Giving voice

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For the self-described "voice-seller," the man who has lent his voice to documentaries, stories, and poetry recitations for decades, producing a silent play was not a contradiction in terms.

Wearing several hats is second nature for Le Chuc, a noted actor, stage director, scriptwriter, poet and teacher.

So when he broke new ground with Bien vi tinh yeu (Variants of love), a silent pantomime play in 2008, people were not surprised that he did it, rather they were impressed by the poignant description of many fates for more than 100 minutes using just dance moves.

As befits a man with several hats, Chuc is a man on the move all the time. As former vice director of Department of Performing Arts, vice director of the Vietnam Stage Artists Association, and lecturer at the University of Stage and Cinema in Hanoi, he has his hands full. However for all the activities that he is engaged in, the one that marks him out as unique is his voice.

He was born into a family teeming with artists, where carving out his own niche was not so easy. His father Le Dai Thanh is considered to be among the most outstanding Vietnamese poets of the 20th century. He was also a known scriptwriter.

Chuc is also the younger brother of renowned painter Le Dai Chuc and maternal uncle of three famous Le sisters: Le Van, Le Khanh and Le Vy, the first two being theater actresses of repute while Vy is one of the leading dancers in Hanoi.

He did follow in his father's footsteps and become a versatile artist, but came into his own as a voice that could be used to great effect to convey information and messages. This talent was discovered by chance by a teacher in Russia, where he spent eight years studying performing arts.

"When I was studying in Russia, it was my teacher who realized that I have a good voice and asked me to take part in her play. When I returned to Vietnam, my friends started asking me to read and make voice-overs for their films or documentaries."

After a few films, "I decided to quit doing voice-overs for films, for I could not concentrate and made mistakes that would affect the project's progress.

I love to read for documentaries, story-telling and cultural festivals. It needs real emotions from the reader to trigger emotions within viewers."

For Chuc, reading is just not verbalizing a text, it means understanding it and pushing others to feel it within them.

The highly respected voice-instructor for many popular MCs on national television like Hoai Anh, Chu takes reading to such heights that people's perspective on events can change after listening to him.

One director in Hanoi said that after inviting and listening to Chuc read, he had to redo his documentary. "Chuc's reading made us think about what we'd done. We had not understood it as Chuc had and he helped us gain that understanding just by his reading."

Many people have said after listening to Chuc that they'd never heard such a standard Hanoian accent. While he is originally from Hai Phong, it does not really matter where he is from, for people are just amazed at his skill in reading so brilliantly and emotively, as in Ky su Thang Long (Thang Long's chronicle) and Ham Rong Ban hung ca bat tu (Ham Rong Immortal hero's song), not to mention reciting poetry for Voice of Vietnam (VOV).

Chau Thi Nam, 57, a Saigonese, said that on hearing Chuc's narration of Ham Rong Ban hung ca bat tu, she could imagine clearly how high the spirit of the revolution was in Hanoi at that time. She said she was very moved on hearing it.

"Although I have never seen him, I admire and respect Chuc. He has such a priceless voice," said Nam.

Chuc said his voice is given to going "on strike" suddenly, like catching angina or turning hoarse.

"But my voice is like a close friend, it knows it has to recover right before show-time," he laughed.

Chuc said that his fan following and his friends' advice has motivated him to take care of his voice.

"Every night, I always have a gargle with salt water and take special restoratives to keep it healthy. Before reading, I would not talk for about half an hour to keep the voice clear. It helps me earn money, to get together with my old friends and collect some interesting stuff like antiques, for instance" he said, smiling.

Chuc's fortune consists of more than 20 versified plays, 60 works directed by himself and, his gifted voice that he "sells" for up to VND30 million (US$1,600) a month.

And this timeless voice is most likely to record a historic event in a few months, presenting in inimitable fashion the artistic festivities of the 1,000th anniversary of Thang Long Hanoi this October.

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