, she is unafraid to be loud. In fact, she’s almost as loud as me (which is saying something). When I asked her why she is so confident vocally she said: “Because my body doesn’t work 100 percent, I need to put EVERYTHING into my voice.”

from ‘A Song of Sanook’

We have many different smiles
We have many different names
We have many different styles
We have many different ways of making a difference
of making a change

To be a better mother
To be a better son
To be a better partner
To always be the one a friend can turn to when they’re down
when there’s no one else around

We are the past
We are the now
We are the future
We are who and why and how

We are dreamers and believers
We are leaders, we are clowns
We are the music-makers
The silver lining to the cloud

We have many different angles
We have many different roles
We have many different challenges
And many different goals when making a difference
when making a change

To be the better father
To be a better friend
To be a better neighbor
To be a shoulder when you’re feeling empty and alone
no place to call your own

We are the past
We are the now
We are the future
We are who and why and how

We are dreamers and believers
We are leaders we are clowns
We are the music-makers
The silver lining to the clouds

Yesterday, today
Tomorrow and beyond
Every path is walk-able
If we navigate with love

Copyright 2014
Aaron Gabriel Music
All rights reserved

Newsletter No. 3 (January 27-31, 2014)

About Interact Thailand

Meet Ning Nong and Tan!

Ning Nong and Tan used to live in Songkla (Southern Thailand) and would commute 3000 kilometers so their son Fluke (who has cerebral palsy) could take part in the different therapies offered by RICD.  Eight years ago, they decided to give up very profitable jobs, their home and their family to move to Chiang Mai so Fluke could have more therapy.  In Chiang Mai, they found it difficult to find work because of language differences (they speak two very different types of Thai in Northern and Southern Thailand) so they sold cookies at street markets to earn a meager living.  Still, they say, it was worth it because of the improvement they saw in Fluke.

During this time, Tan became quite depressed because she felt she couldn’t provide for her children.  One day she began writing and channeled her sadness into poems and essays about the world of disability.   She then presented her writings to Dr. Samaii who was very impressed and decided to help her and her family.  He gave her a job in the laundry room and Fluke was able to be in programming while she worked.

In 2012 Fluke participated in the Interact Thailand production.  It was during this time they noticed major improvements in Fluke’s progress.  Ning Nong began to volunteer with the program while Tan worked at the hospital.  Ning Nong’s energy, creativity and commitment to son and other performers was so palpable, Jeanne not only used Ning Nong in the performance, she recommended Ning Nong work in the music and theater therapy program.  Now, thanks to their incredible dedication to betterment of their son, both Ning Nong and Tan have become primary staff for the Interact Thailand program and work  for six months prior teaching theater and music.

They are so impressed with the tangible progress of those in the program, they hope the program can grow.  Along with becoming more confident performers, everyone involved has grown exponentially in focus, concentration, muscle-memory and social skills.

‘And most importantly, we have all grown spiritually – both our children and us.”

About the Show – A Song of Songkran

This week we started blocking (a theater term for ‘staging’) the show and working out the transitions between the musical numbers and scenes.  There are many funny charaters including a devious maid (played by Ginsane, pictured below) who manipulates Scrooge a lot and a group of silly spirits that show Scrooge the light.

The song Songkran, Songkran has now been choreographed in three different ways for three different scenes in three different musical styles.  Musical assistants Pong and Bam have really done a lot of great work and have been a pleasure to work with.

At this point, all the songs have been written and include Songkran! Sonkran!, The Golden Babies Rhyme, Do You Like my Bananas?, Ya Ya’s Lullabye and The Silver Lining to the Cloud.  Below, I have included the English translation of Songkran!  Songkran! for you to read.  I hope it helps illuminate some of the traditions associated with this celebration (Thai New Year).

I caught a picture of Ning Nong (our ‘Scrooge’ who is featured above) rehearsing his part with his son Fluke (featured last week) while Fluke played the other parts, coached him and laughed with his dad.  It was very moving.

Meet the Thailand Interactors!

Meet Gadesine!

She been participating in the Interact Thailand program for the three years.  She loves acting  – especially comedic acting.  Her favorite moment from the current show is the part where Young Scrooge and his girlfriend get engaged.  Gadesine is very excited about the future of the Interact Thailand program and is specifically interested in portraying a squid or other sea life at some point.

In our production Gadesine plays Scrooge’s Maid and the Spirit of Songkran Future.

This is Aomsing!

This is Aomsing’s fourth year in the program.  He loves to sing and try out his English (he’s a very good mimic.)   He sings a lot in the show and plays the Good Golden Baby.

He also loves that everyone is creating a show where he can celebrate Songkran everyday.


from ‘A Song of Sanook’


Songkran! Songrkan! Spread your joy across our land

Songkran! Songkran! Join us together hand-in-hand

Songkran! Songkran! Watch all the people play

Songkran! Songkran! The water helps us celebrate

Songkran! Songkran! Grandpa, Grandma gather near

Atone! Atone! To all the generations here

Songkran! Songkran! Come to the temple! Come to pray!

Come one, come all for it’s pagoda-building day

[A singer does Thai yodeling]

Copyright 2014

Aaron Gabriel Music

All rights reserved

Interact Thailand Newsletter No. 4 (January 3-7, 2014)

Only one more week until we open!  I’m warning you now, next week’s blog might be a little late!  I’ll most likely post AFTER the show so I can include information about that.  This week, my friend and colleague Kevin Kling has made a generous contribution to the blog.  Thanks, Kevin!  Enjoy!

About Interact Thailand

Meet Kung!

Kung is the Project Manager for Interact Thailand.  She has many roles including finding and hiring staff and performers, managing the evaluative paperwork for everyone (a huge job) and writing the final reports for each performer and staff member (a 300+ page bound book of our project.)  NOTE FOR THE INTERACT MINNEAPOLIS CREW:  She’s like a combination of Karen Prince, Jackie Nelson and Lori Leavitt – that’s right, she does the marketing as well.

Kung was asked to manage the project by Dr. Samai because she has two degrees in nursing science and currently getting her PhD in Media Arts.  She specializes in how film and the creative arts can change people’s perceptions.

“In Thailand, people with disabilities are often isolated in their homes or in their own disability community and here, at Interact Thailand, everyone is mixed.  Everyone must have social contact and create relationships whether they are disabled or not.

“Most ‘typical’ people attending our performances believe people with disabilities don’t contribute to society.  The performances allow for a change in their perception and give them an opportunity to see the performers abilities for the first time.

“Interact Thailand is good for everyone: staff, performers, parents, community and international relations.  My biggest hope for the future is that, as the production values (lights, sets, costumes, etc.) of the project grow so does the staff.  This includes more specialized staff, more longevity with current staff and better training – ideally at Interact in Minneapolis for certain individuals – for those who need it.”

Meet Bam and Pong! (Or as I keep saying accidentally, “Pam and Bong”)

Bam and Pong are my music assistants and they have been amazing.  They’re very keen, kind and generous and have abundant talent.  It’s been a privilege to work with them.

Bam:  I really enjoy Interact Thailand because everyone on the staff is so cute (except my sister Blue.)  But seriously, it’s very exciting to see the performers grow and smile so much.

Pong: This is my first time writing music, but now I know I can write songs.  I like how we’ve written everything together and changed things to suit the actors.

Bam:  I would like to see everyone staying involved even after the performances are over.  It’s important that we keep rehearsing and working with the performers.

Everyone has so much more energy and is more alive when Interact Thailand is happening.  So often, I look around and everyone is lethargic, but when we’re working on a performance people move and dance and sing.  Take Fai for example:  she’s been completely non-verbal and since being at Interact Thailand she’s finally talking.  It’s so nice to have a program where everything we’re trying to achieve is so inter-connected and tangible.  

Pong:  I hope the program becomes more constant as well.  It’s so good to see the disabled people ‘enter into society’ for the first time.  It’s nice to see ‘typical’ people finally respecting their gifts and what they can contribute.   Plus, it’s nice to have everything in one place.  Normally, everyone has to move around all day – speech therapy, movement therapy, etc – but with Interact Thailand everything is in one place. 

I think we need more programs like Interact Thailand that are therapeutic but don’t feel like therapy and treat more than just the people with disabilities.  Everyone involved grows from the experience.

About the Show – A Song of Songkran

This week on Tuesday, we performed a ‘sneak peak’ of A Song of Songkran for Dr. Samai and a group of 40 specialists from around the world who were here for a conference.  If you can believe it, we performed the show in its entirety (which we wrote and rehearsed in only 12 days) and it went surprisingly well.

Kevin Kling began the show by telling a creation story while Nat translated.  We ran the transitions several times the day before (always a difficult part of the process) and while some were a little slow, the majority went well.  As per Murphy’s Law, it was a non-disabled performer who made the biggest mistake by bringing a bed on three scenes too early.  This gave the Interact Thailand team a good reason to razz him.  All in good fun!

Afterwards Jeanne fielded questions from the specialists who were anxious to learn about our process.   Many places are using theater and music for therapy purposes, but don’t incorporate the idea of radical inclusion.  And none of their program is performative.  We have been approached by several people interested in bringing the Interact model to their parts of the world – India, Myanmar and Vietnam to name a few.

Highlights of the ‘sneak peak’ were the Songkran Dance (choreographed by Bam and Tan,) the 10-minute banana-peeling sequence performance by an actor named Tai (obviously, we may need to truncate this) and FINALLY the participation of little Condo (featured below) and his mother Aye. Condo has really struggled with social skills, focus and participation so it was a relief to see him getting involved and having fun.

After Tuesday, we worked on refining the show and working more people into the songs.  My musical goal is to have Pong play the piano for the show and encourage his music-directing skills.  He will also play guitar.

Writing the songs in English and then translating them to Thai (or vice-versa) has proved to be a difficult task as the language and sense of poetry are so different.  Overall, though, the collaboration has been entirely educational and fulfilling.

We have a group of about four ‘grandmas’ that help out with the show and all have slowly found themselves participating in different scenes.  Today was hilarious because one of the grandmas pressured the other three into learning the Golden Baby Rhyme (a little rap song Bam and Pong wrote.)  It was hilarious to watch them try and rap.  I had to take a quick picture of the ladies we have donned ‘The Grappers’!

Also, in the final scene of the show our ‘Scrooge’ character shows up at the Cratchitt’s to check on Tiny Tim (who he thinks has died.)  When Tiny Tim isn’t there, he panics and begins to cry.  Just then our Tiny – Tim who has cerebral palsy – WALKS out using the walker his dad made him.  Not a dry eye in the place!  I grabbed a picture of that as well.

Below you will find the words to Ya-ya’s Lullabye (Ya-ya is Mrs. Cratchitt.)  She sings this when the Spirit of Songkran Future takes ‘Scrooge’ to visit Tiny Tim on his deathbed.

Meet the Thailand Interactors!

Aye and her son Condo (age 5) became part of the program through Bam.   Aye chose to bring Condo to the program because he has problems interacting socially.  He refuses to play with others and when he’s in a crowd he shows his ‘happiness’ by being violent with other people.

There have been small, but noticeable changes in him since attending Interact Thailand.   He has finally started playing with another little girl, Khim and he’s in two scenes (with his mother) one of which he finds hysterical and laughs throughout – which he’s supposed to do. This is the first time Aye has noticed him cooperating in a group.

Aye has proven an incredible help to the production (and is an excellent actor and rapper.)  Aye knows that there are so many children like Condo that she would like to encourage to be a part of the program.

“Before, he was hitting and hurting himself and now he’s stopped.  Even a small change like that encourages me to move on and keep trying to help Condo.”

From Kevin Kling

Charles Dickens said: A loving heart is the truest wisdom. If that’s the case, and I believe it is, there’s lots of wisdom happening at Interact Thailand.

We’ve had the most amazing time the past few weeks.  The show looks fantastic and easily passed my laughing-and-crying-at-the-same-time test.

On Tuesday, we ran through the play attended by Dr. Samai and an international contingent of health-care professionals. The cast really took it up a notch and the response was huge. The cast and crew deserve major bragging rights (if karma allows for it.)

This staff is unbelievable too:  Mr. Singha, Ning Nong and Dan, Bam, Pong, Blue, Pui, Kong.  The Americans: Jeanne, Christoph and Aaron. Everyone has brought their mighty gifts to the show as well.

I’m getting on a plane tomorrow and am not even trying to fight back the tears that ambush me at the goodbyes. This really feels like a family. The talent and heart in this merry band is on par or exceeds any company I’ve worked with. Where most actors spend years trying to achieve a state of honesty, that’s where this company starts…then the ride begins.

Dickens also said: No one is useless in the world who lightens the burden of it for anyone else.  That little Dickens….

Ya-ya’s Lullabye

My dear darling boy

Rest your sweet head

I have something to say

Before you go to bed


On your journey tonight

Past the clouds, past the sea

Remember my voice

As you fall into sleep

Remember my eyes

The touch of my hand

Remember my smile

Remember our plan:

When you get to heaven

Record what you see

And I’ll hear your stories

When you visit me in my dreams

Copyright 2014

Aaron Gabriel Music

All rights reserved

Thailand Newsletter No 4 (February 3-7, 2014)

About Interact Thailand

This was production week and everyone was so busy.  I was only able to sit down with one of the two people I had hoped to interview this week:  our translator Nat.  

I was also hoping to interview Mr. Singha, the director of the Music and Drama program here, but we ran out of time.

Good news!  Jeanne Calvit, Founder and Artistic Director of the original Interact in Minneapolis has written about her experiences here and her letter can be found below.  I have included as many photos as possible.

Meet Nat!

This was Nat’s first job at RICD and she really hopes she can return as translator next year.  She was so impressed with the staff, the international team and, especially the performers.  She especially enjoyed making new friends from the United States AND Thailand.

“This was a transformative experience.  During the rehearsals, I kept asking myself:  Why am I so emotional all the time?  Why do I want to cry?  It’s because I was so inspired by their courage!

“Listening to little Khim (featured below) shouting out numbers during the warm-ups was amazing!  She would barely ever speak and now she has so much confidence.

“And when Fluke walked out at the end of the show in his walker, you could see his parents eyes fill with hope!  Even though they said he would never walk – they figured out a way!  When Fluke shouts Grandpa Ming!  Grandpa Ming!  It’s me!  I’m walking! I am filled with hope as well.   I hope the audience is, too.

“In the future I hope more people can be involved – more artists, more staff, more of the community and, of course, more audience.”

About the Show: A Song of Songkran

After 5 very intense weeks of writing, workshopping, improving, rehearsing and a brief tech, we opened our show A Song of Songkran and had two performances on Friday and Saturday.  The production was a mad success.  There were many laughs, some tears and a standing ovation.  On Saturday, there were about 50 children at the production and they proved to be a very lively audience.  The especially appreciated the different spirits.  Thai children love to laugh at the Thai spirits, all of whom they know.   I guess that means we did our job.

The staff did an amazing job of playing multiple roles (just like in the United States.)  They were actors, advocates, musicians, costume and make-up experts and props specialists.  It was glorious how everyone came together to make the production work.

Some highlights of the show were: The spontaneous editing of a large group scene because EVERYONE in the entire group forgot to go on (if this doesn’t make one subscribe to the idea of the collective conscious, nothing will;) Both Fluke and Tan (mother and son) crying during the song ‘Ya-ya’s Lullabye’; When the Scrooge character wakes from his dream and asks what day it is and Ginsine said ‘Monday’ (she was supposed to say ‘Songkran’!).

Here are some quotes from various audience members about the production:

I was very sad when it was over.  I wanted it to keep going.  

I didn’t think I would be moved by a show like this, but once [Tan] started singing to her son in the wheelchair, I didn’t stop crying until after everyone bowed.

This show created a miracle.  Bell never says anything out loud but in this show she shouted: “Happy Songkran.  I love my mother!”

The songs were so good.  Is there a way to buy the CD?

Meet the Thailand Interactors

This is Khim.  Her favourite part of the show is dancing in the Songkran scenes.  Khim is very excited to report that she made ten new friends during this process.  She would us to do A Song of Songkran again, but if we do she would like to play a crocodile.

This is Tum.  This is Tum’s first show but he would like to continue performing.  He thought it was important to say that he liked EVERYTHING about the show.  Every scene and every performer.  Everyone was very good.  (But he liked the scene where he plays the Frog Ghost (Marley’s Ghost) the most.)  He would really like it if they could have Interact Thailand every day – all year round.  And in the next show he’d like his spirit to have magic wizardly powers – like Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings.

A Letter from Interact Minneapolis Artistic Director Jeanne Calvit

The timing for Interact Thailand could not be more serendipitous. In 2010, I came to Thailand and did a clown workshop with a number of young people with disabilities. Little did I know that the workshop would lay the groundwork for the creation of Interact Thailand (modeled after the performing arts portion of Interact Minneapolis.) Also, I was excited to discover that Interact Thailand is part of a gigantic push for social change regarding disability all over Asia.

There are an estimated 650 million disabled people in Asia. Most are poor, disadvantaged and experience discrimination. Very few of these people have access to the kind of services that exist in the US and Europe. In 2013 there was a huge conference attended by leaders from all over Asia where it was determined the next decade would be all about expanding inclusion and opportunities for all people with disabilities.  So, the next ten yeas declared the beginning of the “decade of disability” for all of Asia. 

Serendipity struck again two years ago when Ning Nong and Tan (parents of one of our participants Fluke) jumped in to the creative process after observing rehearsals for several weeks. They both showed a lot of leadership and Ning Nong started rehearsing scenes when I was tied up in meetings.  Now he is a leading force for Interact Thailand and has discovered that in helping his son reach his full potential, he has tapped into his own.

This year we had the amazing luck to have Kevin Kling with us to help in script development. He was caught up in the daily joy and magic that happened every day in rehearsals for our play Song of Songkran. Unfortunately he had to leave before the opening of the show, but was so inspired by the work we are doing that he has asked to remain involved 

Next year, Interact Thailand will invite the Royal Princess of Thailand to opening night which will coincide with the grand opening of the new piano building.  The Royal Princess is one of the most beloved leaders of the country. 

Interact Thailand is an example of what can happen when people come together with the belief that creativity is found in every human being and that expressing that creativity is at the heart of what it means to be human.  The goal is that everyone involved in the production feels included and connected – from disabled child to professional to parent and grandparent – and that our connection send ripples of change into the whole community.

Our next adventure will be to hopefully form an international institute for radical inclusion in the arts.  I would love to see an Interact Center on every continent in every country – all spreading our mission of changing society’s perception of disability through the arts.

During our experience here in Thailand I was reminded of two quotes.  Abraham Maslow, the noted psychologist who focused on examining human potential has always been an inspiration for all of my work with the disabled. In a very apt quote he says: “What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.”  Also, Margaret Mead’s famous quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, its the only thing that ever has.”

Author: Aaron Gabriel

Aaron Gabriel most recently composed the scores for Mixed Blood/Footprints Collective’s ‘Vet’s Play Project’, Interact Theater’s ‘Madame Josette’s Naughty and Nice’ and ‘Sugar and Spice’, ‘By the Seat of Our Pants’, ‘Work of Heart’, ‘Hot Jazz at da Funky Butt’, and ‘Madame Majesta’s Miracle Medicine Show’ (for which he won a 2010 Ivey Award); Stages Theater Company’s ‘Starry River of the Sky’ (Spring 2014), ‘Owl Moon’ and ‘Princess Academy’. Aaron has worked with theaters throughout the Twin Cities including Theater Latte Da, Guthrie Theater, Ordway Center for Performing Arts, Illusion Theater, Children’s Theatre Company, Minnesota Opera, Nautilus Music Theater and Chicago Avenue Project. He is currently in Thailand working on music for ‘The Song of Songkran’ for Interact Thailand.


  1. Aaron,

    You make each person you meet feel valuable – and that is a rare gift, my friend. I hope you are doing well, taking care of yourself and getting enough rest. You are amazing.


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