Financial burden plagues traditional theater arts

The lack of facilities, good script and workforce are weighing down traditional performance arts like cheo or tuong in Northern Vietnam, along with the seemingly disinterest of modern audiences.

A classic cheo piece performed at Hanoi Cheo Theater
A classic cheo piece performed at Hanoi Cheo Theater

Competitions are the only way

The stages for traditional arts have been going through crises which were escalated due to the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

Even when Vietnam society has adjusted to the new pace of life, traditional theaters for cheo, tuong, or cai luong still have no luck of reopening.

Luckily, artists still have golden opportunities to stand on stage during national or local festivals and talent shows being held at a rapid rate.

The 4th Capital Theatrical Festival 2020 this late September was a spectacular comeback of the Vietnamese theater art with pieces new and old after a long hiatus due to Covid-19.

Meanwhile, the provincial-level talent contest for young actors in folk opera held in Binh Dinh in late October also breathed new life into this traditional art form. The contest helped many performance art troupes to exchange skills and knowledge.

“Many young talents at the competition have proven their capability and experience on stage; they will no doubt become the central driving force for tuong and folk opera”, said People’s Artist Le Tien Tho, member of the judging panel.

The annual cheo contest in Ha Nam also saw seats filled of audience, but most are people who were given free tickets or other local performance artists coming to show support for their colleagues.

The lack of audience

Traditional art over the past decade has been largely disregarded by the general audience, partly due to the emergence of new forms of entertainment. Gone are the days when local peasants eagerly awaited a traveling performance troupe to pass, or when prominent theaters in Hanoi were fully booked every night.

Head of the Vietnam Cheo Theater, Merited Artist Phu Kien, who has been in the profession for 31 years, said he had seen many great performers resign due to financial difficulties and the inherit uncertainties of this field.

Vietnamese National Tuong Theater, once considered the birthplace of performance art in the North, also faces a severe lack of audience. This place has gathered generations of talented actors associated with the development of Vietnam’s revolutionary culture, according to director of the theater Pham Ngoc Tuan.

Performing troupes still try to run shows with very a small number of viewers, mostly coming on promotional tickets. Since there is mostly no interest from urban dwellers, they have to venture to remote areas in search of spectators.

In an effort to bring the audience back to traditional theaters, a project targeting elementary and high schools in the North was commenced by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in association with provincial-level departments. The campaign saw initial success in getting the attention of school children and teenagers.

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