Traditional performance artists struggle to stay in business

The lack of audience and in turn means of making ends meet are the biggest concern of traditional performance artists in the era of modern entertainment.

Ca tru (musical story telling) at a village
Ca tru (musical story telling) at a village

Vietnam Stage Day, falling on the 12th day of the eight lunar month annually, is the definitive gathering time for long-time traditional performance artists to come together, burn incense to pay tribute to the theatre’s ancestors, share their experience as well as thoughts on these difficult times.

Noted cheo and xam singer Thanh Ngoan expressed that she and her colleague still have the chance to earn a living through their profession. Since the monthly salary from State fund cannot cover their expenses, they mostly count on being hired at major village ceremonies.

Artists from other fields of stage performance such as tuong are having it much tougher, since the performances involve dancing and singing in complex and heavy sets of costume.

Despite all that hardship, the average payment for tuong actors are only about US$7 to $8 per play, not even enough to cover the expenses.

“We usually can’t afford to think about balancing costs; it’s a blessing to get hired already, even if we have to travel very far”, said the head of Vietnam National Tuong Theater.

“I know that money is a pressing issue for even the most passionate performers, so we allow them to take up side gigs from time to time. It is a good thing that they can still perform somewhere”, he lamented.

It is difficult enough to stick with such a demanding profession, but the search for long-term successors is even more treacherous.

Reality has proven that pop singers are in much higher demand and also earn much more than traditional artists, so most young people would not look twice.

At the same time, traditional instrumentalists can earn more in ceremonial gigs rather than living on fixed wages working for national singing troupes.

“When traditional stages are not seeing audience, a reliable source of income that allows artists to reignite their creativity is still on paper”, said People’s Artist Le Tien Tho who recently took part in a talent contest for traditional performance art.

Many folk arts especially in the North are in danger of vanishing due to the lack of artists and occasions to perform. Experts fear these heritages will be lost forever if a new generation do not take up the stage.

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