In an attempt to rejuvenate “cai luong” (southern folk music and stage performance) and revive audiences’ waning interest in the genre, the Hanoi Cai luong Theater recently kicked off a project to fuse the traditional genre with motion pictures. However, its first show wasn’t quite a success.
The show titled “Yeu la thoat toi” (To love is to be cleared of sin), which was recently staged at Hong Ha Theater, enacted the familiar historical story of illustrious scholar, poet and politician Nguyen Trai (1380–1442) in one of the country’s most famous historical cases, in which Trai was calumniated, resulting in the execution of himself and his family, distant relatives and in-laws.
The show is different from conventional “cai luong” performances in that it had stage scenes intertwined with video clips which featured the “cai luong” actors and actresses and were intended to fill the intervals during which props were changed for new scenes, and illuminate several of the play’s intricate details.
The clips were meticulously made, with the “cai luong artists practicing hard for a month and traveling long distances to shoot them.
“The clips are quite technically challenging, as we shot different segments, not the entire play at one time. But we’re excited at the additions,” shared artist Thanh Huong, who played the lead female role in the play.
“Though the play costs much more than a conventional one, we were determined to do it as we want novel changes,” said artist Quang Hung, head of the Hanoi Cai luong Theater.
Apart from the clips, sound effects, such as the pouring of wine into a glass or the pounding of horse hooves on the ground, which are borrowed from motion pictures, were also employed. However, the dubbed sounds didn’t match well with the actions performed onstage.
However, the play didn’t achieve the desired effects, as the clips, shown on the big screen, had the audiences continually look up at the screen above to follow the play. That disrupted the emotions which the otherwise seamless flow of the “cai luong” play was arousing among the audiences.
In addition, the clips, designed to further illustrate the play’s intricate details and knots, seemed redundant and could entirely be done without.
This fusion isn’t pioneering, however. In the 1990s, the Vietnam Cai luong Theater incorporated motion pictures effects into their “cai luong” play titled “Khi thanh pho len den” (The city at night). The blend wasn’t very conspicuous and was quite a success.
The theater, however, later dropped the model and got back to the conventional form due to exorbitant costs.
“The incorporation of elements from other arts into “cai luong” isn’t so difficult, as the genre easily absorbs and is welcome to change. The thing that counts is the director’s skills in making the blend seamless and acceptable to audiences,” noted director Trieu Trung Kien from the Vietnam Cai luong Theater.
The elements from motion pictures have also been found in other stage performing genres like drama. Several plays such as “Canh dong bat tan” (The endless field), “270 gram” and “Xin loi em chi la” (Sorry, I’m only) as well as graduation plays at art schools have employed film effects to certain success.
Director Minh Nguyet, who successfully combined motion pictures effects in her play “Canh dong bat tan”, shared that these effects remarkably enhance the play’s appeal and vividness besides providing another outlet for directors’ creativity.
Ly Khac Lynh, director of locally prize-winning play “270 gram” noted that the combination of film special effects and stage performances only works if the effects actually play a role in the performances and interact with artists like a real character, not merely as illustrations.
Illustrations such as the appearance of a snake on the screen to indicate the wickedness of a character will only send audiences bursting into laughter for their naivety.