Illustration by Trịnh Lập
By Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
This summer, my colleague has been happily showing me photos of her teen children singing and dancing on stage. They are participating in programmes that take them out of town for the weekend or even longer. One of her children is part of a performing art group that has events both in and out of Hà Nội under the leadership of one of the mothers and a teacher.
Summer is the best time of year for art and music centres in cities to flourish. You’ll find them all: a week or even a month of music camp, a piano competition, a dance course. Like never before, young people across Việt Nam today have many chances to find an art or instrument to their liking and pursue it.
When young people find something they love and devote the time practice and perform, their parents are the first to book tickets.
A couple of weeks ago, Tuổi Trẻ Theatre (Youth Theatre) sold out its production of Mathilda. The play was produced by HAY (Hanoi Arts for Youth) and recruited students from elementary and junior high schools for the cast in an unprecedented stage performance by students from Hà Nội’s public schools.
I’ve seen plays involving up to a few dozen players in English theatrical performances at private schools, where English is the first language of most of the students. While it’s almost standard for international and private schools to stage a performance in English at the end of the school year, it’s phenomenal for the HAY group to put together a production any teacher, English tutor, parent or student can be proud of.
The group does a wonderful job improving children’s education in performing arts and helping children happily and confidently sing in English. The performers learned all their English lines by heart and performed them well. Of course there was the occasional pronunciation mistake, but in my opinion they made the show even more interesting and beautiful to watch.
And it’s even more appealing to learn that the second production, Nobody’s Boy by French writer Hector Malot, which captured the hearts of millions around the world, is going to be staged at the theatre this week.
Every night from Monday to Thursday, two casts will play to a full house.
It may be a box office success, but as a parent, I am concerned for two reasons. First, if the schedule is so full during the week, then performing could become stressful rather than something fun to do. Secondly, with all the shows are scheduled for the night, they will be finished well after bedtime for the children.
And of course, they won't be able to sleep right away – it will take some time for the adrenaline of a successful performance to fade.
Some may argue that Vietnamese children do not have a widely respected bedtime. At 10pm, you can still see young children playing on Hà Nội's streets, watching television or cruising the streets with their parents. Whenever a parent tries to complain about their difficulty getting their children to bed on time, there's someone who interrupts to say: "My children go to sleep even later!"
But this is not a competition to find out who goes to bed the latest! It’s about respecting a schedule that allows children to get enough sleep to grow and develop fully.
HAY is comprised of well-intentioned parents who wish to give their children an arts education and build their self-confidence in public. But as they give the students a chance to flourish on stage, they must also respect their needs and allow them to form healthy habits.
Their children's health should come first.
Some arts educators may argue that art training, especially in music and dance, should start early for children. There are many compelling stories of great artists growing up performing as young as four to help their parents' businesses. But this is not why they end up finding success.
Some parents are strongly opposed to seeing small children being exploited in shows, singing adult songs, acting as if they were adults in love or wearing little costumes and makeup, and I have to say I understand their objection.
Well, it's easy to tell others what to do. But before this column goes to print, a long conversation with our illustrator failed to convince him not to draw children on stage in costume – he said he needs to draw something interesting to lure readers. VNS