On Friday, 11th January, approximately 200 people gathered at the National Institute of Education Phnom Penh to watch the performance organised by the Amrita Performing Arts: “Breaking the Silence”. The play explored the lives of people during the Khmer Rouge regime that involved sexual violence, suffering, injustice, stigma and trauma.
The performance hall fell into compete silence when the lights were dimmed, but was then broke by the beautiful yet haunting sounds of traditional Khmer instruments played by talented musicians seated at the back portion.
And as the music continued, performers dramatically entered the center stage. The dance then darkened to represent the brutal regime Cambodia had gone through. It was a remembrance of the past; but it was also meant to “break the silence” and show the resiliency each Khmer Rouge survivor has displayed amidst atrocities.
After decades of silence, they are now challenging the stigma and post-trauma that lingered in the society after the fall of the brutal regime. The performance displayed the experiences of people who were forced to kill their fellowmen, the rape and sexual abuses suffered by men and women. In courtrooms and classrooms, from civil society forums to family tables, survivors are revealing hidden dimensions of their suffering that continue to impact Cambodian society 40 years after the Khmer Rouge collapsed.
The performers were able to bring the real emotion and reality to the whole play with their skills and talents. In the play, they acted out many people’s lives, but still managed to get across a clear message.
The play “Breaking the Silence” also depicted people’s burden of shame and memories of being killers and abusers against their will, the guilt that they were forced to do unjust acts in order to stay alive. Cambodians only wanted peace, freedom and stability – but the Year Zero brought exactly the opposite.
Amrit Pisey, a student of Royal University of Phnom Penh, sat in awe at the audience area. “The performance was really impressive. This requires a lot of skills, memorisation and a great focus on their respective roles.”
She added, “I have learned a lot from this play in the sense that we become who we are for a lot of reasons. For instance, during this regime, people were forced to do a lot of bad things against their will. This play was able to show the audience different sides of the story that people were being influenced by ideology that can transform them into someone they’re not. They’re also the victim of this regime.”
“Breaking the Silence” play was supported by the representatives from the Cambodian Ministry of Women’s Affairs, foreign embassies, lawyers and staff from the ECCC, international and local civil society organisations, teachers and students.
“Breaking the Silence” was originally a film produced by Michelle Vachon with DC-Cam Staff, and with the cooperation from Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and the Embassy of Sweden.