Foreign tourists help keep Viet Nam theatre on its feet
|Dressed for opera: A tourist tries on a royal costume at the Hong Ha Theatre in Ha Noi. — VNS Photos Truong Vi
by Le Huong
Traditional theatre is becoming less and less attractive to the domestic audience. However, Ha Noi Cai Luong [reformed opera] and Viet Nam Tuong [classical drama] troupes are successfully running traditional shows especially designed for foreign tourists at the Golden Bell Theatre and Hong Ha Theatre right in the heart of the capital's Old Quarter.
It's a cool Saturday evening. Multicoloured twinkling lights in shops are switched on in the old streets, adding to the mystery of the old architecture. There is bustle in the air with more and more local residents and tourists going out in search of entertainment.
In the warm, small and almost-a-century-old Golden Bell Theatre right in the heart of the busy streets, dozens of foreign tourists enjoy a regular show featuring the musical and dancing cultures of different regions in Viet Nam.
The show takes tourists on a trip from the north to the south, displaying the musical heritage of the regions like quan ho (love duet) singing in the north, cai luong (reformed opera) in the south and Cham dance in the central region. English subtitles describe the contents of the show on a screen. The audience bursts into applause sometimes after short performances.
Professor Shaun Zeng from Malaysia cannot help but take photos of the show with his camera. "The show is so rich in culture," he told Viet Nam News excitedly after the one-hour show. "It's a wonderful show for tourists. I almost cried while watching the short play about the thief and the blind person. The show gave me a sense of the Vietnamese culture."
Having experienced music throughout the world and during his one-week Viet Nam visit, Zeng admitted he had enjoyed the trip a lot and would return.
|Smile: A tourist takes photos of actors at the Hong Ha Theatre in Ha Noi.
Among the last guests to leave the theatre, Isabelle Tong, a French woman who runs a company organising events for children in Morocco, spent time with the artists after the show.
"I'm looking for events to include in a holiday trip for my children and clients who are parents," she said. "The show could be a wonderful choice for entertainment. It's an ideal cultural show for them."
Being performed for almost a year now, the show lures many tourists every Saturday between 7pm and 8pm.
"I'm thinking of introducing more typical Vietnamese musical features in the show such as hau dong [a form of shamanism] performance and some more background props to make the audience understand the musical items and the Vietnamese culture better," said Tran Quang Hung, director of the Ha Noi Cai Luong Theatre.
"For example, for the gongs performance, we may put more images of houses-on-stilts in Central Highlands and for the Cham dance, we may bring some more statues of Cham culture," he said.
Shows for tourists
At Hong Ha Theatre nearby, Viet Nam Tuong Theatre performs regular shows for tourists every Monday and Thursday between 6pm and 7pm.
The shows include five select items of classical opera including Old Man Bringing Young Wife to Festival, Ho Nguyet Co Transforming into a Fox and traditional musical and dancing items like nha nhac (Hue royal music) and Lan Me De Lan Con (Mother Kylin Giving Birth to Children).
A newly-designed progr-amme titled Dem Hoang Cung (Royal Night) was staged recently for tourists.
"Foreigners are always hindered by the language barrier while watching classical drama shows," said programme director Dang Ba Tai. "Our new show does not concentrate on the vocal art but introduces the art of traditional dancing, music and performance."
The show is divided into two parts. In the first part, tourists can get up close to see how the costumes are made, the faces made up and the props prepared.
They can try makeup, disguise themselves as classical drama characters with costumes, take photos with artists or paint wooden swords, used as props, and take them home as souvenirs.
The second part of the show is staged like a classical drama meant for royal members in a feudal court, with an introduction by an English-speaking MC who plays the role of a eunuch.
"I have been told a lot about Vietnamese classical drama. But this is the first time I have seen such a show," said Makoto Okuwa from Japan, "It's very easy to understand. I enjoyed both the English subtitles and the artists' performance. The music is wonderful. I think it has an attraction that is different from that of other types of art in the world."
Canadian tourist Annabel Fritz is especially interested in studying how to sew glittering buttons on the costumes. "I can't imagine it requires so much time and care to make the costumes," she said. "You should be proud of the art. It's a real cultural heritage that has vocal art and performance skills, the art of makeup and of making costumes."
Director Tai said the theatre would soon coordinate with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to invite representatives from travel agencies throughout the country to see the show and introduce it in their package tours.
"It's high time the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism connects the tourism sector and theatres," said Ho Viet Ha, an official from the culture ministry. "We should not let single theatres find tourists themselves." — VNS