From Drug Dealer to Stage Actor: Play Gives Youths New Life

Tossawat Chandapon performs “Broken Violin” stage play on Jan. 14, 2020.
Tossawat Chandapon performs “Broken Violin” stage play on Jan. 14, 2020.

PRACHUAP KHIRI KHAN — Four years ago when he was only 17, Tossawat was arrested for using and selling drugs. But on Tuesday night, he was a leading actor for a play that aimed to inspire teens like him to turn their lives around.

During the inaugural performance of “Broken Violin” held in the resort town of Hua Hin, Tossawat Chandapon, now 21, performed a skateboarding-filled play about his own dark past, which organizers hope would serve as art therapy for young legal offenders in Thailand, where up to 17,000 minors are being held behind bars.

“My family was divided and they often got into quarrels, so I decided to run away from my home,” Tossawat said during the performance. “My friends then brought me into the world of drug dealing. I made a lot of money before I was eventually arrested and thrown into a juvenile detention center.”

His story is similar to five other youths who made up the “Broken Violin” cast the plot of which centers around the gloomy days of their childhood and their journey to find the light within.

“The place didn’t polish my behavior at all. Instead, my criminal skills toughened up and I became a repeated offender,” he continued, before turning to the crowd: “Is this the destiny of troubled kids like us?”

Elements of performance arts, music, and skateboarding were subtly blended into a hour-long show that aimed to ruminate on bad parenting habits such as intimidation and setting high expectations. And yes, there was violin-playing on a skateboard.

The 22-strong cast also consists of skate crews from Phra Pradaeng district south of Bangkok in Samut Prakan province, students from Patravadi School, as well as professional musicians and choreographers.

Director Patravadi Mejudhon said that she hoped the show would serve as art therapy for both actors and their intended audience – kids running with the wrong crowd and abusing drugs which can mire them in problems such as teen pregnancy, crime, prostitution, and so on.

“After having studied art therapy and listening to what youths want to do, I created this show to develop the psychological well-being of youths who have chosen the wrong path,” Patravadi said.

According to the Department of Juvenile Observation and Protection, there are currently 17,238 minors being held at 77 facilities across the country. A majority of them are incarcerated on drug offenses.

Tossawat, the lead actor who is currently serving his sentence at a juvenile detention center, said the show provided him a space to unleash his hidden talents and creativity that were previously put off by drugs and other vices.

“I felt myself being useful after I began to take on arts into my life,” he said in an interview. “Rather than spending days doing nothing, I practice my musical skills so that I can use them after I get out.”

One day close to his heart was when he and his friends were allowed to temporarily leave the facility to busk for a charity near Victory Monument. He said the crew was able to raise around 4,000 baht within two days, which they donated to a girl who was hospitalized after being assaulted by her parents.

“That was the first time someone cried happy tears because of me,” Tossawat said. “Before, I used to make people cry because of something horrible I did.”

“Broken Violin” will be performed from Feb. 7 to 9 at Hua Hin Skate Park inside Patravadi School before moving on for shows around the country. The next stop will be at Chet Samian Market in Ratchaburi’s Photharam district from Feb. 14 to 15. All shows are free, but the audience is encouraged to donate to the Dhamma Theatre Foundation, who organized the shows. The show is in Thai, with English surtitles.

Dates for its Bangkok rendition are yet to be announced.

Director Patravadi Mejudhon, center, holds hands with juvenile cast members.
Director Patravadi Mejudhon, center, holds hands with juvenile cast members.