The wonderful show of Thai classical puppets is now back in Bangkok with the reopening of the famous Joe Louis Traditional Thai Puppet Theater right here in the city on their own stage!
After a long absence from the theater circuit when their performance stage was destroyed in a fire at the Suan Lum Night Bazaar more than 8 years ago and was closed down in 2010, the Joe Louis Puppet Troupe has finally found their way home. It has been a difficult time for this very talented group of family puppeteers to find a stage suitable enough for their beautiful performances. Lack of funds and sponsors made it a daunting task to raise enough funds for them to build their own theater at their present location in Asiatique at the River Front in their restaurant called the Joe Louis The Art of Thai Cuisine and Thai Puppet Theater . Read about the origins of the Joe Louis Puppet Theater here!
For many years, this family struggled to keep their performances going while managing their restaurant and catering services which also makes some really great old traditional Thai cuisine. Finally, they now have their own little theater and a sizable stage with adequate seating for about 75 persons so you will need to make sure that you make early bookings, same as when you want a seat at their restaurant. The theater is newly opened, about three months now as from the time of this article and there is one performance a night at 7.00pm so you would have to be on time. The performance lasts about an hour.
The theater is located above the restaurant and there is a short flight of stairs up. As you reach the theater, there is a long wall to your right where it shows a mural of the wonderful puppets such as Hanuman and a few other characters. At the end of the wall, there is a little corner which pays tribute to the late master of the puppets, Joe Louis.
His dedication and love of these puppets have earned the family many accolades and international awards for exquisite and fantastic puppeteer skills not to mention the creative arts of making these puppets. One of the members of the troupe in the nephew of Joe Louis, Khun Nattajak Youngkeiosod, who has been leading the present troupe of puppeteers in their new performance.
The show opens with a tribute to the late King Bhumibol and a short story about the puppets and Khun Joe. The story in the performance is based on tales from the Ramakien or as sometimes popularly known as the epic Indian mythical Ramayana. Each puppet is also made according to these characters in the Ramakien and the story for the performance is changed once every six months.
At the start, the puppeteers will show you some of the moves that they make in order to manipulate these puppets. The movements, music and style of the puppets are also based on a type of Thai classical dance called Khon, which you can sometimes see in traditional Thai performances. Each puppeteer has had many years of training in classical Thai dance and are some of the best Thai dancers.
In the performance, each puppet is manipulated by about three persons, as the puppets are all intricately jointed and capable of moving their hands, legs, head and even fingers. Bear in mind that it takes more than a year to make a really intricate puppet and more than three months for each puppeteer to master the moves. The puppets come to live in the hands of the puppeteers and the heart of each puppet is in the performance of the puppeteers.
If you look at the way each puppet is manipulated and to see how each puppeteer has an expression on his face that reflects that of the puppet is a truly amazing fusion of human and puppet together that makes it whole. The puppets are manipulated by boys and girls where the boys play the stronger characters of puppets such as Hanuman and demons but the girls manipulate the deities and other softer characters during the performance.
The most popular and recognizable puppet is the mischievously smart Monkey King and warrior, Hanuman followed by the elephant God, Ganesha or also known as Papikanae as well as the princess Sida and many more. Watching the puppets on stage is one of the most remarkable and unique experiences in Thai classics that you could ever experience. These puppets are also a lost art as there are not many practitioners of the art. It is a once in a lifetime performance that you must go and see when you visit Thailand and I myself visit them as often as I can just to see the puppets at play!
Watch this video in a snippet of the performance and take the time to go and see the real show at the puppet theater in Asiatique at the River Front!
Click here or the link below to watch the video!