Cai luong theater lacks new songwriters

Long-time cai luong, a form of modern folk opera popular in southern Vietnam, advocates harbor rising concerns for the shortage of good screenwriters as veterans near retirement and young faces still lack experience.

Doi Co Luu – a classic opera reimagined by a lot of crews
Doi Co Luu – a classic opera reimagined by a lot of crews

Good writers - a rare find

The national theatrical form is seeing a clear lack of skilled songwriters. The most prominent names still working are in their 60s or 70s. Meanwhile, the new generation of writers has not found its footings or produced high-quality and unique pieces. As a result, most socialized and public art units fall back on choreographing their routine based on classic plays to keep the business going.

Composers in the past were relatively well-off writing cai luong, but it is not the case nowadays although the field still desperately needs new inspirations, said composer Dang Minh.

“From long scripts, short scripts, singles or neo-classical songs, there is something new in every opera, from the idea to musical structure, rhythm, the way to build images, or stage layout”, he said.

Writers spend time balancing traditional and new elements, making sure the essence of cai luong is maintained and at the same time meeting the expectations of a new wave of audiences.

“Even if old pieces are reimagined, modern audiences wouldn’t tolerate them because of the slow pacing, long duration and scarcity of key events, not to mention the clash between traditional and new performing techniques.”, Minh added.

“Young people look for versatility, and a movie-like experience. Most classic pieces reveal the ending as they start, which make them seem less appealing to a wider audience”.

Training the new generation

A worthy cai luong piece must reasonably mix and match Northern and Southern elements while not heavily depend on the “nostalgic” nature, or vong co.

Writers should also incorporate new songs to suit each type of scenario, or explore historical and social topics in new ways that can be entertaining for modern viewers.

Commenting on the lack of script writers for cai luong theaters, folk singer Ca Le Hong said: “Graduates that have education in acting or directing can write and compose, but major art schools in Ho Chi Minh City don’t hold classes on editing. Students have to know what a cai luong script needs, its features, the unique music, among other things before adding their own touch. For young people who like to explore with possibilities, it is difficult to produce good pieces without profound understanding of cai luong”.

She proposes that HCMC University of Theater and Cinema, the largest art university in HCMC, provide funding to organize short-term and long-term training courses for potential writers.

Furthermore, creative workshops in HCMC must have plans to organize specialized courses on cai luong, with diverse content and a variety of genres so that the works have more opportunities to pander to the general audience.

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