Eight years after asking for government support to stage dramas highlighting Vietnam's legendary heroes and receiving muffled answers, a private theater produced the plays on its own to stoke patriotism among young students.
Thai Duong Stage and Art Company, which is headquartered at the IDECAF (Institute for Culture Exchange with France) office in Ho Chi Minh City--it's commonly the IDECAF theater--said they will put on five plays featuring the five heroes dating back thousands of years: Son Tinh, Thanh Giong, Tran Quoc Toan, Dinh Tien Hoang and Hai Ba Trung, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.
The first hero was the Mountain God who defeated the Flood God during the reign of the nation's founding monarchs--the Hung Kings.
The others repelled Chinese invasions starting in the first century.
On August 17, the first play in the series was produced.
It told the story of Tran Quoc Toan, a teenage mandarin who rallied others to join the fight against Yuan invaders in the 13th century.
The Thai Duong company performs Thanh Giong every Sunday morning at 7 Tran Cao Van Street.
Representatives from the company said they have been nurturing the project since July 2007 after the theater cooperated with a brand that sells children's products to produce Thanh Giong.
An audience of children watched as a three-year-old-boy-turned-giant mounted an iron horse that could spit fire and ran off an army of Chinese invaders using bamboo stalks. Giong has been worshiped as a saint and immortal hero since he reportedly rode to the top of a mountain and rose to heaven after the fight.
After its first performance in Ho Chi Minh City, the play was also put on in Hanoi, both times for free.
The theater asked the city’s department of culture to fund more such plays in order to provide local students a series of dramatic history lessons.
At the time, the department agreed to provide VND200 million for the first trial play about Tran Quoc Toan.
“I hope they’ll come and help make Vietnamese children love Thanh Giong more than Nazha,"
--Huynh Anh Tuan, director of Thai Duong theater said
referring to both a mighty child deity in both Vietnamese and Chinese folklore.
The hero, who died at age 18, is said to have crushed an orange in his hand without noticing after the king refused to let him join discussions about fighting China due to his age.
Instead, he led troops to their defeat.
With the department’s assent, Thai Duong's team started working on their play in November 2007.
Huynh Anh Tuan, director of Thai Duong, said he estimated a final cost of VND300 million and intended to pay the remainder out of his own pocket.
“But after so many oranges were crushed, the department remained quiet,” he said.
Several years later, the department reconsidered the project, but only provided VND50 million to fund ten school performances, which Tuan said was only enough to ferry the actors to the schools and give them cheap meals.
Tuan said when China deployed an oil rig illegally in Vietnamese waters in May, many people came to see him, saying it was a good time to put up those heroic dramas to foment patriotism in the youth.
“I sadly thought that the job should have been done ten years ago--not now, when they've already entered our backyard, and are literally banging at our door,” he said.
Tuan decided to go ahead with the belated project and not wait for government funds.
They are working on developing three other plays, each will also last 60 to 90 minutes.
Tuan's company is using profits from their blockbusters, including comedies and adult dramas, to fund the production.
He plans to charge VND40,000 a ticket at Tran Cao Van and VND20,000 to schools--up to ten times cheaper than the theater’s normal prices.
Tuan said he wished he could perform the plays for free but the prices are as low as he can go.
He hopes government assistance will come sooner or later.
With hopes to receive more support in other projects later, IDECAF also intends to hold a forum on historical plays for children and invite officials from the city’s culture and education departments.
“I hope they’ll come and help make Vietnamese children love Thanh Giong more than Nazha," he said, referring to a mighty child deity in Chinese folklore.