Bassac theatre festival set for October debut

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A Bassac theatre performance publicity photo taken by the culture ministry’s Department of Performing Arts. SUPPLIED

The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts will hold a two-day Bassac theatre festival on October 3-4 at the Department of Performing Arts in Phnom Penh.

The event aims to preserve and promote the values of arts, culture, traditions and national identity. It will also contribute to the development of society and promote national prestige, the the ministry said, adding that protecting the Kingdom’s cultural heritage is the duty of every Cambodian citizen.

Chhieng Chhordapheak, deputy director of the Department of Performing Art, told The Post that the department had received applications and videoed performances from 10 bassac theatre troupes.

“We have received applications from three troupes in Kandal province, and one each from Phnom Penh and the provinces of Kep and Tbong Khmum,” he said.

Citing the ministry’s statistics, he said there are 66 bassac theatre troupes registered in the capital and across 14 provinces, and he expected to receive more submissions.

He noted that challenges associated with the Covid-19 pandemic had forced the closure of several of the registered groups.

“Each theatre group faced their own challenges during the pandemic. Certain troupes had difficulties gathering their members for rehearsal and performances, while others disbanded entirely, as their members were unable to sustain themselves,” said Chhordapheak.

Ol Sam Ang, director of Phnom Penh’s Lakhon Bassac troupe, will show the piece “Mohasenapheakdey” and Orng Peng Gnorn , director of Lakhon Bassac Ponleu Vapathor Khmer –from Thbong Khmum province – will direct “kho sok kuma” at the festival. Both were elated at the scale of the event.

“We are excited to be a part of the first national bassac festival. This event really showcases the ministry’s attention to preserving Khmer cultural heritage. No matter what the results of the judging, we are doing this to preserve this unique form of art,” said Sam Ang.

Sam Ang said that it would be fantastic if the festival could become an annual event.

“However, I do suggest that the ministry review some of the bassac theatre videos that are available on YouTube. Some of them use inappropriate or derogatory language which conflicts with national cultural values and diminishes the status of the art form. With so many theatrical troupes trying hard to preserve the original form, it would be a shame if traditional values were subverted by faceless YouTubers,” he added.

Bassac theatre fan Nget Sophoan took to social media to express his feelings: “I have enjoyed the theatre since I was a small child, and loved to listen

to the national radio on Wednesdays and Saturdays when Saing Sarun and Chek Mach would bring me to tears with their performance of ‘Tep Soda Chan’.”

“As Ol Sam Ang’s troupe will perform at the festival, I hope that it will attract a lot of fans – and maybe create some new ones. This will do a lot to preserve classic Khmer theatre,” he added.

The festival, organised with the theme “Culture of Peace”, is relying on departments of culture across the Kingdom, as well as the Artisans’ Association of Cambodia and members of the public to promote it. The more widely promoted the event, the more artists are expected to enter.

The Ministry will select three winning performances at the festival, with the overall winners receiving gold medals and a cash prize. Silver and bronze medals – along with cash – will be awarded to the runners up.

Chhordapheak expressed his optimism for the event: “I think the festival will encourage bassac troupes throughout the Kingdom. The organisation of this festival demonstrates the close attention that the fine arts ministry is paying to conserving the arts and culture of Cambodia,” he said.