Monday, February 16, 2009

No more silence

A run through of the new play for Culture Ministry officials held this week
Breaking the Silence is the latest offering from Amrita Performing Arts here in Phnom Penh and will be performed on Saturday and Sunday, 21 and 22 February at the Exhibition Hall, opposite the new Parliament Building on Sisowath Quay. This new work incorporates theater, poetry, music and dance based on memories recounted during interviews conducted with a wide range of Cambodians who lived during the Khmer Rouge regime. Veteran Dutch director Annemarie Prins, who staged the successful 3 Years, 8 Months and 20 Days play, will return to stage the play which will then tour the Cambodian provinces, reaching out to those of whom the work is about. The performance will feature the same three actresses Kauv Sotheary, Morm Sokly and Chhon Sina from the 3 Years play as well as a musician, singer, dancer and three young Cambodian visual artists who will create the scenic elements. It will be in Khmer with English subtitles.
The Amrita Performing Arts nonprofit organization was formed in July 2003 as part of the revival and preservation of Cambodian traditional performing arts. Based in Phnom Penh, they have continued to develop their repertoire whilst expanding it to include contemporary expression in dance, theater and music. Many of the artists involved with Amrita's projects come from the University of Fine Arts - both students and teachers and the three actresses who will take part in the play are all at the University. To read more about the activities of Amrita, click on: APA. To read a blog about the play, not all in English, click here.

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Anonymous Fer Smidt said...

Dear Andy,
Thank you for the great text on your blog.
All the text are in Dutch and English!
Hope to see you Saturday.

Fer Smidt
(coach of the visual artists)

February 16, 2009 at 3:31 PM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...


MAGAZINE: Searching for the Truth

“Breaking the Silence” Confronts Cambodia ’s Past Artistically

Dacil Q. Keo, PhD Student at University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

Art can be a powerful tool to help victims to cope with seemingly irreconcilable pain and trauma, especially when other means are unavailable. In Cambodia where millions experienced four years of brutality and subhuman conditions under the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979, there are less than 30 psychiatrists in the country. Victims have lived knowing, in some cases nearby, their perpetrators for over two decades. Legal justice, with all its necessary and unnecessary complications, finally emerged in the form of the Khmer Rouge tribunal only recently. Its mission is to prosecute less than ten senior leaders, but what mechanisms will address the thousands of perpetrators who actually committed the atrocities and the victims who know their faces? Play director Annemarie Prins believes that art may be part of the answer. She hopes that her play, “Breaking the Silence,” will help foster an “open dialogue as part of the process of reconciliation” in Cambodia .

Prins’ entry into such plays began four years ago at the Royal University of Fine Arts where she lectured at a workshop. She exposed and intrigued the participants there to western contemporary theatre. During the course of the two week workshop, several participants opened up to Prins about what they had suffered during the genocide. These stories became the basis for Prins’ first play called, “3 Years, 8 Months, and 20 Days,” a title referring to the exact number of days in which the Khmer Rouge regime was in power. Her second play, produced by Amrita Performing Arts, expands upon the themes and issues addressed in the first, incorporating its survival stories with the added complexities of present-day coping measures.

“Breaking the Silence” is a play of seven stories of troubled relationships between survivors- both victims and perpetrators, of the Khmer Rouge regime. It is a humble yet compelling endeavor created to break the silence surrounding Cambodia ’s traumatic past, hence the play’s name. The stories are acted by four female students from the Secondary School of Fine Arts who will play both male and female roles. The issues addressed are raw and sincere, supported with heartbreaking song, poetry, and dance.

In one story, a former Khmer Rouge cadre grapples with guilt and seeks forgiveness from his mother, whom he meets on Saturdays at the market but does not talk to. When they finally exchange words, the mother responds, “It will never be the same, it will never be the same, my son.” Another story involves two former child soldiers who cope differently with their past. One is full of remorse and travels to a prison site where killing and torture took place, to ask for forgiveness. The other, still defending his actions during the day, succumbs to nightmares when he sleeps. A third story centers around a man who came close to avenging the death of his father and at present is caught between Buddhist teachings of karma and personal anguish. The other four stories illustrate similar conflicting emotions between survivors and within survivors; individual coping measures vary among the individuals. All stories share the theme of silence, in the form of denial, empty communication, or the inability to speak. This theme of silence is ubiquitous and loud, and certain to reflect the sentiments and thoughts of the audience.

Prins’ “Breaking the Silence” hopes to reach a wider audience than her first play and there are plans for a nationwide tour. With support from the Royal Embassy of the Netherlands and several organizations, including the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) which provided research and will bring the production to various provinces as part of its outreach activities, this play has the potential make a significant contribution to Cambodia ’s healing process. When silence dominates survivors and the legal system is unreliable, plays such as Prins’ may hold one of the keys to unlocking Cambodia ’s traumatized national psyche and in the process, gradually heal it. Localized mechanisms of dealing with trauma must resonate with the locals, in that regard plays may become an instrumental tool in Cambodia . DC-Cam Director Youk Chhang believes that Prins’ play will “communicate well with the hearts of the villagers” and that such plays are necessary because they help us “to recognize the beauty in the darkness and treasure it.” While some might not agree that there is always beauty in darkness, all can agree that darkness is a part of many of our lives and that beauty can exist in the ways in which honest reflections of darkness are artistically expressed. As the country struggles to overcome its darkness, plays such as Prins’ offers renewed hope in the resilience and strength of Cambodians.

“Breaking the Silence,” which has free admission and English sur-titles, will be performed in Phnom Penh on Feb 21-22 at 6:30pm at the Exhibition Hall. Other scheduled locations include Kampong Cham province, Ampove Prey commune and Tean commune in Kandal province and Angkor Borei commune (in Prey Kabas District) in Takeo province. For more information, please contact Amrita Performing Arts at 023-220-424 or 017-603-459 and 012-974-271. You can also contact DC-Cam’s Sayana Ser at 092-763-272 for more information about performance times and locations.

February 20, 2009 at 9:37 AM  

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