Tien Phong - What's strange about the “Hau dong” stage in Hanoi?
TP - Hanoi has a stage for visitors to serve “Hau dong” ritual in a fixed venue: Cong Nhan Theater on Trang Tien street.
“Hau dong” has been known for a very long time, but this is the first time this traditional ritual coming to stage with a spiritual journey. Director Viet Tu shared his experience in this brand-new art.
The beginning scene of The Four Palaces Show with the special lighting effect following by the walking of
the medium (center) and two assistants (left and right) to the stage. Using lighting and creativity of modern and contemporary art, the Four Palaces Show promises to bring an unique Hau Dong (Mediumship) performance
from the oldest temples to the modern stage in the heart of Hanoi.
Can you introduce the cast of The Four Palaces? How did you find them?
Initially, I wondered between “professional” Medium in temples with actors in theater. This consideration has been going on for a long time.
Medium has “spiritual bases” but lacks a lot of acting skills. “Hau dong” in reality is different from stage, with lots of repetitive movements, needing acting skills and coordination with hundreds of small details. Two Assistants must be in great harmony or a lot of subtle moments need “reminders” to follow. Fortunately, I met famous operetta artist Thanh Ngoan - a very well-known person in temples all over Vietnam. She brought to The Four Palaces a complex of elements that are perfect in carrying a spiritual ritual on the stage.
Actor is a real Medium? How did you persuade them to participate in the play?
In essence, actors have "spiritual bases" are innate, not arranged or be taught. Therefore, the biggest difficulty is not to persuade them to participate but to ask them to change their mind in acting. as long as the procedure is complete. It's a long, fatiguing and challenging process when the actors themselves are too experienced to perform 3 parts of the whole ritual. Not to mention there are Medium working hectically in festive season. It's time to start again. The change made them nervous because things are like being in a forest, but nobody knows how to do (except for me).
Artist Kim Lien (in the role of The Little Fairy of The Highlands performance)
always maintains andkeeps improving the performing skills although
she already had the unique “spiritual bases” from the temple.
Understanding the difference of mediumship (hau dong) performance on
stage compared to hau dong in the temple provided
by director Viet Tu is the essential key for her improvement.
Is there a replacement if the crew is sick or has a problem?
This is something that must be taken into account from the beginning. I had this experience when having chances to visit Broadway theater (New York) or West End theater (London). You need to start with just one crew, set up the foundation of the play to avoid dispersing strength. After the performance of The Four Palaces was done, the next crew must start rehearsing. Actors are required to be at the same level, and audiences may choose to attend one show having Medium or Assistants they like. That is why, at the door of Broadway theater, there was a notice announcing main actors and actresses for audiences to choose.
The idea of building The Four Palaces got to you in which circumstances?
My mother is a veteran water puppet. Ever since I was young, I followed my mother everywhere and met a lot of well-known artisans. My house is in the middle of the old town center with many foreign tourists. Sometimes they talk to each other that the only cultural activities at night in Hanoi is “eating dinner and watching water puppet”, then drink some beers. Meanwhile, ethnic culture has many characteristics that are not properly exploited. That is a huge waste. I was obsessed by this story for many years.
I wanted to do something but did not know how to do, until the beginning of 2012, I was invited to attend “Hau dong” ritual. At the moment of entering the palace, seeing the splendor of the Medium and ritual, the solemn atmosphere, the majesty of the everything, especially multi-sensory effect of the spiritual practice, I decided to study to make The Four Palaces like today.
International tourists exciting to receive the gift (created from Vietnamese traditional foods) from the
main actress An Trinh (in the role of The Little Fairy of Highlands) at the end of the of the Four Palaces Show.
How much time and effort did it take to build a performance? Are you satisfied with the current shape of The Four Palaces?
After researching painstakingly and coming to the decision, I and the team from Vietnam Operetta Theater practiced together for nearly a year. Experimental performance was at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015. Then we stopped, continued to enhance contents and officially launched in 2015 October and has performed regularly up to date. Throughout the process, it was an amendment of subtitles (spiritual translation is not simple), “dose” of performances, ambient sound environment of the theater, formation of organizational models and managements.
My personal satisfaction is not as important as the response from the overseas audience to the The Four Palaces
A huge screen is used as a contribution of modern art and visualization of the performance.
However, it also shows the English subtitles provide useful information for audiences during performance.
The subtitles play a very important part of guiding and leading audiences through the experience with
the Four Palaces Show.