Trailblazing stage director speaks out
With events on her calendar ranging from stage shows to outdoor national festivals, director and stage manager Pham Thi Thanh has a lot on her plate. Generously she takes time to discuss her thriving career with Mai Phuong.
With her outstanding contributions to Viet Nam’s theatre community and her numerous directoral successes on stage, Thanh is a symbol of success for women in modern Vietnamese society.
Inner Sanctum: How have you been able to continuously surpass past successes in your 45 years as a director?
It’s about heart. I tackle my work with energy and diligence. When I say heart I mean passion, enthusiasm and devotion. I’m not just out to make money. Exhaustion or desperation can’t touch me when I’m working.
I initially studied stage directing but now direct the shows; I’ve recently done the national 995th anniversary festival for Thang Long (Ha Noi) and the Nam Giao festival in Hue. Not much time to sleep, and I’ve learned that I have to be flexible with my work schedule. No time to feel sorry for myself or be lonely. Working and studying art and theatre is my only desire; I want to understand and be up to date on developments in the art world. In general, I’m very busy, but very satisfied.
Inner Sanctum: What is the greatest obstacle for a woman in your field?
Every career has its own challenges. If you want to be a success in any field, you have to work for that and you have to work much harder if you’re a woman. I am an example. As a director, a woman has to work twice as hard than others, particularly male colleagues. Rehearsals take place until midnight every night and the next day begins with work. Once a colleague asked me whether I missed my family. I responded that I don’t regret my career decision; all I regret is that I don’t have the energy and talent I might like.
Inner Sanctum: What, in your opinion, is the young theatre generation like?
There seem to not be too many prominent stage actors and artists these days, especially those with talent and enthusiasm. Social changes and more accurately the market economy may be some of the main things hindering the emergence of excellent theatre. Most dramas are written and produced on a small-scale with few characters. A real play should reflect current social development and should attract all kinds of people. Having a good message is the most important part to ensure the success of a play.
Inner Sanctum: You are seen as a symbol of successful women. What is your view of a happy family?
For me, a happy family doesn’t mean members have to live together in a house, but they should live happily together. Actually, I’m not a lucky woman. This is evidenced by the fact that my family is not intact. My husband and I separated a long time ago and now I’m living alone. That doesn’t mean I’m unhappy or regretting what I’ve done. I forsake the happiness of having a family for another kind of happiness; fulfilment with a career. I am happy and passionate about my work. A separation is sometimes better than living together, but of course children complicate things. I’d prefer a broken family with sincere love and happiness to a whole family where no one’s happy. Lonely simply does not mean you live alone. A lonely person is the one who lives amongst others but feels lonely. My husband and I separated because we didn’t connect in a number of areas, and a disproportion in age was also a problem.
Inner Sanctum: If you could change something in your life, what would it be?
[Long pause] I wish I could change my marriage. I might not have married so early or at such a young age. I greatly respected my husband who is much older than me. Age discrimination also resulted in a hard life for us; it was a big reason that we separated.
Inner Sanctum: It seems staying single is the current trend for female artists. Some of them even have new partners after their separations. What do you think about that?
If there is such a trend, I definitely disagree. It is actually not a trend but merely a way of thinking among some people. Lots of people have a desire for a happy family but for some reasons, they can’t seem to reach it. It’s especially hard for female artists, especially those who are famous, because they have a hard time finding a man who understands them and what they do.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think a woman’s role is in today’s society?
I believe women nowadays are more active and energetic than in the past. In the past, people had to struggle with war. I myself pursued a career, and as a result my children were looked after in kindergartens. Today, many women can juggle both their career and a family. I admire and respect that.
However, today’s feminism seems a little phoney. In fact, a number of women don’t struggle to get ahead in life but instead depend on a husband, who in turn has little interest in advancing his wife’s horizons. Women need to become more ambitious, work harder to carve out a career and catch up with men so we aren’t disregarded.
If my husband beat me, I would leave him immediately and wouldn’t regret a thing. And if I was beaten by a stranger, I would hit him back. Though I should never behave in a way that would provoke a beating, a modern woman should be independent in all situations. Along with the traditional four attributes of an ideal woman of “cong, dung, ngon, hanh” (work, appearance, speech and virtue), a woman must always be independent. — VNS
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