Sunday, February 22, 2009

Silent no more

The on-stage cast of Breaking the Silence; LtoR: Sakona, Tonh, Sovanna, Sotheary, Sokly, Sina, Vutha
Yesterday was a busy day, the type I enjoy the most. I was at the office in the morning then after watching some football on the tv, I went to see Chhim Sothy's exhibition of paintings at the Culture office on Street 63. Sothy was there to say hello, bubbling with enthusiasm and eager to show off his excellent artwork. I love his traditional style and will visit his studio soon to see more of his art, and maybe get a bargain or two. I then walked to the Bophana Center on St 200 for the 4pm first showing of the documentary Bitter Khmer Rouge by Bruno Carette and Siem Meta. The place was packed to the rafters with francophones as the film, which included interviews with Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, was only in French and Khmer. My schoolboy French - actually I only studied it for a year and then got bored - didn't help, so I didn't really understand a word and instead, look forward to seeing the English language version someday soon. However, the footage was interesting and primarily what I came to see anyway, as the filmmakers gave rank and file ex-Khmer Rouge, and their leaders, an opportunity to give their version of events.
The on and off-stage members of Breaking the Silence
I raced away from the Bophana Center and headed for my next appointment, and the 6.30pm start of the brand new play Breaking the Silence, staged at the exhibition hall opposite the National Assembly. This is a theatre piece with word, song, music and dance and is intended to get Cambodians talking about their Khmer Rouge experiences, which is why after two performances in Phnom Penh, the plan is to take it out to the provinces, which is a fantastic idea. Cambodians love live performance though they will see a new style, created by Dutch director Annemarie Prins, which they may find both disturbing and thought-provoking. In seven short scenes the four actresses, a dancer, a singer and a musician bring alive stories and situations from the Khmer Rouge period as a way of opening up a platform for discussion. I hope this will be encouraged when they take the play to the provinces, as this will be an opportunity for many to see their own experiences played out on stage in poignant scenes, like the girl who stopped talking as a teenager after she was brutally raped by Khmer Rouge soldiers, and thirty years on the stigma remains with her and fellow villagers still look the other way out of shame and revulsion. Prins and her team have produced a play that many will find heavy because of its contents but which is based on fact, aided by DC-Cam, and put into a performance situation alongwith song and monkey dance to ensure there's something for everyone. I think it works brilliantly.
Director Annemarie Prins (center) and DC-Cam chief Youk Chhang (white shirt) on stage at the final curtain of Breaking the Silence

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Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

Play aims for Khmer Rouge reconciliation - by Taing Sarada, VOA Khmer, Original report from Washington. 23 February 2009

A Cambodian play designed to help people speak more openly about their experiences under the Khmer Rouge is scheduled for viewing in rural areas, following a performance in Phnom Penh this weekend.

The play, “Breaking the Silence,” was established under cooperation between the Document Center of Cambodia and the Amerita Art organization.

Director Annemarie Prins, of the Netherlands Featuring Artists of the Secondary School of Fine Arts, did research in several provinces in Cambodia about the sadness, horror and daily lives during the Khmer Rouge. Prins found that some regime victims and former perpetrators live as neighbors but do not talk to each other.

Youk Chhang, director of the Document Center of Cambodia, said the play would be performed mostly in the countryside, to help people understand there can be reconciliation and tolerance between victims and perpetrators.

“We aim to show ‘Breaking the Silence’ in some rural areas so that the people will be able to see and participate in the show,” he said. “There are about seven cases that we picked from real life during the Khmer Rouge regime, after research and study by the Documentation Center of Cambodia. We used these cases to produce a story to show the audience.”

The play will be performed in Kampong Cham, Kampot, Kandal and Takeo provinces, and is completely Khmer in character, including speaking, ideas, proverbs and songs, he said.

In 2007 the Document Centre of Cambodia put out a play “Searching for the Truth,” which earned strong support from Cambodians.

Ser Sayana, a Documentation Center staff member and an assistant for the play, said the performances were a part of the center’s outreach program.

“I think when people see it they will understand, because the show is really based on the daily lives of people during the Khmer Rouge,” she said.

“Some people who were members of Khmer Rouge, or whose relatives were Khmer Rouge members, are now living around or near Khmer Rouge victims, as neighbors,” she said. “Those former Khmer Rouge members are still hiding in their minds, without speaking out, to let somebody know, their inner sadness. So this show could allow them to speak out in a way to brings reconciliation and tolerance.”

February 24, 2009 9:02 AM  
Anonymous ila said...

Andy -- I also saw the play on its first night! I thought it was extremely moving and well-performed, and can't wait to hear about the reaction to its performance in the villages.
Do you know if there is a main website about the play itself anywhere / possible youtube or video cuts to share with others?
cheers, ila

February 26, 2009 2:36 AM  

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