THEATERS IN VIETNAM – A French Theater Designer Point of View
As designers specialized in theaters and performing spaces based in Vietnam, we have been visiting and scouting a number of theaters and performing art spaces in the country for over five years now. We have been also meeting and exchanging with various professionals of the entertainment industry such as show directors, technicians, event organizers and investors.
Together with our French expertise background in theater design, we have a strong creative and technical knowledge in theater and performance typologies, which gives us a specific point of view to analyze the current situation of theaters in Vietnam, and propose the specific answers that could be developed in this context.
This article is then a way to share our brief analysis and directions that could be developed in Vietnam.
The most famous theaters in Vietnam are certainly the Hanoi Opera House (600 seats) and Saigon Opera House (800 seats), both parts of the heritage with a long history of different uses and renovations. Today both operas would deserve a deep renovation but the investment for such building is costly because the theatre equipment and backstage areas are less and less operational, while the theater equipment are high technology imported products that also require a strong operation and maintenance budget.
We had tested many other theaters and then realized that there are many issues from the audience’s point of view, with average quality of sightlines and acoustic, which is crucial to enjoying performances such as drama, dance, or music. From the performers’ and technicians’ side on stage and backstage, the issues are about access and set up, for which they have to readapt their set to each theater on their tour. This is also crucial for productions that are careful about choosing theaters where their set can fit to perform as planned and without extra cost.
We also noticed that in most of the popular music big-scale concerts, over 2000 seats are mostly outdoor, with temporary and removable setups. This type of installation for only one concert is very costly to set up, which can explain the high ticket price, and dependent on the weather with huge financial impact in case of cancellation mostly during the rainy season.
Recently, we also observed that several major groups implement large-scale multimedia shows that reveal several issues from our point of view which are firstly the problem of scale between the numbers of seats around 3000 and what happens on stage which is actually not scaled accordingly. Also in terms of strategy, the budget is mostly invested in the equipment, while the part dedicated to content creation is not valued enough, whereas it is more vital than the equipment for a successful show.
The Hoi An Lune Center for Performing Arts (300 seats) is a good example of cost-efficient and still iconic theater, with popular shows that are still touring all over the world, thanks to the passionate creators and the clever investors that make it happen.
THE NEEDS IN VIETNAM
We often hear that we should have new operas in Vietnam, however we need to be careful with terminology as it not only refers to a specific theater typology, but also to a certain type of performance which is one of the most expensive, requiring in-house production and set design as well as extensive maintenance workshops, resulting in an important operation cost. That is why we proposed a transformable opera in Ho Chi Minh City that can be used on a daily basis as well as for tourist purposes, offering cinema and panorama configurations as well as more revenue to balance the maintenance budget.
Besides the classic opera theater, many other typologies have been developed in the U.S. and Europe since the ’70s, with one of the most popular called Proscenium multiform theaters which are the most used for international tours by many companies for drama, dance, circus, musical, opera… The program of such theater also usually includes a secondary auditorium called a black box that can welcome more intimate performances in many kinds of stages/seating layouts.
In terms of music and concerts, we believe that there are missing places in the country’s major cities, particularly in Pop, Hip Hop, Rock, and other genres. This type of performance space can range from 400 to thousands of seats, but it does not require the same expensive machinery as the previous opera or proscenium type, and it must be carefully designed regards to scale, flexibility, and acoustics to accommodate different music shows almost every day.
We also believe that the hospitality industry can affect changes in theater typology, because visitors and guests expect to be entertained when they travel, and they are increasingly demanding high-quality shows. In this field, we are currently developing several “Eatertainment” projects, which are a combination of F&B and entertainment, such as cabaret or food court theater.
Spice Route theater in Hoi An – Eatertainment (SLA Designers)
This type of program requires serious planning and gathering all expert in theater design, production, and the food industry, but the final products delivered to the guests is highly valuable to attract visitors.
Back to the historical operas, we imagine that they should should be renovated with a focus on welcoming classical music concerts, which means that the expensive machinery would no longer be required, but the acoustics and audience comfort should be thoroughly re-considered, combined with a new urban design environment to give these operas full of historic majesty.
THE RIGHT PROCESS TO MAKE IT HAPPEN
Buildings for performances require the collaboration of architects and theater design consultants, as well as acoustic, video, audio, and stage lighting engineers, who must work closely with the investor, operator, and users. The theater designer consultant ensures that all parties communicate effectively in order to provide a functional theater for the performers and technicians who use the venue, as well as an excellent experience for the audience.
Even before the architecture, the theater designer is usually called to define the needs (type of performances, capacity), programming (type of theater, equipment), and budget (construction and operation). From our experience in Vietnam, we realized that a lack of preparation impacts the entire development process, with a lot of time consumption testing different options and confusion about the impact on the venue’s operation, all the way until the bidding period, when it’s time to review for budget, safety, and operational reasons. Concerning safety, we observe that the regulations governing theater buildings must be reviewed and updated to reflect the new evolution of space and equipment used in contemporary theaters.
Performing spaces reach their final destination when they welcome performances, which require professional technicians, show productions, and operator teams. In Vietnam, these would involve the development of dedicated training in specialized schools, national funding support of production, and professional operators that can manage international co-production because, in the end, spaces for performance and the performing arts are linked, one and others will grow only by being together.
— Cyril Lamy, Founder & Creative Director of SLA Designers
SLA Designers is an international creative agency with tailored expertise in Scenography, Lighting and Theater Design for hospitality, entertainment, and cultural projects.