New National Theater Will Mean Abandoning of 1960s Landmark

With plans for a new state-owned theater to be constructed in Phnom Penh, the Ministry of Culture has told actors still using the historic, but fire-ravaged, Bassac Theater that they must leave, a ministry official said.

More than 300 actors, however, are opposed to the move and are petitioning Prime Minister Hun Sen to halt their removal from the Bassac, Ieng Sithul, director of the Khmer Actress Association, said Friday.

The thumprinted petition will be presented to Hun Sen’s cabinet on Monday in the hopes that the ac­tors can continue to rehearse at the theater, which many consider their second home.

Designed by celebrated Khmer ar­chitect Vann Molyvann, the Bassac Theater opened its doors in 1968 to serve as the national thea­ter. A massive fire in 1994 gutted the building’s auditorium, but its largely roofless remains are still an im­portant rehearsal space for ac­tors and musicians.

Ieng Sithul claimed that Culture Ministry officials had informed the actors that they would have to vacate the theater because it had already been sold to a private company.

He said the actors have been told they will move, at an unspecified date, to a new theater that the ministry plans to construct near the neon-clad Spark nightclub along Mao Tse Tung Boulevard. He add­ed that the actors want the Bassac restored because the new location is an undignified place to have the national theater

“We really need our highly re­spected leaders to consider and re­consider to keep the home of ac­tors a proper and suitable place that looks good,” Ieng Sithul said.

Culture Ministry Undersecretary of State Uk Socheat confirmed that the new theater will be located near Spark nightclub, but denied that the ministry had sold or was planning to sell the Bassac site.

“We will only move to the new lo­cation because we feel ashamed to continue using such a ruined building,” he said, adding that construction has recently begun on the new theater.

The transplant is necessary be­cause the Bassac was too badly dam­aged in the fire to be renovated, Uk Socheat said, before referring further questions to Secretary of State Khim Sarith, who said he was too busy to speak with a re­porter.

Vann Molyvann said he was sorry to hear that the performers were going to have to finally vacate the theater he designed. He added that despite what the ministry was claiming, the Bassac Theater definitely could be restored to its former beauty.

“The foundation is still very strong, and the fire only destroyed some iron works, which can be easily renovated,” he said.

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