Excellent Artist La Thanh Hung is painting masks for tuong
Trying to keep tuong
Born into a traditional art family, Excellent Artist La Thanh Hung has attached himself with tuong for nearly 30 years now. He started working as an actor when he was 8-9 years old. He succeeds not only as an actor, but also as a good director, who has won many prizes for his parts in tuong.
With his passion and wholeheartedness, some months ago, he took pain to paint more than 100 masks for characters of Hue tuong in preparation for the street show “Hue Tuong: Echos from the Past,” intended for Festival Hue 2020.
It was also the outcome of the research on masks for Hue tuong implemented by Hue Traditional Royal Theatre of Art in an effort to provide an overview of tuong masks to avoid extinction. Regretfully, the Festival Hue 2000 is delayed due to COVID-19.
Dropping by his house two months ago, seeing him working with passion on each single mask, I could understand his wholeheartedness and desire to conserve and spread the unique value of Hue tuong.
“I’m so sad because tuong is losing interest now. But it is the tendency of the new age. What I desire is the quintessence of tuong is preserved forever. I’m trying to conserve the art of tuong as well as mask techniques so that I can continue to pass them down to younger generations,” said Hung.
“Tro doi nghiet nga” on stage
According to Mrs. Le Mai Phuong, head of the Applied Research Bureau at the Hue Traditional Royal Theatre of Art, although the society is trying to conserve tuong, the performing environment for tuong is no more. Very few people now are interested in tuong. Tuong is now just confined to art contests and festivals. Lacking successive artists, tuong is on the verge of dying out.
In difficulty, the Hue Traditional Royal Theatre of Art has to train the successive generation from the young to keep tuong. Besides staging plays for annual professional contests, it adds extracts of tuong to the show for tourists in the Royal Theatre.
In addition to reproducing such plays as Son hau, Nguyet co hoa cao, Ngon lua hong son, Quan vuong tap khach, etc., the theatre is building a data bank for Hue tuong. It is a way to preserve the available documents about tuong including choreography, masks, costume, scripts, music, melodies as well as pictures, records, etc.
Forming the foundation from the young
According to People’s Artist Bach Hac, director of Hue Traditional Royal Theatre of Art, thanks to the support of the Communist Party and Government, tuong and some other traditional art forms have survived now. However, in order for tuong to develop, it needs special interest and a fund for writing scripts and performing tuong extracts as well as longer plays.
“If only we had a fund like the one of Japan for Noh, or of China for Peking opera, we would stage many plays for the audience. Though, we’re aware of the financial difficulty of the province as well as the country,” said Bach Hac.
However, according to Bach Hac, the theatre needs to be provided with a fund to put on stage plays and extracts, to invite artisans to write scripts and work as samples, and to facilitate artists to enter art contests and competitions so that they have opportunities to compete and get excited with their career.
In order to preserve Hue tuong, a special policy for artisans and artists is essential. It is not easy to have a tuong actor or actress. Among traditional forms of art, tuong is the most difficult to learn, for it requires both singing and dancing.
“It is much more difficult to recruit a student for tuong than a dancer or a singer. It is such hard work to play a part in tuong. It takes students lots of effort to win prizes, and they are very happy about that. But afterwards they do not have stable jobs; they still have to work by contract. We want young artists to stay with us as a successive generation. We need a special policy for training and keeping them stay with us,” said Bach Hac.
As an instructor of tuong, La Thanh Hung thinks to keep tuong, it is necessary to build a strong foundation from the young, training them into good successive artists. Hue Traditional Royal Theatre of Art can collaborate with Art and Culture College to recruit and train young artists at both immediate and elementary levels. The theatre must select students with gift and passion. At the same time, tuong should be introduced widely so that it can stay with the public.
By Minh Hien