Conversations on Stranger (complied from an email interview and other online dialogues between Phan Y Ly, Rob Hale, Bui Thui Thu Hien and Paul Burgess).


Paul:      Is there are a lot of theatre taking place in Viet Nam and, if so, what do you think of it? 

Ly:         Well there are a lot of amateur spoken drama/ skit at grassroot level, many spoken drama by private artist groups in the South, and rare theatre in the North. Most if not all theatre are either traditional ancient Vietnamese style (Tuong, Cheo, Cai Luong) or spoken drama. In the North most of people have lost interest and habit of going to theatre, since most theatre piece is directed by director who is more than 60 yrs old and is heavily injected with propaganda. 

Paul:      What's the typical style of Vietnamese theatre?

Ly:         Spoken drama (kich noi) is the popular style.

Paul:      What is the role of the state in controlling theatre in Viet Nam?

 Ly:         We have state-owned theatres, each year these theatres will be allocated with fixed budget and they have to propose certain number and contents of theatre pieces to rehearse and perform in the year. Sometimes the state also give direction to these theatres what messages they should focus on when selecting different theatre content. Each public performance (whether state-owned or not) will have to gain performance license from the department of culture and information, all public performance must be performed prior to public show for approval, sometimes we will have to change the content/ costume/ etc.. of the theatre piece if they are perceived to be violating the rule of conduct (moral, ethics, politics etc.)

Paul:      What do you think about the design of scenery, costume and lighting in typical Vietnamese theatre? 

Ly:         I don’t even know what to say. They are highly dramatized, a bit naive and kiddish. Not much budget or creativity is put into scenery, costume and lighting. Most theatre piece don’t pay much attention to these elements, so they act mostly for illustrative purpose.  

Paul:      Is there much 'alternative' or independent theatre? 

Ly:         No, we are the only group known in the North. Experimental and independent at the same time, there are none. 

Paul:      Is there much devised/improvised theatre?

Ly:         Totally no, except us. Does expatriate group count? If so there was one performance in the south from a French expatriate improvisers group, and then we don’t hear from them again.  Well traditionally hundreds years ago Cai Luong and Cheo and many other traditional theatre forms of Vietnam were supposed to be improvised by the performers, but for some reasons they are all scripted now. 

Paul:      Are things different in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City? 

Ly:         Yes, a lot. You see mostly independent theatre in HCM city, while in Hanoi you will see theatre mostly in a state-owned institution. Theatre in HCM city are more diverse and original, creative and commercialized. Those in Hanoi are depressingly old fashion and irrelevant .. Except for the comedy/satir show Doi Cuoi (Laughable Life) those are popular and reflective of on going social issues.  

Paul:      In many countries that I have worked in or worked with people from, I have found that visual art there is more contemporary and international but that the theatre is traditional and not very connected to international networks. Is this true of Viet Nam? 

Ly:         Yes visual art, underground experimental music, even performance art.. are very connected to international network, but not theatre. Most of the time we see that international exchanged theatre performance are done thru governmental collaboration and is very official, while at a more independent level, we dont see much collaborations internationally for theatre. 

Rob:       I would agree with this point. Ly and I have discussed that visual art and performance art can often be more experimental as it is harder for the authorities to understand these forms. However i believe this can result in very abstract sometimes meaningless pieces of art. 

Paul:      Ly, what did you want to achieve when you initially invited Rob to work with you?

Ly:         I had known Rob for 10 years, initially I wanted to be a performer and expressed this wish to Rob, I wanted to work with a director whom I trust in creative taste. Rob has known Vietnam for many years and our cultures, he is also passionate about making theatre in Vietnam. I thought he was definitely a right person to collaborate with.

Paul:      How different is Stranger to other theatre work that is happening in Viet Nam?

Ly:         Stranger is different in several ways: it is a devised performance, produced independently, and is internationally collaborative, the aesthetic representation of the piece is also different, in a way that it utilises a lot of different expressive language and techniques rather than just spoken. 

Paul:      I had to leave before we shared the work with the public last year. What was the response?

Ly:         We had three scratch performances that received different responses each night. Overall the audience enjoyed the performance and was amazed at how we improvised the piece. Each night was different in aesthetic style, ranging from linear story with clear events and characters, to absolutely conceptual and symbolic with no specific story or characters..  Most audience find the performance unique, interesting, deep, and questioning. Please find more responses here.

Rob:       There was a lot of interest and engagement from a predominantly young audience. People stayed for a long time afterwards to ask questions and give opinions. Also the foreigners present felt that the poetry of the performances had a strong emotional connection for them concerning male female relationships.

Paul:      Ly and Rob, it'd be great to have a few words from both of you on how you feel about the piece, what it can achieve, and how you feel about making a performance that has design at its heart.

Ly:         I am excited, coz everything changes. The visual, the stage design, our own personal experience about the subject have changed after a year.. It's a constant exploration, collision and learning and reflection for me, the experience is amazing, to go deep inside and to project out something larger than myself. There is a lot of creativity, fun, surprise and insight too. Each time we rehearse or perform, it is like going to amusement park for the first time.

Rob:       I feel that after lots of different experiments to look for ways of expressing the mystery of male female dynamics, the choice to work with improvisation in the performance gave the actors a freedom that created beautiful and surprising moments on the stage. The new evolution of the piece aims to develop this further whist adding the contribution and provocation from a western performer.

Paul:      How about what it can achieve?

Rob:       It can stimulate questions and create debate in relation to how east and west may view relationships between the masculine and feminine.

Paul:      For me as a designer, it’s very exciting to have a joint authorial role in the piece, rather than working from a script which everything else must follow. Rob and Ly, how do you feel about that?

Ly:         I am stoked. As a performer I am excited to expand my creativity and physical/ emotional response to different elements. Design is usually used for illustrative purpose in traditional theatre but it is the heart of the piece this time. This will be like having more play ground to discover and reflect.

Rob:       It is exciting to see design as a dynamic story telling element that can help create the narrative rather than a static picture that serves an already decided concept.

Hien:     Why has Stranger been invited to WSD 2013? 

Paul:      One of the reasons Stranger was accepted to be part of WSD is because it uses visual theatre as a means to transcend language barriers. It ties in perfectly with WSD's focus on visually-based performance as its scenographic elements are fundamental to its story-telling. WSD also exists to establish professional networks between emerging experimental theatre practitioners across the globe. Because Same Stuff are experimenting with innovative forms of theatre, this is an opportunity to establish connections between Vietnam and the international theatre community. I think people know very little about theatre in Vietnam and are intrigued by it. It’s exciting to have Vietnamese work represented at the festival.

Hien:     How has the crew planned to design and perform Stranger this time? 

Paul:      The idea of the new version is to create a flexible framework which can be set up quickly and be changed during the show. It's similar to what we did in Hanoi but the screens will be moveable and there will also be boxes that can have various uses. This means that the performers' use of improvisation can include changing the set as well as well as their words and actions. It also reflects the show's nature as something portable which can be shown in Hanoi, Cardiff, London or anywhere else. It is a practical idea too, as we will be working in different-shaped venues. We will use video projection to bring in the ghostly presence of third person; Welsh performer Eddie Ladd. This represents the more ambiguous aspects of gender whereas, as previously, gender stereotypes and archetypes will be represented by shadow puppetry.

             Is there anything else anyone wants to add about the project as a whole?

Rob:      This project has been a 2 year journey that has been fascinating from the point of view of being able to creatively explore the struggles of male and female experience. This has caused me to question how I relate as a man both to women and other men. 

             Some of our improvisations have felt universal, some have felt heavily influenced by specific culture and politics. It has been interesting to know that the audience in Vietnam sometimes needs a literal and logical approach to enable them to accept the artistic offering as being worthwhile. 

             It has been frustrating but understandable to see some conflicts and struggles being played out between us as a group of devisers. 

             I personally have been inspired by the daring of the two performers both in their willingness to ask themselves deep and difficult questions and in their courage to improvise without knowing exactly where it will lead during the performance. To see the performers creativity in working with unexpected imagery put together with sound has been constantly surprising.

Back to Dramaturgy


Make a Free Website with Yola.