Vietnamese, expat artists take improv play to world fest

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A scene from the improv play "˜Nguoi La,' which discusses personal gender roles during its premiere in Hanoi in April 2012

A drama by Vietnamese and English artists decoding personal gender relations will be performed at the World Stage Design festival in England and Wales this September.

"Nguoi la" (Stranger) is a piece of improvisational theater where the story and characters are created collaboratively by players on the spot. It is co-produced by Phan Y Ly, founder of Hanoi-based improv theater Black Box, English director Robert Hale and theater coordinator Ho Ngoc Bao Khiem.

The three will arrive in Britain for rehearsal a few days before the ten-day festival starts on September 5.

Ly and Khiem played the male and female characters during the drama's premiere at Black Box April last year.

She told local media later that a person in a romantic relationship tends to want their partner to think like him/her, and forget the differences, which are more important because they can either pull the partner closer or push them away.

"A part of an intimate person can be a stranger," she said.

She said the team came up with the name as they noticed that no matter how tight a relationship, each person has a stranger to their lover inside them, "a stranger that you try to reject and are afraid of."

The April performance had parts that featured Ly imagining she was shaving her beard and Khiem putting on lipstick.

She said the acts came from the players' experiences and personal stories they gathered from many people.

Ly also told the Lao Dong she had the idea for the work in 2011, after she became obsessed with the connection between men and women, and the journey to find the feminine and masculine inside each person.

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The drama itself was inspired by a book she bought during a trip to India, which teaches courtesans how to attract men and then cut them loose when necessary.

Ly said the play's improvisational style allows the artists to put on new acts every time.

"It also gives audiences the freedom to choose between multiple messages."

She said neither she nor Khiem knew what the other would do on stage, and they only launched the play after a year of preparations for them to understand more about each other.

When the play debuted in Hanoi in April 2012 their performances managed to trigger anger and excitement among the audience, as also prompt the latter to offer advice on what to do.

"This can be called success," she said.

She said the invitation to England came because of the play's experimental characteristics, its improvisational style and its attempt to challenge traditional opinions on gender roles. Having an English participant was also a factor, she said.

Ly also said the version at the festival will have her and Khiem play with Hale's protected images.

The festival has been organized every four years since 2005.

Hale said the festival is the place for people to explore and challenge the limit of stage design.

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