Written by Kristin Sarmiento of XploreAsia’s November Group
No longer just schoolteachers, the ESL team takes the big screen in Pakthongchai’s premier production, A Jim Thompson Story.
Pakthongchai is a small town, outside of Korat. There is one main road with no taxis or nightclubs. The living is easy–lazy Saturday afternoons and early weeknight dinners in good company. But even this quiet, Isan town has its claim to fame. That is Thai Silk.
Jim Thompson, shortly after WWII, discovered Pakthongchai’s silk and shared it with the rest of the Western world, putting Pakthongchai on the map as the Thai silk capitol. Today, locals gleam at the chance to share the story of Jim Thompson and his silk farm, especially with foreigners.
Every year in December, the town hosts a huge, week long Thai Silk Festival. There are hundreds of vendors selling everything from fried crickets to silk gowns. They have several concerts (local bands, even some big names in Thai Pop culture), catwalks, and this year, for the first time, a Jim Thompson play.
The play was a full on production—lights, cameras, and film crew. There were five performances and a TV broadcast. A full cast of about fifty actors and dancers, amongst them, Lexi, Steve (my two co-staff) and myself. The play needed a Western man to play Jim Thompson and a few women to act as visitors in Thailand, so they contacted the school and asked if we could help.
Lexi and I were dressed in silk gowns that looked like they were borrowed from a 1980s prom scene, while Steve looked like Crocodile Dundee. Each night, we got into costume and strutted about on stage. This was my first acting experience and all I could do was the laugh the entire time Lexi and I “gracefully” walked across the stage, greeting the “local townspeople.” After each performance there was a photo shoot. I don’t think I’ve ever had my picture taken so many times in one week. For weeks after local shop owners, students and neighbors came up shouting, “Jim Thompson! Jim Thompson!” People stopped us on our way to dinner to have our photos and to tell us they saw the show…twice. The three of us laugh, remembering our nights in spotlights and the endless praise for our amateur acting. That was the start of our stardom in Pakthongchai.