The people's free theater

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An open-to-the-public variety show at the Ho Chi Minh City Opera House provides a theatrical opportunity to those who don't normally have it
 Orphans from pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City and pop singer Duong Trieu Vu at the inaugural performance of Cau vong tuoi tho (Childhood Rainbow) on August 12. The free variety show will be on again on August 25 at the HCMC Opera House.

Nearly three hundred kids flooded the Ho Chi Minh City Opera House, and for most it was the first time they had stepped inside their hometown's landmark theater.

The kids were orphans who live at pagoda orphanages in the city. Most of them had never set foot inside a proper theater.

Before the show started, organizers invited in some nearby young street shoe-shiners and lottery-ticket-sellers to enjoy the show.

For nearly two hours, the audience laughed and cheered as they were treated to Cau vong tuoi tho (Childhood Rainbow). Many of them gave their own running play-by-play commentary throughout the show.

Childhood Rainbow was the brainchild of Huu Luan, a senior emcee and vice president of HCMC's Center of Performance and Cinema, who thought that the city's underprivileged needed a more stable source of art than the mobile charity art performances that tour poverty centers and orphanages.

Hence Childhood Rainbow, a free variety show, held its inaugural performance on August 12.

Luan told Vietweek that the important thing is that the show goes on. He and his co-organizers did not want to create just a one-time performance.

"Many free art performance projects for children have been developed; however, most of them got hit with financial problems," he told Vietweek. "Our center has also organized many performances for children in remote areas, but those shows didn't stick around. However, those one-time shows showed us how much unprivileged kids aspire and dream about enjoying truly theatrical shows. It was their dream and our hope that gave birth to Childhood Rainbow.

Luan's center and famous Vietnamese food manufacturer Kinh Do have provided funding for the project.

Havin' a good time

The opening show featured music, circus acts, puppetry and performances by famous pop stars like Cam Van, Dam Vinh Hung, Duong Trieu Vu, who all played for free.

A scene from the cai luong play Tieu anh hung Nam Quoc (The Southland's Young Hero) featuring young hero Tran Quoc Toan of the Tran Dynasty in the 13th century
But perhaps the most exciting part of the show was the cai luong play, Tieu anh hung Nam Quoc (The Southland's Young Hero), by the Bach Long cai luong troupe, headed by Bach Long, a renowned cai luong actor who is also famous for his roles in dramas and comedies at Idecaf Theater. His cai luong troupe is known for taking up and coming youngsters and turning them into some of the best cai luong performers around.

Taking place alongside the show is a photo exhibition by film director Doan Khoa called Con nit cuoi (Children's Laughter), which features 35 photos of children in happy moments.

"I was very happy to see the laughter of the children and their parents when they attended in the show," said Khoa. "The kids' natural laughter and merriment are the goal that this project aims strives for."

Games for kids also lined the theater's lobbies and hallways.

Worries for naught

Luan also told Tuoi Tre newspaper that before the show opened, many people warned him there would be difficulties

"Some people said that the kids would mess up the opera house. Others wondered why I did not make the performance in the suburbs as usual," he said.

"We cannot know what will happen unless we just do it and learn from the experience of what we had done. We want to do something different. The performance at a prestigious venue [the Opera House] is a suitable experiment."

Phi Vu, a senior circus artist from the HCMC Circus Troupe, told Vietweek that the show was the perfect way to sow the seeds of art-loving in youngsters.

"Honestly, the circus was born to serve children. However, in recent years, we seem to have lost local children's attention and our craft will gradually fall into oblivion if the children turn their backs on it. Luan's idea is great and comes just in time to connect the kids to the circus as well as the other traditional arts," said Vu. 

Luan said that watching cai luong will help the children to understand their country's heroic history and give them a chance to think deeply about Vietnamese culture.

The cai luong chosen for the show was the story of Tran Quoc Toan, a marquis of the Tran Dynasty (1225-1400). Toan (1267-1285) was famous for participating in the second war of resistance of Dai Viet (name of Vietnam in 13th century) against the Mongol invasion. Ultimately, he became martyr at a very young age.

Luan said he was happy that the show could stir public attention, although it was not a profitable undertaking.

"What we are trying to do is create a cheery weekend for the kids. I am so grateful that many people and organizations have supported the debut show and we welcome any kind of assistance. We hope that the children will be served better next time. We want better snacks for them and hope we can [use vehicles] to pick them all up [and take them to the show]."

Luan said that he wants to eventually make the show happen every Sunday.

"Sometimes money is not the key. I believe when you do not value things by profit, the help will come more comfortably and purely," said Luan.

The second show will open at 9:30 a.m. on August 25 at the HCMC Opera House, 7 Lam Son Square, District 1. It will have room for around 500 attendees.

In September, the show is scheduled for the 2nd and 12th. From October, the performance will take place regularly twice per month, on Sundays.

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