Ornanong Thaisriwong, 34, caused a massive stir last month when the restaging of her solo theater performance Bang-La-Merd, part of which detailed her ordeal registering her play with the army, attracted a nightly audience of plainclothes soldiers who recorded each show. Here, she tells BK about the thrill of performing live and the duty artists owe to society.
Our society’s problems drove me to study sociology and anthropology at Thammasat University 15 years ago. I met the love of my life there: acting.
 
After graduating, my friend took me to watch a play called Crying Century by the B-Floor group. It was love at first sight. They introduced me to the world of physical theater, using beautiful visuals to comment on pressing social issues. There weren’t many people doing things like that. I thought it was awesome, so I asked to join.
 
History shouldn’t be written by a single group of people who put everything in a book and call it history. We all need some sort of documentation to remember things that have happened. Even our Facebook statuses are historical documents. This is the history that won’t be put in books.
 
An artist’s work should shed light on what’s really going on. People don’t have to agree with them, but it should raise questions about what society is facing. That’s the duty of an artist.
 
I love performing live. I love that you can get real feedback from your audience right away. That’s what differentiates it from the movies or soap operas, where everything’s left to the editors. You can tell how your audience feels from the look in their eyes.
 
Audience reactions can be surprising. At one of my recent performances of Bang-La-Merd, a lady stopped my show after 30 minutes and confronted me passionately, but politely, saying my show offended her. She said she wanted to exercise her right to leave. I was stunned, but that was her right.
 
Many Thais judge things before getting all the information. I asked the lady what scenes offended her, but she couldn’t tell me. She just said it offended her.
 
Our concept of Thainess needs to get with the times. Some people hold onto this Thainess so tight that there’s no room to add new interpretations. Why should we be compared against the Rama I era?
 
I admire our young artists. They live in a society full of disharmony and they feel the need to speak out. It’s kind of sad that the older artists ignore them.
 
The main perk of doing small theater productions is that there are no limits. You don’t need to worry about sponsors. It might be hard to find the money, but that’s the price you pay for freedom of thought.
 
The original version of Bang-La-Merd was inspired by the lese majeste SMS incident where an old man [Ampon Tangnoppakul] died in jail before the court ruled on his case. Lese majeste cases are a closed book in which no one knows what’s happening. My first show in 2012 was all about questioning the law. The latest version is all about freedom of expression under martial law.
 
I was pretty shocked and scared that my shows were being monitored by officials. It’s the first time that’s happened to me. I feel that’s a creative space that shouldn’t be invaded by anyone.
 
The whole incident emphasized my message that we don’t have freedom of expression. We, artists, have to self-censor ourselves based on the presumption that others will censor us. I’m talking about freedom of expression while there’s a soldier at my show—what a day!
 
I see it as a violation of my fundamental rights and freedoms, not just as an artist, but as an ordinary person.
 
We have been taught about citizen’s duties, not citizen’s rights. That’s why lots of us don’t know what others’ rights are. Public and private space have been merged, so we don’t really know what’s ours.
 
I stand for free speech. If you don’t hold this ideal, then you must think important topics are sacred things that can’t be criticized or touched upon. You must believe things can’t be held to investigation or public scrutiny. Freedom is about respecting each other, not causing harm.
 
Our society is governed by feelings, which override reason. If you’re driven by anger and hatred, chances are you don’t even know what you’re fighting about.
 
There is no unity in this world. Everything is clashing and cultures are getting mixed up. You can’t just deny someone because they don’t think like you.
 
Living in harmony is unnatural. There will always be fights and moments when people don’t agree.
 
Arguments can help you understand each other; they don’t necessarily harm anyone.
 
I want my right to an open election back. When they give it back to me, then we can all talk maturely. 

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