The Joe Louis Puppet Theatre (JLPT) which is located in Bangkok at Asiatique the Riverfront on the Chao Phraya River, is one of Thailand's cultural treasures. The founder of the JLPT (Sakorn Yang-keawsot or Joe Louis) is credited with having rescued this traditional Thai art form which was rarely seen outside of Thai royal palaces prior to the twentieth century.
While Sakorn passed away in 2007 his theatre company has continued his legacy by conducting performances with puppets that have been modeled on the characters from the epic Ramayana (i.e. one of the Hindu epic stories); something the master puppeteer started back in 1985.
Sakorn Yang-keawsot was born in Nonthaburi Thailand in 1922 to parents that were both professional puppeteers. While this art form had been a part of Thai culture for hundreds of years, the Royal Puppets as they were called were only seen at royal functions. It wasn't until about 1901 when puppets became an art form within the broader Thai society.
However, by 1942, Sakorn was now a young man and had followed in his parent footsteps and was making his own style of Thai puppets. It was during this period that he gained the nickname of Joe Louis after the American heavyweight boxer.
By the end of WW2 Sakorn had started his own puppet troupe using the hun lakorn lek puppets which were a smaller more life-like style of puppet. As noted above Sakorn uses these puppets to recreate the adventure like Hindu epic stories such as the Ramayana which originated in India.
By 1985 after more than 40 years of being a puppeteer Sakorn (see images above and below) started the JLPT utilizing his Sakornnadtasin Puppet Troupe.
Only a decade later in 1996 he was awarded Thailand's prestigious 'National Artist' award in performing arts due to his continued contribution to the art of Thai puppetry.
JOE LOUIS PUPPET THEATRE
While Joe Louis passed away in 2007 the JLPT now includes the children and grandchildren of the late puppeteer who are continuing his legacy via the art of Thai puppetry. They have constantly been improving their performances by using better stages, costumes and props to make the shows more enjoyable for the audience.
The puppets that are used are full bodied, meaning they have arms, legs, torso's, and heads. Some individual parts of the puppets such as the necks and fingers on the hands can also be manipulated by ropes and pulley's. It can take up to three puppeteers to operate one puppet at a time.
In 2006 the JLPT also won the highest award in puppetry at the World Festival of Puppet Art (which was held in Prague), for the category of 'Best Traditional Performance'.
The Joe Louis Puppet Theatre is located at Asiatique the Riverfront at 2194 Charoen Krung Road, Wat Prayakrai Bangkoleam, Bangkok Thailand 10120.
Asiatique is open 7 days a week between 4 PM and 12 AM. It can be accessed by taxi, or if you travel on the BTS Skytrain there is a free shuttle Ferry from the Sheraton Pier, which is located close to Saphan Taksin Station on the Silom line (which is the last stop before the Chao Phraya River).