AVT was a famous band in Vietnam. It was formed in 1958 to entertain servicemen and its name was made up from the initials of the three original band members who were political warfare recruits of the South Vietnam Army. The band disassembled when one member committed suicide on the fall of Saigon and another was evacuated to America, leaving one in Vietnam.
I loved listening to AVT’s satirical songs, where the members represented three regions of Vietnam dressed in different regional costumes, spoke in different dialects, played a mix of modern and classical regional music on traditional instruments.
In their song ‘The History of Hair’, they observed the way Saigon unstylishly copied the hair styles of Western film stars. The waving and receding hairstyle of American Robert Taylor was imitated, but looked more like ‘cow horns’. Brigitte Bardot’s hair was reproduced but resembled a bird nest. Gina Lollobrigida’s ‘frisé'(curly) style was replicated but appeared like a big hair ball. Women dyed their hair blonde to be like Marilyn Monroe and men who worshipped Yul Brynner shaved their heads.
In ‘The Degree’, a man who repeatedly failed to get a degree blamed those banana skins discarded in his school that had made him slip and inevitably fail at the exams. He finally contented himself with obtaining a taxi driver ‘degree’. Then there were other songs such as ‘Mr Mum’, ‘The New Year Wish’, ‘The Three Mother-in-laws’, ‘The Men and Women of the Era’, …
Inspired by AVT’s comical (but not sexual innuendo) style, I wrote humorous and ironic poems for a Vietnamese newspaper in Sydney. In ‘Karaoke’, I told the story of people racing to buy karaoke machines and throw parties to compete with others, then breaking their friendships due to criticism of their singing ‘talent’.
With ‘Laziness’, a man kept trying convincing his wife to ‘enjoy life’, despite the fact he didn’t clean up the messes he made or mow the lawn, instead leaving the work for his wife.
I also wrote ‘The ‘Heroic’ Highway Racer’, ‘The Lustful Married Men’, ‘The Internet Playboy’, ‘The Choosy Bachelor’, ‘To PM Howard’, ‘North, Central and South Vietnamese – Discrimination Among Ourselves’, ‘The ‘Sexy’ Fame’, etc.
I stopped writing poems after giving birth to my children, and 10 years later I joined a drama group at a community arts centre. I really enjoyed the activities that prepared me for acting such as vocal, breathing and relaxation exercises, acting in front of mirrors, blindfolded sensing experiment, story telling, costume making, improvisation…. I was excited to learn terms like ‘break a leg’, green room, dress rehearsal, curtain call, thespian, audition… I played comfortably as a middle-aged Asian woman in my first community play called ‘Urban Dreaming’ written by the drama group, that was a compilation of small stories about a Canberra neighbourhood. I also sang a Vietnamese song called ‘Motherly love’ by Y vân at the start of the show.
I left the arts centre when there were no more funds for another community play, and instead joined the city’s acting group. I enthusiastically attended more lessons on stage make-up and special effects, stage presence, emotional memory technique, etc and was encouraged to go for auditions for major and minor parts in plays around the town. There was the audition of ‘A Street Car Named Desire’ and I had to learn my lines in South American accent. I spent weeks learning the accent from the film’s video and… I failed the audition. Next came the auditions for ‘The Learned Ladies’, ‘Hamlet’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and I failed every one. Then it dawned on me that of course I would never win because of my Asian appearance. I felt despaired and wished if I had had a magic wand to turn myself into a white person and get any part in any play. I love acting and wish there will be a day that racial appearance is no longer a barrier for an actor to be cast in a play as well as for the audience to see through the characters portrayed on the stage.
Lights on, curtains up, stage alive,
Shakespeare, Molière, Jane Austen,
Your characters all now arrive,
They steal the limelight with action,
They bring the past back to revive.
Shakespeare, Molière, Jane Austen,
Parts of my self are in your plays,
Is it ok? Will you reckon?
Your characters, I can portray,
Even though my face is Asian.
by Sarah C.