|Traditional Cambodian theatre
Cambodian theatre is among the oldest in the world, perhaps beginning during the reigns of the Khmer kings of the 9th century. During the first half of the 20th century theatre performances were still deeply rooted in Cambodian society and formed an important part of Cambodia’s cultural heritage. The civil war brought an end to performances and the dispersal of the troupes and even the killing of the artists. A renaissance began in the 1980s, endorsed by UNESCO as essential to the continuity of Khmer performing arts, only possible if old traditions can be preserved as a basis for new creativity.
Kok Thlok troupe
The Kok Thlok theatre company, founded in 2006, comprises a group of independent artists. Currently there are twenty musicians and actors, all passionately committed to maintain and stimulate traditional Khmer theatre. In their first year the group managed to create two new plays and give ten performances.
The goal of Kok Thlok is to establish a permanent troupe in order to make the wealth of Khmer theatre accessible to a broad public in Phnom Penh, in villages and temples, and particularly in the provinces. While funding and suitable venues for urban performances are available – though not without struggle – it is very difficult to find support for rural staging. Given the large percentage of Cambodians who live in the provinces, this is a major challenge, and one that FOKCI has made great efforts to sustain.
Kok Thlok hopes to cooperate with foreign theatres, to tour, or to participate in workshops. The most recent ambitious touring program aimed for 36 performances. The troupe is always trying to visit new regions in order to spread the revival of Cambodia’s theatrical patrimony as widely as possible. Kok Thlok sees its performance ventures as an important contribution to Cambodia’s cultural development.
Friends of Khmer Culture has supported Kok Thlok since 20008 by supplying materials necessary for the performances. This enabled the group to expand their activities, with several performances in the provinces as well as in Phnom Penh, and to create a new play. In 2008 they performed in 21 venues and became quite well known throughout the country, with gratifying mention in newspapers as well as in a broadcast by Voice of America on October 17th.
Kok Thlok has created a lively website (www.kokthloktheatre.org), which includes videos of their performances with subtitles in English and Khmer. As well as aiming a general audience interested in learning about Khmer culture, they hope that the website will also reach Cambodian communities abroad who are cut off from their culture and language.
Kok Thlok’s future
If future funding can be guaranteed, Kok Thlok will be able to continue and expand tours of the provinces to present three of the plays in its current repertoire. It will also enable them to participate with the Théâtre du Soleil (Paris) and the Phare circus of Battambang in the staging of the play "The Terrible but Unfinished Story of Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodia".
The troupe is working on the creation of a new program, a ‘Sbaek Thom’ shadow theatre piece. Shadow theatre presenting traditional drama is an ancient art in Cambodia, using puppets made from leather, called Sbaek in Khmer. The puppets are sometimes handled by the puppeteers in front of a screen or sometimes independently, when the players, who are dancers, are visible, drawing on classical dance movements while manipulating the puppets.