People’s Artist Kim Cương (second left, back row), who has 65 years of experience in Vietnamese theatre. Photo courtesy of the artist)
By Thu Anh
“Cải lương, a reformed theatre genre of the southern region, is still alive after one century. My younger colleagues and I have worked to expand our art among young people,” said People’s Artist Kim Cương in HCM City.
Cương, a cải lương guru who has 65 years of experience in the industry, will release a CD featuring her biography on Youtube next week.
Her CD, Sống Cho Người, Sống Cho Mình (Live for People, Live for Myself), written and recorded by Cương in co-operation with her friends, will feature the artist’s life and career.
The development of the traditional theatre, between the 1950s and 1990s, in the south will also be highlighted.
"I hope my CD will help fans understand why and how cải lương is the spirit of Vietnamese people," said the 83-year-old artist, who has spent several hours daily in studio to complete her CD.
People’s Artist Cương began her career when she was 17, after training with her mother, Bảy Nam, who is recognised as one of the most talented cải lương performers in the country. Photo courtesy of the HCM City Theatre Artists’ Association
Born in 1937 to a theatrical family in Sài Gòn (now HCM City), Cương began her love for cải lương through her parents, the late talented performers Nguyễn Phước Cương and Bảy Nam, owners of Đại Phước Cương Troupe, one of the region’s leading cải lương troupes.
She started her professional career when she was 17, after training with her mother, Bảy Nam, and actresses Phùng Há and Năm Phỉ, who are recognised as some of the most talented performers in the country.
Cương played the leading roles in famous plays, such as Giai Nhân Và Ác Quỷ (The Beauty and Beast) and Phụng Nghi Đình (Tragic Love Story).
In the 1960s, Cương became involved in modern drama, working to combine it and cải lương.
She later opened Kim Cương Drama Troupe, the first and leading drama troupe in the south, managing a staff of more than 70 actors.
Her troupe offered dozens of quality plays on the topics of love, family and social problems, starring young talents Tú Trinh, Kiều Phượng Loan and Văn Hùng.
Cương decided to challenge herself as a scriptwriter and became a phenomenon in the industry in the 1960s and 1970s.
All of her plays feature the culture and lifestyle of southern people.
People's Artist Kim Cương (centre) has worked to preserve cải lương. Photo courtesy of the HCM City Theatre Artist' Association
Three of her most famous plays are Lá Sầu Riêng (Durian Leaf), Dưới Hai Màu Áo (The Colours of Clothes) and Bông Hồng Cài Áo (A Rose for Mother), released in the 1970s-80s. These works are still fresh and have been staged many times by leading drama troupes across the country.
Đỗ Kim Thoa, a journalist specialising in culture who worked for the Vietnam News Agency in the 1980s in Hà Nội, said: “Vietnamese drama exists in two styles, from the north and the south. Each style requires specific performance skills.”
“Cương used cải lương, a reformed theatre, to make drama, a new and imported form, in the southern style popular, even among people in the north.”
“Her devotion to Vietnamese theatre is invaluable,” she added.
Cương wrote 50 plays during her career, most highlighting southern women and their characters. She also performed in more than 30 films.
In her CD, Sống Cho Người, Sống Cho Mình, Cương will share her memories of famous performers of cải lương, including late People’s Artist Phùng Há and Bảy Nam, her mother, who were pioneers and played an important role in developing the art.
Although the work does not focus on the love, challenges and sacrifices that Cương has spent on cải lương, she hopes theatre lovers will learn more about the art and Vietnamese culture.
“My love for theatre keeps me healthy. I have been launching concerts to raise funds for the poor,” said Cương, former deputy chairwoman of the HCM City Association in Support of Disabled People and Orphan Children.
Veteran and young theatre artists of HCM City perform in Nghệ Sĩ Tri Âm (Performers Together), a charity programme that raises funds for poor artists and their families. The event is organised by People’s Artist Kim Cương, a guru of cải lương (reformed drama) who has 65 years of experience in the industry. Photo courtesy of the producer
Last year, her annual charity programme, called Nghệ Sĩ Tri Âm (Performers Together), featured 120 veteran and young theatre performers, including cải lương stars Út Bạch Lan and Kim Tiểu Long. The event featured extracts from popular plays to raise money for artists in need.
“Our artists performed for free to encourage organisations and individuals to contribute to charity,” said Cương.
Her programme received clothes, food, and cash worth VNĐ1 billion (US$45,000). The proceeds wen to 160 poor theatre artists and their family.--VNS