Young stage director hopes to bring musicals closer to the masses

Saturday, 2016-12-17 12:55:33
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Opera director Nguyen Phi Phi Anh
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NDO – Born in 1991 in Hanoi, opera director Nguyen Phi Phi Anh is running an arts project entitled ‘Hope’ at the L'Espace French Cultural Centre in Hanoi. The project is Phi Anh’s attempt to bring Western musicals closer to the Vietnamese people after only recently graduating from the Hampshire College’s Theatre and Film Faculty in the US.

With 35 shows running from October 2016 to early 2017, the project presents three Broadway theatrical performances, titled ‘Dem He Sau Cuoi’ (Last Night after Summer), ‘Goc Pho Danh Vong’ (Corner of Fame), and ‘Mong Uoc Khong Xa Voi’ (Dreams are not Far). In all of the operas, Phi Anh acts as director, playwright and producer.

Previously, the first two musicals were first performed in 2012 and 2013 in Hanoi and received enthusiastic appreciation from audience and arts critics during the 15 shows.

True to its name, the ‘Hope’ project hopes to break down stereotypes and prove that musical operas are not academic but understandable and entertaining just like other popular art forms, shared Phi Anh in an interview granted to Nhan Dan Weekly.

Question: While musical opera is a rather new form of entertainment for Vietnamese audiences, as you decided to stage up to 35 continuous shows at a price of only VND 300,000. Do you think it is a risky decision?

Director Nguyen Phi Phi Anh: I have thought a lot about exactly what I am doing. Each show faces a lot of risks. An actor forgets his line. A bulb fails. A microphone doesn’t work. I want to try to handle such challenges as they occur. I have to handle them at any cost. Moreover, the success of the previous two shows in 2012 and 2013 made me and my colleagues confident enough to take the risk.

VND 300,00 per show is quite a low price to enjoy a musical theatre production. Do you have to “compromise” with Vietnamese audiences?

Yes, I do. I really want to attract more audiences. This is even more important than making money in a way. I experienced a lot of obstacles to keep the admission price so low, which could obviously be sold at VND 700,000 or more. However, I am lucky enough to work with kind people, which give me a source of support to let myself accept such compromise.

What do you think about Vietnamese audiences?

Vietnamese people haven’t shown much interest in the arts. Even the rich are still hesitant to invest in cultural development.

Vietnamese audience are also diversified. We can divide them into two groups. The first one is made up of the noisy, which are the majority and we can see them in the crowd of the events. The second one are the quiet, they choose to enjoy an interesting show as a reward for themselves rather than introduce it to friends or share it on Facebook.

Do you think that Vietnamese audiences lack enough knowledge to evaluate the quality of an artwork?

I think that the audience don’t need to be overly knowledgeable. They pay money to enjoy what they what. If the artists seize on that excuse, they are lacking professional skills.

A scene from ‘Dem He Sau Cuoi’ opera (Last Night after Summer)

As Broadway musical theatre requires high criteria for professionalism, most of your casts are amateur artists, except you. Do you think that this may arise doubt about the professionalism of your casts and your project?

The “professionalism” that I mentioned above refers to the professional attitude and working manner. Artists must respect their consumers, here referring to their audience, who spend more than two hours to watch their performances. If they respect the audience, they have to complete their role in full capacity.

There is also another definition of professional artists, which claim that the artists can live well with this occupation. My actors, actresses and colleagues cannot earn a living just by acting, so you could call them ‘amateurs’, however, they are professional enough in their attitude. They know for sure that the audience are giving up their treasured time to watch them. They will rally every effort to fulfil their assigned tasks. This is my criteria when I look for partners in work.

Why did you name your project ‘Hope’?

Earlier, I had an opportunity to talk with poor labourers, whose salary is a mere VND 2 million-VND 3 million per month. I invited them to our rehearsal. They said that it came as a surprise to them as musical opera is so familiar to the audience.

That is my hope. The arts not only serve the well-educated and the rich, but that everyone can have the opportunity to enjoy it. By naming the project ‘Hope’, I want to bring the arts closer to more and more people.

I put my top priority on the audience. They have the right to enjoy fine artworks, no matter who they are, from the rich and educated people to the poor workers and students.

The ‘Hope’ project is carried out with the humble hope that Hanoian audiences will be provided with a cultural venue to enjoy quality arts and entertainment programmes, and ultimately, they can find joy and optimism after the state’s curtain closes.

Thank you so much for the interview.