What is a Water Puppet Show?

Puppetry is a form of performance, manipulating puppets, or inanimate objects that resemble a human being or an animal that you may see whether in daily life or through television. Also, the people that take part in the puppet performance are called puppeteers. In each role, they will deliver a different story, based on the scripts given. Sometimes, when performing, the puppeteers will voice over their characters directly or some will record it in advance of their show to make sure that the show would go smoothly.

Vietnamese Theater: The Water Puppet Show in Hanoi

The most popular puppetry forms are finger puppets, hand or glove puppets, rods puppets and water puppets. Each type of these puppetry arts will have a different setup of scenarios, essential materials for puppet productions, including wood, iron, or cloth as well as which tool would be used to manipulate their puppets. The most famous regions for performing puppetry are India, China, Australia, North America, and Vietnam.

Water puppetry is a long-lived, beautiful and meaningful form of art in northern Vietnam. For anyone who has attended a water puppet show, it must have been a memorable experience. Water puppetry is famous in the Red River Delta, especially. People believe that this art form appeared in this region as early as the 11th century, originating from the villages located near the Red River and relying on the Wet Rice culture as their major food provision.

A traditional water puppet show in the old days would be taking place in the rainy season when the rice paddies were flooded as many people believe. There were villagers using woods to create the puppets, then performing on the water to entertain others. The shows held then were less formal and showing connection among people more.

On the other hand, a modern water puppet show these days is held more formally and professionally, which is usually in theatres with tickets and thorough preparation. The puppets used are made of wood, then lacquered. The artists performing also have bamboo rods supporting these puppets.

The show then takes place in a pool of mid-waist height with the support of light and sound systems to make it more attractive to spectaculars. What makes the modern water puppet shows special is that the puppeteers carefully hide behind one massive screen, and they still manage to control their roles throughout the show incredibly.

Water puppet shows, no matter presented in which time, are entertaining and educational to viewers since their content is about the habits of Vietnamese in the past, famous historical events such as the winnings over colonialism, or folktales. This is partly why it is still maintained nowadays and assumed as one of the nation’s characteristics.

Although water puppetry has been established for many centuries, this wonderful tradition is still maintained and nurtured till 2020. Vietnamese water puppetry is definitely a unique variation of the Asian and the world puppetry art in general.

Water Puppet Show History

Water puppetry, according to sources, dates back to the 11th century, 1121 to be specific, under the reign of the Ly Dynasty. Some others even believe that water puppetry in Vietnam appeared as soon as 255 B.C; however, the reports have indicated that the milestone of 1121 was the beginning of this art form.

Vietnamese Theater: The Water Puppet Show in Hanoi - Water Puppet Show History

In particular, sociologists state that puppetry is performed throughout Asia in such nations as India, Malaysia, or the Philippines, but the art of water puppetry is only available in Vietnam and China. Nonetheless, Vietnam was capable of preserving this artistic tradition, and there has been barely a sign of water puppetry in China.

In 1922, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre recovered 17 plays that had remarkable impacts, including “Chu Tễu”, “Lê Lợi trả Gươm”, “Em bé chăn trâu”, “Vinh Quy bái tổ”, and “Múa sư tử”. Their performances lived up to the high expectations of the audience and were able to put across meaningful stories towards the speculators. These plays received positive feedback and compliments for their ability to both entertain and educate viewers of history and Vietnamese traditional values.

In the 21st century, there are six teams consisting of professional water puppetry artists in Vietnam. These teams come from Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Hai Phong, Dak Lak, and Quang Tri. In addition, thousands of gifted water puppetry artists coming from locals, in both Red River Delta and Mekong Delta, also have excellent skills and great dedication towards this art form.

Over a period of 1000 years of evolution, water puppetry in Vietnam has become much more elegant, appealing, and sophisticated. In every show, there would be a breath-taking background behind the puppets, an orchestra playing traditional music with instruments such as flutes, drums, and one-stringed guitars. The singers would sing the most beautiful traditional songs, and the puppeteers would perform their best to offer their audience one marvellous show.

Vietnamese Theater: The Water Puppet Show in Hanoi - Water Puppet Show History

The recent years have witnessed their progress and success in terms of water puppetry art. Since the artists have been participating in numerous competitions, both domestic and international. They’ve been able to improve their performing levels and also won many prizes, as well as recognitions. This fact proves that water puppetry, a beautiful tradition of Vietnam is to be preserved and taken pride in.

Nevertheless, the art of water puppetry has not been the way as it used to be. As the water puppet shows are likely to gain companies lots of profit, many of them have the tendency to abuse this entertaining form and decrease the values it can offer. Instead of that, they focus on the profit levels to be achieved and apply inappropriate methods on water puppetry art.

But every dilemma has its solution. The mentioned problem was taken into serious consideration and the government has come up with several resolutions and policies to gradually eliminate the issue because this art presents traditional values. The solutions recommended and applied are establishing and upgrading proper training sessions for puppeteers, calling for greater investment, and applying strictly the laws relating to traditional values protection and preservation.

The Water Puppet Show – What to Expect?

Astonishing performing skills

It is no doubt that when entering a water puppet show, you would be watching skilful artists controlling their puppets with amazing movements and voicing over or playing the voice record of each character they are roleplaying in their performance in the waist-deep water.

Notably, while the water puppeteers are dealing with the wooden puppets, there are also musicians playing Vietnamese traditional instruments such as flutes, wooden bleed, drums, horns, and single-stringed guitars. During a water puppet show, many people can be so engaging in the puppets that forget about the talented musicians.

Vietnamese Theater: The Water Puppet Show in Hanoi - Water Puppet Show Musician

Meaningful and amusing stories delivered  

An ordinary water puppet performance can last for approximately 5 minutes or longer, depending on how long the storyboard given is. As mentioned, the content delivered is both entertaining and educating for the audience, especially children. For example, if the story put across is about the habits and lifestyles in the past, then the audience can learn about what people used to do for gaining their supplies or how they would deal with conventional situations in daily life. Meanwhile, viewers are still able to enjoy the show, which is wonderful.

In another case, if the storyboard provided is about a historical event, the artist will then tell a story using their puppets with a fascinating way to deliver a historic story. History events delivered in other circumstances such as schooling or documentary films may not be approachable or interesting enough to draw the attention from a huge amount of viewers like the water puppet shows are. The water puppet shows manage to talk about a historic event in a more amusing way, and that’s what many people love about them.

Vietnamese Theater: The Water Puppet Show in Hanoi - Water Puppet Show Artists

Incredible experience in the theatre

Along with the amazing stories presented, talented artists and musicians, you are likely to get incredible experience when attending a water puppet show in big cities such as Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. This results from their modern sound and light systems, which promises to gain you the best experience. Especially during the show, there singers singing along to the play going on the stage with beautiful traditional songs of Vietnam. As a result, a water puppet show can always be impressive whether you are a native or foreigner tourist.

Moreover, some of you can enjoy the atmosphere in the theatre the most. It’s crowded, energetic, and relaxable during the show. When getting into a show, you would see many people of different age ranges coming to watch a water puppet performance. Both the young and elders share one common interest, and this is not what you can see in everyday life.

Where to See the Show in Hanoi?

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

Vietnamese Theater: The Water Puppet Show in Hanoi - Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi is considered as one of the most long-lived theatres in the country. This theatre was constructed in the 11th century, under the reign of the Ly Dynasty. It has been holding famous puppet shows since then, and until now the theatre still keeps its historic values and brings the audience high-quality puppet shows.

This Water Puppet Theatre is situated at 57B Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. It is also a popular tourist attraction of the city since many foreigners have come to the theatre to enjoy numerous shows held there, and all of them have gained themselves amazing cultural experience. Every year, the theatre provides approximately 500 shows, welcoming 150 thousand viewers from domestic to foreigners.

Vietnamese Theater: The Water Puppet Show in Hanoi - Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

When purchasing a ticket at Thang Long Theatre, you can book in advance, which is highly suggested since the theatre welcomes so many clients. In many cases, if a customer does not reserve a ticket, there will be no spot left. The websites to book tickets in advance to a water puppet show in Thang Long Theatre, Hanoi are plentiful, including Vietnamguide.com, GetYourGuide.com, and TripAdvisor.com. Provided that you book your tickets on these sites, you will be offered several policies and support, for instance, free cancellation or available discount. A water puppet show ticket price in Hanoi can fluctuate from $2 to $5, dependent on which time you may want to visit.

Also, if you would like to have more information about the locations surrounding Thang Long Theatre, then here they are. When dropping by Thang Long Theatre in Hanoi, you will get multiple choices of accommodations, eateries, and other interesting destinations.

For accommodations, there are numerous hotels and homestays that are in favor of tourists such as Luxstay, Chip’s House, or Tre House. Besides, in Hoan Kiem District, you can find five-star or less luxurious hotels, including JW Marriott Hotel Hanoi, Movenpick Hotel Hanoi, and Melía Hotel Hanoi. Bookings are easy to make as you have so many websites supporting this, for example, Traveloka or Trivago.

Other Theatres to Watch Water Puppet Shows in Hanoi

Apart from Thang Long Theatre, Hanoi still has many other places holding wonderful puppet shows. The first to mention is the Lotus Water Puppet Theatre, located at 16 Ly Thai To Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. This place is also a great place for people who have been falling in  love with the art of water puppetry for its sophisticated decoration and high-quality shows every year, opening for thousand of tourists and natives to see its shows

Another place of recommendation to readers of this post is the Vietnam Puppet Theatre. This theatre though not situated in the centre of Hanoi, which is 361 Truong Chinh Road, Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi, is attracting numerous viewers to drop by and watch the beautiful performances from the water puppet artists, musicians and singers who are always dedicated to offering their audience with the best experience ever.

The price range when booking or purchasing tickets directly at these two theatres is quite similar to that of Thang Long as they are likely to cost you 100000 VND for each. However, this is not too high a price to have an enjoyable show in Hanoi. If your destination is 16 Ly Thai To Street, then you can have the same access to all the suggestions of accommodations and eateries in the central district of Hanoi.

What’s more is that when finishing the show, you will be able to take part in other nightlife activities since Hanoi is an energetic city by night. Such activities to take can be going to night markets or Ta Hien Street. But if you’re going from Truong Chinh Road, you can also easily access the central district, or you can go for other interesting places or night vendors with delicious street food.

“Chú Tễu” – The Soul of the Water Puppetry Art

For anyone who has seen a water puppet show, “Chú Tễu” is a familiar character. He appears to his audience as a gentle person, who has one childlike smile, a young farmer with one golden loincloth, on the stage. He participates in every play as a narrator. He is responsible for all the introduction, ending, and narration throughout the whole story of the show.

But that’s not what the viewers love most about “Chú Tễu”. Because what the audience love most is his ability to connect the viewers and the performers. He is also able to show sympathy and call for it in the tragic stories presented on the water stage. His sense of humor, his smile and his voice are important to the show. Though “Tễu” is not a character contributing directly to any story told on the stage, his role is crucial, and he is loved by thousands of viewers.

Vietnamese Theater: The Water Puppet Show in Hanoi - Chu Teu

These days there have been many different images of this character created, but people will always remember the same personality and smile. That’s why this character is called the soul of the water puppetry art.

Outstanding Water Puppet Performances

“Hồn Trương Ba Da Hàng Thịt”

This is a famous play written by Luu Quang Vu, a talented and respectful play-writer. His work was featured in the water puppetry and brought runaway success. The breakthrough for this feature was attributed to the creativity of Luu Quang Vu for such an excellent idea and the sophistication in production of the theatre directors that could turn a vision into a successful reality.

The first time of this feature “Hồn Trương Ba Da Hàng Thịt” was in Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, Hanoi. The idea of combining drama and puppetry had been created long before in 2007. Witnessing such a breakthrough, many other directors have also turned this work of art into forms of opera and “cheo”, and they all have left impressive marks on their audience.

“Múa Lân”

Lan, or known as Unicorn, is one of the four noble symbols in the belief of Vietnamese – Lan, Li, Quy Phuong. In their religion, they believe that whenever a unicorn appears, there would be a Saint coming to help people to overcome the poverty and obstacles in life as well as give them a life of happiness and peace. That’s why Unicorn is considered as a stroke of good luck.

In the puppet shows, “Múa Lân” is often about the fight of two Unicorns, which is so intensive and magnificent. However, the vibe that this performance brings to viewers is dynamic, astonishing, and fascinating.

“Múa Phượng”

“Phuong” is also one of the symbols – “Lan, Li, Quy, Phuong”. In English, people can also call this as Phoenix. Phoenix in Asian belief often represents strength, nobility, and eternal love of couples.

Especially in water puppet shows, Phoenix is featured incredibly with the most vivid colors and the most beautiful feathers. There are different stories about Phoenix, but in general, all of them are indicating Phoenix’s meaning of love, eternity, nobility, and sometimes strength. The stories also express people’s wish about one true love in their life.

“Đua Thuyền”

The boat has been associated with Vietnamese daily life, customs and festivals from ancient times to present by our fathers. Boat racing is a traditional activity in the locality near the river, notably seen in the Red River and Mekong River Delta, often held during seasonal festivals or holidays, most significantly Tet.

This is not only a sport to show strength, but also a type of culture and belief that contains humanistic meaning, praying for the sun and the rain, imminent peace, and for a life of no poverty and disease.

“Đánh Cáo Bắt Vịt”

A farmer husband and wife herding ducks – what a peaceful and familiar scene of a Vietnamese village! Suddenly a good fox appeared from out of nowhere. The fox swam and chased, grabbed the duck, then got into the bushes, quickly climbed the tree so that it could hide from the husband and wife.

It’s such a clever fox that can both swim and climb up a tree to hide itself. This is considered as a trick of water puppetry. Many people raised the question of how the puppeteers can control their fox to climb up on a tree and this simple but interesting story has been attracting thousands of viewers in many years.

“Chọi Trâu”

This is also known as the Buffalo Fighting Festival. The festival is one of the oldest folklore festivals, and it is held once a year in many locales. This is a festival associated with water god worship and sacrifices. The festival is held so that people can pray for prosperity and happiness for their lives.

In each festival, a fierce battle between two muscular and brave buffalos is presented. And the reward will be given to the owner of the buffalo that won the contest. The festival not only brings joy but also shows the chivalry spirit of Vietnamese people.

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