Theatre group supporting the LGBTQI community through art

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The Phnom Penh Players are a collection of Cambodian and ex-pat performers. Supplied

Inspired by the musical Cabaret and Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, theatre group the Phnom Penh Players are to host a performance of Shanghai Cabaret at Chinese House in Phnom Penh, with all proceeds donated to a local clinic to support Cambodia’s LGBTQI community.

The Phnom Penh Players perform several productions every year, donating the proceeds to local charities and causes. This time they will support Chhouk Sar Clinic, which provides free HIV testing and treatment to high risk groups in Cambodia.

“We are very proud to be using the arts to make a difference,” says the play’s director Chas Hamilton. “HIV prevalence among young men who have sex with men testing in the clinic is 15 per cent according to Chhouk Sar. Financial support from the musical will enable the clinic to offer an out of hours service.”

Phnom Penh’s LGBTQI business community have also been keen to sponsor the production and in doing so lend their support to vital HIV and sexual health services.

The Phnom Penh Players are the longest running non-profit theatre group in Cambodia.

They are an informal group of ex-pats and Cambodians who enjoy getting together and seeing what kind of theatre they can produce. They are always looking for actors, set builders, musicians, fundraisers, costumiers and backstage crew.

More than seventy years after the original production of Shanghai Cabaret, the show has arrived for a brief residency with the Phnom Penh Players, who transport the audience to decadent 1940s Shanghai under Japanese colonisation during World War II.
Although under Japanese control, the city had an international settlement which was liberal and autonomous.

“It’s an end of an era love story, introducing new characters and stories and music from the period,” Hamilton says.

On their website, the Phnom Penh Players say that hundreds of cabaret clubs flourished in Shanghai in the 1930s.

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The play is set in 1940s Shanghai under Japanese occupation. Supplied

The clubs proved to be a fantasy space for border and boundary crossing, allowing people of different classes, occupations, national and ethnic backgrounds to explore and expand their sexual experiences and identities.

It was also a sanctuary for refugees from Europe, as official papers were not required.

The ‘yellow music’, as it was labelled, played in the clubs was deemed to be associated with eroticism and sex and was denounced by Chairman Mao and the communist party of China.

The decadent world of cabaret clubs came to end when the Japanese finally occupied the international settlement in 1941. It was the end of an era.

The Phnom Penh Player’s production of Shanghai Cabaret opens on March 13 for four nights at Chinese House. All proceeds go to Chouk Sar clinic, an organisation that supports Cambodia’s LGBTQI community.

Tickets are now available at Chinese House, Rambutan Resort and both Lot 369 Cafe & Bar BKK and Lot 369 Cafe & Bar TTP.

For more information, you can contact Arttu Karppanen, Phnom Penh Players marketing and communications manager, via email ([email protected]).