Slideshow: Moradokmai, a school where theatrics are actually embraced

Slideshow: Moradokmai, a school where theatrics are actually embraced

At this unique home school, kids are not just immersed in the art of theater, they're taught how to build one too

Traditional music performed by the students at Moradokmai during a rehearsal of mythical Thai play "Pra Apaimanee" accompanies photos of the students and teachers during an average school day.

After a drive from one end of Bangkok to the other, with a few added kilometers of dirt roads and wrong turns, I finally arrive at my destination. It’s half past nine in the morning, and as I step out of my car all I hear is laughter and the occasional scream. I walk across a small wooden bridge sitting in dense greenery, to be greeted by teenagers dressed in Thai fisherman’s trousers and plain T-shirts.

The students are conducting an outdoor rehearsal of "Pra Apaimanee," a mythical play all Thais know well -- but not the way it is unconventionally being told here, at one of the country's most unusual schools. Accompanying the students on a classical Thai instrument is the man who is the catalyst of this rare educational scene, Khru Chang. 

Khru Chang's Moradokmai Home School is one of few youth facilities solely dedicated to theater in Thailand, but it has few similarities to its counterparts. Almost kibbutz-like, the school is comprised of approximately 30 students between 11-18 years of age who, apart from learning the art of theater, are taught the art of community living. This includes cooking, cleaning, building and planting. 

Piano at MoradokmaiA typical day at Moradokmai involves waking up between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. for musical instrument and dance drills.

Moradokmai drama classMoradokmai encourages theatrical improvisation, which not only entertains the audience but brings the students out of themselves.

Khru Chang Moradokmai"We don’t concentrate on product, only process,” says school founder Khru Chang.The scene on the grounds of the school is almost family-like. It is certainly not the conventional environment most of us equate with a learning institution. “We don’t concentrate on product, only process,” says North American educated Khru Chang, founder and head teacher of the school.

An attachment to materialism and image is avoided by not having a school uniform and placing the school in the suburbs of Bangkok, surrounded by rice fields, canals and orchards. (The kids seen in the slideshow wearning uniforms are visiting from an affiliate school.) The students build their own houses, grow vegetables and mobile phones are prohibited. 

A typical day at the school involves waking up between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. every morning for musical instrument and Thai classical dance drills. The day is broken up with a siesta from noon to 2:30 p.m. 

A lot of the students who attend Moradokmai have problems, whether it be with their families or academic instability, says Pop, one of the school's resident teachers. “When they become uninterested in the usual academic subjects, they are labeled truant. As a result, the kids are lost and start to feel they don’t belong anywhere.” 

Spreading the dramatic love

In addition to the 30-something regular boarders, Moradokmai also has teamed up with over 60 schools, spread across Thailand, that have seen the benefits of theater on children’s lives and have in turn set up drama clubs in their schools. When Moradokmai's theater troupes travel the country, students see what they have to offer and become interested. All the schools come together once a year for drama camp, which involves various theatrical performances and training. 

Even the teachers all live at the school with their families. The curriculum follows that of a home school, which apart from a focus on drama involves other mandatory subjects such as English. Moradokmai receives funding from donations, making schooling free of charge for all students and teachers receive no fixed salary, just enough to get by. 

Khru Chang wanted to integrate theater into Thai education because he feels it is not recognized enough. In fact, theater is not even compulsory in Thai schools. It is treated, if at all, more as an after-school hobby. 

“It is unnatural for theater to be this way,” says Khru Chang. “We have a lot of international guests and involvement, therefore my voice is being heard. My dream is to make the Ministry of Education realize that they are going the wrong way. It is unwise not to put theater in schools. They know nothing about theater and the government’s concept about theater is commercial.”

The essence of Khru Chang’s beliefs has certainly been reflected in the students. The kids appear to be independent, free thinkers. They speak only of life and learning as opposed to what they would like to buy or what university name they would like printed on their future degrees. 

For more on Moradokmai, visit the school’s website or call +66 (0)2 904 5665.

Cattleya Jaruthavee is a freelance photographer and writer. She is particularly interested in socio-economic/political disparities in the world and has several ongoing projects.

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