A new drama, Đảo Lửa (Island of Fire), has opened at Hồng Hạc Theatre in HCM City. The theatre was built last December by veteran artist Việt Linh, as the first and only experimental stage in the city.
Nhất Lê interviewed artist Việt Linh about the newly opened Hồng Hạc Theatre.
Việt Linh, 64, began her movie direction career in 1971. She studied in the Russian State Institute of Cinematography for five years before working for the city’s State-owned Giải Phóng (Liberation) Film Studio in 1985.
Her films have been shown in Russia, France, Australia and the US. Her works, such as Chung Cu (The Residental Building, 1999) and Mê Thảo Thời Vang Bóng (The Glorious Time in Mê Thảo Hamlet, 2002) won top prizes for best film, actor and actress at national film festivals.
HCM City has many theatres that are no longer interesting and luring the public. Could you explain why you opened the Hồng Hạc Theatre?
In HCM City, there are many drama theatres for adults, but only one theatre, run by artist Thành Lộc, is for children. It is necessary to create a generation of spectators who have a passion for drama. Art education plays an important role. I know that there is not a drama watching programme in curricula at primary schools.
Two years ago, I co-worked with artist Phạm Hoàng Nam to produce an experimental play, entitled Thiên Thiên. And we had experiences that made us more confident that we could establish an experimental theatre.
I think Hồng Hạc Theatre is the fruit of the project that was nurtured by our team for a long time.
In western countries, people see theatre being much more opulent than cinema. In France, an international theatre festival is held annually in Avignon. It lures thousands of repertoires from all over the world. Drama with very few actors is popular there. This kind of drama requires good scripts and good actors.
I like it very much and I want to do this in Việt Nam. I hope there will be spectators who are interested in it, like I am.
What makes Hồng Hạc Theatre distinct from others?
Hồng Hạc Theatre aims to remake works from outstanding cinema and literature. It looks like my movies, as dramas at Hồng Hạc Theatre have open-endings and even unclear endings. We want audiences to integrate into the dramas, and not only watch them.
At every show, musicians will play live music before a drama begins. It is a way to help spectators calm down before they come in and watch the drama. It also allows spectators who come late to the theatre to not miss the content of the drama.
The experimental drama Thiên Thiên is being performed at Hồng Hạc Theatre, but as a new version. After three shows in 2014, we received feedback from spectators and adjusted Thiên Thiên, making it much better. The new Thiên Thiên is easier to enjoy. In the experimental version, one actor can play different roles.
Drama will take over the stage on Friday and Saturday. We plan to organise invitation-only shows and children’s shows on Sunday.
Our colleagues are mainly young artists. They are professional. As an example, actor Mạnh Phúc plays a role in Island of Fire. When the drama ends, I present flowers to him and I saw tears running down his face. He was unable to step out of his character when the drama finished.
Some veteran actors almost quit their jobs for many reasons. But they are ready to work with Hồng Hạc Theatre and it truly moves me.
I’m lucky, because my husband and my daughter encourage me a lot. They love art very much. And they even suggested different ways to write script.
What difficulties did you face in establishing up Hồng Hạc Theatre’s brand name ?
There’s a fact that many young colleagues have not yet come to theatre to watch drama on stage. They see drama only on television. When I began this project, the first thing I had to do was urge them to go to the theatre to watch drama on stage.
I did not imagine that many people in the biggest city in Việt Nam have gone to theatre to watch drama. It is too unusual. Hồng Hạc Theatre wants to make city dwellers more eager about enjoying dramatic theatre.
Hồng Hạc is the name of a legendary bird. The bird symbolises stability and pureness and is a dream about beauty. It is like a dragon – another fictious animal – so I am free to imagine.
Four dramas at Hồng Hạc Theatre have been staged in different styles, but all of them have common points that honour emotions.
Due to a lack of money and the small stage, we cannot invest much into stage sets. We always remind ourselves about using our real emotions. It is very important, because when actors create emotions, they inspire their counterparts on stage and spectators, as well.
We have many difficulties. We don’t have a theatre. We perform at the Dance College’s stage. We are only allowed to hang posters and decorate the stage at 4pm before the show kicks off.
When the show finishes we have to re-arrange everything. It looks like the theatre disappears.
The stage is small, with 162 seats. We can make money only when the stage is full. At present, we are still losing money. But we believe that if we grow a tree and take care of it well, we will have fruit. When we have fruit, we will think to cook another dish.
If we are successful with the Hồng Hạc brand name, we will take on other projects on film, books and for training.
Do you know how audiences respond to Hồng Hạc Theatre ?
Spectators commented on Facebook, saying Hồng Hạc Theatre is a “paradise of art that has returned”. Possibly the audience favours Hồng Hạc Theatre, but at least it is a positive feedback. However, I will not be affected by public opinions.
If spectators put their hopes on Hồng Hạc Theatre, we cannot meet their demands. If they are disappointed, we will not be discouraged. My team and I work together because of our passion for art. And we believe in what we are doing. We try our best with our work, which aims at making small contributions to enrich theatre activities in HCM City.
You are a prolific filmmaker, but you stopped making films. Why did you decide to return at this time?
I return in the role of script editor and producer. I think film and drama have many common points, so I don’t have to take on obstacles to engage in new fields. I don’t know why I returned at this time. Possibly, it is fate.
I’m a calm person. I work for what I like and I always try my best. My team is working step by step to gather and collect musical and literature works, aimed at turning them over for films or dramas.
I want to reveal that Hồng Hạc company will have a contract to provide 52 film scripts every year to create television series. We are co-operating with many old and young authors, as well as script editors. — VNS