HCMC theaters give up the ghost as modern entertainment takes over

By Ngoc Dinh   March 19, 2019 | 02:28 pm GMT+7
HCMC theaters give up the ghost as modern entertainment takes over
The limited number of theaters available now cannot meet the city’s entertainment needs. Photo acquired by VnExpress

The theaters in Vietnam’s biggest city are either closing down or dying a slow death, and music and drama are collateral damage.

A few decades ago the city had dozens of theaters that used to host plays and music events, like Rex, Vinh Loi, Olympic, Thu Do, and Hao Hue. They ranged from luxurious to basic, and served a variety of audiences. But their numbers have shrunk leaving only a few like the HCMC Municipal Theater, Hoa Binh and Ben Thanh still in business.

The growth of free online entertainment channels has caused the downfall of traditional forms of entertainment, which still depend on selling tickets to survive. For instance, cai luong (reformed theater art) plays have lost their popularity, Phu Quy, a theater artist, said, adding that in the past a show could sell 3,000-4,000 tickets, but now 100 is a good number.

As for plays, most run to less than half full theaters, and sometimes the show must go on with people only occupying a few rows. Some theaters, unable to afford the costs, have closed down.

"When my friends from overseas travel back to our country, they want to watch tuong (folk opera) or cai luong but don’t know where to go," theater artist Kim Cuong said at a meeting between cultural officials and artists earlier this year. Several theaters have closed down.

"There were more than 10 theaters once, but they have now become bookstores, cafés and offices," Cuong said.

In HCMC, Cay Go, Tan Dinh and Cao Dong Hung theaters have become bookstores; Van Cam is now the headquarters of a bank; Thanh Binh is now International Plaza; Lao Dong A-B was first turned into the Monaco Discotheque and then became an entertainment center. Meanwhile, those that remain cannot offer quality shows. 

Tran Huu Trang Theater, which used to be Hung Dao Theater, was the most prominent venue for reformed theater. It lacks a backstage or space to accommodate theater sets and the stage is quite low, Hoa Ha, theater director and artist, said.  

Kim Tu Long, a reformed-theater artist, said Tran Huu Trang cannot meet the requirements of large cai luong shows. 

Tran Huu Trang Theater, which used to be Hung Dao Theater, was the most prominent venue for reformed theater. Photo acquired by VnExpress

Tran Huu Trang Theater, which used to be Hung Dao Theater, was the most prominent venue for reformed theater. Photo acquired by VnExpress

HCMC Municipal Theater, one of the biggest theaters in the city, has a small stage, and so orchestras often lack space for their members, violinist Bui Cong Duy said. "Its capacity is that of a small theater’s in some countries. In developed countries, a theater can have 2,000 - 2,500 seats."

At Hoa Binh Theater, a notable concert venue, the sound and lighting systems have deteriorated.

The theater lacks the basic standards required for a classical concert, Nguyen Tan Anh, deputy director of the HCMC Symphony, Ballet and Orchestra (HSBO), said.

When some renowned international orchestras perform in HCMC at diplomatic events, they want the stage in Hoa Binh Theater to be restructured to guarantee sound quality.

Some orchestras only being half their musicians, Tran Vuong Thach, director of HSBO, told local media.

Result

The limited number of theaters available now cannot meet the city’s entertainment needs. Thach said: "The lack of theaters is a challenge. This creates a negative consequence. It limits the recreation options for the public."

International orchestras rarely come to perform in the city because its theaters cannot meet their requirements, he said. "International orchestras usually perform in Singapore, Japan, Korea, or Taiwan."

The deficiency is also causing a deterioration in the quality of plays since artists do not have a chance to rehearse and perform on proper stages, according to critics.

Many artists have to make a living in small-scaled stages with plays that are simple and do not take too much skill, said Le Huu Luan, a researcher in culture, Director of Ho Chi Minh City Film and Performing Center, told local media.

This gradually forms a generation of artists who love their career, but do not excel in skills, Luan added.

Many dramatists have to look for other careers to make a living, playwright Hoang Song Viet lamented at a meeting of artists in HCMC in January.

But efforts to address the problem have not been too successful.

Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, chairwoman of the National Assembly, said at the meeting with southern artists that she hopes the problem is resolved soon, since "the southern area should not lack a grand theater."

 
 
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