To Western ears, the name Joe Louis conjures up visions of pugilistic power, but the name means something quite different to Thais, who better recognize the name as the alias of the late puppet master, Sakorn Yangkhiawsod.
Khun Sakorn was tasked by the Thai government with reviving the art of the small Thai puppet theatre in 1982, and trained his nine children and 14 grandchildren to manipulate the puppets.
Artistic director of the current production, Khun Surin, is Khun Sakhorn’s son, and was a wayward youth, caned by his father for car racing and preferring nightlife to puppetry.
Surin left home, but later returned and joined the troupe, after seeing his 60 year-old father struggling with heavy stage sets.
A Beautiful Handcrafted Puppet
In 1999, tragedy struck, as all but one of the family’s cherished puppets were burned in a fire that destroyed their house.
They took the last of their money -- 2,000 baht -- and began rebuilding.
Soon, the public donated over 400,000 baht to restoring this important art form.
New, elaborate puppets were built, and Surin was able to secure a good theatre at the Suan Lum Night Bazaar.
The troupe, which includes many family members as puppeteers, still operates at the edge of finances, and we encourage visitors to see a show and support this important and exciting art form.
The shows are virtuoso displays of puppetry, with each puppet being operated by three operators, hidden behind screens.
The stories enacted by the puppets are from Thai traditional literature, and feature one puppeteer controlling the neck and one arm, another for the feet, and another for the remaining arm.
In addition to the marvelous show, visitors are encouraged to visit the puppet museum on premises, and meet the puppeteers before the early show and after the late show, who are happy to demonstrate performance techniques.
There are also puppet makers in the process of creating new puppets for subsequent shows.
Two shows (at 7:45 and 8:45) are held each night at the Joe Louis Theater, located in the middle of the Suan Lum night bazaar at Lumpini Park, immediately west of the Lumpini MRT subway station.