An interview with friends of the Reasmey Angkor troupe.
What difference has the help of IPAT has made to the group, family and friends, and the wider community?
The difference made to the life of the company by IPAT is immeasurable; it is the difference between existence and failure. To the families the company supports and uses in all facets of the productions, it represents their livelihood and ability to develop their art; to the wider community, it is the ability of over a thousand people a night being able to see the resurrected drama of Bassac. It is at the heart of their ancient culture and was almost annihilated by the Khmer Rouge.
What would have happened if they had not had IPAT’s support?
The funding, of course, has been life-saving but, over and above that, it has given the company a stamp of approval, it self esteem and the status of being considered a viable entity in the life of the country. It has drawn attention from other performing sites in South East Asia. All this has culminated in providing a definite financial boost to the economy of North West Cambodia, an area largely forgotten by the central government.
Who has been helped by IPAT’s support and how?
The prime beneficiaries of IPAT’s generosity are the members of the company itself. At the last count, this constituted some 89 members, actors, dancers, musicians, costume and scenery people, and their families who cook, hunt for food and take care of the children. Young people are being trained in the ancient art of Bassac.
What changes do they hope to see in their community and in their lives?
The prime change is that now they have commenced building a permanent residence and theatre. This will house the company during the monsoon months enabling them to stay together and not be at the mercy of the elements. They will be able to continue rehearsing and preparing their productions. Situated as it is off the main arterial road from Thailand, it will aid with tourism as well as being a showplace for the national culture. The company is always touring, weather permitting, and will continue to do so, but now that there is an effort to clear the land mines covering the north of the country and life seems to be more stable, more and more people are viewing Cambodia is an enticing vacation place, the company will be part of that experience.
What is the role of drama/music/dance in their community?
The role of the art of Bassac, the uniquely indigenous form of Cambodian opera, means everything to the Cambodians. When the Khmer Rouge instituted its form of agrarian Communism and closed, not only the frontiers, but the cities of Cambodia these dramas were banned. It was automatic death to indicate any knowledge of them. To be able to see them now, performed in their original form, means not only that the horrors of the Killing Fields are over, but that Cambodia is again the home of the oldest theatrical traditions in the world.
If they could change anything in their lives right now, with or without IPAT’s help, what would that be?
The greatest change that could happen in the lives of the company is to complete the building of the theatre. With or without IPAT’s help they will struggle to achieve this. It is their prime goal, and will alter everything for them: Their status as well as the quality of their work.
How can art/drama/music/dance be used to help support education, health and social well-being, etc in their community?
Education and information are vital to the continuance of the Bassac tradition and training starts young. Not only does the language of the opera have to be learned, but it is not all in a colloquial idiom. The language is classical and not used today. Also, the physical work has to be acquired when the actors are still young and supple. But there is another element of need here. Cambodia is the centre of slave trafficking, especially with children. There is an enormous orphaned population of young people caused by the land mines and the devastation of AIDS. As much as they can, the actors have been absorbing some of this population and training them in this art. They are fed, given somewhere to sleep and educated. With expertise, some are then able to join the company.
How long do they expect to need IPAT’s help?
This is the hardest question to answer. IPAT’s help has been so vital. Although independence is being worked towards, the environment and the economic difficulties of survival make this difficult to even hazard a guess. Help will be needed for some time to come.
What are they doing themselves to create income and keep the group together and working?
The company charges for admission (25 cents for adults, all children free), seeks special commissions for performances such as festivals and private celebrations, expands the touring circuits where navigating landmines is viable, involves schools and educational locations, and looks for work in the paddy fields during the monsoon season.
If they could speak directly to the people who have donated money to support their project, what would they say?
The funding has taken a group of artists from the brink of starvation to a seriously viewed acting company. The gratitude is part of the daily life of these people and is referred to often. “Thank you, thank you, thank you” is how conversations begin when we talk and communicate with IPAT. If donors should ever consider visiting the fascinating country of Cambodia they would be greeted with an emotional welcome.