|The performance of Mười Hai Con Giáp (Twelve Zodiacs) uses puppets in disguise and water puppetry. (Photo courtesy of Van Hoa Newspaper)
Vietnamese traditional art troupes have been better aware of the need to connect traditional art genres and tourism to revive the art forms and draw more audience.
With artistic performances, the tourism sector can diversify products and attract more tourists. Thanks to tourism, traditional stages can have more opportunities and funds to produce, preserve and promote performances.
Among Vietnam’s traditional arts, puppetry is the most popular among foreign visitors as stories can be told through the puppets’ movements. Water puppetry is unique to Vietnam, so it has a special attraction for foreign tourists while most of other forms of stages use dialogue, which is a problem for visitors who do not understand the language.
|Preschool students at Era Angels Kindergarten School in HCM City welcome a water puppetry show. (Photo: Phuong Pham/VNS)
People's Artist Nguyen Tien Dung, Director of the Vietnam Puppetry Theatre, said, “Children and foreign guests are our two main audiences. But the language barrier is a problem – we must sob, laugh, and talk so that even though the audience doesn’t know the language, they still understand what the actors are talking about.”
Dung added, “We have only a few words, which are clearly Vietnamese, but when they are spoken out loud, the audience can guess what it’s about. That is what we have learned from performances so far."
Julie Marie Nolke is a Canadian comedian, actor, writer, and YouTuber famous for her comedic YouTube series “Explaining the Pandemic to my Past Self”. She once visited Hanoi and attended a water puppetry show in between her tight schedule.
“We are about to witness a traditional Vietnamese art form but I have no idea what to expect,” Nolke recalled.
Julie Marie Nolke is among many foreign visitors to Vietnam, who want to learn about Vietnamese traditional art forms but language is a barrier for them.
As an art troupe which has experience in staging plays for foreign tourists, Hanoi’s Vietnam Puppet Theater says it has adapted plays to be more suitable for foreign audiences.
Lan Huong, an artist of the Vietnam Puppetry Theatre, shared her own experience, "To perform for foreign audiences, we have to rehearse many times. This play, for example, took us about a month to rehearse in the original format. Then to serve French audience, we had to reset the music again. After that we spent time rehearsing the play without the music and another month to rehearsing with the new music."
|Meritorious Artist Kieu Oanh (L) plays two characters in the well-known play "Old Man Carries His Wife on His Back to A Festival" on September 18, 2018 at Hong Ha Theatre in Hanoi. (Photo: nhahattuong.vn)
The Vietnam Tuong (Classical Opera) Theatre in Hanoi has made several changes to serve wider audiences, said Pham Ngoc Tuan, Director of the Vietnam Tuong Theatre.
He told VOV, “Over the past few years, fewer and fewer people have been interested in the tuong theater, especially young audiences. We have set new goals, one of which is to bring the art form to students at universities, colleges, and high schools, including public, private, and international schools.”
“We want to introduce Tuong and provide opportunities for students and artists to discuss the values of Tuong. Through such events, we hope to attract young people to the theater,” said Tuan.
|The poster of a Tuong performance at the Phenikaa University in Hanoi (Photo: nhahattuong.vn)
Current economic difficulties make it hard to make money on a play, but it will be even harder if the play isn’t effectively promoted, particularly to foreign tourists.
According to Tuan, the Vietnam Tuong Theater has been increasingly promoting its plays to tourists, adding, "I and the managers of other art troupes know we need to invest in communications and promotion.”
“Art as a product is also regulated by the market, so we’ve invested in a marketing team who understands the cultural values of Tuong. Only people who understand the national culture and the Tuong genre can convey the beauty of Tuong to foreign audiences," said the Tuong art troupe’s leader.
|Exchange between artists and foreign audiences after the performance (Photo: nhahattuong.vn)
Combining tourism and traditional arts has proved an effective way to promote a country’s traditional cultural values to foreign visitors. Elsewhere, Russia’s ballet performances, Japan’s Noh dramas, China’s traditional opera, and Cambodia’s “Angkor smile” program have become popular with tourists.
Traditional arts with strong national branding, like Russian ballet, spin off secondary entertainment facilities, amusement parks, shopping malls, and food courts. Vietnam should follow suit, says Tuan.
“We have to reform our mechanisms and policies to attract talents. Tuong is an art form that is picky about the audience, difficult to understand, and hard to master. That’s why we need to develop an education policy to train teachers and induce more students to study traditional art genres," Tuan explained.