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Tran Huu Trang Theater Stages Free Shows to Draw Audience to Cải Lương

Like many traditional forms of theatrical arts in Vietnam, cải lương faces dwindling viewership in today’s society, a problem that theater owners are trying to rectify by offering free shows.

On Saturday, September 28, cải lương lovers in Saigon had a chance to watch a full-fledged performance at the Tran Huu Trang Theater, reports Tuoi Tre. The show is part of the theater’s new effort to make cải lương more accessible to local enthusiasts in hopes of building up a loyal fan base for the endangered form of art.

The Saturday performance was a rendition of the classic play Giấc Mộng Đêm Xuân, written by Nhi Kieu and Phi Hung and directed by Tran Ngoc Giau, who’s also the director of the theater. The play chronicles a star-crossed love story in which the main characters’ romance is threatened by class divides and family interference.

According to Giau, from September until the end of the year, two shows each month at Tran Huu Trang will be free of charge. The initiative is financially supported by the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee and the Department of Culture and Information.

Phan Quoc Kiet, deputy director of the theater, told Tuoi Tre: “This is a trial program to keep the theater constantly in activity and to foster a theater-going habit in viewers. After this, the theater and culture department will assess [its results] to figure out a future plan on how much to charge tickets and how the authorities can support.”

While the first show and the initiative are well-received by many viewers, some netizens have expressed sadness over the decision to make the shows free, as they feel that the move means the theater is devaluing the art form just to fill seats.

“I’m a fan of cải lương, but I don’t approve of this [move] because in this age, watching cải lương for free means that nobody can reinvigorate the art,” a reader who goes by the name khôi writes on Tuoi Tre.

“There are really some viewers who are financially strapped, but because they truly appreciate the art, they try their best to save to enjoy their passion,” viewer Tuyet Dung tells Phap Luat. “I hope that the theater can sell the tickets or even give a discount instead of making it free.”

Cải lương is a form of musical theater that originated in southern Vietnam. It incorporates elements of Chinese opera, traditional Vietnamese instruments, folk stories and music into a stage play.

[Photo via Co Truyen Am Nhac]

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