(Story of a Valiant Man) will be performed during the second ASEAN-China Festival to be held in Nanning, China, this October. Nguyen Anh Tu, deputy director of the theatre staging the event, talks with Lan Dung about theatre for children in Viet Nam.
Chuyen Chang Dung Si
Inner Sanctum: Where did you get the idea for this drama?
I've been quite interested in the Dam San epic of the E De ethnic people for many years now. I'm impressed by Dam San's aspiration to meet the Sun Goddess, although the valiant man knew that he might face many difficulties and die in the process. Past generations of people had great desires, and I think our attempts to conquer the Moon and Mars today is only an attempt to fulfill their wishes.
This is a story for adults, and I dream of making a musical for them one day. However, this is not a good time to do it. So I decided to write a 60-minute script based on this story for children aged seven to nine years.
Inner Sanctum: What message do you want to send to children in the audience?
There are lessons on good and evil, as well as environmental protection, that were built into the drama. The story is about a man defeating evil to protect human beings.
At the moment, people contribute to the destruction of the environment by cutting trees and demolishing forests, causing a lot of disasters. This drama will help kids love the environment more and make them aware of the need to protect Mother Nature. I also embeded the aspiration for kids to meet the Sun Goddess. The valiant man will meet the Goddess and ask why she burns forests. She will then part the clouds, showing that people living in his village are the ones burning the forests.
Inner Sanctum: What difficulties did you encounter in setting up this drama?
The most difficult part was performing manoeuvres when actors and actresses act, sing and dance together. I also found it difficult to attract kids and make them understand the story.
Also, the children got easily bored if the stage decorations were not splendid and colourful. To prevent that from happening, artists were placed in charge of stage decorations. For example, in a flood scene, each actor on stage will be holding a branch painted red and green, depicting a tree flying in the wind.
We will try to make the drama understandable and still keep the character of the Central Highlands intact. Songs are written with good melodies and easy-to-understand words.
The play will be part of an international festival, so we will remove language barriers by using less dialogues and increasing action scenes. The audience can understand the story by merely watching the characters and their actions onstage.
Inner Sanctum: You have set up many dramas for children since you have worked with the Youth Theatre of Viet Nam, and now, the Viet Nam Drama Theatre. Could you share with us your experience in making dramas for kids?
It is important to categorize the age of children because each age bracket will require different aspects in drama. I do not ever think that kids aged three to more than 10 are all fond of drama.
Chilren of each age category undergo changes in psychophysiology. Kindergarten kids aged three to five are interested in dramas adapted from folk tales with simple details, the good and the bad shown through dancing and singing. Kids in Grades One and Two are keen on Vietnamese and international fairy tales and we integrate lessons, as well as funny and humorous ideas, from these tales into the dramas that we make for them. Those in Grades Three, Four and Five enjoy reading comics and are fans of Superman, so dramas written for them should be more complicated.
When I was performing for the Youth Theatre of Viet Nam, we always invited the children in the audience up on the stage to talk with actors and actresses in every play we did. I will try to bring that to this drama because the interaction will make it more interesting.
A play for adults can be long, but a drama for kids should be no more than 50 to 60 minutes long.
Inner Sanctum: You took part in international festivals as an actor of the Youth Theatre of Viet Nam. How did foreign kids welcome Vietnamese plays?
They were very interested in our plays. In 2010, we performed a play entitled Cay Khe (The Starfruit Tree) during a festival for children's plays in Mongolia. After our performance, Mongolian kids came on stage, touched the actors' costumes and asked the starfruit tree, the role I played, to hold them in its arms. They told me, the tree, that their country did not have any trees like me, and asked me how my fruit tasted.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think about dramas for children nowadays? Are they better than those made in the past?
In Viet Nam, programmes for kids such as circuses, dramas, and films are usually shown at the end of each school year, in May, and on the occasion of International Children's Day on June 1. They are also popular during the summer holidays and during the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Organisations, individuals and groups of artists usually hold their programmes at these times. Only a few organisations, like the Youth Theatre of Viet Nam, are provided with grants by the government to enable them to hold shows for children during the year.
The quality of a play goes hand in hand with a country's economic prosperity. Without the latter, artists cannot have splendid clothing and magnificent stage decorations.
I think dramas are much more developed now than before. With the development of technology, lighting systems and costumes have become more beautiful and programmes for kids have become richer. — VNS