The Theatre of the Absurd may be unfamiliar to the majority of Vietnamese people, yet director Tran Luc opted to press on in staging the renowned play, “The Bald Soprano” by famed French playwright Eugène Ionesco.
“Many people call me a madcap, but I don’t think so. The madness may blind people yet I’ve got my eyes wide open. I always consider everything very carefully (including logistics, ticket selling, etc.) before deciding to do anything. Artists need to earn their living too. I also consider revenue a crucial criteria to measure the success of a play”, says the play’s director Tran Luc.
AN EXCITING ADVENTURE
– You have said that you are not a madcap in deciding to stage “The Bald Soprano”, so what was your mindset like in approaching this then?
Merited Artist Tran Luc: I think there was courage and confidence in my mind at first. I was a bit nervous too when waiting for audience’s response.
Many absurdist scripts have been translated into Vietnamese, but none have ever been staged, so this genre sounds quite strange to a Vietnamese audience. Many people have not opened up to this genre due to its ‘anti-theatre’ characteristic compared to traditional theatre (because of its anti-character, anti-drama, and anti-plot features).
For me, I see no significant differences in the bottom line between the Theatre of the Absurd and other traditional genres, as all of them evolve around human and reflect human life.
Let us talk about “The Bald Soprano”. The play has no actual storyline. Eugène Ionesco comes up with insipid, nonsensical, and irrelevant dialogues between characters to ridicule the standardised use of language, through which he implies the boring life cycles and distant attitude between family members. Through illogical yet realistic details, Ionesco portrays pitiful and weak human beings.
They talk at cross-purposes and tell nonsensical stories, which have no links to one another. Each one speaks their own topic and ignores what other people may understand.
“I use typical figures of speech and symbolisation of traditional eastern theatre to stage a play under the western Theatre of the Absurd.”
– You mentioned that you also focus on selling tickets and revenue. Does it affect your attitude in artistic activities and the play’s quality?
Merited Artist Tran Luc: I do not think I am materialistic, but indeed realistic. There is no one in this life who invests blindly without thinking of the capital recovery and profit.
Not to mention, I consider ticket revenue a measure of a play’s success. The number of tickets sold is an answer for several questions like ‘Do audiences admire the play?’ or ‘Is the quality worth the ticket price?’, etc.
We may attract audiences to theatres if only we stage interesting plays. Many people say that audiences have been turning their back against theatrical drama but artists also need self-reflection. If we still stage plays the same way we did in 1960s and 1970s, how could we attract modern audiences?
By observing audiences’ reactions to our other recent unconventionally-staged plays ‘La Jalousie du Barbouillé’ (or The Jealousy of Cinderella) by Molière and “Quan” (“Distraught”) by Vietnamese playwright Long Chuong, I can see that they were warmly welcomed by audiences despite their familiar plots.
But it does not mean that all I care about is selling tickets. For me, pursuing art is an adventure that brings me joy and excitement. With that attitude, I can continue staging good plays. When an artist can introduce interesting artworks to audiences, his name will not be forgotten.
– So what is your plan for “The Bald Soprano”?
Merited Artist Tran Luc: I will use typical figures of speech and theatrical language of eastern theatre traditions to give the western play an eastern look. In other words, I will stay true to expressive symbolism.
This play is comprised of three key features: a straightforward storyline, minimal stage setup and props, and highly capable artists with animated acting skills (good at facial expressions, eye contacts, body language, movements to attract audiences during the play).
Besides, I also pay attention to actors’ interactions with audiences, through which viewers can actually join the play and set free their imagination, instead of passively watching actors and waiting for an end.
‘HOT’ TOPICS IN CONTEMPORARY VIETNAMESE SOCIETY
– Theatre of the Absurd is still a strange concept to domestic audiences. In order to make it less confusing, did you adapt it to make it more suitable for a Vietnamese audience?
Merited Artist Tran Luc: Directors usually add some details or modify certain particulars to make a play more relevant to Vietnamese audiences. But when reading the script, I did not see anything that needed to be modified.
The distant attitudes, mental crisis, and societal left-behinds portrayed in this play with its context of a British family are applicable to anyone, no matter where. A great playwright is one who can write a one-fits-all script that covers all-time matters of humankind like Ionesco. “The Bald Soprano” and other plays by Eugène Ionesco, such as “The Lesson”, “The Chairs”, and “Victims of Duty” are still considered classics of western theatre.
– So what makes “The Bald Soprano” different from other plays that you have staged previously?
Merited Artist Tran Luc: What I have said does not mean that I literally put the whole original play on the stage as is. I also included some callouts that may sound familiar to Vietnamese people, for example the line, ‘He can both play piano and stir shrimp paste!”.
Yet, the major factor resulting in differences between this play and the original is the eastern symbolism I use to stage a typically western play under the Theatre of the Absurd.
Besides, before the play wraps up, we also add a scene where four main characters make a dialogue with hot topics in Vietnam like: fraudulent academic degrees, bullying in school, hot TV series ‘QuynhBup Be’, Quang Hai the widely admired footballer, and the miraculous triumphs of Vietnam national football team, etc.
That scene does not last too long, only two pages. Characters still talk at cross-purposes without paying attention to what others are saying.
– I think you have a lot of guts when letting young actors perform “The Bald Soprano” on stage as the reputation of actors has long been considered part of a play’s guarantee for success.
Merited Artist Tran Luc: All eight actors performing “The Bald Soprano” are my students. Half of them are recently graduated, while the others are senior students at the Hanoi Academy of Theatre.
It is true that young artists may be short of acting experiences but they are full of zeal, passion, and instinct for acting. Unless we offer them opportunities to perform in front of audiences, their acting career may never soar.
I once said that that acting is not something that can be taught and learnt academically, and I still stand by that opinion. LucTeam is an art troupe consisting of teachers and students. I am teacher Tran Luc and my team includes my students, who are young artists. We form this troupe for a common passion of theatrical art. Zeal, passion, and innocence are three of the factors making a difference in our plays.
“The Bald Soprano” is performing in mid-January at L’Espace, 24 Trang Tien Street, Hoan Kiem district in Hanoi.
The play will attend the fourth Hanoi International Experimental Theatre Festival 2019 later this year.
– Thank you Director Tran Luc!