By Thu Anh
Five private troupes specialising in cải lương (reformed opera), a traditional art originating in southern Việt Nam, in the Mekong River Delta region are offering mobile shows for residents in rural areas.
The Traditional Arts Troupe of Đồng Tháp Province has been travelling around the region staging interactive shows with veteran artists, including cải lương stars of HCM City.
SUPPORT ART: People's Artist Lệ Thủy (right) and actors of the Thanh Nam Cải Lương Troupe are working to lure young audiences back to the traditional art form. VNS Photo Thanh Hiệp
“Our troupe has 15 skilled artists who have worked for the State-owned Đồng Tháp Theatre,” said Meritorious Artist Minh Mẫn, owner and head of the Traditional Arts Troupe.
Mẫn spent more than 40 years in the field before managing his own business.
“To develop our troupe’s business, we offer free training by veteran artists. We help young actors improve their skills in music, singing and dancing.
“To guarantee ticket sales for our shows, we have worked with professional art troupes, such as Sen Việt Cải Lương Troupe of HCM City, to stage quality plays,” he added.
Mẫn’s troupe will re-stage two historical plays, Rạng Ngọc Côn Sơn (Pearl in Côn Sơn) and Tô Ánh Nguyệt (Ms Tô Ánh Nguyệt), both of which have been staged many times by leading theatres of HCM City, next month.
“I spent about VNĐ300 million (US$13,000) for each production. In these works, we invited famous artists of HCM City to play leading roles. We hope their performance will leave a fresh impression on local people,” Mẫn said.
In Kiên Giang Province, artists from the Thanh Nam Troupe know the taste of audiences, particularly youngsters, and offer what they want to see on stage.
GIVE US A CHANCE: Cải lương actors want to give young audiences the opportunity to understand and appreciate the country's traditional culture and theatre. Photos courtesy of Lê Hoàng Drama Troupe
“We often use two stars who perform with young actors to attract fans to our troupe's show,” said Thanh Nam, 65, owner of the troupe.
Nam, also a cải lương actor, invited People’s Artist Lệ Thủy to be a guest performer in his troupe’s new play, Chuyện Nhà Chuyện Làng (Village’s Stories).
Thủy used her strong voice and dancing to great effect and impressed audiences. She also helped Nam’s actors improve their performance.
“The participation of Thủy, a star of cải lương for more than 50 years, helped tickets sell out quickly,” Nam said.
Nam and his actors have also offered shows at temples and cultural houses for people living in remote and poor villages in Kiên Giang and the neighbouring provinces of An Giang, Bạc Liêu and Cà Mau.
Their plays are about the challenges, hopes and dreams of southern farmers.
PLAY'S THE THING: Actors of private troupes in southern provinces on stage.
“My troupe has 20 full-time young actors and musicians who were farmers before they took to the stage. People's Artist Thủy and her colleagues offered free training for them,” Nam said.
“Cải lương is part of our heritage that is hundreds of years old. I wanted to expose young people to the art.
"I told my actors that they should work hard because their 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 director of Kiên Giang People’s Cải Lương Theatre, one of the region’s leading traditional art troupes.
His theatre performed hundreds of shows per year in the 1980s and 90s when cải lương was the most popular art form in the region. Last year, the theatre staged only 70 shows.
The Mekong Delta region now has 13 State-owned cải lương troupes. Two leading theatres, Ánh Hồng Troupe of Trà Vinh and Chuông Vàng Troupe of Sóc Trăng, closed last year after failing to attract enough spectators.
Mẫn and Nam are among the region’s few professional artists who opened their own troupes and have kept the art form original.
The two artists have worked with local authorities to offer outdoor shows in traditional festivals.
“We signed a contract with the Phú Nhuận Drama Troupe, one of HCM City’s prestigious private theatres, to develop our troupe’s business professionally,” said Lê Nguyễn, director of the private troupe Đất Việt Stage of Cần Thơ City.
“To introduce our art, we've spent money on marketing and online ticket sales. We also send our young actors to train with famous artists in HCM City.”
Nguyễn’s troupe offers small shows staged for workers at companies and factories in the province instead of at theatres.
"Our shows featuring songs and dances that reflect people's daily lives, including work and family issues, have entertained audiences," Nguyễn said, adding that his young staff this year has offered more than 70 shows and concerts for 15,000 people. VNS