No, not THE Mentor we Singaporeans are more politically familiar with.

“Tua” Pradit Prasartthong (pictured below) is the first overseas mentor that I will be meeting as part of The Directors Lab mentorship grant.

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I knew quite quickly that I would have liked to be mentored by Alvin Tan (The Necessary Stage) and Jeremiah Choy (Orange Dot). I had worked with them on various projects that were significant to my growth as an artist.

However, I had little exposure to practitioners outside of Singapore, and having international mentors was one of the requirements for the proposal.

I didn’t quite know where to begin. So I started first with looking at spaces that were similar to Singapore – specifically in urbanity, the degree of mediation in society and the industrialization of culture. How did the practitioners there work to create in those spaces? What were the challenges similar to Singapore, and how did they address them? I narrowed the spaces down to Bangkok and Hong Kong.

As someone who had little experience with the craft, I felt I needed to look for practitioners whose work and experience could sharpen my articulation as a director. An aesthetic connection to their works or relation to their philosophy of making theatre was also important.

In Bangkok, I found Makhampom Theatre Group. They had formed in 1981, and were less a theatre group than an activist group using community-oriented, educational approaches to theatre. They were formed by an ad-hoc group of teachers, journalists, actors, and dancers. To me, they were a testament of how theatre can create societal intervention, and how the arts can serve as a tool for advocacy.

But one of the group’s driving forces had left. Tua had set up his own theatre company, Anatta Theatre Troupe. Long story short, I sought him out (on Facebook!) and months later, I will be traveling to observe his process on two shows.

Tua works frequently with the Thai improvisational theatre form called Likay. Using this method, he weaves traditional Thai stories or characters into narratives that examines issues relevant to the contemporary audience.

I have an impression that I hope to investigate further: the theatre he uses takes on an epic quality and the epic draws a magnifying glass onto the issues he choose to explore. It honors the traditional forms he borrows and brings the audience into a different space and time, thus creating an alienation effect that gives room for reflection. But with most of the great epics, personal resonance leads to moral reflection, and is not sacrificed for intellectual engagement.

As I prepare for the trip, I feel growing nervousness matched by excitement. The La Mama workshop reminded me the value and importance of cultural exchange, especially in invigorating an artist’s work. While it is not my first time in Bangkok but it will be the first time I’ve had such personal contact with a Thai practitioner, which is great, except I don’t speak a word of Thai. Lol. I am ingratiated that Tua’s English is infinitely better than my Thai, and he has been extremely friendly and accommodating. I hope I can bring something of worth to this exchange.

I leave on Wednesday 18 Sept, 2013. I’ll try to blog frequently when I’m in Bangkok, but if you prefer a more visual medium, you could join me on Instagram @shouchentan 🙂

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The picture of is of Mask Play, to be staged at the Bangkok Arts Centre, 12-22 of Sept, 2013. By Anatta Theatre Troupe and Theatre8x8

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