Although the advancement of media and technology helps Vietnamese people engage with pop culture and access digital entertainment such as the YouTube platform and computer games, many forms of performing arts in Vietnam are under threat today. Theatre has become less meaningful to younger generations, and many theatres have been closed because of a lack of public interest and financial support. In fact, now, Institut d’Echanges Culturels avec la France (IDECAF) is the only children theatre in Vietnam that has survived after nearly 30 years of establishment.
Over the past few decades, Vietnam seems to have been left one children’s drama series, Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa (Once Upon A Time), organized by IDECAF. When it first began, Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa was able to produce two plays annually in summer and mid-autumn, lately it can only deliver one play per year due to the reduced interest of young audiences (Hoang). However, in general, Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa still stands out in Vietnamese society and attracts public attention compared to other artforms. This research paper will analyze the importance of Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa in the technological era. This topic is significant and should be studied because it offers a firm hope for Vietnamese theatre and arts and serves to remind Vietnamese people to preserve its ethical and traditional treasure. The spoken drama Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa not only serves as a means of entertainment, but it also teaches Vietnamese moral and historical values. Moreover, if the Vietnamese government and younger generations take serious action to revive the degradation of theatre, performing arts can play a vital role in international collaboration, political economy, and cultural identity.
Over the last twenty years, Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa has produced thirty-two plays. The first play, Tấm Cám (The Story of Tam and Cam), was performed at Bến Thành Theatre on World Children’s Day in 2000. At that time, Vietnamese children did not have many options for entertainment, except for traditional folk games or television. Being one of the first musical dramas in Vietnam, Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa gained enormous popularity in society by telling folk tales from Vietnam and all over the world. Although many types of performing arts are in a recession, the spoken drama Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa remains an indispensable part of many Vietnamese children’s lives.
Many types of performing arts have vanished, not solely because of the change in people’s preferences, but in the case of theatre because it cannot link its plays to contemporary society and ethical issues. In Ars Poetica (Art of Poetry), Horace repeatedly emphasizes that poetry (or theatre) should both “instruct and delight” to contribute a great value to society. This injunction creates a firm standard for every aspect of Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa performances. Although Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa mainly tells traditional folk stories, IDECAF carefully implements modern elements in the stage settings, props, and costumes to attract young theatregoers. Besides, each play contains more than ten songs borrowed from other countries or originally composed by IDECAF, so the actors can deliver their dialogues and messages through fascinating rhythms and dance moves. With hundreds of colorful clothing, sophisticated stage decorations, and creative music, Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa successfully set up animated performances that please the young audience. Parents take their children to watch Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa not only because it is relaxing and entertaining, but also because it professionally integrates the lessons of morality and history into every show.
However, one of the biggest disadvantages of Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa is that it has not reached its fullest potential of expanding its audience to a global scale. The spoken drama Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa has enough potential to promote itself to the world. With professional and dedicated artists involved, interesting ethical stories to tell, and beautifully designed stage settings, Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa can reach out to the international market and serve as a representation for Vietnamese children’s means of education and entertainment if the government gives strong support.
Unfortunately, the Vietnamese government is providing less funding to cultural activities, and intellectual property rights in Vietnam is weakened. The government should be responsible for the current struggles of Vietnamese theatres. Vietnam needs to establish proper funding policies, provide pieces of training for arts executives, and allow wider arts topics for audience expansion. If the government does not take meaningful actions in the market-oriented economy, performing arts, including the drama series Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa, may quickly disappear from the future life.
This study is vital because it gives Vietnam a strong hope, which is Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa, that theatre can still revive if we take serious actions to fight for the ethical values that we believe in.
Nguyen, Tien, "One Hope of Vietnamese Children's Theatre" (2021). Student Research. 34, Scholarly and Creative Work from DePauw University.