The nai nang is the puppet master of South Thailand’s nang talung. He uses small, translucent shadow figures to perform in Songkla, Phattalung, and Nakhon Si Thammarat areas.
He is the head of the nine person troupe. He manipulates all the puppets, delivers all the dialogue, sings, and directs his assistants and musicians. The orchestra (traditionally a percussion ensemble, but at the beginning of the 21st century may include electric guitar and keyboard or be replaced by pre-recorded music) includes a ching (cymbals), klong (two-headed drum), mong (gong), pi’nai (oboe), so duang (two-string fiddle), and thap (pear-shaped drum).
The nang nai performs on a small, enclosed, outdooors raised stage with viewers below, alternating between entertainment, political critique, and ritual formulas. His role is similar to the dalang, puppetmaster of the Malay and Indonesian region. Performers may undergo an initiation ceremony when ready to become a practising puppeteer.
In the 1990s, the artists, responding to the impact of television, film, video, and digital entertainments, rarely presented stories derived from the Ramakien, the Thai Ramayana. Instead new stories represent local people wearing mini-skirts and jeans. Speeded up puppet movement and electronically amplified music attracted enthusiastic audiences at temple fairs.
Since the 1960s, nai nang have supplemented their income creating quickly produced figures for the tourist market of the beach resorts. Nai nang continue to adapt in the preservation and modernization of their art.