Thai theater actors in exile after coup

Two theater activists have been jailed for insulting the King for their involvement with the Wolf Bride, a student play which parodies the Thai political conflict. At least two actors have fled Thailand because they acted in the same play.  
 
 
 
 
It took only a day for three members of the now-defunct Prakai Fai Karn Lakorn to create the plot and write the script of the Wolf Bride -- the first ever  stage play to land people in jail for lèse majesté. Full of sarcasm toward the Thai monarchy and Thai politics, the Wolf Bride was performed only twice, on 6 October 2013 and 13 October 2013, at Thammasat University. The performance, lasting about an hour, put Patiwat ‘Bank’ Saraiyam, 24, and Pornthip ‘Golf’ Munkong, 26, behind bars, sentenced to two years and six months in jail after they were found guilty of lèse majesté. Other actors, most of them are under 30, are living in fear. Six other actors are reportedly wanted by the police. Some of them fled Thailand and now live in self-imposed exile in a neighbouring country of Thailand. (For the safety of the sources, Prachatai decided to withhold the locations and some information regarding the sources.)
 
 
Patiwat ‘Bank’ Saraiyam and Pornthip ‘Golf’ Munkong at Ratchada Criminal Court
 
For a long time, the plays produced by the group had been about unutterable subjects in Thai society. Each time the group was testing the limit, thinking that they have more freedom when communicating through art.  
 
“Pook” is the disguised name of a 19-year-old actor who starred in the Wolf Bride. After Bank and Golf were arrested, the actor left his home town in the Deep South, moving from place to place, hiding before deciding to leave the country for freer air in August 2014.
 
“I talked less than 10 minutes on stage but it has ruined my entire life. I just had two exams at Ramkhamhaeng and now I have to live here -- no future,” Pook told Prachatai. 
 
Pook was a first year politics student at Ramkhamhaeng University. His college life and future in education in Bangkok ended abruptly after the coup-makers decided that the harmless, amateur play was a threat to national security.
 
Khao Niaw (sticky rice) is the disguised name of another actor. The 30-year-old activist has starred in about 20 student plays, most of them staged at a small events, such as volunteer camps. In contrast to Pook, Khao Niaw long anticipated the day of exile.
 
The Brahmin advisor (played by Patiwat in the middle) poisons the king in the Wolf Bride.
 
Anxiety about Thai politics and the suppression of opinions worry him and at the same time made him determined to push the limits of the utterable by testing the limits through plays. At the same time, Khao Niaw studied possible ‘new’ countries in Southeast Asia regarding society, politics, food, cost of living and language.
 
“When I read the script of the Wolf Bride, I thought ‘oh I’ll have to flee for sure’. When I said this to others, like my family, they said I was talking nonsense because it’s just a play. I decided to perform it anyway because I thought I’d live in self-imposed exile someday as I don’t want to live in Thailand anymore,” said the Bangkok native and graduate in Politics from Ramkhamhaeng. 
 
Khao Niaw said he regretted of not being able to flee earlier. Because he is wanted on an arrest warrant, Khao Niaw illegally, and inconveniently, crossed the Thai border. 
 
“I had thought that I was well prepared for the exile, but in fact I set myself up all wrong.  I was impetuous,” said Sticky Rice.  
 
The Wolf Bride was created by three people, including Golf and Pook. Given the title the Wolf Bride, the story has nothing to do much with the bride, which is a wolf. The storyline is weak. The main storyline is constantly interrupted by short stories. 
 
The play is rather full of improvisation. The play tells the story of an imaginative kingdom governed by a monarch who became powerful after he married his wolf bride and killed her. 
 
The image of the king in a mirror mysteriously comes to life in the Wolf Bride
 
 
Both Khao Niaw and Pook agree that the message encrypted in the play may not go far. 
 
“I don't think most of the audience understand the message. It’s partly our fault. We didn’t rehearse well enough. Some were staging a play for the first time. The actors were not so into their roles either.”
 
……................................
 
About 10 days after the coup-makers took power, the NCPO on 1 June 2014 summoned 28 activists to report to the military. It turned out that at least 11 people were interrogated about their involvement with the Wolf Bride and were forced to give the names of the actors. 
 
“I understand that my activist friends were forced to give up the names of Golf, Bank and me,” said Khao Niaw.
 
Three days later, arrest warrants were issued. In mid-August, Golf and Bank were arrested. 
 
Khao Niaw said he left home with only 4,000 baht in cash. Pook said he was chased out of the house when his royalist relatives (he is an orphan) knew what caused his trouble and also threatened to kill him.
 
“I’m very afraid, the most afraid in my life,” said Pook. Pook and Khao Niaw said living illegally in a neighbouring country is better than hiding inside the country. 
 
In a new city in a new country, they still have to be very careful. Rumours say Thai security officers may come and abduct them at any time. When they go out daily to the local market to buy food and goods, they have to wear sunglasses and caps to disguise themselves. The location of their new house is also top secret. 
 
Khao Niaw and Pook reside in the same house with a few others. Everyone -- all men -- in the house is a Thai political exile. Some of them are wanted for lèse majesté. 
 
The house is run like a commune. Each of them pays 40 baht a day for dinner and they have instant noodles for lunch.
 
They produce political podcast programmes everyday. Their incomes are partly from the donations from programme fans. 
 
Pook, who by nature is an introverted, quiet person, has been forced to change his nature. In order to attract donations, Pook turned into a fierce and funny political commentator, whose programme may land him with more charges and jail terms due to his comments on the Thai royal family. 
 
“If the Thai authorities know who I am, I may have to serve 15,000 more years in jail. I have never talked this much in my life, but I have no choice. If I don’t do it, I will starve,” said Pook. 
 
Khao Niaw, meanwhile, co-hosts a programme on music and politics and is also responsible for technical support of the podcast station. 
 
Moreover, Pook and Khao Niaw are in an environment where people talk politics 24/7. Their current job is discussing Thai politics and their future is highly dependent on Thai politics. This leads to anxiety and depression for Pook.  
 
“The lives of us exiles consist of nothing but politics -- the monarchy, Prayut, red and yellow shirts.” 
 
This is not to mention conflict among the exiles, mostly related to allegations about funding and donations. 
 
“It bloody stinks. It’s all about money. Exiles are merchants and the donors are consumers. They are competing for donations.”
 
Pook said his mental illness, depression, has worsened because of his boring, meaningless life. Also, he has no private space and private life because he has to live with others in the house almost all the time. He admits that he thinks of suicide many times a day. 
 
Because he entered the country illegally, he could not go to a psychiatrist. 
 
 
The king marries the wolf bride before killing her in the Wolf Bride
 
 
Prospects for the future
 
Pook said he deeply wants to continue his education. He contacted several embassies to apply for refugee status, but never heard back from them. 
 
“I’ve gone to all the embassies here. I want to leave for a third country to get to study again. But it wasn’t successful at all. Right now it’s very gloomy to the point where I’m beginning to give up and lose hope.”
 
“Life goes on from day to day. No meaning. Wake up, eat, record the programme, talk with the patrons for donations, then have dinner, and go to bed,” the young activist said. 
 
As for Khao Niaw, he sees life in exile as an opportunity and enjoys his new role as political commentator and ‘full-time activist’. 
 
“Some information is banned in Thailand and Thais are craving for the truth. We exploit this opportunity, now that we’re now outside Thailand, to feed those who’re craving,” said Khao Niaw. 
 
Mr. Sticky Rice believes he will have to stay in the country for at least two more years. He also hopes to apply for refugee status with the UNHCR, but his conditions do not yet meet the criteria. 
 
Nevertheless, they both are counting the days for big changes to take place in Thailand -- the change which cannot be triggered from outside.
 
“I hope that the Thai people will stop being so relaxed. Do we have to wait till the economy collapses before they’re aware of the importance of the right to election?” said Khao Niaw. 
 
“I want change in Thailand, the collapse of feudalism and democracy flourishing on Thai soil. But it may be very difficult because Thai people are very patient,” said Pook. 
 
Asked about the art that caused him to flee, Pook said “Art is created along with human history. Everything around us has an element of art. However, the art which I made turns out to be illegal. Why are the phu yai in this country so narrow-minded about art!” 
 
The content was modified on 6 November 2015.