Huỳnh Long Theatre, founded in 2018, is known for its performances of cải lương and tuồng which focus on historical events. Photo courtesy of the producer
Thousands of people in HCM City and the Mekong River Delta region have been captivated by new theatre shows and TV programmes featuring cải lương (reformed opera), a 100-year-old traditional music genre of the south. Despite the challenges of revenue growth in the industry, young producers are making their mark and leading a new generation of artists who are inspiring audiences. Thu Anh reports.
In recent years, young producers in the theatre business have overcome serious challenges and proven their ability to produce quality shows about Vietnamese culture that both entertain and inform.
Gia Bảo, who grew up in a traditional artistic family in HCM City, began his career as a theatre director and producer after more than 10 years working as a comedic artist.
His first three-act comedy, Sui Gia Đại Chiến (Big Fight with My In-Laws), depicting social changes in Vietnamese families today, was a hit when it was released in 2012.
The play features two theatre styles of Vietnamese drama and cải lương. It attracted nearly 7,000 people in HCM City the first two weeks after its release.
Actors perform in Tài Danh Đất Việt (Vietnamese Gurus of Cải Lương), a long-term project offering shows of vọng cổ (nostalgic tunes), cải lương and tuồng or hát bội (classical drama), produced by Gia Bảo. Photo courtesy of the producer
Bảo’s long-term project, called Tài Danh Đất Việt (Vietnamese Gurus of Cải Lương), was launched last year and has attracted dozens of veteran actors and young talents.
The project includes performances and shows of vọng cổ (nostalgic tunes), cải lương, and tuồng or hát bội (classical drama), traditional theatre genres in the southern and central regions.
Its highlighted shows include the famous play Lan và Điệp (Love Story of Lan and Điệp), a production about Vietnamese women living in the feudal society in the south by well-known scriptwriter Trần Hữu Trang.
Bảo worked with Meritorious Artist Thanh Điền to restage Lan và Điệp in a new version 82 years after its premiere in Sài Gòn (now HCM City).
His 90-minute version, released in March, is a mix of cải lương and bolero, a type of slow-tempo Latin music.
“Even though our new version is targeted to young audiences, we offer cải lương in a traditional style,” said the 33-year-old, who spent several hundred million đồng on production.
“Every show from the project Tài Danh Đất Việt offers tickets at only VNĐ100,000 (US$4.5) because I want to encourage students and young workers to learn more about Vietnamese history and culture through traditional theatre,” said Bảo.
Many of Bảo’s older colleagues have affectionately described him as a “monster” as he directs them during staging and takes part in marketing and sales.
With the project’s success, Bảo was added to the list of blockbuster producers together with talented directors Thành Lộc and his grandfather, Meritorious Artist Bảo Quốc.
Bảo has organised a mini live show, called Tài Danh Đất Việt-Đêm Tôn Vinh (Vietnamese artists of cải lương – Night of the Art), featuring cải lương star Hồng Nga, who has 40 years of experience in theatre, in HCM City.
The event featured extracts from historical plays in the 1970s and 1980s that made Nga famous.
“Nga is a guru of cải lương. I hope her art will help fans, particularly youth, understand why and how cải lương is the spirit of the Vietnamese people,” said Bảo.
Theatre producer Gia Bảo’s cải lương shows feature dozens of veteran actors and young talents. Photo courtesy of the producer
Another talented producer is Bình Tinh of the privately owned Huỳnh Long Theatre.
Huỳnh Long Theatre, founded in 2018, is known for its performances of cải lương and tuồng which focus on historical events.
Many audiences have focused on Huỳnh Long actors but have also been interested in the woman behind the shows, the female actress, director and producer Tinh.
Last Sunday, about 150 people, including fans from Đồng Nai, Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu and Bình Dương provinces, cried and laughed as they watched Tinh and her actors at the theatre’s location at 144 Đinh Tiên Hoàng Street in Bình Thạnh District.
The artists performed Mặt Trời Đêm Thế Kỷ (Sun after the Long Night), a new historical play written and directed by veteran actress Bạch Mai, the troupe’s owner.
Though the play is about patriotism and loyalty, actors introduced new concepts for tuồng.
Actress and director-producer Bình Tinh (left) and actors of the Huỳnh Long Theatre. Photo courtesy of the producer
“Passion for work is not enough for young artists to overcome difficulties in the theatre industry. You should be dynamic and energetic, and be prepared for failure at any time,” said Tinh, winner of the Chuông Vàng Vọng Cổ (Golden Bell) Award 2016, a national cải lương contest presented annually by HCM Television.
“Our plays feature very old stories but will be staged in a new style of tuồng, which originated in the 12th century, to meet the demands of young people.”
Her latest play, San Hà-Xã Tắc (The Country and the People), is a historical play written by her mother Bạch Mai.
The work’s main characters, young farmers, leave their village to devote their life to the country’s independence.
San Hà-Xã Tắc attracted more than 300 viewers at its debut in the city’s Hồng Liên Theatre on April 10.
Director Tinh kept the audience spellbound during and after the performance.
“A theatre is a channel for dreams. A director should be a mason building his or her own house,” said Tinh. “With the increase in the number of cinemas featuring foreign films in the country, our actors have faced difficulty luring fans back to Vietnamese traditional theatre.”
Tinh said that Huỳnh Long Theatre is facing difficulties providing a stable income to its staff of around 30 actors.
“However, we love to stage traditional theatre and want to preserve it. We have never stopped developing the industry in a professional way,” she said. VNS