Célestins Theater is a unique cultural institution with a long and particular history – the first construction dates back to 1792, the present building is from 1881. Today, Célestins Theater is the fourth drama institution in France, considering the audience with 100 000 spectators on average per season. The Theater presents on average 25 shows per year with more than 280 performances. 50% of its programme is produced by the theatre itself and its productions are toured on the major national and international stages.

However Célestins Theater focuses on living writers, its downtown nature dedicates its programme to wide audiences. Each programme includes numbers of classic dramatists’ plays, the plays performed in foreign language by worldwide known companies and young companies, a circus show and often, a puppetry show.

In 2009 Célestins Theater has launched the International Theater Festival Sens Interdits. One of the goals of this event is to support the young theater companies from developing countries by providing administration, financial, logistic support and by organizing their touring in France. In 2011 the French tour and production of the first part of “The Terrible but Unfinished Story of Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodia” was managed by Célestins Theater.


In 1985-1986, as an undergraduate exchange student in Paris, Ashley Thompson attended the seminar of Hélène Cixous, as well as the Théâtre du Soleil’s staging of Cixous’s Terrible but Unfinished Story of Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodia. These experiences set her on a path leading to a life of work in and on Cambodia.

After obtaining a B.A. in History and Literature from Harvard University (1988) she worked for two years in an an education programme in Site 2 Cambodian refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. She obtained a Beginning Certificate in Khmer Language at the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI, University of Hawai’i) in 1988, and an Advanced certificate in Thai language from SEASSI, Cornell University, in 1990, where she was awarded the Usha Mahajani Prize in Southeast Asian Studies. She pursued graduate studies in Paris, obtaining a Diplôme supérieur in Khmer at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (1991), an M.A. in Indian Studies at the University of Paris 3 (1993), and a PhD in Women’s Studies under the direction of Hélène Cixous at the University of Paris 8 (1999). Her PhD dissertation, entitled Mémoires du Cambodge, explored Cambodian ways and means of memory in post-Angkorian period religious works.
Her first research in Cambodia, from 1994-1997, was supported by the Social Sciences Research Council, N.Y. During this period, and again from 1999-2001, she taught Khmer Civilisation, in Khmer, at the Department of Archaeology of the Royal University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh, and served as an Advisor to the Cambodian State Minister of Culture, Urban Planning and Territorial Management. In this last capacity, she worked to found the research branch of the nascent national organ for the management of Angkor. Work in Cambodia was supported by UNESCO.
From 2001-2004 she was an Assistant Professor in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies of the University of California, Berkeley. She has been a Lecturer in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds since 2005. She has also taught as Visiting Professor in the Department of Women’s Studies of the University of Paris 8.
She is a specialist of Cambodian arts and literatures. Her main research and teaching interests involve questions of memory and cultural transition. Her work explores avenues for comparison of “Eastern” and “Western” traditions.
Publications include Angkor. A Manual for the Past, Present and Future (co-author), UNESCO; Dance in Cambodia (co-author), Oxford University Press; Calling the Souls. A Khmer Ritual Text, Reyum; and “Terrible but Unfinished: Hélène Cixous’ Stories of History,” in New Literary History.
Staging the Cixous play in Cambodia had long been one of her dreams. When artists she had known as children in Site 2 came as adults to found Phare Ponleu Selpak Arts School in Battambang, she glimpsed the possibility of realising this dream. When, in 2007, Ariane Mnouchkine took up her proposition to lead the adventure, the dream began to come true.