Translation of Episode 2: Theatre for the Blind

October 9, 2019

 

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Episode 2 Excerpts

Background (1:33)

Representation and portrayal of and services for people with disabilities in Thai media and the arts

  • TV: people with disabilities in soap operas and TV programs featuring blind-folded celebrities experiencing life as a blind person
  • Dine in the Dark
  • Exhibition: Dialogue in the Dark Thailand
  • Film: Audio description of selected movies in selected cinemas in Thailand
  • Theatre:
    • Konnakhao mime company working with deaf youths and people with other types of disabilities.
    • Dreambox and their recent production of "Nang Fa: The Musical" for people with hearing impairment
    • Charity performances
    • The Performative Art Festival 2019’s program at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) features performances about and by people with disabilities, with productions from Thailand and abroad and collaboration between Thai and international artists.

 “Nil’s Vision” Review (12:25)

Ann: It’s not exactly a traditional play. When I first walked in, I wondered whether it was a play and how they were going to do it, but it turned out not to be so conventional. Nil sat there and told us stories. What stood out for me about this performance is its sincerity. Everything felt real, and I felt everything along with him throughout.

Amitha: Yes, it was so simple. He was friendly and very comfortable onstage. It felt like we were there to just hear a person tell a story. It felt relaxed. I really liked the music. In the beginning, the music isn’t pop. It was composed by these artists, and it reflects Nil’s feelings. And the show alternates between Nil’s talking and the video and the music.

Ann: Yes, the music accompanies the video.

Amitha: I really liked the music in the first half. And I liked the video because I think it’s such a great collaboration between people with no visual impairment and people with visual impairment. There’s a visual element, and there’s talking—use of voice. I like the abstract quality of the videos.

Ann: The videos sometimes begin with images of what Nil is describing and the colors begin to fade, like they represent Nil’s vision.

Amitha: I like how the music represents his experience and emotions and his vision. And his words then make us understand what he was going through.

Ann: Yes, and [his words] weren’t over-the-top or sentimental.

Amitha: Yes, I didn’t feel pity for him. I was just enjoying his story. But in the second half…

Ann: The second half is a bit like a talk show. A friend of Nil’s, Phu, enters. They have this thing every performance where Phu arrives late.

Amitha: That’s when we get to see how Nil uses the phone and what role Phu plays in Nil’s life.

Ann: They’re very close and they have a YouTube channel together. Very sweet.

Amitha: But I feel this second part is unnecessary. The tone is so different from the first half. The first half was abstract and poetic. There was music, and he talked about when he lost his sight completely and how he experienced time in those moments. I really liked that part. And then it stopped. The tone became light and fun. How does he find love? How does he ask a girl out? But it’s cute because the two of them have great chemistry. Phu is funny and sweet. They have no problem being onstage. But I just didn’t understand this sudden shift. Nil used to be able to see a little bit, so why didn’t he talk about memory? Does he miss anything? What can he remember or has it all faded with his sight? I really wanted to know about that. And the issue of time, why didn’t they continue with that till the end? And they played that [memory] game with us […] if they talk about whether we can remember people’s voice, they should also delve into the subject of memory […] So much could be done on video and music with that subject. In the second half, they play “Nothing’s Going to Change My Love for You.” Sure, it’s nice. And they play music very well. It was fun to watch the little music jam, but I was just disappointed that it suddenly became pop.

Ann: I can understand why they took that direction though. If they keep telling the story like in the first half, it might get redundant. So they chose to go in this direction instead to […] include those who may want to see something fun. And Nil has been telling his story for a while, and in the second part, there’s another voice to explain the surrounding context or his obstacles and things he faces, like using the ATM. When Phu helps Nil with the ATM, some people think that he’s a thief. It shows what society thinks of Nil and his friend who tries to help him.

Amitha: I understand, but I just think that aesthetically it can go further. I don’t feel like it was bad because it was so cute. I just felt disappointed that they didn’t push the piece far enough aesthetically.

Ann: Another thing that I like is at the end Khun Nil talks about his dreams. It was so sweet. It was very touching. He dreams of opening a music-therapy school and dreams of forming a big band with blind musicians.

Amitha: I really like that part too. And one thing I was interested in and never thought of because I had always assumed that blind people had really good ears for music […] but Nil says that he has to memorize music. If he’s playing with an orchestra, can you imagine? […] People think that [blind people] have this advantage, but it’s actually not an advantage […]

Ann: Nil also says that his teachers and friends have to play the music for him repeatedly. I feel it’s the generosity of the people around him. They always help each other out […]

Amitha: This is my favorite of the three plays we’re reviewing today. It’s sincere. It has its flaws, but overall, I found it to be the most impressive one [among the three]. It’s the only play I would see again.

Ann: I like it, too, but another problem I had was, I wanted to know why he was interested in saxophone. The performance didn’t answer that question. Why saxophone? Why not another instrument? Why music? When did he start getting interested in music? We have no idea […] And I also don’t know how hard it was for him to reach this point in his life. We see that it’s hard for him to rehearse, but what about his path?

“Sunny Side Up—A Smellable Performance” Review (27:06)

Ann: I like the idea of the piece. The title, “Sunny Side Up”—upside down […] It’s like, “Let’s switch roles,” Ploy and Sunny swap roles. Now you play a blind person, and you play a person with bipolar. It plays with this theme throughout. The image of the sky is painted on the floor of the stage, where there are these braille blocks. I think it’s interesting that they play with this idea of upside down, let’s switch roles, I play you, and you play me so that we can see things from the other’s perspective—walking in someone else’s shoes. It’s as if they’re asking the audience to think about what it would be like to be in their situation. I think it shows us the perspectives of people whom we might not know much about.

Amitha: I agree with everything you just said. Another thing I like is it opens up the definition of “normal.” For Ploy, who’s been blind since birth, [blindness] is what’s normal for her. In the director’s note, Satang says that this is not about pity. It’s about normal people. For Ploy, since she’s blind since birth, not seeing is normal. As for Sunny, she’s had bipolar for so long that it’s become part of her […] because she’s lived with it for so long. It also opens up the definition of “disability” […] I once read an article about a woman, who, if I remember correctly, was blind […] But she’s a frequent traveler, and she says that she’s an experienced traveler, so she knows when to ask for help, how, and from whom. It’s become easy for her. She knows what to do. And one day, she was sitting next to a person who was an inexperienced traveler and was afraid of flying. And it seemed this person was not disabled […] but he was so afraid. And the way I read it was that [his] fear became a disability, you know how some people become so afraid of something that they can’t function. And the woman, as an experienced traveler, was able to calm that passenger down. She was a person with disability with enough experience to help another person who may have another form of disability […] so I think that the show opens up this definition.

Ann: Another thing I liked is the fried salted eggs smell. It smelled so good […] During the performance, they also passed around dried squid.

Amitha: There was also scent design by Nose Story, or Chalida Kunalai. In some parts, there were perfume smells.

Ann: I like that it’s accessible to everyone. There are surtitles in Thai and English. I think this is very considerate of [different needs]. Another thing that’s good, and not so good, is that everything is narrated, in the dialogue, sometimes to the point of being too long […] And there’re so many words of wisdom […] and they make fun of that a bit. I think it would work as a book. Their writing is more suited for reading […]

Amitha: There’s a scene I really liked, where Sunny talks about researching a character of an elderly woman that she has to play. So she would go to Lumphini Park to see elderly women do tai chi, and Ploy asks her to teach her some tai chi. Sunny then has to explain to her what to do. And I thought it was so interesting to see Ploy following the words of Sunny and not getting the movement exactly right. I thought they could have played more with this—the discrepancy between words and what’s in Ploy’s imagination.

Ann: Since the first scene, when Sunny enters, I didn’t like [her performance]. Maybe I just don’t like that they have her ask the audience questions, but she then answers them herself.

Amitha: I don’t like this style of acting. As soon as she comes on, I shut myself off. I thought, how long is this going to be? An hour and a half? Can I get through this? […] Personally, I don’t like this kind of acting, this “I AM PERFORMING!” It’s not natural at all, even though the script calls for it to be conversational and chatty. Another thing I want to add to the point you made about asking the audience a question without wanting an answer […] I feel there was a fourth-wall problem. Compared to “Nil’s Vision,” I feel “Nil’s Vision” doesn’t have any gimmick, unlike Blind Experience and “Sunny Side Up.” […] Since you’ve already written a show where there’s no fourth wall […] I feel the play was mostly the two of them talking with each other. So where’s the audience in this? I mean, suddenly there’s a smell, that’s not fourth wall. When they’re talking about pork and food, and suddenly somebody [is handing us food.] It’s nice that we get to smell things and taste food, but then do you want this fourth wall or not? I feel it can go further. The scent, for example, it’s perfume-like. It’s nice […] but if they’re talking about the beach, can we get a scent that’s more like the beach? I don’t know. I’m not a scent designer. But is that possible? And frying an egg, is there a way of including the audience into the performance more? Can they fry the eggs for everyone? Can we all eat together? Is there a way to bring the audience into the performance more that is more than these gimmicks? To me this is a huge problem. After a while, I was asking myself what was bothering me about the show? It’s the two of them talking just between themselves.

Ann: At a certain point, I felt it was too long. At one moment, I was so tired and just closed my eyes. There was a lot of description and narration. If I closed my eyes, I could still understand. Maybe that was their intention: they wanted the blind to enjoy this and know what’s happening onstage.

Amitha: Then the writing could be edited. I feel it was all over the place. It should be better edited. I just didn’t really enjoy it.

Ann: I like that they presented the stereotypes and the traditional way of thinking about blind people and bipolar people. It’s especially clear when it comes to blind people. Like when they make paper garlands for Ploy for every time she does something that ordinary human being can do, like when she can dress herself, and people are like, “So talented!” And when they make that bigger onstage, it helps people with this mentality understand what people [with this disability] have to deal with on a daily basis.

“A Tale from Fireflies” Review (47:45)

Amitha: The quality of the production is very high. The script was well-written. It made me cry […] It was really sad. It’s not as sad as “Grave of the Fireflies,” but it’s still sad and touching. It’s more moving than “Grave of the Fireflies” because “Grave of the Fireflies” just gets more and more depressing. This one, you still can be moved by its humanity […]

Ann: I think the quality of the production is very high […] I think they’re determined […] The work was carefully crafted. I could tell that they had put a lot of thought into it. [It’s designed to give] everyone in the theatre the same level of experience.

Amitha: Yes, when it’s raining [in the story], we can feel water droplets. In the market scene, we can smell the food […]

Ann: I think many of the actors used their voices really well.

Amitha: Yes, they sang very well. The music was good. All the actors were good. It was practically flawless.

Ann: Personally, I find it a little too sentimental, but it’s understandable since it comes from “Graves of the Fireflies.”

Amitha: But that one is not sentimental. The two [children] in the movie are not such virtuous people. The brother […] has so much pride in himself that it brings ruin on both of them.

Ann: I feel it was too sentimental. Personally, I just don’t like anything sentimental. When there’s a lot of crying, I can’t really stand it. I was moved, but it didn’t make me cry […] It’s just not necessarily my style.

Amitha: I wasn’t as bothered by the sentimentality. But I remember that after half an hour…the show is about two hours long. After the excitement of all these smells and sounds and water droplets was gone, I just felt uncomfortable […] It’s about two children suffering. I just wanted it to be over. I was wondering whether it was going to end like in “Grave of the Fireflies.” It’s a very good movie, but I don’t need to see it again. I was just praying that it wouldn’t end in the same way […] Another thing I [question] is since they call themselves Blind Experience, is this truly every blind person’s experience? When blind people go to the theatre, is storytelling always this way for blind people? It’s not. It can just be about listening to a story. When blind people go to the theatre, should there always be water droplets and smells? That’s just not really true for all theatre productions […] Do theatre productions have to always be 6-D? It’s this company’s gimmick. That’s fine. It will probably continue to be fun, and we’ll probably continue to go see their shows. I just don’t think that it has to keep being this way when it comes to making theatre for the blind. My question is when we do theatre for the blind, does it always have to have gimmicks? What are the limits of this type of theatre? […] Are we making assumptions about the experience of blind people when they [experience art]?

Other Shows Mentioned

1:05:30 “Into the Woods for the Blind,” a university student’s production (2015)

1:11:45 Ann reviews her second experience with “A Tale from Fireflies,” restaged at Samyan Mitrtown (until October 13, 2019)

1:18:00 Peel the Limelight’s “The True History of the Tragic Life and Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in the World” (November 2015)

1:22:30 “Quiet House,” a collaboration between a butoh dancer and a hip hop dancer with disability from Laos (December 6–8, 2019)

1:22:40 “The Little Prince”  by Blind Experience (2020)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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