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Backstage workers struggle to make reasonable living

Update: September, 19/2015 - 10:53
Facing challenges to draw audiences back to the theatre, some private theatres and drama troupes in HCM City will close temporarily to upgrade their facilities. — VNA/VNS Photo
HCM CITY ( VNS) — Facing challenges to draw audiences back to the theatre, some private theatres and drama troupes in HCM City will close temporarily to upgrade their facilities.

If the actors decide to work for other troupes, however, backstage workers, who help stars weave their magic, will find it difficult to get another job.

"We have a long list of backstage workers who live in poor conditions and need financial support from us," said People's Artist Kim Cuong, owner of a charity fund for poor theatre artists.

Early this year, Cuong and her staff organised a charity concert to raise funds for 140 artists from nine theatres.

The two-hour event featured young stars Tu Suong and Trinh Trinh together with veteran artists Huu Chau and Vu Linh.

Their show received nearly VND100 million (US$4,500) from benefactors, including individuals and organisations who have worked with Cuong's fund for several years.

"We hope more contributions will be spent for elderly artists and backstage workers who have devoted their life to the art," said 78-year-old Cuong, who began her career at an early age.

Nguyen Bao of the HCM City Small Theatre, one of the city's most acclaimed lighting and sound specialists, earns only VND300,000 for each theatre performance, which opens twice a week.

The theatre will soon close temporarily for an upgrade.

"Backstage life has become difficult. We can't earn enough to support our family," said Bao, adding that he is luckier than most of his peers as he began part-time work at Vinh Long Province's Television Station this month.

Theatre troupes in HCM City have more than 100 backstage workers, many with more than 20 years of experience.

They often live in poor conditions, and to earn a decent living, they are forced to find work in entertainment centres like karaoke bars and discos.

"Young people would love the theatre, and they're looking for career opportunities, but most people don't want to work behind the curtain," said makeup artist Tran Kiem of the Phu Nhuan Drama Troupe.

"With the city's theatre schools no longer offering courses in backstage arts, there is a need to seek alternative measures to preserve the art form."

Huynh Anh Tuan, director of the private theatre IDECAF, said the backstage was a "hidden art" unknown to many people outside the theatre world.

IDECAF, for example, uses 15 backstage workers. While most backstage specialists are freelancers, Tuan's staff is on hired on a permanent basis and receives health insurance paid by the theatre.

Tuan admits that salary is a problem.

"Our managing board has worked hard to guarantee that our staff earns good money," he says. "We need to invest in backstage crews if the theatre is to truly develop." —VNS

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