The classical Vietnamese theatre form tuồng has faced difficulties in broadening its appeal to the general public, particularly the young, but this could be changing thanks to a series of programmes created by the Việt Nam Tuồng Theatre.
The programme "Introducing tuồng to young audiences in 2021" saw the theatre introduce four exemplary excerpts of the art genre to the younger generation: Ông Già Cõng Vợ Trẻ Đi Xem Hội (The old man carries his young wife to see the festival), Hồ Nguyệt Cô Hóa Cáo (Hồ Nguyệt Cô turned into a fox), Ôn Đình Chém Tá (Ôn Đình beheading Tá), Trần Quốc Toản Ra Quân (Trần Quốc Toản joining the army).
Excerpt from 'Hồ Nguyệt Cô turned into a fox' performed by two artists Quỳnh Liên and Mạnh Linh. — Photo courtesy of thethaovanhoa.vn
The tightly structured programme aims to showcase the quintessential features of ancient tuồng, including the rules and manner of singing, dancing, performing and dressing up to give people a greater understanding of the traditional art form, which has been practised in Việt Nam since the 13th century.
Aside from performing, the participating artists hope to interact with the audiences through question and answer sessions, and dialogue.
The artists will have the opportunity to explain the characteristics, stylisation, conventions and deeper meaning of tuồng, as well as many of its archetypal characters, be they flatterers, loyal servants or beautiful women.
The detailed introduction, it is hoped, will give audiences a far deeper understanding of this operatic style of performance
Finding a modern direction for tuồng has been a concern of the leaders and artists of the Việt Nam Tuồng Theatre for some time. Accordingly, the theatre has worked hard to establish a suitable model to showcase the traditional art in schools.
This effort aims to close the gap between young audiences and the art, a chasm now so wide that it has proved difficult to train new artists.
An excerpt from an ancient Tuồng performed by artists of the Việt Nam Tuồng Theatre. — Photo courtesy of nhandan.vn
Talking about the programme, performing artist Lộc Huyền from the Việt Nam Tuồng Theatre said young and promising artists had been selected specially to perform for audiences. Aside from acting skills, the programme has set a series of strict criteria focusing on artistic standards and emphasising the unique characteristics of tuồng and Vietnamese culture as a whole.
The theatre also broke down the performances by age, with some aimed at primary school students, some for high school students and others for those at university.
“Of course there are excerpts, such as the comedy tuồng 'The old man carries his young wife to see the festival', which all students can easily absorb. Through communicating with the audience, artists can introduce the characteristics of tuồng art more deeply,” said Lộc Huyền.
"Bringing the audience to the art of tuồng cannot be done in a short amount of time, and one of the ongoing problems is that there have been very few lessons on traditional art in the high school curriculum," she added.
Accordingly, the Việt Nam Tuồng Theatre has persisted with the aim of focusing on attracting younger audiences. Aside from the theatre, state management agencies and professional associations have also been trying to find solutions to the problem, making theatrical education programmes a priority.
Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Tạ Quang Đông acknowledged that the effort to bring tuồng to young people was taking the right direction with Việt Nam Tuồng Theatre.
However, he also emphasized that tuồng artists must provide standard programmes and performances so that young audiences could absorb the essence of the art to the fullest, adding that the standard must find an ideal balance between singing, dancing, makeup and costume.
Makeup plays an important role in tuồng performances. — Photo courtesy of baokhanhhoa.vn
“To make art you must have audiences. Drawing young audiences to traditional tuồng is a job that will take time and require persistence. The programme to introduce tuồng art to young audiences must be hierarchical for each learning level,” Đông said.
“Performing for young people not only requires acting, but also a combination of music, makeup and costumes to be studied, emphasising the unique characteristics of tuồng and Vietnamese culture.”
The programme "Introducing tuồng to young audiences in 2021" by the Việt Nam Tuồng Theatre is part of an effective approach to bring new audiences closer to this complex, not easily accessible, long-standing art. This new direction is set to be a highly useful and sustainable way to preserve this revered traditional theatrical form. VNS