Set designer Do Doan Bang was one of several Vietnamese artists from the Youth Theatre to go on a field trip to Japan from April to July sponsored by the Japan Foundation.
Bang was also one of a select few set designers in Viet Nam who got the chance to study in the US, Singapore and Germany. In co-operation with foreign partners, he designed the set for many plays including Nguoi Di Qua Thung Lung (Man Who Goes Through the Valley) and Cay Sao Than (Magic Flute).
He spoke to Culture Vulture about his recent trip to Japan.
Could you tell us briefly about your recent field trip to Japan?
It is a part of a cultural project funded by the Japanese government. It is a four-month training course divided into four phases. In the first month, we studied Japanese culture. I previously read about Japanese culture but not in a profound and systematic way. This knowledge is precious, helping us understand clearly how Japanese develop art based on their traditional culture. I think this is one of the most valuable experiences for Vietnamese artists.
In the two following months, we visited 15 theatres to see how they operated. We had the chance to watch about 40 traditional and contemporary stage works.
In the last month, Vietnamese artists were divided into groups and worked at different theatres. I went to a fine arts design company.
Did Vietnamese artists have a performance after the course?
At the beginning, a performance was not part of the course. During the course, we had two drama and dance performances that inspired us to do a contemporary art performance. It became the 45-minute work entitled Chuyen Tinh (Love Story), based on Romeo and Juliet.
The work surprised the Japanese organisers and changed their thinking on art. Normally, people going to the theatre want to sit comfortably in their seats and enjoy the performance. I wanted to change that. I replaced regular seats with stools to make the audience uncomfortable.
When Japanese audience came, they dared not sit on stools because it was strange. I want the audiences to have new experiences when they come to see the work. My purpose is to bring new emotion.
That is my work of design. Veteran actress and director Le Khanh, our leader, directed the work. Her creativity was also interesting for the organisers. Chuyen Tinh opened with actors sitting among the audience, not on the stage. The actors performed next to the audience. It brought the audience closer to the work.
What was the most important takeaway for Vietnamese artists?
Teamwork. All members from actors to designers and technicians can contribute to the work. It seems to be different from our work before. In Viet Nam, set designers usually work with only directors. It is rare for all members to sit together for discussion.
I think Vietnamese artists are not open to overcoming basic regulations of art to combine traditional and modern elements. I hope they will change their ways. They will not hold back from speaking their opinions. They will be open to creativity.
What differences did you see between Japanese and Vietnamese drama?
Drama came to Viet Nam and Japan at the same time, in the early years of the 20th century.
However, Vietnamese artists have fewer opportunities for international co-operation than Japanese. In Japan, art always draws audiences who enjoy the new creativity of artists.
Japanese artists are successful in combining traditional and modern elements to create art.
Will your experiences in Japan make your upcoming works different from previous ones?
Before this, I've never worked with my experience from training abroad. This time, members from different sections of the Youth Theatre took part in the course in Japan. It's lucky because we can share what we experienced together in Japan. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the organisers. — VNS