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Veteran artist’s cải lương troupe attracts fans

Update: March, 12/2019 - 11:00
Young actors of the Thanh Nam Cải Lương Troupe work hard to lure young audiences back to the traditional art form. — Photo Thanh Hiệp
Viet Nam News

KIÊN GIANG — A private troupe specialising in cải lương (reformed opera), a traditional art in southern Việt Nam, in Kiên Giang Province’s Rạch Giá District is holding performances and offering free training to youth.

The Thanh Nam Troupe has travelled around the region offering interactive shows staged by cải lương stars of the region, including People’s Artist Lệ Thủy, Thanh Ngân and Quế Trân.

“Our performances provide local people with the unique art of cải lương. The audiences learn how the artists play the music, sing and dance a traditional tune," said Thanh Nam, 65, owner and head of the troupe. “To guarantee ticket sales for our shows, we have invited famous artists of HCM City to play leading roles.” 

Nam often uses two cải lương stars, who perform together with his actors, to attract fans to his troupe’s show. 

Nam, who is also a cải lương actor, knows the taste of audiences, particularly youth, and brings what they want to see on stage.

In his latest play staged at the Nguyễn Trung Trực Temple last month, Chuyện Nhà Chuyện Làng (Village’s Stories), a production about family issues written by Nam, People’s Artist Lệ Thủy of HCM City was one of the guest performers.

The participation of Thủy, a star of cải lương for more than 50 years, helped tickets sell out quickly.  

Using her strong voice and dancing to great effect, Thủy impressed the audiences about the challenges, hopes and dreams of people living in southern provinces. She also helped Nam’s actors to improve their performance. 

Thủy and her students, including famous actresses Thoại Mỹ and Thanh Ngân, have worked with Nam’s troupe to perform for people living in remote and poor villages. 

They have visited villages in Kiên Giang and neighbouring provinces, including An Giang, Bạc Liêu and Cà Mau.

“I love working with Nam’s actors, who are young and dynamic,” said 71-year-old Thủy, adding that she saw the love for cải lương from the eyes of the performers. “I think cải lương is alive through rural artists like Nam’s in Cửu Long.”  

Nam’s troupe has 20 full-time young actors and musicians, who were farmers before they took to the stage.

He has invited veteran actors to offer free training for his actors.

Nam said his troupe was keen on exposing youth to cải lương, which is part of their heritage that is hundreds of years old.

"I told my actors that you should work harder because your art gives young audiences the opportunity to understand and appreciate the country’s traditional culture and theatre," he said.  

Nam spent 40 years working as the director of Kiên Giang People’s Cải Lương Theatre, one of the region’s leading traditional art troupes.

His theatre offered several hundreds of shows per year in the 1980s and 90s when cải lương was the most popular art in the region. Last year, the theatre staged only 70 shows.

“The region now has 13 cải lương troupes. Some troupes, such as Ánh Hồng Troupe of Trà Vinh and Chuông Vàng Troupe of Sóc Trăng, closed after failing to meet the taste of audiences,” said Nam.

Cải lương is facing harder challenges to exist, as cinemas, concerts and TV shows have dominated the market. The art should be developed in a different way from the very old one,” he said.  

Nam is one of the region’s few professional performers who have kept the art form original on the stage. He has worked with local authorities, State-owned and private organisations to professionally develop his troupe’s business.

His troupe signed a contract with the province’s People’s Committee to offer outdoor shows in traditional festivals this year. The troupe will also offer seven small shows staged for labourers at companies and factories in the province.

“Thanks to artists like Nam, cải lương  will remain alive,” said Thủy. — VNS 

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