Artist Lan Huong is a pioneer in renewing theatre in Viet Nam. Recent plays such as Nguyen Du va Kieu (Nguyen Du and Kieu) and Hamlet, which she directed, had good receptions from both foreign and local audiences. Lan Huong talks to Thu Huong
about her experiences.
Physical theatre includes a wide variety of styles, approaches and aesthetics, such as dance-theatre, movement theatre, clown, puppetry, mime, mask, vaudeville, and circus. Physical theatre has developed into an art form worldwide; however, it is still a new concept in Viet Nam. For the past ten years, artist Lan Huong has been making great efforts to introduce physical theatre to Vietnamese audiences.
Inner Sanctum: How were you introduced to physical theatre?
Joining the Tuoi Tre (Youth) Theatre, I wanted nothing more than to dance and act, especially in plays for children. My poor health has prevented me from pursuing the art however.
In 2000, I was recommended to act in a one-man play, Giac Mo Hanh Phuc (A Happy Dream), in which I also danced with great success. To be honest, I have nurtured the dream of applying mime to plays for a long time, but it was not until 2004 that could I establish a club and until the end of 2005 that I could develop it into a physical theatre company. It is a pity that the broadcast of physical theatre is still limited, even though it has done much to rejuvenate a struggling theatre industry.
Inner Sanctum: How many physical plays have you directed and what is your favourite so far?
I have directed eight plays and feel satisfied with all of them. My satisfaction is increasing each year. On looking back, I can see gradual improvement with better setting up, better direction and fewer mistakes. Each play is the accumulation of experience gained thanks to previous ones.
Inner Sanctum: Have you ever thought you might have been too adventurous in pursuing a theatre form of which few Vietnamese have knowledge of?
During the first days, I was not aware that I was adventurous at all, because if I had been, I would not have had that courage! Some directors said that I was like a deaf person who was not afraid of the sound of gunshots, but I have never regretted my decision.
Inner Sanctum: You have written plays based on both Vietnamese and foreign scenarios, like Hamlet by Shakespeare. Which do you prefer in terms of physical theatre?
Foreign scenarios are easier because their philosophies are more obvious than Vietnamese ones. Each part has its own philosophy, but they require study in terms of symbols. For example, the speeches of the characters in Hamlet are very meaningful, so the challenge lies in how to transcribe those beautiful words into movement and dance. For instance, to illustrate deception, we used the image of a blindfolded Christ, because in western culture, Christ is the symbol of justice. Setting up physical plays is a process of decoding and translating from sound to sign.
Inner Sanctum: After 10 years establishing and developing a physical theatre company, what have you achieved?
My company has faced both ups and downs since its establishment. Because I brought physical theatre to Viet Nam when northern stages were at a standstill, few people came to the theatre. However, in the last two years, audiences seem to have gained an interest in my plays, including those in rural areas. I think my biggest success is introducing Vietnamese audiences to a new form of art.
Inner Sanctum: What is the biggest challenge to you and your theatre company?
The biggest difficulty relates to the outcome of the plays due to limited knowledge about physical theatre. Audiences have said the plays are interesting and beautiful, but few want to spare a penny to buy tickets. We are not discouraged, but at times feel at a standstill.
Inner Sanctum: How have Vietnamese audiences' attitude towards physical theatre changed?
I have been abroad many times and learned it might take up to ten years for different forms of art to win the hearts of audiences. Physical theatre used to be libelled in Europe when it was first introduced, but then gradually gained favour. In Viet Nam, audience response to physical theatre is quite positive.
Inner Sanctum: Can your theatre company balance its budget or do you still receive financial support to survive?
We have not been able to balance our budget yet and do not know when we will. The expense for setting up a play or going on tours is currently covered by the Viet Nam Stage Artists' Association, the Tuoi Tre Theatre and foreign support funds. We go on tours mainly to broadcast physical theatre, most of the time without any contracts because in many areas they have no idea about physical theatre. Last year, I planned to ask for financial support from foreign organisations to build our theatre company's brand name and by performing good-quality physical plays across the country, but unfortunately, because of the economic crisis, little happened.
Inner Sanctum: What does the future hold for physical theatre in Viet Nam?
In the future, physical theatre might develop, but slowly. Physical theatre winning over audiences seems miserably challenging and difficult, also because most theatre groups are suffering a loss. — VNS