Performing arts suffering a dearth of talent

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Actors from the Hoang Thai Thanh Stage rehearse for the Tran gian phai co tinh yeu (There must be love on earth) drama. They even prepared back up actors during this Tet season to cope with a lack of actors.

The question does not have a clear-cut yes or no answer, stage director Hong Van told Thanh Nien Weekly when asked if the entertainment industry this year will continue to suffer from a lack of actors.

Before and after this year's Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday season, the golden time of the year for entertainment activities, local media once again reported that some stages in Ho Chi Minh City had to cancel or delay some plays because they did not have enough actors.

Artist Hong Van, who is a talented director, actress and manager of the stages at the Phu Nhuan Cultural Center and Superbowl entertainment complex in Tan Binh District, said: "The problem this year is more serious since there are at least three new stages that have opened in the city.

"But my stages are not affected because we have our own staff, and do not need to borrow or invite actors from other (troupes)," Van said.

The director said this situation is the result of a long time spent in casting, nourishing and training young actors at her stages.

"Performing art needs serious, long-term strategies," said Van, who launched an English-speaking stage at the Superbowl last year. "If we pay attention to preparing for the next generation of Vietnamese artists, we will no longer see many of them rush from one stage to the next for several performances a week."

Young promising actress Thanh Van and actor Thai Hoa are among many whose acting skills have been honed on the Phu Nhuan stage.

Hong Van's colleagues, Thanh Hoi and Ai Nhu, both of whom have spent over 20 years as a stage actor and an actress and turned then director and script-writer, also share the idea of investing in the younger generation to ensure the future of theater in the country.

Hoi and Nhu have opened a new stage named Hoang Thai Thanh Stage based at the Children's Cultural House in HCMC. Nhu said that the new "private art corner" is a place for young artists to challenge themselves in different roles such as stage arrangement and script-writing besides acting.

They even prepared back up actors and plays performed on the Hoang Thai Thanh Stage during this Tet season.

"In each play, we arrange two casts and neither is leading nor supporting. They will hold parallel rehearsals and get ready anytime. This prevents us from lacking artists or being passive when they are busy. Young artists can also have the chance to work with seniors and improve their skills."

Celluloid troubles                                                                                    

Unlike Hoi, Nhu or Van, film producers cannot "own" their favorite artists or train young ones


A still from the film Choi voi (Adrift). Due to a lack of talent the film's director created a blog in 2008 to find new faces for Choi voi, but finally settled on experienced ones, Vietnamese French actress Pham Linh Dan (R) and Do Hai Yen of "The Quiet American."

Director Bui Thac Chuyen, who won third prize in the Short Film category at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000 with Cuoc xe dem (Night Cyclo Trip), said: "Neither film production companies nor actor agencies are able to have so-called exclusive actors, especially talented ones, not to mention exclusive directors."

Chuyen, whose Choi voi (Adrift) won the 2009 Fipresci International Critics Prize at the 66th Venice Film Festival, said casting as a distinct profession was still a new concept in Vietnam's entertainment industry.

Even in 2008, Chuyen was forced to create a blog to find new faces for Choi voi, eventually settling on experienced ones, Vietnamese French actress Pham Linh Dan and Do Hai Yen of "The Quiet American," because of the lack of talent.

"New faces are needed to refresh the local movie market. However, it's very difficult to find new talented faces in Vietnam."

He said though there are about 30 to 40 actors graduating from stage schools of film institutes every year, "it's rare to have two or three talented ones among them."

The situation gets worse when both the talented and the less talented ones turn their skills to other, more lucrative work, such as being an MC or singing, because acting does not pay enough.

Chuyen said the average remuneration for an actor per episode is between VND2-3 million (US$100- 160), with shooting often lasting a week.

"And the acting career doesn't last long like other jobs. And for a whole year, actors can earn about VND200 million ($10,000), which is not compatible with their investment in the career."

Ngo Thanh Van, said to be the country's highest-earning actress, reportedly received only VND75 million ($3,950) for her lead role in Dong mau anh hung (The Rebel) despite the fact that it was produced by a Vietnamese American film company for over $1.5 million, which is rare for a small-sized movie industry like Vietnam.

Nguyen Quang Dung, director of Nu hon than chet (Kiss of death), whose VND16 billion ($1 million) in ticket sales in 2008 made it the highest grossing film in Vietnamese movie history, said: "I can tell that no Vietnamese actor becomes rich just by acting.

Chuyen said, "I think Vietnamese actors are constrained between fame, art and money, causing them not to focus on their career."

Stage director Ai Nhu said that nowadays, new artists faced with an abundance of choices, and many find it difficult to make up their minds.

"Unlike our generation, the young artists have lots of opportunities to shine, when there are many stages with different styles for them to pursue. But this advantage can also be a disadvantage when they do not focus on one target but tear themselves up in different shows. The reduced investment in each career cannot boost their career to the top. That is why stars are so rare now," she said.

Chuyen said while many young artists look for different ways to boost their career, others who are invited to participate in many film projects also "gain" a problem.

"Time is needed to reenergize strength and creativity in performing arts as well. If the artists don't take a rest and keep getting more and more projects, they will be exhausted and have no time to look back on what they've done."

"This leads to their not being serious about acting attitude, which is a no-no in the making of a real star."

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