Fri, Jun 13, 2008 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Thai office to use puppets to promote understanding

By Howard Lin  /  CNA , TAIPEI

As Thailand is one of the most popular destinations for Taiwanese tourists and economic cooperation between the two countries continues to bloom, the Thai Trade and Economic Office (TTEO) will launch a program this weekend to promote Thai culture in order to further develop relations.

The TTEO will spend the coming week enhancing the public’s understanding of Thailand by highlighting one aspect of Thai culture: its puppet shows, Wanthanee Viputwongsakul, deputy executive director of the TTEO, told CNA in an interview earlier this week.

Although 427,000 Taiwanese tourists visited Thailand last year and many Taiwanese can say they have seen its historical temples, tasted its cuisine, or even ridden its elephants, they are much less familiar with another treasure of the predominantly Buddhist country — its puppet shows, which have a history of more than a thousand years.

In order to introduce this ancient cultural aspect of Thailand to the public, the TTEO has decided to bring Thailand’s only remaining puppet theater to Taiwan. The theater will give a performance tomorrow.

“The Traditional Thai Puppet Performance” is to be performed by a 19-member puppeteer and musical troupe from the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre at Taipei City Council’s auditorium.

“Thailand and Taiwan have been friends for a long time and we have very close cooperation on economic matters ... The TTEO is promoting culture to help create better understanding between Thailand and Taiwan,” Viputwongsakul said.

The Joe Louis Puppet Theatre Company is the only troupe of Thai theatrical puppeteers in existence and won the best traditional performance prize at the 10th World Festival Puppet Art in Prague, in 2006, Viputwongsakul said.

In ancient Thailand puppet performances were called Hun Luang, or “Royal Puppet.”

Puppet shows first started during the Ayutthaya period, in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were only performed at royal functions and only within the royal palace.

Later, during the reign of King Rama IV, Hun Lek, small puppets, performed Ngiew Jeen, “Chinese Opera,” and the Ramayana, a Hindu story. The Hun Kabok, stick puppets, and Hun Lakorn Lek, traditional Thai small puppets, became open to the public and were performed widely around the country.

“Thai theatrical puppetry is unique because each puppet requires the synchronized efforts of three puppeteers in its manipulation, all of whom appear on stage with the puppet,” Viputwongsakul said.

Puppeteers’ movements are choreographed just as carefully as those of the puppets and are in fact part of the show. When the puppet nods its head, the puppeteers nod theirs. When the puppet looks to the left, so do the puppeteers. Before puppeteers can be trained with the puppets, they must first complete a course in traditional Thai dance.

Puppet performances used to be part of Thailand’s daily life and are suitable for people of all ages, Viputwongsakul said.

“It will be unique for Taiwan,” she said.

As well as the puppet show, a joint painting exhibition featuring memories and impressions of six famous Thai and Taiwanese artists’ trips to Taiwan and Thailand, respectively, is to be held between Wednesday and Sunday next week at the Red House in Taipei. The artwork includes both oil paintings and water-colors.

“It will not only promote cultural exchange and understanding between Taiwan and Thailand, but also show the on-going and multi-dimensional exchanges between Thai people and Taiwanese people,” Viputwongsakul said.

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