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Reviving traditional theatre arts

Update: July, 25/2018 - 09:00
Veteran artist Thúy Mùi, director of the Centre of Preservation and Development of Theatre Art. — Photo courtesy of the artist
Viet Nam News

On the glowing stage of chèo (traditional Vietnamese opera), Thúy Mùi is a charming artist who mesmerises audiences with sweet folk melodies. She is also known as a decisive leader who has contributed significantly to attracting people back to chèo. She was recently appointed as director of the Centre of Preservation and Development of Theatre Art. Mùi speaks about her plans to draw more audiences to traditional theatre arts.

When you were appointed director of the Centre of Preservation and Development of Theatre Art, many people were hopeful that you would introduce new initiatives to make the art of theatre great again. What plans do you have?

My passion for theatre art remains the same as when I was young. I want to devote more time to develop Việt Nam’s traditional theatre. This role is tough because the centre is not funded by the government, so we have to manage by ourselves. But thanks to this, we are not under so much pressure. For me, this is the motivation and opportunity to realise my ideas and organise performances to draw more audiences to theatre.

Currently, the centre is implementing two projects. We are working with the General Department of Tourism, Hà Nội’s Department of Tourism and travel agencies to offer theatre shows and introduce different forms of traditional arts to visitors in traditional craft villages across Hà Nội. We are implementing a pilot project for this by offering free shows featuring traditional arts like cải lương (reformed opera), chèo (traditional Vietnamese opera), chầu văn (ritual singing) and ca trù (ceremonial singing) at Vạn Phúc silk village and Bát Tràng pottery village every Saturday and Sunday’s evening. We have seen both locals and visitors are interested and engaged in these shows. Representatives from the traditional craft villages also support this idea.

Our second project is digitalising documents about top theatre artists. Preserving theatre art is not only about the works or plays, it is about appreciating the artists who have contributed significantly to the art. This archive will also help young artists to access material about the previous generations of artists, to learn from and be inspired by them. The centre has collected a large number of CDs and images of artists from former leaders as well as the artists themselves.

This archive will also be used for other projects of the centre like shows to honour exemplary actors and actresses or exhibitions for local people and visitors.

We also want to build a care centre for old and homeless actors in Hà Nội, and introduce theatre arts more widely across Việt Nam.

How are you carrying out these projects given the limited resources of the centre?

The centre has co-ordinated with other organisations to host professional shows. Retired artists who are still passionate about theatre art will be invited to these shows. Besides, we also encourage students from the Hà Nội University of Theatre and Cinema to perform with veteran artists so that they can learn from them.

I have invited actors and actresses from traditional art troupes as well as students from the Hà Nội University of Theatre and Cinema to make sure there is a connection between young and veteran artists.

Some people might be concerned that show organisers would be more interested in making money rather the quality of the shows.  Are you?

It is true that many organisers only care about the benefits and don’t pay adequate attention to improving the quality of the shows. For us, quality is the most crucial factor.

I think to build a good brand, the organisers have to keep a balance between the entertaining and artistic elements of the shows.

It has been difficult to attract audiences to traditional theather shows, what makes you confident about your plans?

Traditional theatre shows like cải lương, chèo, chầu văn, ca trù and múa rối (water puppetry) engage not only foreign audiences but also Vietnamese people. The problem is how to connect audience with the stage. If music is more about listening, then stage art is more about viewing. The shows that we have organised and want to attract audiences to all take place in a cosy  atmosphere that brings a sense of intimacy.

I can also see that many donors have a great interest in theatres and artists too.

They (the donors) sing chèo and cải lương with me. We share a passion for theatre art. They sponsor our shows and I send them tickets. This is also a way to reawake the love for theatre art.

One of the biggest difficulties is finding donors. Once we can solve this problem, then we can carry on with the project. — VNS

 

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