Nguoi Do Thi - Director Viet Tu: Hanoi not only have "dinner, water puppetry"

Post date 04/18/2018

The show took about 45 minutes, leading viewers through the chapters: Chau De Nhi (The Reincarnation of The Second Lady of Highlands), Ong Hoang Muoi (The Reincarnation of The Tenth Prince), Co Be Thuong Ngan (The Reincarnation of The Little Princess of Highlands); The space is impressed with the work of paper art such as life size paper horse, paper elephant made by artisans from Northern Delta.


The main lobby of Cong Nhan Theatre in the performance night of the Four Palaces Show is decorated with
Vietnamese traditional papercrafts (Đồ mã). The specialty of these papercrafts is that they were designed in life
size and placed under the art of installation to create a space and atmosphere of many temples around Vietnam.
Source: Viet Theatre

Director Viet Tu, who is a very famous entertainment stage director, had a sudden turning point in his career when he spent three years researching and embarking on the idea of staging the Four Palaces play. His aim is to show off the beauty of Vietnamese art and to serve foreign tourists. Viet Tu had a talk with newspaper “Nguoi Do Thi” (City Dwellers) on the occasion of the first time The Four Palaces was performed on the stage of Ben Thanh Theater, Ho Chi Minh City in September.

As a stage director for entertainment and music programs, why did you decide to perform The Four Palaces play immersed in cultural folklore and religion; going between the lines of belief, custom, and so-called superstition?

Not only you, but many of my colleagues were surprised when from an entertainment director, I had such a sudden turn of events. But creating a play such as The Four Palaces has been my desire for a very long time. National art is always flowing in me, and I think that lacking this foundation will leave us into nowhere. Besides that, when going to Hanoi or Vietnam, the most popular thing that international tourists can see is ... water puppet show. Everyone wants to make things available and safe for foreigners. I decided to do the The Four Palaces because I did not want to repeat and I did not want tourists to misunderstand that Vietnam only has an unique water puppet. About the "line" you ask me to say, I think that there is no boundary, in essence any religion teaches people the right thing, be honest, and pray for good things. We cannot let people who use religion for self-interest and propagate superstition affecting religion. The Prime Minister has agreed to submit the Mother Goddess ceremony of Vietnamese people to UNESCO to consider becoming the intangible cultural heritage of mankind.

You had said that, spiritually, you were the "chosen one" to perform The Four Palaces. How does this feel?

The Four Palaces is more special than all the art projects I've done so far, as this is a project of ethnic art that is entertaining but rooted in spirituality. The stage must be good, must be attractive but not allowed to commit the basics of religion just to achieve those elements. I told that "to be chosen" because many artists had tried to put up “Hau dong” on the stage, but only until the The Four Palaces appeared, it was acknowledged that inspiration from the ritual in the Mother Goddess addresses all issues from the origin of the ritual to the appealing element of a work of entertainment play without committing the impossible.

3. Ong Hoang Muoichon

Actress Kim Lien (center) in the Reincarnation of the Tenth Prince in the Four Palaces Show. All the costume
and accessories which appear on stage was prepared carefully after years of research to make sure no mistake
or wrong details would appear on the stage.

Source: Viet Theatre

In the three years of full-hearted study of “hau dong”, Mother Goddess, what did you study to prepare for the appearance of The Four Palaces?

It is not natural to say that I am "chosen". Before coming to the decision to make The Four Palaces, I was completely a non-believer, completely without any knowledge of the ritual, and never thought I could accomplish this project. About research, I always emphasize on reality so for three years I always try to find long time Medium mentors, folk artists to learn and be taught. From a long time ago, people prayed for many things, not just genial climate. As I said, anyone who relies on religion for personal gain is responsible for himself, but the most frightening duty is to repay karma to gods. The abuse of religion for profiteers not only exists in Mother Goddess religion but every religion often has and it occurs everywhere in the world.

Performances on the stage and installation at the showroom can be regarded as a masterpiece. How did you prepare for your music, stage decorations, scenes, physical performances, costumes?

I perceive this: For example, in Japan, from small things like tea, can be transformed into a religion, while in Vietnam, there are a lot of great things, but they are not taken care of, so I put my views on how to set up The Four Palaces. As you can see, during the first 10 minutes of the first part, the two Assistants solemnly go down on stage to create a special feeling for the audience, but behind them are hundreds of details to remember. For only 10 minutes of performance, they have to practice in 3 months. Even the professional Assistants of other temples came to see admitted that they would adjust their clothes so that everything was more solemn. Or the paper art shown in the main hall, I do not accept any material or work that is not original, even if the performer is a very experienced artisan. As for the main characters, my difficulty is not showing them how to act, but making them understand my different views, because most of the actors performing on the stage often get confused between traditional and modern art. A lot of movements look like rumba or cha cha cha, it is in their conscious awareness. If we don’t focus on these details, everything is subtle and can be dismissed. But if going into detail, these errors can become a big problem.

From left to right: French Ambassador Jean Noel Poirier, world-class fashion designer Kenzo, director Viet Tu after
a performance in Hanoi. Mr. Kenzo – Owner of Kenzo Fashion Brand spent his precious time in Hanoi with the
Four Palaces Show and especially love the costumes because of their distinguished details and attachments.

Source: Viet Theatre

How difficult is it to convince performers, actors, especially the lead actress?

Convincing them to participate in the play is not difficult, but persuading them to give up the old habits of dozen years into the blood, to change their habit of acting is the biggest challenge. Actors who have participated in the previous The Four Palaces have played countless shows on the stage, and now, they have to rehearse from the beginning what they think is so obvious. Hundreds of questions, many times harsh reactions, why they have to do so, even the main temple does not need to be that meticulous. Every small detail must be rehearsed until perfect. There are many times I wanted to let the actors and actresses rest early by deliberately closing my eyes to not look at them. But when opening the eyes, knowing that errors are not acceptable, I requested them to rehearse again. 1 year long for just 45 minutes. To this moment I am really grateful, they have done a meaningful job because of my belief in the change that I made, to ignore the ego of experienced artists and work together to make The Four Palaces that successful.


Director Viet Tu (right) at a rehearsal before the performance with artist Kim Lien (white costume) and
two assistants (green costume). The purpose of these rehearsals is to make sure that every single detail
must be on point and meets the standard of the director.
Source: Viet Theatre

During the past time, The Four Palaces was praised, performed regularly in Hanoi, but still, what is your difficulty with this project?

The most difficult for me after this project is to convince the tour agencies to take foreign visitors to see The Four Palaces. Having engaged in this wonderful experience, I found that creative and daring attitudes are essential, not just in art but in other fields. Over the course of one year of discussing with travel agents, I discovered that “crowd psychology” exists at all times. Travel agencies said that they really lack a quality ethnic culture product for tourists when coming to Hanoi, Vietnam. But when new products emerge, they choose water puppet instead because they think that is safer. Only when some big travel agencies brought guests to watch The Four Palaces, situation changed.

Why did you choose these three chapters out of a total 36 parts of rituals?

The parts I chose based on the advice of experienced Medium, carrying three different shades. The opening layer has splendid, delicate, beautiful costumes. The part of Ong Hoang Muoi has good songs and very romantic. The part of “Co Be Thuong Ngan” filled with rose petals and sprouts, creating a pleasant surprise and interaction with the audience. Later, when I continue to build other sequels of The Four Palaces, I will also choose layers based on this principle.

Tram Anh