HCM City theatre troupes preserve tuong

14:26 | 19/03/2019
Faced with financial difficulties, theatre troupes in HCM City are working to attract audiences back to tuong or hat boi (classical drama), a Vietnamese traditional theatre that originated in the 12th century, according to industry insiders.
hcm city theatre troupes preserve tuong
Hard work: Artists cannot perform tuong if they have not been properly trained. The industry is facing a shortage of young and skilled performers.VNS Photo Ngoc Tuyet

Speaking at a conference on tuong organised by the HCM City Theatre Artists Association recently, Meritorious Artist Nguyen Hoan said: “We’re having difficulties cementing our positions in the theatre business. However, our love for tuong keeps the art alive.”

“We have worked with private entertainment agencies to improve our business,” he added.

Hoan, deputy director of the HCM City Hat Boi Theatre, said that his theatre had signed 15 contracts with new partners to offer outdoor shows in cultural houses and temples throughout the country this month.

Three shows offering famous extracts from historical plays, including Vu An Le Chi Vien (Murder Case at Le Chi Garden) and Tran Hung Dao (General Tran Hung Dao), will be staged to residents in districts 5, 8, 11 and Binh Chanh in HCM City this week.

These works depict the country’s history, culture and traditional lifestyles.

“Outdoor and mobile shows will help to expand our drama among audiences, particularly young people, who prefer pop music and movies,” said Hoan.

hcm city theatre troupes preserve tuong
Passion for art: Veteran and young performers of the HCM City Hat Boi Theatre performed more than 150 shows last year. This year they will stage historical plays at temples and cultural houses around the city. VNS Photo Ngan Anh

The Huynh Long Tuong Theatre in District 1 will offer three new plays in a classical style, featuring historical events in different periods under the Tran, Dinh and Ly dynasties.

These plays will be staged in cultural houses in rural districts in March and April, the months when people celebrate the Ky Yen Festival, a cultural event to worship the villages’ God in the south.

Veteran actress Xuan Yen of the Huynh Long troupe said: “Offering outdoor shows helps our theatre make a profit. Although we know that we face a lot of challenges on the way, we believe in the future. We face fierce competition in the market, but this cannot limit our creativity and business.”

This year, the city has more than 70 cultural festivals organised in local temples. Dozens of tuong theatres and clubs have been invited to perform for residents and visitors during the events.

“I enjoy performing for both adults and children in temples because I see they mostly live in difficulties and are very excited about our art,” said veteran actress Thoai My, who often performs at the Artists’ Pagoda in Go Vap District.

My and her colleagues, including young talents, find it refreshing to perform for fans here.

They perform cai luong (reformed opera) and tuong (classical drama) plays featuring historical events and national heroes, such as Trung Nu Vuong (The Queen’s Sister) and Bach Dang Giang (The Bach Dang River).

Last year, their shows attracted thousands of residents and visitors.

People’s Artist Dinh Bang Phi, who has more than 40 years in tuong, said: “Performing at temples was popular in southern provinces in previous decades. Artists performed outside for local people who wanted entertainment after hard working days.”

“The activity is being lost because of modern life. We’re working to revive performance to encourage fans, particularly young people, so they can learn about and enjoy our art,” he said.

hcm city theatre troupes preserve tuong
HCM City theatre troupes preserve tuongNew generation: Outdoor and mobile shows help to expand tuong among audiences, particularly young people, who prefer pop music and movies. VNS Photo Ngoc Tuyet

Last year, HCM City’s Hat Boi Theatre offered more than 150 shows, many of them outdoor, featuring 17 young actors who were trained by the theatre’s leading artists.

Hat boi (or tuong) is often performed at ceremonies and festivals at temples and pagodas in central and southern provinces, such as Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, Vinh Long, Can Tho, Tien Giang, and Soc Trang.

Along with traditional arts such as cheo (traditional opera) in the north and cai luong (reformed theatre) in the south, tuong has contributed to the spirit and character of the Vietnamese.

The art has three performance styles: tuong pho (plays based on Chinese old stories), tuong đo (plays feature Vietnamese historical events and national heroes) and tuong hai (comedies about people in daily life).

Artists in the 13th century entertained royalty, and later the art form was adapted and introduced to residents around the region. Stories in hat boi feature historical and social events.

According to Phi, the industry is facing a shortage of young and skilled performers.

Phi, a leader in tuong, said: “For drama, movies, or catwalk, amateurs can practise and perform a little bit, but for tuong, you cannot do it if you have not been properly trained."

”Cultural authorities need to invest in producing talented and young crews if tuong is to truly develop,” added the 81-year-old.

There are only 10 professional tuong theatres, located in Hanoi, HCM City, Thanh Hoa, Hue, Da Nang, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, and Khanh Hoa.

In 2017, the first private Nui Nhan Tuong Troupe opened in Phu Yen’s Tuy Hoa City. It attracted 24 veteran and young actors from Phu Yen and neighbouring provinces.


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