A fresh theatre graduate of the University of New Hampshire, Vietnamese director Nguyễn Phi Phi Anh, returned to his home country in April to prepare for his latest Broadway musical-inspired project entitled Hope. Alongside two revues, Góc Phố Danh Vọng (L’Avenue) and Đêm Hè Sau Cuối (A Mid-summer Night Murder), which were stage phenomenon in Viet Nam in 2012 and 2013, the project will also stage his new production, Mộng Ước Không Xa Vời (A Not So Far-fetched Dream). Phi Anh, who acts as producer, stage director and scriptwriter, talks with Thúy Hằng about his "offspring".
What is the difference between this year’s shows and the previous ones?
In the summer of 2012, L’Avenue made its debut in Hà Nội, followed by A Mid-summer Night Murder in the summer of 2013. Audiences warmly welcomed both productions. This time, I am simply rerunning these two productions without any adjustments because they are already complete and interesting.
Some people ask me if I have adjusted any details of those productions, and when I say ’No’ they seem to breathe a sigh of relief, because they were satisfied by the musicals and don’t want them to be changed. Actually, those people also bought tickets for the show Hope. Anyone who knows me or has ever watched my shows believe in me and the quality of my shows, so they do not hesitate to purchase tickets for the new shows this year.
The shows in 2012 and 2013 were to measure the local audience’s enjoyment of a Western art genre not commonly popular among Vietnamese people. This year’s show is to target a mass audience with 35 shows of three plays. Over the months, my team and I also had to deal with a tough task -- how to draw a large enough audience to cover all 200 seats of the L’espace auditorium and how to sell out the tickets for all 35 shows.
Can you reveal a bit about your newest musical, A Not So Far-fetched Dream?
The story basically follows a car driver for a day. He gets to hear different stories told by the various people who step into his car. The scenario has been completed, but so far, we have not practised it yet, as we have to focus on the reruns of the first two musicals. We will stage this newest musical in the beginning of January. Unlike the two revues, that have some songs from famous musicals as well as contemporary international hits, A Not So Far-fetched Dream will feature famous Hongkongese and Japanese songs. I also wrote Vietnamese lyrics for these songs.
Alongside highly-educated audiences, your Hope project also targets labourers by offering low-cost tickets (VNĐ99,000). What will you do to reach your goal as the low price is not a strong factor to draw in that audience?
I don’t do charity by offering low-cost tickets. My wish is to see my audience, including both rich and poor people, sit together in a same venue to enjoy my shows because art is for everyone. That’s why I encourage my audience to take their housekeepers or any poor or disadvantaged person that they know together with them to the theatre.
I believe that anyone who has watched my shows would say that musicals are not something too academic. By contrast, they are easy to understand, as the stories are inspired by normal life.
In your productions, what is the more important factor -- fresh or interesting?
For me, the interesting factor is more important.
I was extremely serious when I worked on my first production L’Avenue. I didn’t want the audience to grant me the privilege of watching my show simply because I was a student. I wanted to attract them by my interesting script and a fresh amateur cast.
I always tell myself that if I take two-and-a-half hours of my audience’s time, I should never ever waste that time. It should be a really worthwhile two-and-a-half hours. That is why the biggest pressure on me is to make my shows as interesting as possible.
When L’Avenue made its debut in 2012, we couldn’t sell all the tickets until the first show was staged. In the end we had to extend the show an extra night, as the audience was still eager to see the revue.
The same thing also happened with my second production, A Mid-summer Night Murder, in 2013. After the first theatregoers enjoyed the show, they would talk about it to their friends, who then went on to talk to other friends. Like a circular water wave, the public’s interest in musicals has expanded.
I always devote myself totally whenever working on any production. In preparing for Hope, I suffered hair and weight loss, and developed acne caused by stress.
You are always confident of the quality of your productions. Can you foresee the results of Hope?
Actually, I don’t dare say anything about this. It is better to wait until the 35th show has finished. Once we have staged all 35 shows successfully, then we can continue to present them to more audiences. If we still have audiences, of course, we don’t have any reason to stop running the show.
What is your next project?
I am not sure that I will stay in Việt Nam for a long time. I need to travel or move to another place to become fresh, both spiritually and physically. I like travelling, that is why I can’t stay in the same place for too long.
So far, I don’t yet know what I will do after Hope, but I know I will create movies that touch people.
My thesis work -- a 90-minute film -- has received a positive evaluation from my faculty. Entitled, Arbitrary Fairytales, it is a dark and philosophical movie. I am the director, scriptwriter and cameraman for the movie.
How do you describe yourself in five words?
Candid, pragmatic, bold, inspired, ambitious. VNS