Covid puts performing artists out of work

When she heard about the two-week social distancing in HCMC, actress Kim Dao knew immediately her business would face even more difficulties.

She looked at boxes of food that she had prepared to sell and sighed, and had no idea what she would do to earn money in the next few weeks since theaters are closed, and many of her customers, wary of the new wave of infections, have stopped ordering food.

Dao, 30, says her livelihood has been hit hard by the fresh Covid outbreak in the last month as game shows are canceled and filming is postponed, forcing her to resort to selling food.

A good cook, she makes many kinds of foods.

"Before this outbreak, I was selling dozens of boxes of food per day, earning VND6-7 million ($261.63 - 305.24) a month. And the income from films also helped support my family."

But during the last month she has been selling just around 10 boxes a day. From May 31, when social distancing was imposed, her earnings have shrunk even more.

She lives with her son and mother in a rented apartment in Binh Thanh District.

The actress is not alone in her plight. Over the last year or so, with Vietnam being hit by waves of Covid-19, many entertainment activities stopped and venues were shut down to contain the spread of the virus.

This has caused many artists to struggle to earn a living.

Kim Dao sells food to pay her bills in HCMC.

Kim Dao, an actress in HCMC, sells food to pay her bills. Photo courtesy of Kim Dao.

Many of them have had to resort to other work, whatever they can get in fact, to earn a living.

Thanh Tuan, an actor at 5B Theater, has been working as a motorbike taxi driver after all theaters were told to close in early May. But in the last few days, after the city recorded more Covid cases with their sources of infection unknown, he has been getting fewer and fewer passengers.

"Sometimes, I earn less than VND200,000 ($8.72) a day. I will find some restaurants that are still open and work as a waiter," the 21-year-old actor, also a student at the School of Theater and Cinema of HCMC, says.

Actresses Le Khanh, Dao Van Anh and others at Trinh Kim Chi Theaters have sold goods on the Internet while some of their male counterparts have worked as delivery men.

Many young artists have been selling snacks or bubble tea on the street or working in laundries.

In Hanoi too many artists including puppeteers have found new livelihoods.

Nguyen Tien Dung, director of the Vietnam National Puppetry Theater, says many of his employees have shifted to jobs like selling insurance, making glasses and driving taxis.

Their colleagues at the Vietnam Tuong (classical Vietnamese opera) Theater have done the same, according to Pham Ngoc Tuan, its director.

Thuy Duong and Duc Thang, members of the Vietnam Circus Federation, make spring rolls and deliver them to customers.

"When we performed regularly, our incomes were okay, Now, out basic salaries are only a few million dong (VND1 million=$43.5), not enough to support my family," Duong says. "We had to find new livelihoods."

Tong Toan Thang, deputy director of the federation, says it had to borrow money to pay employees' salaries in 2020.

"In this Covid-19 battle, the circus has been knocked out."

A cheo (traditional folk) performance in March, before the new Covid-19 outbreak resurfaced.

A cheo (traditional folk) performance at the Cheo Theater in Hanoi, March 2021. Photo courtesy of Cheo Theater.

Some artists have returned to their hometowns.

Le Xuan Vuong, an actor at the Hanoi Theater of Cai Luong (Reformed Theater), returned home to Thanh Hoa Province on April 29 soon after the theater closed following the fresh Covid outbreak.

"I have no idea how my career will be if the pandemic keeps raging," he says. "I will have to find a steady job."

He had worked as a construction worker during an outbreak last year.

Hong Phong of the Vietnam Circus Federation has also returned home to Hanoi’s Dan Phuong District.

Living with his parents, he is now on the farm every day under the scorching sun.

The plight of theater artists during the pandemic was discussed at an online conference on May 26.

Theaters are unable to pay salaries, and many in Hanoi have asked the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism for financial support to ensure young artists can be paid and motivated to stick to acting.

Helping hand

Some have tried to adapt to the new normal by posting their shows on the internet.

The Vietnam National Drama Theater has set up two teams to develop YouTube and TikTok channels to attract online audiences.

The stage can only exist if there are audiences, but amid the pandemic, technology will keep everyone safe and help artists earn a living, Xuan Bac, director of the theater, says.

In Saigon, actress My Uyen, director of 5B Theater, says she has used her own money to pay salaries to employees, who have earned next to nothing in the last few weeks.

Trinh Kim Chi, actress and vice president of the Ho Chi Minh City Theater Association, says the association supports seven private theaters in town every year, and has solicited donations to help senior artists amid the Covid storm.

"We try to help each other overcome this ordeal, many other industries also face the same problem, not just entertainment."



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