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Traditional Tuong Theatre must be Preserved

Viet Nam should publish books, video of tuong (classic drama), and host forums, talks, symposiums and shows at schools for students in order to preserve and promote traditional theatre that has existed for thousands of years, said Chua Soo Pong, a researcher of traditional art performance from Singapore and member of International Theatre Institute, in a talk with Vietnamese artists in Da Nang.

Chua, who was an invitee to the performance of 23 traditional operas of noted author Tong Phuoc Pho last month, said the young generation should be educated and learn about the ancient theatre.

“Bring students to performances. Students at junior secondary schools should learn and be educated about the ancient theatre,” Chua said.

“Authors should write short plays and adopt stories that young audience are familiar with such as Cinderella, Snow White or short stories in line with contemporary society stories,” he said.


“Students at junior secondary schools can learn some easy gestures of tuong within 25 minutes. Do not give them a too long or complicated course of tuong at school,” he suggested.

He said artists from Tuong Theatre should come to schools and demonstrate for students and let them repeat the gestures.

Chua, who was born in Jakarta and grew up in Singapore, said many countries in Asia have revived ancient theatre including Malaysia with mak yong; Indonesia with wayang wong; and khon in Thailand

He said mak yong, an old theatre art in Malaysia from 300 years ago, was not seen much since 1970s when people found it boring and too long (around 12 hours per performance)

However, the play was re-written with shorter and new stories including A Midsummer Night’s Dream of William Shakespeare, Chua said, adding that the art was recognised as an intangible heritage by UNESCO in 2003.

In Indonesia, students in age groups of 6 to 18 were educated with wayang wong theatre from 900 years ago.

In Thailand, students could do khon, a 400-year-old performance, after 12 days study at school. Fourteen schools in Thailand included the performance in curriculum and the plays were performed in the street for all people.

Chua said tuong in Viet Nam had a longer history in comparison to other theatres in Southeast Asian region, and it’s a really beautiful performance.

“Tuong writers should make a short performance for children at school. They (students) need quick and short time study with tuong, maybe 30 minutes a week,” he suggested.

“They may learn one or two gestures from tuong artists in the classroom. They can learn the art from video clips, internet and read books. We should organise public shows for them and invite friends, parents and relatives to the show,” he said, adding that the students’ performance could play abroad as a worldwide promotion and introduction.

He said it’s a way to promote cultural heritage through traditional theatre as it relates to language, history, dance and music.

Chua said most of the theatrical arts in the region are similar, but tuong is extraordinary.

“I came to Viet Nam in 1993 and had studied for a long time kabuki, a theatre in Japan, Chinese Opera and other theatrical performance in ASEAN countries. But I found that tuong’s movement is very beautiful with strong gestures, singing, music, and drums that keep time with singing,” Chua said.

“You should preserve the ancient art by educating the young generation approaching tuong with street performance and children’s shows in public.”

Da Nang has been the first city in Viet Nam demonstrating tuong performance at public stage for local people and tourists on Sundays.

Audiences can have a chance to explore characters’ costumes, make-up and the history of tuong or even learn a bit of the gestures.

The city’s Nguyen Hien Dinh Theatre is a destination to tourists with two performances a week.

Last month, tuong Xu Quang (Quang Nam’s classic drama) was recognised as part of the National Intangible Heritage.

The city has preserved a collection of 204 classical tuong scripts, written in Han Chinese and Vietnamese ideographic characters (Nom), and published between 1802 and 1845.



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