Research, exhibition and publication on the oral history of Cải lương:

The research was carried out by Hugo Frey and Susanne Johnson (University of Chichester) in April 2019 – with advisory support from renowned Cải lương artists and researchers Nguyễn Thị Minh Ngọc and Nguyễn Hồng Dung – seeing them cross paths with more than 30 practitioners of Cải lương from multiple backgrounds and locations across Southern Vietnam. The publication was released in November 2019, coinciding with an exhibition, film screenings and performances taking place on the Nguyễn Văn Bình ‘book street’ of HCMC. You can find the e-version of the book here

“For much of the 20th century, Cải lương was the pre-eminent form of entertainment in Southern Vietnam with regional versions across the North. Combining music, song, theatre and performance, Cải lương tells stories of history, legend, comedy, social and personal experiences. Weaving together many traditions, it is a unique cultural form which Cải lương master Năm Châu once described as being both “beautiful and real”. 

Here we present a collective memory of Cải lương in Vietnam through words and photography. We have collected stories from four generations of Cải lương artists, with the oldest in his 80s, and the youngest in her 30s. These are stories of Cải lương actors, actresses, costume-design artisans, writers, directors, teachers, filmmakers, managers and representatives of audiences. Through these stories and memories, Cải lương is revealed as a world of travelling players sailing from town to town across the Mekong Delta, of packed audiences in the heydays of the 1980s, of self-sacrifices to make art, and much else besides.”

Cải lương teaching: Cải lương courses undertaken by senior artists and performers, as well as organisations within the arts, culture and education. The courses are aimed at children, young adults as well as general audiences, seeking to promote engagement with the art-form at a grassroots level. 

Actress at Tran Huu Trang Cai luong Theatre  ©

Cao Trung Vinh