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Discovering theatre in Vietnam

Theatre and performance can be seen everywhere in our daily lives. According to Introduction to Theatre professor Dr. Megan Lewis, you can learn a lot about a culture from how they act and perform in their everyday activities.

“I called this field class ‘Vietnamese Performing Arts in Action’,” Lewis said, “What I want them to become aware of is that theatre and performance are everywhere, they are actually a beautiful frame in which to encounter different cultures.”

Students try their hand at water puppetry in Ho Chi Minh City.

Students in Lewis’ class ventured out into Ho Chi Minh City to observe others but also get a taste of the local art and theatre in the area. They watched and engaged in a water puppetry performance, which is a tradition that dates back to the 11th century when it originated from the northern parts of Vietnam. After that, they visited the Soul Music and Performing Arts Academy where they learned about traditional Vietnamese instruments as well as some of the language through the art of song.


“I asked [the students] to look at various bodies that are performing today, so I wanted them to look at inanimate objects in the water puppetry: what does it mean to animate some object and make it come to life? Also, then think about human bodies and how they tell stories and how we sang together and made music and how musical instruments can tell these stories as well,” Lewis said.

Playing Vietnamese marimbas at the Soul Music and Performing Arts Academy.

For the remainder of the class, students were guided through the streets of Ho Chi Minh to study the different parts of life happening around them, from the buzzing of the motorbikes to the murmurs coming from market vendors. Students ended the evening with a delicious Vietnamese meal and conservations about what they had discovered.

“I thought it was really interesting seeing people stand in front of the statue of Ho Chi Minh and all these people were imitating the statue,” said Makenzie Bryner from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Students had a number of different observations, from how street vendors bargained to how the waiters served at the restaurant.

“I think what sort of struck me was seeing the daily commuters and them carrying out their lives in the usual fashion that isn’t usual to us,” said Elvis Matoya, Semester at Sea Voyager from Wartburg College.

Semester at Sea still has five more days in Vietnam: to study, explore and perform.

  • Arts
  • Culture
  • Education

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