I’m Not an Artist, I Just Play One on TV

Last month in Chiang Mai, I had some friends, Ichi and Magic, come visit from down south. We threw a party. With art and performances and stuff. Lots of people came. It was cool.

That’s me making a long story short. Now, here’s the long version…

Art & Performance Party at Baan Jing Jung

I met Ichi in 2010, when I was first living in Chiang Mai. He was one of the friends in our “Chiang Mai Vortex,” as we called it. A bunch of them were living at Baan Jing Jung, an artsy guesthouse just outside the old city. We were all creative types—artists, musicians, dancers, acrobats, writers, performers—who hailed from Thailand, USA, Canada, Kenya, Germany, Australia, and Ireland. Somehow, we all found each other in Chiang Mai and quickly became a hodge-podge family of sorts.

Ichi, an artist, designer, and DJ from Germany, is one of the few from our vortex still in Thailand a year later, though he is now based on Ko Phi Phi, an island on the Andaman coast. In January, he arrived in Chiang Mai with his friend Matinee AKA Magic, a beautiful Thai dancer who incorporates magic tricks into her dance performances. They were staying at the old haunt, Baan Jing Jung.

Co-host and magic dancer, Matinee Imchum

Ichi suggested we do “another one of those parties” at Baan Jing Jung while he and Magic were in town. Last year, we had collectively thrown a performance party at Baan Jing Jung that came together quite magically and blew all of us who were involved away. As they did not have very long in town, we decided to have the party six days later. I started inviting artists and performers to participate and, surprisingly, almost everybody I asked said yes.

Six days later, we had done everything we could have done in the time allowed. Ichi had designed a poster and flyer, I had been promoting like crazy online, and Magic had been networking around town. I was quite surprised that over fifty people had said they were coming on Facebook and I wondered how many of those would actually show up.

Nicholas Wiszynski

Nobody was prepared for the numbers that ended up coming. I was hoping for forty or fifty at best but well over a hundred people came. The place was so jam-packed with people that some late arrivers were unable to make it further than the garden path.

Chiang Mai, it seems, is thirsty for art and performance.

The evening started with Nicholas Wiszynski and a magic show that had everyone mesmerized and enthralled. Nick frequently had us in stitches too. A real professional. Then our English friends Shelley Halstead and Neville Powis followed with some hilarious improvised physical theatre.

Saran Suwannachot performing Fon Jerng

Suran Suwannachot, a local painter and musician, was next with a performance of a Lanna martial art called Fon Jerng. From the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries in northern Thailand, the Kingdom of Lanna reigned, which had its own distinctive language and culture. Chiang Mai was the kingdom’s capital and the people here are still very proud of their Lanna heritage.

Mostly when you see Lanna performances, they are of women dancing. It is rare to see men perform. Some of our Thai guests told me afterwards they had never seen or even heard of Fon Jerng before, so it was a real revelation to all of us gathered there. Many told me afterwards this had been their favorite performance of the evening.

The flying Kimberly Grace

Next, we had some drumming and storytelling by Paul Monson, who directs the newly formed Chiang Mai Playback Theater, an improvisational theater group in which audience members recount personal stories that are then “played back” for them by actors. The group were having their inaugural performance the following week, so adding another performance at such short notice would have scattered their energies too much, but Paul kindly stepped up to perform for us anyway.

Supreeda Wongsansee dancing Flamenco

Lorenzo Becchi from Italy, Kimberly Grace from Canada, and Daniel Anner from Belgium followed with a breathtaking acrobatic partner yoga performance.

Act I ended with Supreeda Wongsansee, who is possibly the only woman from Thailand who dances Flamenco. Her stunning performance was way too short as far as I was concerned, but that’s the way it was.

Act II, which featured a few short dance performances, was to take place inside the guesthouse. With the number of people in attendance, it wasn’t clear how we were going to fit everyone. We decided to have a leisurely intermission in the hopes that some people would leave before we had to herd everyone inside.

Contemporary dance by Komsun (Max) TimaryormThe available space in the guesthouse was somewhat challenging to work with. We had one big L-shaped room that had a staircase in the main corner. The smaller rectangular space in front we had designated as the performance space, so we asked everyone to crowd in together and sit behind on the floor and up along the staircase.

Komsun (Max) Timaryorm was first up with an impressive contemporary dance performance. Then Matinee (Magic) Imchum did a hot magic dance, followed by me and Edward Tio with two improvised Argentine Tangos, the second of which I performed blindfolded! I like to show off sometimes.

In the garden, two of my Thai artist friends exhibited their work. Orpan (Tikky) Sompim had some pastels and was drawing portraits of party guests all night. Sep Ilan (Pilan) brought fabulous new ink drawings he created just for our event and showed them with some matching dolls he had made.

Sep Ilan (Pilan) and his “Staying Alive” exhibit

Last, but not least, Meela Fenderhardt had a few old poems of hers hidden in various spots along the garden path. The lighting was not so good there, so I wasn’t sure if anybody actually saw any of it until just the other day when one friend mentioned how much she loved the poetry and that it had been one of her favorite contributions to the party. I’m guessing she figured out who had written it…

By all accounts, the evening was a major success and I was very happy to hear so much generous feedback from so many people. A common reflection on the event was that it had been “inspiring” and everyone wanted to know when the next one was going to be. While I remained coy in response to these enquiries, I had already decided that night I would try to do one for my birthday six weeks later. It sounded like a great way to usher in a new year.

Saran Suwannachot

So, here we are on the 25th. It’s my birthday. I’m throwing a party. A big-assed party. With art and performances and stuff. Lots and lots of people are going to come. It will be cool.

Thank you to Mark Meurs for the photos (including effects) and Noriko Yabata for the videos.

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