Story: Monthana Bannatham

Hello, and welcome to the DIE STATION . We are on board the mothership WE ADVENTURE which will be taking us on a journey through the UNIVERSE OF LIFE. Please check the belongings you will be taking with you, and for your safety, please put on your seatbelts. Otherwise, you might get a 5000 baht fine… Once you’re all ready, we’ll be taking off on our journey

On the last note of the young female captain’s voice, the mothership soars into the realm of the imagination, bringing the audience back in time, through childhood story after another. Coursing through a stream of countless stories, the mothership, outfitted with the latest technology that tops the kind seen in Transformer movies — where vehicles transform into sentient robots, though not into humans — can metamorphose into living beings and landscapes: vast forests or a cottage by a stream; a cunning fox or a fierce tiger; even princes, princesses, evil witches, old men and infants. The mothership can transform into them all without the use of any additional equipment. It requires only an audience of small bodies, brimming with pure imagination and belief. Through rigorous training, it is possible to create a performance that is simple and innocent, yet powerfully conveys the performers’ intended message to the audience.

More than that, this play can bring audiences to realms beyond the visible. How could that be possible?

Upon meeting Kittisak (Kit) Saelor, the director of the DOIT theatre collective and this play, I immediately shot this question at him, cold: What is it that makes young elementary school children that are around 10 years old understand and express themselves with this kind of clarity on the subject of death. He explains that he uses a form of theatre called creative drama, which places an emphasis on process over product. Once the kids are introduced to the process, and are given a prompt after the process settles in, they will be able to create a good product. I looked somewhat confused over the talk of product and process. Bird Nilcha Feungfukiat from KidJam, who had been listening in on our conversation, couldn’t hold herself back on inviting me to learn about the aforementioned process with an audience of people from many walks of life — academics, parents, doctors, theatre-makers and interested individuals, from Thailand and abroad. 

Pi Bird drew the group into a conversation on the origins of the project, sharing that R I P Creative Drama is creative drama in pursuit of happiness, and made possible through the collaboration of many networks: DOIT, the KidJam organisation and youth from Santi Asoke, with sponsorship from the Buddhika Foundation’s ‘Let’s Talk About Death’ project. As the conversation wore on, people were becoming restless in their seats, so Pi Bird invited us to join her for a stretching game called ‘Relax and Laugh’. We were then paired up for a blind drawing exercise; as we exchanged drawings, some smiled and chuckled at their own handiwork. After that, we made a life sculpture with a single piece of A4 paper. Everyone was intently focused on their task: some neatly and strategically folded their piece of paper, others scrunched it without much thought, or ripped and folded it — each to their own imagination. Once we were finished, we presented our work in groups of 4-5. Everyone also had to choreograph a move based on their sculpture. Some puzzled over how it would be possible to interpret movement from a scrunched-up piece of paper. We tried sitting, lying down, or if not, rolling around, waving our arms, careening from side to side. Ultimately, we did it. But that still didn’t satisfy Pi Bird. Her craziest command was yet to come: assemble all the sculptures into one. Oh… that was level 10 chaos indeed. 

Our ideas and the fun we had during the activity meant that every group fashioned a truly creative project — the only one of its kind across the three planes of existence. Before we knew it, we were already immersed in the process of creative drama. Pi Bird was so subtle that the young students couldn’t help but express their admiration. 

Even a foreigner and middle-aged man of our group, Marcus Tristan, had fun, and was impressed by the process. His review reads: “A very stimulating and interesting workshop-fascinating how much variety was apparent when people were asked to express their lives with a sculpture made from a piece of paper. I imagine that with 1000 people there would be a 1000 different sculptures. A very interesting idea then to combine them together in small groups. I shall remember that part for a long time, I imagine. Thank you.

Another experienced participant, who had participated in other workshops on death, shares that: “My expectations, from the other workshops on death that I’ve been to, were turned upside down. Those workshops made me a little stressed but this one made me feel like I would want to die with this feeling of lightness. Finally, I want to express my gratitude for this workshop, which gave me a new perspective on life. It was a great workshop, thank you so much. I would like to die with a smile. Seeing what the kids are capable of makes me happy, because when I was young, I thought that this kind of thing was a waste of time. But actually, it brings joy and happiness to people.” Professor Meow (Dr. Wanida Piyasilp) from the Children’s Hospital, says: “I feel proud on behalf of the leaders who are helping the kids learn from themselves, and the kids for creatively expressing their feelings and ideas. I see and understand that kids are able to learn about and accept difficult subjects, especially death, more easily and capably (than adults). I’d like to thank the team behind this workshop that has allowed the kids to achieve one stage of success in life, as well as deepen their understanding of life”. 

From the parents’ point of view: “This was a good workshop. It was cute and filled with warmth. There weren’t any generational gaps. I never thought that at my age I would have the opportunity to join in a fun activity like this. Death isn’t as scary as I thought. The question is how do we have a fun death?”

At last, it was time for the mothership to return to the DIE STATION once again to pick up its next round of passengers. The same young female captain announces, “Hello, and welcome to the DIE STATION . We are on board the mothership WE ADVENTURE which will be taking us on a journey through the UNIVERSE OF LIFE. Please check the belongings you will be taking with you, and for your safety, please put on your seatbelts. Otherwise, you might get a 5000 baht fine. As for the rest of you, don’t worry, we’ll be coming back to pick you up, when the time comes, whether you’re prepared or not. Introducing, R I P Creative Drama, creative drama in pursuit of happiness.”