Jarunun Phantachat from Thailand will collaborate with actors from neighbouring Myanmar to create a new work, “I Say Mingalaba, You Say Goodbye”, which depicts the relationship between the individual, politics, and the state. It will be performed at North Hall, ROHM Theater Kyoto on October 15th and 16th. We interviewed Phantachat prior to the performance.
– I hear you are an active theatre artist but you play different roles, many different roles, you are a performer, director, playwright, producer, and many more. And, obviously you have set-up your company as well with other partners. What has interested you most in theatre or in performing arts, or what drives you to keep making work and getting involved in theatre?
Jaa: I started doing theatre because I wanted to perform. So, being an actress and performer is what I find fun. And I enjoy it, I still enjoy doing it. But because I started working in a group that do a kind of devised theatre, where people can give their own thing in developing the piece, sometimes the director didn’t take my choice, and I wondered why no one talked about what I wanted to talk about or why no one was looking at certain things. So, I started doing directing. Directing and playwriting are my focus right now. I want to tell the stories that I haven’t heard from other people yet.
– In telling the story or presenting this performance, you are focusing on the relationship between Thailand and Myanmar. I think the audience in Japan, or people in Japan generally maybe know about Thailand as a country and its culture, and also about Myanmar and its culture, individually. But probably people are not so aware of what relationship there might be between the two countries. You have already written about this in some parts of your text, but why did you have an interest in this particular relationship between the two countries and what do you think is unique to the relationship of those two countries? I mean, it can be from a personal point of view and doesn’t have to be thoroughly comparative.
Jaa: I grew up in the north of Thailand and it’s quite near to Myanmar. It’s like one and half hours driving by car to the Myanmar border. But I know so little about Myanmar. The only thing I know is that we were fighting, the two countries were fighting with each other, and keep fighting for so many years, like 400 years ago, and it has become like a wounded history. Even at some places on the border of Thailand and Myanmar, they have statues of the great warriors of each country, facing each other, like we are gonna be enemies for centuries, or forever. But outside of the book that you read in school, people are just very friendly and the story of the great kings who fought each other 400 years ago is not related to people in general. In Mae Sai, Chiang Rai, if you go to the market, you can hearpeople speaking in four languages, the Shan language, the Northern Thai Language, the Central Thai Language, Burmese, and also English. It’s like a whole world clinging to one small thing. Because of this kind of relationship we are so close but still feel so far, and I have not really met Burmese artists unless I went abroad. I went to Japan and I met someone, I went to Germany and I met other people, after a while that connection was lost and I started thinking I should go back to Thailand and start talking to artists in Myanmar. When I started thinking about this project, then, I think the coup came first, the coup d’état in Myanmar then Covid, maybe Covid comes first then coup, and then that becomes the whole story.
– You’ve talked about this kind of mixture of culture and language coexisiting. How do you try to make this happen on stage? I think you’ve mentioned in some of the texts you’ve written that you are trying to map out, or you are trying to create a map of the two countries. And also you are talking about history, different types of history. And, in the map, you question the border which was drawn intentionally by people. And then, with all those different elements, how do you have them on stage and then create a performance? What is your plan or ideas at this stage? plan?
Jaa: I think we often remember places with landmarks. In this show, I try to put the landmarks on stage and ask the audience to imagine what it is like, or what it looks like in the map where you are in these two countries that are far from Kyoto. I plan to bring the audience on a tour around significant places in Thailand and in Myanmar. Yeah, we will have a tour, like a guided tour.
– Lastly, you’ve mentioned that your original plan for doing research for the work changed because of Covid and because of the coup in Myanmar, and now you are creating a work in this particular situation and you will be performing this in Kyoto. How do you see, with the current situation in both countries and also globally, how do you hope this work will develop in the future beyond Kyoto?
Jaa: I wish we could perform this in Bangkok in Thailand and I wish we could perform this in Myanmar somewhere, but this is a… I am not sure if it will happen or not. But I hope that this work can develop and allow people to be aware that the political situation in some countries affect people, normal people, and I hope to bring awareness to the situation in Myanmar, to countries at war, and to other countries in which people don’t have much rights and freedom. For the theatre piece, it depends on how I can work with people, like, if I develop this production who will my performers be, who’s in it. I get a lot of influence from them, so that could bring something different.
– Sorry, one more question. Do you have any plans to collaborate with Myanmar artists outside this particular work, or maybe in the future?
Jaa: Not yet, so far, because people I know are still hiding, and some people living in Thailand still have plans to go to other countries. They are not really sure what their lives will be, so it’s not like a plan,but I got some contacts from some NGOs working on the border, to work in the refugee camp, so maybe that’s the thing that I am looking for next.
– Thank you very much. Looking forward to seeing you soon.
*The name of the theater company is B-Floor. Based in Bangkok, the company is made up of various artists involved in theater. Jarunun Phantachat is one of the founders.
*A language spoken mainly in Shan State in northeastern Myanmar. It is said to be similar to Thai.