Theatre is thriving around the globe, and as our world grows smaller we want to expose the art beyond Broadway and the West End. This time, we are exploring an exciting production of The Amen Corner in a place far from the setting of Harlem, New York.
Destination: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is situated near the mountainous northern region of Thailand, a little over 400 miles from Bangkok and boasting a greater metropolitan population of almost one million. The city has a rich history of culture and entertainment and much of the established Northern Thai shows are cabarets and traditional dances, including sword dances and drum performances. But the past fifteen years have seen the introduction of English-language theatres to the city of Chiang Mai, and among them are Daylight Productions, The Actor Factory, and Dark Horse Theatre (who is producing Jen Silverman’s The Moors this December). In addition to these independent groups, The Chiang Mai International School has been a consistent K-12 producer of English-language shows including A Few Good Men, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and Sightings and High Tide.
Theatre: The Gate Theater
The Gate Theatre, founded by Stephan Turner, began producing shows twelve years ago. “When I arrived in Chiang Mai in 2006 there was no English-language theatre being performed outside of Bangkok… I was teaching English at a private school, so I enlisted the help of three other teachers and formed The Gate, the first English-language theatre group Chiang Mai had ever known.” The group produced The Dodo Bird by Emanuel Fried as their first production and are planning an anniversary presentation this fall.
After a year or two, Stephan’s partners had moved on to other countries or back home. But he stayed and continued with productions of Blithe Spirit, Steel Magnolias, and The Odd Couple, to name a few.
Production: The Amen Corner by James Baldwin
The Amen Corner is about a Harlem pastor who faces expulsion by her congregation when her estranged husband returns, exposing her own religious hypocrisy. “I tend to like slice-of-life drama with well-drawn out characters and The Amen Corner is such a play,” said Turner. “Those who came to see [it] were very appreciative because it was easy to follow. The play moves between three locations over the course of about eight days. In addition, the music and movement that happens in a sanctified African-American church is something that most Thais are unfamiliar with and I believed that helped to hold people’s attention.”
The production found success that was bolstered by the company’s longevity and strong audience among the small pool of English Language speakers in Northern Thailand. One reviewer called the production “stirring and spirited,” noting Turner’s strong direction. “Our audience is comprised of mostly foreigners who live in Chiang Mai, tourists, and Thais who are fluent in English,” said Turner. “The Thais make up the smallest percentage of any group who come to see English- language theatre. However, I am working to improve upon this by joining forces with a local university professor on Thai mythology translation. Next season I hope to have a crossover piece that will attract both the Thai audience and foreigners alike.”
The Gate Theater is now preparing for the first annual Chiang Mai Fringe Festival through a partnership with the EXIT Theater in San Francisco and a season featuring the plays An Inspector Calls and Harvey. And if you’re planning to be in Chiang Mai for a trip or extended stay?
“If anyone reading this is interested in traveling and performing in Thailand there are some interesting possibilities on the horizon,” said Turner. “I am working on a study abroad program between The Gate and other interested learning institutions in the US. The opportunity to come here and experience the Buddhist culture, study the language, and then take a workshop and perform with The Gate or are all possibilities. Anyone who might be interested can contact me at email@example.com”
photo: Emma Carroll