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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Last act for Cambodian theatre, thespians say

Last act for Cambodian theatre, thespians say

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A dearth of employment opportunities means fewer students choose to study drama, leaving directors fearing for the future of theatre

Heng Chivoan

Royal University of Fine Arts students perform in Phnom Penh in this file photo.

TEACHERS in Phnom Penh worry that a decline in the number of drama students could spell the end of traditional Khmer theatre.

Chan Sarith, vice-director of the National Theatre School of Fine Arts, attributed the decline to an influx of foreign cultural influences.

"Khmer theatre has declined considerably in past years because our people are following other cultures and have ceased to care about their own," Chan Sarith said.

Vong Metry, lecturer of traditional dancing and manager of the Apsara Arts Association, noted that traditional Khmer fine arts have long been a transmitter of cultural values and must not be neglected.

"I am afraid of losing Khmer culture [so] I try very hard to teach the next generation about drama, theatre, Khmer dancing and Khmer traditional music," Vong Metry said.

That next generation has grown smaller in recent years as employment prospects in theatre have waned. "It is unfortunate that many drama professionals have to look for other jobs because they can't support themselves on the money they earn through their art," Vong Metry added.

Vanishing act

Tep Sopheaktra, a drama lecturer at the University of Culture and Fine Arts, said fewer students are attending his classes. "Now I only have around ten students. When I was studying in 1988, there were many students learning about theatre," he said.

Some like Sad Dano, 24, have come to regret their years of theatre training. A graduate of the National The-atre School of Fine Arts, Sad Dano says his five years of study could have been better spent in a field that would have given him better job prospects.

"If I had studied another subject, I would be able to find a good job," Sad Dano said.

One educator hopes the two will never be mutually exclusive. Proeung Chieng, vice-rector of the Royal University of Culture and Fine Arts, said that Khmer theatre should be promoted in the Kingdom through television and print media to remind people of its importance. "My regret would be enormous if we lost Khmer theatre, which has played such a significant part in our cultural history," Proeung Chieng said.

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