The Battambang-based Lakhon Komnit Organisation (LKO) is gaining recognition in the world of theatre for its efforts to preserve and develop Lakhon Niyeay, a unique form of traditional Cambodian theatre. Unlike other well-known traditional forms such as Bassac and Yike, Lakhon Niyeay relies solely on the words of the actors to convey its stories, similar to traditional Western theatre.
LKO goes beyond being just a theatre group; it is a force for change in its community, using theatre as a tool for social transformation. Co-founder Chhit Chanphireak explains that watching an LKO show often leaves people with a deeper understanding of a group or issue and inspires them to take personal action to improve a situation.
The term “Lakhon Komnit” translates to “thinking theatre,” and the organization aims to encourage people to engage with the themes of its plays. LKO specializes in “forum theatre,” inviting audience members to interrupt the performance, come on stage, and attempt to change the story’s outcome.
Chanphirak warns that Lakhon Niyeay is at risk of disappearing due to the scarcity of professional theatre groups in Cambodia, with only three currently in operation. Despite coming from challenging backgrounds, LKO’s team members have had positive experiences with theatre.
Since its beginnings in 2017 as an informal group of theatre artists, LKO has grown into a registered NGO in 2019, thanks to the support of a donor. The organization’s goal is to incorporate unheard voices into every performance and create opportunities for the production, performance, and participation of theatre showcasing personal stories from Cambodian society.
LKO often collaborates with other NGOs to engage audiences on specific topics. Recently, it worked with the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to create a show about the risks of landmines and other unexploded ordnances. All of LKO’s plays are derived from real-life issues that Cambodian people face, whether they work with marginalized groups to share their stories or partner with large NGOs to create a topic-based show.
In December, a group of Battambang women performed a play called “Silent Night,” which was based on their own experiences of intimate partner violence. The performance was part of the “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.” The play was attended by community members and government officials, and a video of the performance is available to watch.
LKO has also participated in events hosted by the Banteay Srei NGO, which provides support to women who have experienced violence. The organization has worked with Partners for Rural Development (PRD) on the play “Ups and Downs,” which focused on the struggles of cassava farmers.
Chanphirak believes that theatre not only builds confidence and self-understanding for individuals but also fosters positive discussions and supports communities in facing challenges. LKO regularly tours outside their home province of Battambang, engaging audiences in Samlot, Pailin, and Ratanakkiri, with plans to tour more extensively in 2023.
Co-founder Bonny Coombe says that LKO’s work involves enabling community members to raise concerns about issues such as discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, exclusion of disabled individuals due to poorly designed public and private spaces, and lack of community intervention to prevent violence against women.
LKO aims to tackle the issues of high-interest informal loans and alcohol and drug addiction, which exacerbate the physical abuse many women and girls suffer. The troupe’s main challenge is the unfamiliarity of most Cambodians with Lakhon Niyeay, but LKO is determined to create captivating shows and workshops and share them with as many people as possible.
Chanphirak adds that their main focus is targeting hard-to-reach and marginalized audiences in community settings, but they also engage youth audiences in high schools and universities, and young children enjoy their creative puppet shows too. With their passion and dedication, LKO is on a mission to revive traditional Cambodian theatre and empower communities for a better future.
Source: The Phnom Penh Post