Imagine a 300 seat theatre that’s open seven days a week, 365 days a year, and hosts 5-7 public performances a day.
If I told you that each performance is often sold out and booked in advance, you’d be quite rightly thinking, “Where in the world?”
That theatre has existed in Hanoi, Vietnam since October 1969, and the reason for its popularity is that it’s a unique experience for tourists, and a long-standing tradition for locals. It is the ‘Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre’. The tradition dates back to the 11th century, when villagers made their own entertainment in flooded rice paddy fields. They would bring their puppets to life with folk stories and legends while waist deep in water!
While the theatre experience conveys the same theme of traditional stories and legends, a screen separates the puppeteers from the audience, creating a magical experience of puppetry as they appear to seemlessly move across the water independently, while conveying these stories. In addition to this, traditional Vietnamese music accompanies the performance, courtesy of a live orchestra. A combination of bamboo flutes, drums, wooden bells and more, adds to the story, atmosphere and overall experience.
How do they do it?
I hadn’t heard of the Water Puppet Theatre until I consulted my travel guide en-route to Hanoi. It became a ‘must-see’ for me because it was unique to the country and not an experience I’d had before. I read that tickets are often booked out in advance, so I went along with no expectation of getting a ticket. Evening performances were already sold out, but seats were available for an afternoon performance, which worked for me. The regular sell-outs seemed likely to result from the ‘package’ links the theatre has with hotels and other outlets. It’s likely more convenient for tourists on a timetable to have a trip to the theatre organised in advance (and to guarantee a seat exactly when they want it). For the locals attending, it seemed to be a social experience. Knowing the high tourist interest, they must also be likely to book in advance to suit their social circumstance and to get good seats together!
I found the theatre difficult to find despite its central location, so local advertising wasn’t extensive. Online advertising, especially via tourism sites, is extensive. The theatre has a huge number of reviews on Trip Advisor (over 8,000 at time of writing). Tickets are available for advance online sale from within Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet and Viator offering a seamless process from travellers’ research into decision making and purchase.
If this has ignited your curiousity, and you find yourself in Hanoi, the theatre is situated in the centre of the city at the lake (across from the historic temple island). For a closer to home experience, you may be interested to know that the puppeteers also have a worldwide tour, most recently making their debut in Poland.
Every thing is possible or as they say in Vietnam:
mọi thứ đều có thể.
Kathryn is Culture Republic’s world traveller. She has visited 59 countries on 6 continents (so far!). Because of the independent nature of her travels, Kathryn brings a unique insight into being a cultural audience member across the globe. Watch for more blogs with insights of what Scotland’s cultural sector can learn about effective ways to reach tourist audiences, from Kathryn’s experiences.