How many actresses do you know who were born in a village in Northern Thailand, learned English as a teenager, went off to college in Chiangmai… and are now headed to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to perform in a new musical?

21-year-old Yardpirun Poolun, or “Yard,” is a rare find. Hailing from Issan, the northeast region of Thailand known for its hot climate, agricultural industry and deprived economic conditions, Yard comes from a family of farmers. “When I was growing up, there was no theater, there was no training,” she explained. “There was just the farm.”

So how did this farmer’s daughter end up performing in a musical with American Broadway and television actors?

As a teenager, Yard had an opportunity to travel to the United States and live in Michigan with a host family. There, she learned to speak English, learned about American culture and even learned how ride a snow mobile. Studying a foreign language helped open doors so that eventually she found her way to Chiangmai University and began rigorous training in theater, dance and music. A gifted performer, Yard quickly made strides and can now be seen on stage as well as behind the scenes, producing shows for the Faculty of Communication Arts department at CMU.

Last year, Yard took a leap and auditioned for LAND OF SMILES, a new musical about the trafficking of women in Thailand. As the writer and producer of the show, I had the pleasure of hearing Yard’s audition recording in Los Angeles. Stunned by her singing, I asked her to prepare a scene. Soon after, we were working together across the ocean via Skype. I could tell right away that Yard was a naturally gifted performer. Though this would be her first English-speaking role, I had a feeling she would rise to the occasion and make it great.

She did exactly that. Later, when reflecting on her experience, Yard commented, “Being a part of LAND OF SMILES, I feel so honored, grateful and overwhelmed. It’s such an amazing experience for all of us.”

Yard played the role of WOMAN 2, portraying several characters: from the obstinate Kachin sex worker Nono to the dramatically challenging role of Lipoh’s mother. In the photo above, she can be seen playing Buya, a playful Thai prostitute and member of Chiangmai’s “Women Power” bar.

“I like this photo because it’s so natural,” Yard said. “Mae (Buya’s supervisor, played by U.S. actress Melody Butiu) is being a good host to welcome her customer, while Buya is trying to understand what Emma (the American case worker, played by U.S. actress Amanda Kruger) is talking about. Emma herself is so confused and tired of what she’s been trying to do!”

Here, Yard is referring to a scene in LAND OF SMILES in which Emma, the American human rights attorney from Cedar Falls, Indiana, stumbles into the “Women Power Bar,” a sex-workers-union-turned-brothel-turned-bar catering to “the most exclusive”… or, as the seasoned Mae remarks, “the most horny.” Women Power is a fictionalized version of a real bar in Chiangmai called “Can Do Bar.” Here, sex workers have formed a union in which minimum wage, clean working conditions and strict regulations are upheld by all members of the organization. Can Do Bar is a reflection of the wider sex worker’s rights movement, which is growing throughout Asia and beyond.

LAND OF SMILES recently enjoyed a successful run at the Gate Theater in Changmai, Thailand, where it played to sold-out houses and received standing ovations at every performance. The cast included actors from Los Angeles and Thailand. The production team is currently working to produce the show at the Edinburgh fringe Festival in Scotland in August, 2014. Dedicated to maintaining their international cast, the producers will be bringing Yard to the festival.

Yard is thrilled about her upcoming European debut. Sitting across from me in a Thai restaurant just a few weeks ago, she looked at me with excited eyes. “This is my dream,” she said through a big smile.

With her natural talent, bright spirit and intense dedication, Yard is truly a star in the making.

To learn more about LAND OF SMILES musical, visit: