Aung Mingala is staffed by four or five withered, old men. They have all been employed at the theater for decades, seeing to its general up-keep and day to day operations. When observing these men at work, one gets the impression that they are very literally a part of the theater. They constitute its heart, lungs, brain and eyes. In an off hand way they resemble the theater. One of them dwells behind it. All of these old theater-smiths are quite small, likely the result of being young children during the post-World War II years, when famine, hence malnutrition, hence stunted growth were commonplace in Burma. This smallness of stature lends further credence to their biological relationship to the theater. To be small is to circulate more easily through its vessels and chambers. When giving me a tour of the theater, it's as if they were revealing to me their life stories: stories which few people seem to care about anymore. One feels all too certain that the theater will cease living once they do.
The interior of the Aung Mingala is built mostly of wood, as can be seen in this stairwell leading to the balcony.
It breaks my heart to admit as much, but the Aung Mingala Cinema, it seems, is deep in the throws of decline. To say otherwise would be wishful thinking. It was the weekend in Dawei, the part of the week when cinema halls are supposed to make up for sluggish weekday attendance. At neither of the screenings I attended were there more than 10 customers. Besides myself, one showed up for a Saturday evening show, seating himself all the way in the last row of the balcony. In a theater with a seating capacity of close to 600, the emptiness was pervasive.
"A structure is most legible at the points of birth and death; its interconnections are more discernible as they are added to and then subtracted from. In this way a building is more public in disuse, more open to interrogation in deconstruction, more candidly explanatory of its parts in dismemberment."
January 20th, 2009