The Thai Youth Theater (TYT) Festival is a 3-day youth camp in central Thailand focusing on the theatre arts. It provides rural Thai students with opportunities to develop and improve skills in the areas of creative and critical thinking, English, artistic design, gender sensitivity and awareness, effective leadership, public speaking and presentation, and community and peer cooperation.
Every year, a TYT Festival is put together by a committee of Peace Corps Volunteers and Thai counterparts for students throughout Thailand. Once interested groups apply and become admitted, they begin their preparations, which include selecting, casting, and rehearsing a 10-minute play in English. All travel costs to and from the festival must come from community contributions, so attending groups will typically perform their play at various community events to generate support. This allows the community to learn and become more invested in the TYT project (specifically) and the theatre arts (in general).
Over the course of the 3-day event, youth participants will learn various performing arts skills, such as singing, dancing, costume and mask-making, and crafting. These activities enable students to develop soft skills, such as communication, self-expression, problem solving, leadership, confidence, and self-esteem, all of which are essential to their success in life. As Thailand is a patriarchal culture, these activities play additional significance for the young girls in attendance, who account for roughly ⅔ of the attendees. All activities will be facilitated with a gender-aware lens and will allow for ample time to debrief the various gender dynamics that arise.
The participating communities are truly the driving force behind this project, because most of the preparations take place in each individual community. The students and counterparts must be committed to creating and preparing for a play. Usually, this means beginning rehearsals at least four months before the festival. A teacher and a group of her students have been attending the TYT Festival for the past four years. She reports that her students start the creative process six months in advance. Most groups perform their plays in their communities, sometimes several times, leading up to the festival. These often become fundraising events to help cover the costs of travel to and from the festival. Students are often involved in the planning of these events, giving them valuable, real-world experience in these areas.
In addition to individual community preparation and contribution to this festival, the teacher who has been working with the Thai Youth Theatre committee for many years now. She has helped the committee coordinate and communicate with communities (without PCVs) who want to attend the festival. She has been pivotal in the planning and implementation of this project.
In order to achieve sustainable benefits from attending the TYT Festival, groups will develop a plan to promote English and creative arts programs back in their home communities. This plan will be developed and discussed at a wrap-up session with counterparts, teachers, and group leaders. This will include an analysis of the various gender dynamics present in their communities and how they will foster gender sensitivity and awareness throughout their activities. Each community can sustain the benefits of TYT and continue related activities after this project in a number of ways, such as maintaining an ongoing drama club, creating their own mini-TYT Festival locally and inviting neighboring communities to participate, and integrating drama into their English classrooms. Students, counterparts, and PCVs will work together to determine what type of ongoing project will best fit the needs and resources of their community and how to set about implementing it. Ongoing support from TYT Committee members will be available through social media and email. Unfortunately, we have not yet found a local Thai organization able to coordinate with this number of communities or fund a festival of this magnitude. We will ensure sustainability by encouraging attending schools to bring 'acting in English' back to their communities in the coming years and host smaller events in their respective communities. This will allow new communities to attend this festival in the future and expand the reach of our annual Thai Youth Theatre festival even further.