17 March Revitalizing Bangkok’s Theatre Scene
Kristen Rossi is on a mission to revitalize Bangkok’s theatre scene; she wants to make theatre accessible to all and to have more and varied productions throughout the city. Kristen has a BA in acting from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, but hails from Massapequa, New York (home of the Baldwins & Jerry Seinfeld among others).
“I was that kid who never was picked for sports but was off in the corner dancing or making up a song,” Kristen says. “Towards the end of my university life, I decided I wanted to see what else was going on in the world because I thought there had to be more to life than your head shot and dance class, so in the summer of 2006 I came to Thailand to volunteer at the Pattaya Orphanage. I fell in love with the people; I then decided to return to the US, finish my degree early and come back to Thailand to teach English for a while and lead a gypsy life.
“University actually discouraged my acting career, the teachers had favourites and it wasn’t the nurturing environment I expected. Because making a living as an actor is so hard, I think acting schools set sometimes try to steer you away, I even had a teacher tell me, ‘If you have something else you can do or love just as much, do it.”
In 2007, she met went to London for ten months, but missing Bangkok she returned to Thailand when her acting itch started to flare up so she joined the Bangkok Community Theatre (BCT) and started making connections in the performing arts. In 2009, she started acting in commercials and Thai films (Flight 407) and started doing voiceovers (Flying with Bird, Paddlepop).
“I started slowly going back to my roots; I tried setting up a cabaret with another friend, but it didn’t work out though we
did do one show. I kept trying to do some sort of live cabaret-style performance but it never clicked, but then in 2012 I teamed with my co-producer & co-director Justin Brooks to do Broadway Babe, hoping to bring a Broadway-style show with a an edge to Bangkok. We started off with ‘Vintage Nights’, a series of pop-up shows at different venues, one in March, April and July of 2013. They were one-hour musical revues, I wrote the story and they were set in a place fitting for the story. The first one called ‘Easy to Love’ was set at The Hop, a dance studio on Silom, featured Ella Fitzgerald classic jazz music with a boy meets love story and a lot of swing dancing. ‘Hanky Panky’ was the name of the second show, which was more burlesque cabaret style, and featured a love triangle set at The Circus (a bar/restaurant in the Crystal Design Centre that resembles a circus) with a lot of camp Madonna, and Dick Tracy. The last one called ‘NYC’, was more classical and was about a girl who comes to New York to pursue her dream and lives with her aunt. It was a ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie meets Cinderella’ type-thing set at Ariyasom Villa on Sukhumvit Soi 1. The cast consisted of two to three people plus the pianist.
“In December last year, I decided I wanted to do something simpler, a one-woman cabaret show called ‘Back to Basics’, there was no proper story, it was just me breaking the fourth wall (interacting with the audience) with four genres of music: jazz, blues, pop and musical theatre. Instead of having a play with a story, I tied everything together with my own personal stories and monologues.”
In addition To Broadway Babe, Kristen runs one-week musical theatre workshops for kids during the international school breaks. She is also trying to take “Back to Basics” on the road and besides her acting and voice-overs she sings regularly and for special events at hotels, so her plate is full.
The next show Kristen is planning is from June 12-14 (just before the international schools break for the summer) when she hopes to put on “Bangkok Vaudeville”, it’s a mix of the “Vintage Nights” series, and “Back to Basics”, straight musical theatre meets cabaret.
“It’s a cabaret of fusion, we are trying to make theatre acceptable for everyone, and show them that vintage and musical-theatre style is still hip and relevant and we are trying to get more Thai artists involved. In vaudeville, you usually have a fusion of different acts, a comedian, a dance troupe, a singer, someone doing tricks; each of the two acts will open with a comedian, the rest of the show will be me performing musical-theatre numbers with a twist, sometimes they will be straightforward and sometimes the Bangkok B Boys, a break-dancing team, will come on stage and join in thereby fusing musical theatre and vintage style with urban hip-hop. For example, for the song “Buenos Aires” from “Evita”, I will start it off with the band and then the BBoys will join me half-way through. There will also be a female dance group and a tap dancer.
“The set is going to be vintage with old-style peeling brick and wallpaper; but will change over the course of the show, to have graffiti with a Thai edge, morphing from vintage to urban. The set designer is the very talented Brit Gregory Allan.”
Ideally, Kristen would like to stage “Bangkok Vaudeville” in an urban/industrial site, preferably a warehouse in Central Bangkok or the Riverside/Chinatown area that could sit 200 people. She could have done it in a parking garage, but since the show will be performed in the rainy season it needs to be covered and air-conditioned. She is also looking at some black-box theatres (open spaced with lighting above).
The ensemble will tentatively include seven musicians (all Thais), ten dancers, a tap dancer plus an English comedian. To make this happen, Kristen is looking for monetary sponsors, location sponsors and even a piano sponsor. The tag line for the show is “Because vintage is hip and theatre is unity”. Help her make it happen if you can. Kristen also says that “People don’t pay artists enough her, I want to pay them for rehearsal, tech-week (days just before the show) and for the shows.” She wants to change that.
In closing Kristen says, “Along with a few others, I’m trying to pioneer a theatre, dance & art movement in Bangkok and that’s why I am staying here. Thai people have more time and more interest in theatre and the arts, the scenes are growing. It’s exciting to be part of something that’s being built.”