Director of the Ha Noi Cheo Theatre, Trinh Thuy Mui, tells Thu Trang about several things she has tried and is trying in order to preserve and popularise the traditional opera, especially among the youth.
Inner Sanctum: Many people say that audiences have become indifferent to cheF8o (traditional opera). Do you agree?
Not all audiences are cold to cheF8o, but it is not too popular because in the northern areas people rarely visit theatres. Comedy and music programmes attract a bigger audience whereas stage arts in general, especially political and traditional, have fewer audiences. Cheo is luckier than other traditional arts including tuong (classical drama) and cai luong (reformed theatre) because now many festivals in rural areas are being restored in which cheo is being used, so it can still be performed. However, festivals are often organised in the first three and the last three months of the year, so in the remaining months very few people come to the cheF8o stage.
Inner Sanctum: Being a director of the Ha Noi Cheo Theatre, what have you done to raise the theatre's vitality?
We at the Ha Noi Cheo Theatre have tried hard to bring in audiences. We did not sit quiet even when the audiences turned their backs on us. We tried different things including changing our programmes, investing more in arranging the stage and setting up projects to preserve traditional arts.
All the famous pieces of the theatre which connect closely to the theatre's fame were preserved and re-arranged. We want to have classic cheo pieces in the theatre so that the young artists can learn from them and gain experience to develop more and be creative on stage.
Recently, the lights in the theatre have been on every day to welcome the audiences. We have a full schedule. Many of our performances such as Oan khuat mot thoi (Injustice) and Ngoc Han Cong Chua (Princess Ngoc Han), in the last two or three months were warmly welcomed by Ha Noi audiences.
This year we are searching for an excellent script to set up good cheo pieces for audiences in the capital. It will help to bring the audiences closer to us and will also ensure that they do not forget the name of our theatre.
Inner Sanctum: Can you tell me more about your project of bringing cheF8o to schools? What are the advantages and disadvantages you have seen when conducting the project?
The intention of bringing cheo to schools is to attract more audiences.
At first we thought the project's success rate would be low because not too many people were enthusiastic about cheo. However, when we went to the schools, the boards of all the schools and teachers said that knowledge about folk arts was necessary, and they really wanted something to be done to ensure that the arts do not vanish into oblivion.
When we first introduced cheo to students, more than 90 per cent of them did not know anything about it. It was a sad state of affairs. But the sadness urged us to develop the value of cheo and to do something to bring the art to young audiences. We determined that we must choose some pieces which are suitable for their ages and which they are attracted to. They can study and enjoy traditional art at the same time.
At primary schools, we performed cheo pieces about fairy tales such as Co Tam (Miss Tam), Ba Qua Tao Than (Three miraculous apples) and Cay Den than (Magic Lamp) which are suited for students. They are very interested in the performances and we feel that each performance is as exciting as a football match in which viewers enthusiastically encourage the artists. The students are very bright and eager to exhibit their response to different characters. They love good-natured characters and hate negative ones.
The students also consider each performance as a lesson and take notes to test their knowledge about the performance. They do not hesitate to put questions to the actors. It is good that we give artists the information earlier, so it is a lovely way to explain everything to students.
After the performance, the students showed how much they admired the artists because they went up and asked them for autographs. We feel that we have returned to our childhood and it is success much beyond our expectations.
In junior secondary schools, younger students are often playful and difficult so we introduce humorous pieces. Some of the pieces are also taught in the 7th grade literature curriculum to get the students interested in performances.
In high school, the psychology of students is stable so we introduce classic cheF8o to give them a deeper understanding of the art. The students, especially those specialising in literature, prefer learning about the differences between various forms of traditional arts such as cheo (traditional opera) tuong (classical drama) and cai luong (reformed theatre). I think it is one of the very practical projects to maintain cheo art in an effective and lively way. And as a result, we will have a young generation of audiences interested in cheF8o.
It is obvious that we cannot introduce the art in all 1,700 schools in HaF8 NoE4i overnight. It is our dream, and the dream has gradually come true because not only schools but also parents encourage us. Parents want their children to imbibe a humane vision to contemplate our beautiful lives and keep in view the future of folk arts. — VNS