The development of a country is measured not only by the number of luxury cars, the skyscrapers, shopping centers but also by the number of museums, libraries, sports areas, parks, and theaters that are lighted up every night.
There is no magic wand that can help the cultural institutions to work smoothly and force the audience to flock to theatres with just one touch. The cultural sector of Vietnam needs decades to mature and develop. However, if we do not start from today so when?
The stage in intense competition
The Hanoi Opera House
In the past, we could see that the Western-style theaters for a narrow range of audience – the bourgeois and elites – were always crowded as the demand for cultural products, entertainment for this group was very high.
During the wartime and the subsidy period, the theaters were always crowded as the supply of art was very low. It was a luxury, a rare opportunity to get tickets to the theater or cinema.
In the renovation period, television flourished, offering the audience a huge amount of entertainment products, including films from China, Japan, Europe, the Americas and especially Hollywood, then a series of reality TV programs worldwide. This has partly satisfied the entertainment needs of the middle class in the society - the group of people who began having the demand for using cultural, entertainment products on a regular basis.
The theaters of all kind, from those for Opera, symphony to drama, to traditional arts, museums, and cultural palace, ... have encountered a fierce competition. In terms of marketing, all the 4Ps are in difficulty.
Product - products of the rival as television (movies, game shows, reality shows), blockbusters at the modern cinema, the disk market, internet, home theater ... are very good. The audience can watch world-famous plays at home with low cost.
Today, theatrical works face much more difficulties than before because of the strong development of rivals, particularly entertainment products for watching on TV or the Internet, which are offered at cheap price or for free and can be enjoyed everywhere, every time.
Price - reasonable and flexible payment methods.
Place - sales channel: dynamic, flexible, able to interact with customers anytime, anywhere.
Promotion - promotion is carried out by private art firms in an active, continuous, updated ways on all channels where the audience can receive information, such as TV, radio, print media, online media, direct marketing, panels - leaflets, mobile loudspeakers to social networks, and then consumers sell to consumers.
If the adults don’t go to the theater, then of course the children don’t have the habit and needs to go to the theater. The customers of theatres are aging and the young audience is insufficient to replace the old ones.
Diversification of "product basket" and media innovation
A scene from the play "Truong Ba's Soul in the Butcher's Body"
Facing fierce competition, traditional theaters have no other way but to adapt by changing the mindset from servicing political mission to serve the audience in parallel with art creation.
The audiences are no longer art enjoyers but are customers and buyers so the operation of theaters also needs to change, adhere to the "rules" of the market economy at a certain degree (as theatres are still partly funded by the state).
The Chaillot National Theatre in France in addition to organizing contemporary dance shows for dozens of audience, it also has dance flamenco shows for hundreds of audiences.
The popular art shows, but still feature the theatre’s characteristics, also contribute to nurturing elite art. The Pockemon crew dance troupe of France won the highest number of world, French, and European championship titles.
But the National Opera House in Lyon will not open for this troupe to practice and perform as a main dance troupe of the theater if this troupe does not shift from technical hip hop dances to art hip hop. This suggests that, for any category of art, only high artistic quality is important.
One of the important factors is that art troupes should have a "home" theatre. It is difficult to convince the audience at home and abroad that the Hanoi Opera House and the Ho Chi Minh City Opera House are the national art centers as both theaters don’t have their own art troupes.
If the Vietnam Music, Dance and Drama Theatre and the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra become the permanent art troupes performing at the Hanoi Opera House with the weekly performance schedule, then the supply of art products will increase weekly and it will be commensurate with the development of the country.
Let’s take the case of the Hanoi Opera House as an example. The independent art programs organized by private companies or individuals with very high artistic quality should appear on stage at the Hanoi Opera House with preferential prices to support the elite art, which is only for the few, such as the Hennessy concert, Toyota concert, the concerts by pianist Pho An My ...
A scene from "I and We" drama.
The presence of long-term elite art shows at the Hanoi Opera House, which is accompanied with advertising and communication campaigns will help call for finance from donors, sponsors, thereby increasing resources for the promotion of art. This task should be assigned to professional personnel in charge of sales, marketing and communications.
It also requires an important reform: the establishment of a PR Marketing department in every theater. To compete with the "rivals" with big marketing apparatus and giant budget for communications, with international experience, with synchronous infrastructure from eating - drinking - entertainment to customer care skills, techniques community capacity development, media relations, it is clear that these are out of the reach of part-time employees.
People will often go to the theater when they have the need for entertainment and relax. That demand is not naturally born but it needs to be practiced, should be stimulated by the communication activities.
Communication departments of theaters need to launch information campaigns targeted to the public before, during and after the theatre launches new plays. They should use traditional media channels and social networks in particular, influential people in the commune also as effective marketing tools.
Marketing staff should create sales package, the form of incentives and other forms of interactive, integrated marketing, cross marketing with other brands to target at the current and the future community of audience. The audience are not naturally born.
If the stage is not introduced at schools in a systematic way, at least in the big cities, not explained to the youth, it is very hard for stage to appear later in the list of things of interests when our kids become adults.
In France, there are many education programs about cinema for students from grade 3 to create demand early. There are theaters in Paris where two plays have been performed since 1957. These plays belong to the absurd play gene, which have both literary and historical value, both entertainment and thinking value.
And finally, we need a long-term strategic investment in our people and information systems; Investment in training a qualified team of screenwriters, actors, technicians of performing sector, managers of cultural businesses, media professionals, cultural marketing, building communication channels specialized in culture (on you tube, cultural programs on television, restoring the cultural and art news columns on the print, online newspapers).
Even in that case, it will take Vietnam at least two decades to be able to build a new generation of audience – new consumers of culture. The road may be long, but if we concentrate resources proactively with careful calculation then the market factors will shorten that time.
Nguyen Dinh Thanh