Vietnamese water puppeteer opens second mini theatre at home
Noted water puppeteer Phan Thanh Liem has just opened his second miniature theatre for water puppetry at his private home in Hanoi’s Long Bien District.
Liem has performed with his mini stage for the past 20 years. (Photo: tienphong.vn)
Born into a family with seven generations working as puppeteers in Rach Village, Nam Chan Commune, Nam Truc District in the northern province of Nam Dinh, Liem performs with a specially designed mobile stage for water puppetry invented by his father.
Liem has also created various new puppets to perform alongside traditional ones. He has composed his own scripts and served as the main puppeteer for the past 20 years.
His mobile stage includes a nylon water tank, which is used as the water surface for the art. The tank is designed to look like a communal house, which serves as the backdrop for the puppets.
Liem’s father, Phan Van Ngai, has helped trained many generations of artists for the Central Puppetry Theatre and puppetry troupes for various localities. His mobile stage for water puppetry is still used by central and local troupes. The Louvre Museum displays a puppet named Chu Teu carved by Ngai.
Ngai has run a family puppetry troupe with Liem, who has realised the limitations of the form’s traditional big stage, which consists of a communal house located on a large lake or tank. It is not only large but also difficult to move and not suitable for a family-sized troupe.
Liem’s first miniature stage for water puppetry was first used in 2000 at Van Ho Art Exhibition Centre in Hanoi with small puppets on a tank 80cm in length and 50cm. Then Liem designed the larger tank that he uses now.
At the opening ceremony for the private water puppetry stage in Long Bien District last week, Liem said the mobile stage has many advantages.
“It’s small, light, convenient to bring to serve audiences in small spaces like schools, offices and even private homes,” he said. “It’s also convenient for performance in remote areas or abroad.”
“With the small stage, the distance between the stage and audience is also reduced,” he added. “Artists and audiences have a better chance to exchange ideas on the traditional water puppetry art of Vietnam.”
Liem has not only served domestic audiences but also traveled overseas to perform. He has created various scripts to reflect today’s important issues.
With the mini stage, the distance between artists and audiences is reduced. (Photo: thethaovanhoa.vn)
His first mini theatre for water puppetry in Kham Thien Market Lane, in Dong Da District, has become popular with both domestic and foreign tourists.
His second home theatre is located at No. 22, Lane 145/8, Thach Ban Street, Long Bien District.
“I opened this second theatre as it is a convenient stop on the tours to Quang Ninh Province or Bat Trang Pottery Village,” he said. “My first theatre in Kham Thien Lane cannot meet audiences’ demands, though many foreigners like to walk through the lane to reach my theatre there.”
The theatre in his house in Kham Thien Lane can receive up to 21 audience members while the new one in Long Bien District can welcome 50.
At the opening ceremony, film director Dang Nhat Minh was impressed with the colour of silt in the tank.
“Liem told me that is the silt from Hong River,” Minh said. “He puts the silt from Hong River on the tank not only at home theatres but also brings along the silt to perform overseas, as he has not been able to find any other colours representing the Vietnamese countryside besides the colour of natural silt./.