Saturday, March 1, 2008

Night at the Theatre - Getting Myself Invited to a Free Show

This was the game show I was invited to watch for free. The guy contestant's family sat 3 seats to my right so he kept coming to my row, posturing like he was a "star".

The game show set, 10 minutes before the host and contestants were called on stage.

The day before I was to leave Hanoi back to Bangkok, I wanted to check out the theatre located in the vicinity of my guesthouse. I have been wondering of their vaude ville shows (I’ve passed by one such theatre back in Ho Chih Minh) so as evening drew near, I went to the place. There was an audio-visual van parked infront of it. This theatre is home to many local TV shows. Now, it is going to be home of Traditional Tuong Plays. Priced at 55,000 dong, this show will present 5 scenes from Traditional Tuong Plays. This theatre offers a 5 scene show of dance, music and theatre. It is shown on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 5pm and lasts 1 hour.

The scenes were a comedy sketch, two musical pieces, a lion dance - of a lion giving birth! - and a folk tale. All numbers were in Vietnamese where about 20 actors take part.

Scene One: An Old Man Carries His Wife on His Back To The Festival
Scene Two: Hue Royal Music (Nha Nhac)
Scene Three: Lion Giving Birth
Scene Four: Ho Nguyet Co Turning Into A Fox
Scene Five: Hue Royal Music

For hundreds of years, Tuong (classical drama) has become an essential part of the Vietnamese people’s spiritual and cultural life. To express their aspiration, ordinary people organize shows where performers tell the audience folk stories. Audience interaction is one very important part of this theatre.

Produced with the concept of attracting the same audience that swarm the Water Puppets, such show would probably take some time before tourists take to the show. One big hurdle is language. Since the presentation’s ultimate enjoyment is based on understanding the text of the plays, it would have to deal with helping their audiences understand what is actually being presented.

I was watching the play stills outside the theatre, and found out that the actual play was gonna open tomorrow, which would be too late for me. Just then, a well dressed gentleman spoke with me. He actually invited me to watch a dress tech of the show “for free” as long as I spread the word. That’s easy really. I was told to come back in an hour’s time. Dinner first.

By the time I got in, people were already milling around. I got inside. An hour later, I realized that this was a live coverage of a TV show’s game show, not unlike “Wheel of Fortune”. It took them forever to start the show. There were several “rehearsals” where the audience were taught how to open the show with a riotous reception. Some clapped and whistled, the others hooted!I was trying hard to be cheerful, but it was a hard task when you don’t know what you were cheering for. After several tries, I stopped clapping with the audience. I was here not for the game show but for the Tuong Plays.

Located at 51 Duong Thanh at the Hoan Kiem District, this was at the heart of Hanoi. Nearby was a day market, the Cyclo, a French-Vietnamese Restaurant, and a street lined by shops. I was able to walk along Duong Thanh and I noticed that the street is divided into districts. Every 2 blocks, the area would change into a themed product. Example, In the first 2 blocks, all the streets would sell wedding invitations and wedding cards; the next would sell beds; further on plastic bags, and so on.

I seem to get lucky getting invited to free shows when I’m overseas. In London, I got into a taped-as-live show through Time-Out Magazine. It was interesting and I had fun. At least I could understand what was going on during the show.

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