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Private drama faces hardship

VietNamNet Bridge – Faced with financial challenges and uninspiring scripts, private drama troupes in HCM City have been too passive in developing their business, according to industry insiders.

Although they have many skilled actors, experienced troupes are still having difficulties cementing their positions in the theatre business.

Instead of investing in serious plays, drama troupes like Hoang Thai Thanh and Phu Nhuan tend to make a living from comedies, most of which are of poor quality.

Phu Nhuan Drama Troupe attaches special importance to making plays in two or three acts that present comic stories for audiences.

Its competitor, Hoang Thai Thanh and IDECAF, prefer to produce variety shows for children.

Huynh Anh Tuan, owner of the IDECAF Drama Troupe, said: "Because we do not have enough money, we cannot produce quality plays that have excellent sound and light effects."

"We have to choose a solution that quickly provides us with profits," he said, explaining that the troupe had invested large sums in making serious plays but had not profited from them.

Tuan's troupe invested nearly VND1 billion (US$100,000) in the production of historic plays Bi Mat Vuon Le Chi (The Secret of Le Chi Garden) and Ngan Nam Tinh Su (Thousand-Year Love Story), but they both failed to lure young audiences and profits.

Not many urban residents like these plays because they have dramatic scenes and are too serious; youth seem to prefer lighter entertainment.

Audiences want plays based on exciting and funny stories that feature money, love and sex.

"We do not have the right to choose the plays we want," actress Hong Van, head of the Phu Nhuan Drama Troupe, said.

Van's troupe has a large staff of dozens of directors, cameramen, actors and stage workers, so the managing board's first duty is to pay their staff their monthly salaries on time.

"We have to follow economic market, sometimes, and this situation limits our business and our cultural development," Van said.
Van admitted that to strike the right balance between serious drama and light comedy in a play is not an easy task for her colleagues.

"Our problem is how to make profits from quality shows," she added.

Phu Nhuan invested in several hundreds of millions of dong and human resources to stage No Than (Magic Cross-Bow), a serious play based on a legend involving King Hung Vuong.

The play received the gold medal at the 2009 National Drama Festival. It was successful in ticket sales by staging over 1,000 shows.

According to Le Duy Hanh, chairman of the city's Theatre Association, both State-owned and private art troupes should understand that focusing on quick profits rather than making quality productions could be their downfall.

"By working more closely with skilled scriptwriters, we can turn our efforts to the production of entertaining plays that meet the tastes of our young audiences," he said.

Hanh's association recently opened a theatre camp for scriptwriters in Bac Lieu Province, attracting 20 writers from the region and HCM City.

Supported by the HCM City Culture, Sports and Tourism, in co-operation with its partners, the camp provides writers, particularly those from the Cuu Long (Mekong Delta) region, a place to share their experiences and create new works.

The four-month event aimed to highlight rural residents, their culture and lifestyle in modern society through the art of theatre.

Among the artists participating were veteran writers Ngo Hong Khanh and Phi Hung.

The host province sent its own brilliant writers, including Chau Bich Thuy, Kha Tuan, Duc Hien, Lam Vien and Quoc Khanh, who are knowledgeable about their people's lifestyles.

Hanh said he was sure the camp's works would have a vibrant quality.

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