Theatre and Buddhist Storytelling: An Experiment in Supplementing the Traditional Mahachat Sung Sermon for the Benefit of a Modern Thai Audience

Maysa Utairat

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


My thesis is based on my theatre practice, during which I created a theatrical
piece as part of a Theravada Buddhist storytelling event, the Mahachat sung
sermon, in which Buddhist monks recite the Vessantara Jataka story, the great
giving of Prince Vessantara, Bodhisattva, accompanied by giving rituals in a
tradition transmitted from pre-modern to modern Thailand. I added the element
of theatre to the old ritual. In my thesis I interrogate my theatre practice and the
place of the play: was it spiritual teaching or entertainment, and was my theatre
traditional or modern? To find answers, I look at Peter Brook’s distinction
between Holy and Rough Theatre, and the spiritual transformation
in the Mahabharata; then, at Helen Nicholson’s concept of a play as a gift jointly created by the theatre makers and the community; and at Marcel Mauss, who postulated that giving is an exchange stemming from self-interest.
I created the play in the context of traditional and modern communities in Thailand’s Northeast region during 2010-2014. The monks’ sung sermon and giving ritual provided a sacred moment that was adapted into the play. The performers are a medium whose outer and subtler embodiment are shared with the audience, as they abandon self-centredness to be embodied by the sacred characters and perform their own ‘great giving’ in accordance with the Vessantara character. My thesis includes
photographs and a DVD documenting the performances, and draws on extensive
interview material.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusSubmitted - Apr 2019

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