Cheo artist Nguyen Thu Huyen: Traditional art forms must be active in engaging audiences

Thursday, 2017-06-22 11:13:20
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Meritorious Artist Nguyen Thu Huyen performing the role of Thi Mau in a classic cheo play ‘Quan am Thi Kinh’ (Photo: VTV)
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NDO – After nearly 25 years of working in cheo (traditional opera), Meritorious Artist Nguyen Thu Huyen was recently appointed as the Deputy Director of the Hanoi Cheo Theatre. In an interview granted to Nhan Dan Weekly Newspaper, Huyen talked about her passion for cheo as well as how to win over audiences when performing this traditional art form.

Question: How have you nurtured and maintained your love for cheo over the past 25 years?

Meritorious Artist Nguyen Thu Huyen: I think we can achieve anything if we do it with love. Love without condition will help you gain many things, and all of what I have today is the result of love. I love cheo unconditionally.

I graduated in 1992 when traditional stages faced fierce competitiveness from other art forms. Many people from my generation have quit their career in the arts and many theatres have been closed. However, I have never fallen out of love with Cheo because I believe that true value will always exist in life and maintain a certain position in the hearts and minds of the audience.

With that love, I have exerted every effort to bring the charm of cheo to audiences. It took me years to fulfil the role of Thi Mau, a character from a classic cheo play Quan Am Thi Kinh (Goddess of Mercy), . When I am in the street, people sometimes recognise me and call me by ‘Thi Mau’ even though they don’t remember my real name. I am so happy to see that my performance has drawn such a success.

Do you feel that love and passion in young actors?

Yes, I do. I have met many youngsters who have a deep passion for cheo. I always tell them that following an arts career is a tough path, and they must always be consistent. Unless they establish themselves as a serious cheo artist, they will be confused about this path.

Since I first graduated, I have always felt that the path that I should take is that of cheo. I have also tried my best to inspire people’s interest in and love for cheo.

Hanoi Cheo Theatre is appreciated as an active arts unit which has successfully overcome other competing art forms and reached the audience while many others of its kind have failed. Can you share with us how the theatre manages to always win the audience’s hearts and minds?

Our theatre’s director, People’s Artist Thuy Mui is very active in developing new initiatives which have received much appreciation from both artists and audiences. One of our successful projects which have been carried out over the past four years is ‘Bringing cheo to schools.’

The project aims to reach out to the future generation of cheo lovers. Under the project, more than 100 shows have been staged in Hanoi’s schools, from elementary to secondary and high schools, introducing students to classic extracts of popular cheo plays. Students have shown much interest in our performances and in the cheo art form in general.

Therefore, I think instead of being passive in waiting for audiences to come to our theatres, we should be active in engaging the audience, helping them gain a further understand of cheo, and inspire their love for the traditional art form.

We also have to nurture the love for cheo and traditional art forms in general among younger generations; otherwise we will have no audience in the future.

It is said that people today are indifferent to traditional art forms and cheo in particular as such traditional practices are no longer attractive to them. What do you think about this?

We can’t blame the audience for their indifference. I think traditional stages, and cheo in particular, should keep them renovated in order to meet the increasing demand of the audience and stay in tune with the current trends of today’s life.

We can’t always just bring to the stage the same old classical plays. However, if we only follow people’s demands without preserving the core value and essence of cheo, we may face the risk of losing the identity and unique characteristics of cheo. It is a huge obstacle faced by all cheo artists.

The Hanoi Cheo Theatre has just launched a ‘Hanoi Saturday Night’ programme, which is held every Saturday at Dai Nam theatre. Can you share with us about the programme?

The two-hour programme aims to provide a stage for cheo artists and folklore artists to show off their talents. The weekly programme features cheo performances (both ancient and modern cheo) as well as comedy and chau van (ritual singing) performances.

Famous works that helped build the reputation of Hanoi’s cheo in the past will be staged, including Quan Am Thi Kinh (Goddess of Mercy), Ngoc Han Cong Chua (Princess Ngoc Han) and Nang Sita (Sita).

Every month, there will also be a performance featuring 12 acts to introduce the practice of Mother Goddess worship, which was recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity last year.

We hope that the stage will become a cultural venue for audiences, both local and foreign, in Hanoi. As it is well-located in the centre of the city, I believe that Dai Nam theatre will become a favourite address for traditional art lovers.

Thank you so much for sharing with us.