Wanderlust: Expat Life & Style in Thailand The Relationships Issue - Page 24


The Great Pretenders

For Bangkok ’ s expat actors , theater serves as a unique fast lane to meaningful friendships and community .
by Melissa Rayworth

My favorite rehearsal is always the first . Excited and

just a little nervous , I walk into an empty room to sit down with a handful of strangers . We ’ ve all come from different places , with different stories of our own . Now we ’ ve been asked to bring a single script to life .
On the surface , it ’ s like any other job . We have colleagues , work schedules and deadlines for the projects we ’ ve been hired to complete .
And yet it ’ s unique . Within a few weeks ’ time , we ’ ve got to build a fictional world and all the relationships swirling within it . In order to really pretend , we will traffic in honesty and vulnerability , mining our real lives and sharing them with each other to create moments that will move our audience .
Plays are about what drives humanity , what we struggle with , what matters . They are about love , loss and finding joy in even the most challenging circumstances . They are nearly always the stories of family members , lovers and people with something to risk through their interactions with one another .
To bring these stories to life , stage actors have to build as much of an actual connection as possible , and quickly . In the process — while we ’ re too busy working and creating to notice it ’ s happening — friendships are born .
“ It takes time to get to know someone . It takes time to live through an experience with someone ,” says Bangkokbased actress Prashanti Subramaniam . “ Somehow , in the theater world , that time becomes shortened . You just jump in . You need to know this person really quickly , or at least establish some sort of rapport with them .”
So we do . We take risks . We open up to each other . We tell a painful story that we ’ d never share with co-workers at a conventional job , or we answer personal questions asked by another actor , because we know the curiosity helps us both create the best possible performance .
Last May , hungry for an experience that would push her out of her comfort zone , Subramaniam auditioned for “ Almost , Maine ,” a play produced by Bangkok Community Theater ( BCT ). She didn ’ t know Vineet Kumar when they were cast to play a longtime couple on the verge of either breaking up or getting married . Both had moved to Bangkok for their jobs . But while Subramaniam was new to performing on stage , Kumar was already an experienced and popular Bangkok actor .
Kumar knew the audience would have to feel real history between his character and hers . “ Chemistry is such an important thing . You ’ re forced to know each other better ,” Kumar explains . “ We started hanging out a little bit , and so we got comfortable . We built trust .”
It ’ s something that rarely happens between co-workers in other jobs , he says , especially as your career progresses .
“ At work , you ’ re so focused on delivering the numbers ,” he says . “ As you get senior , there are ways you have to behave . You can ’ t joke around too much . In amateur theater , no one is judging you . You can be yourself . That ’ s why the bonds that you form here are a lot stronger .”
Celia Barthman , who worked with Kumar and Subramaniam on “ Almost , Maine ”, has become friends with everyone from that cast ( myself included ). Through her work on that production and several others , she ’ s discovered that same dichotomy between the friendships that actors build among their day-job friends and their theater friends .
“ I enjoy my co-workers and I consider many of them to be friends ,” Barthman says of colleagues at the international school where she teaches . But because a level of professionalism must be maintained with such colleagues even outside of work , her relationships with them “ can only ever go so far ,” she says . “ There should be a little bit of wall up between yourselves and your co-workers .”
In theater , though , it ’ s not just acceptable but necessary to take these emotional risks .
Says Barthman : “ When you ’ re doing a show and you ’ re picking something apart or even just sitting down and trying to get to know somebody , very , very personal things come out very quickly and honestly .”
Working as an actor or actress requires “ a willingness to put yourselves in somebody else ’ s shoes ,” Barthman says . And as we accept and embrace the fictional characters we ’ ve been asked to play , many of us cultivate an empathy and openness toward everyone in the cast .
The weeks of rehearsal , used well , produce real bonds . But what comes next — the act of trusting and supporting each other during performances — is what often cements them .
Kumar and actor Jason Archilla spent much of last fall rehearsing and performing the powerful play “ 12 Angry Men ” at Culture Collective Studio . During rehearsals , the cast made an effort to really talk to each other about the racism and discrimination that the play explores so deftly .
PHOTO : Megan Rogers