Interact Thailand for the week of January 17-23, 2016.
A weekly update of the international collaboration between composer Aaron Gabriel (Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts) and the artists at Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development (RICD) as they create new musical theater in the spirit of radical inclusion.
This week in Chiang Mai the weather swung from 98 degrees on Saturday to 49 degrees on Sunday night. Everyone put on layers of sweaters and couldn’t stop talking about how it snowed in Laos. I kept silent, considering my friends back home in MN.
This week also included writing a new song for The Dream Keeper, hiking up a mountain and welcoming Ryan Evans (and friends) from the Wilder Foundation. The Wilder Foundation will be working with Interact Theater in MN this coming year on a variety of agency strategies and other related projects including the translation of the project summaries from Thailand.
On Wednesday, my translator DJ and I took Ryan and his friends for a three-mile hike to the top of Doi Suthep to enjoy Wat Phra That Doi. The hilly terrain was challenging, but ultimately worth every step. The weather was heavenly – sunny and cool.
On Friday, Ryan and Co. visited RICD where the staff provided them with a generous array of Northern Thai foods including keaw gi (roasted sticky rice), ho nin gai (chicken “stew” steamed in banana leaf) and sai ooa (Northern Thia sausage). Breakfast was followed by a tour of the piano building and some shopping at the Mae Rim street market. In the afternoon, Pong and Tan taught them a part of The Dream Keeper theme in Thai and that evening we all enjoyed a traditional kantok dinner. Everyone was very grateful they took the time to visit and explore the programs offered by RICD Drama and Music.
STAFF PROFILES: Meet Gaew!
Gaew is the newest member of the RICD staff and will be directing The Dream Keeper. Originally from Bangkok, she earned a degree in Mass Communications from Kasesart University. Her love of theater began at Kasesart where, each year, her department put on an original large-scale theatrical production. Over her four years, she performed a variety of roles and eventually began directing. In her final year she worked at a television station as an assistant director, but decided she preferred the theater.
After university, she became a company member at Moradokmai Theater in Bangkok. Moradokmai is a Buddhist theater focussed on social action. It’s director, Khru Chang, is a well-known Thai theater-maker who uses both traditional Thai and non-traditional forms to create original work – often used in educational environments to illuminate marginalized rural perspectives. Gaew’s experience with Khru Chang helped her “study how theater can change people’s behavior – in the actor and the audience.”
When asked about her new role at RICD, she responded “I’m very excited use the skills I’ve learned to help a disadvantaged group of people gain the ability to better communicate their stories. I have taught theater to typical actors for a long time and see the opportunity to work with disabled performers as the ideal challenge.”
THE DREAM KEEPER
Progress continues to be made every day. Like in the U.S., all the staff artists have several jobs so I a lot remains in flux. Admittedly, there are times I get confused as to whom I should be collaborating with, but it all works out in the end. I have found it’s best to always have a back-up plan so if everyone has suddenly gone missing, I can work on Plan B.
In The Dream Keeper, a magical spirit called visits young people who are struggling to figure out what dreams mean and why they are important. Each person’s case is different: sometimes he gives dreams, sometimes he takes dreams away, sometimes he explains what a dream means and sometimes he creates confusion.
This week we worked on a section of the show where a young man with cerebral palsy struggles with his dream of being a musician. He loves the sounds of the trumpet and guitar and piano, but his muscles won’t allow him to play an instrument. The situation is made worse by the fact that his father is a famous conductor and is disappointed with his disabled son.
When the Dream Keeper visits, he tells the young man that the answer is “right in front of his face” but then the Dream Keeper disappears. With this information, the students, staff and I composed a fun song in which the young man interacts with an orchestra – almost like his conductor father would. In the end, the young man remains frustrated that the Dream Keeper didn’t fully answer his question and decides to go on a quest for the answer.
Last Saturday I returned to Dulabhatorn Foundation where I lead a community-driven song creation session. The students chose to write a song about dancing. We only had an hour-and-a-half, but they reached their goal with enthusiasm. The Dulabhatorn staff then wrote some fun guitar chords and the students were able to dance and sing their way out the door. You can listen Dancing Kids by clicking here.
The staff mentioned they thought the song would be perfect as an anthem for their summer camp program starting in March, but I challenged them to keep writing and refining. A lot of the melodies they used were from modern pop songs or well-known folk songs – which is fine – but I challenged the staff to help the students write songs exploring their own melodies and styles. If only we had more time! Hopefully, they feel empowered to experiment more with some community-driven techniques.
Of course, more delicious food was et this week including some of my old favorites. The food at the kantok dinner was excellent and, because the owner was muslim, we ate things like naem gai (sour chicken) instead of naem moo (sour pork). Maem gai was equally good in my opinion although couldn’t help but wonder what my American friends would think of raw chicken left out to ferment for three days. One of my favorite discoveries of this trip is that they now have sour pork with the chilies and ginger available at the Seven-Eleven up the street.