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Costume designers: The unsung heroes of the theatrical world

Update: August, 08/2018 - 09:00
Fashion designer Sĩ Hoàng
Viet Nam News

Fashion designer Sĩ Hoàng has been working as a stage costume designers for many years with a large number of his products used in large-scale productions including two produced by the Việt Nam Chèo Theatre and the Hà Nội Drama Theatre to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Thăng Long-Hà Nội. In the last four years, the designer has tried his hand acting and he got first success winning a silver prize at the National Drama Festival 2018. Huy Sơn spoke to Sĩ Hoàng about his work.

How did you become a stage costume designer?

It began by fortune long ago when I met artist Thành Lộc at a training course for play producers. Lộc graduated directing the play Lôi vũ (Thunderstorm) and asked me to help with costumes.

Lộc designed them and did the tailor works for many costumes but he said he still wanted to add some artistic angles to them.

After working with Lộc, I had the chance to work with many others directors as a stage designer. Hundreds of plays have been staged with my costume designs. They two plays produced by the Việt Nam Chèo Theatre and the Hà Nội Drama Theatre to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Thăng Long-Hà Nội Capital. More than 500 costumes were needed for the two plays. The most recent co-operation was with the Thế giới trẻ (Young World) Theatre where I designed costumes for the play Yêu là thoát tội (Love to be unguilty).

Many audiences know about actors, actresses, directors or script writers when they watch a play. Fewer people want to know about the role of a costume designer. What do you think about that?

For me, stage designing is both interesting and challenging.  It is different from fashion designing. Working as a stage costume designer, I have the chance to work with directors, actors, actresses and script writers. This helps my career grow. I have to find the best quality products to ensure the actors or actresses are comfortable on stage. At the same time, the costumes should be cost-effective and need to be used again and again because a play could be staged many times.

Some of the many costumes designed by Sĩ Hoàng. Photo courtesy of the artist.

What do you think of the role costumes play in dramas?

In Việt Nam, the role of a costume designer probably has not been regarded important since long ago despite being an indispensable part of a drama.

If we compare Vietnamese stage costume designs with others countries such as South Korea and India, we find that foreign actors and actresses in those countries wear much higher quality and more beautiful costumes than ours.

After putting on their stage costumes, they can express fully the emotion of the characters that they are playing.

It is so strange and I cannot understand why stage costume designing is taught in universities and colleges, but it still does not attracts attention from the audience and stage organisers.

Drama and cinema contests especially the Cánh Diều Vàng (Golden Kite) or Bông Sen Vàng (Golden Lotus) are held every year. Different categories of prizes have been awarded to actors, actresses, directors, script writers and musicians. However, none of the prizes has been awarded to a costume designer.

I suggest that if we have a faculty for stage costume designing in drama and cinema universities or colleges, we should also add more awards for designers in national or large contests.

How do you cope with large-scale productions that require historical designs?

I consult with historical experts such as Professor Dương Trung Quốc in Hà Nội and Professor Nguyễn Khắc Thuần in HCM City. I always try to talk to with the most experienced and professional experts.

This helps me understand the national and local tradition from the period the drama is set.

First and foremost the costumes should be true to that period and look nice.

I work very carefully for the plays that demand to have historical costumes.

Designer Sĩ Hoàng (left) takes a role in the play "Yêu là thoát tội". He has also designed the costumes. — Photo

You have been very successful in your career as both fashion designer and stage costume designer. How about a drama actor?

I first watched a play when I was nine years old. My parents took me with them to see plays by well-known groups of Bông Hồng (Rose), Kim Cương (Diamond) or those on the television.

From childhood, it was my dream to act and I applied to universities to study but the competition was tough.

Director Ái Như offered me a role to try. Như said she knew about my desire to be an actor and she found the role was suitable for me. I accepted and took the role but after a week of rehearsal, I had to quit because I was afraid I would ruin the play.

The director and a senior actor, Thành Hội, encouraged me to try some others roles including one in the play Lạc giữa phố người (roughly translated as Being lost in a crowded street) and another in Mình có yêu nhau không? (roughly translated as Do we love each other?). That’s the way I become an actor.

What has attracted you to the stage? Is that for showing your talent or to live another life?

For me, to live another life is what attracted me to become an actor on the stage. A human fate is always something that inspires me to take a role in the play. Each character has his or her own lives and I love to act to prove it.

It is like in a certain period of time, you can experience and live with different human characters in different emotion and circumstances.

It was a surprise that you won a silver prize for a role in the play Yêu là thoát tội at the professional National Drama Festival 2018. How did you feel?

It was unbelievable that I had won the prize. I could even not believe when the MC called my name because I think many others professional actors and actresses were better than me. They were all more experienced and smarter than me.

I can only simply explain that the prize is really a great encouragement to me because it has helped recognise my efforts and contribution to drama.

Working as an actor, I always think I should be very careful and never have illusions even when I get the prize.

For me, to be on the stage is a chance to learn from others. With such aims, I will keep my modesty and never be illusional. — VNS


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