Taiwan grants performer her dream

LOVE OF THEATER::A circus performer in her native Vietnam, Annie Nguyen has warmed to the art of Taiwanese opera, with a career that has Taiwanese embracing her

Staff writer, with CNA

Sat, Oct 07, 2017 - Page 4

Annie Nguyen grew up hoping to be a theater performer, but it was not until she came to Taiwan from Vietnam’s Thanh Hoa Province that she was able to reach for her dream.

A member of the Vietnam Circus Federation since age 10, Nguyen was on tour in Taiwan with the circus in 2004 when she met Chang Fang-yuan (張芳遠), manager of the Xin Li-Mei Taiwanese Opera Troupe and the man she would later marry.

“It was not love at first sight, but I developed feelings for her as we began hanging out,” said Chang, whose family has been managing the Chiayi County-based opera troupe for three generations.

Six months after Nguyen returned to Vietnam, she traveled to Taiwan again and married Chang shortly after.

She began learning the art of Taiwanese opera, watching rehearsals and familiarizing herself with the storylines. After a while, she started trying out for minor roles.

“It was very hard in the beginning because I didn’t speak any of the local languages,” she said. “But I could tell I was making progress, not just through one or two particular performances, but over a period of time.”

By 2011, Nyugen had gained the lead role in a Taiwanese opera, playing the goddess Nugua in a production called Nugua Repairs Heaven.

“Taiwanese opera is a profound art form that you can never fully master in the course of a lifetime,” said the 32-year-old, speaking in fluent Mandarin and occasionally in Taiwanese.

Today, Nyugen helps manage the Xin Li-Mei Taiwanese Opera Troupe and tours with the group about 20 days each month. She spends the rest of her time seeking roles in other areas of the entertainment industry.

She has appeared in numerous TV series and starred in last year’s documentary The Immortal’s Play, which features her personal story. She is next to be seen in Your Child is Not Your Child, which is to air on Public Television Service next year.

Between Nyugen’s opera performances and TV shows, she has played more than 100 different characters, each of which she said was special.

“I’ve played human beings, goddesses and monsters, all the while trying to get as close as possible to the audiences’ hearts,” Nguyen said, her eyes shining.

Through Taiwanese opera, which incorporates folklore, poetry, dancing and music, Nguyen said she has gained confidence and a sense of achievement and belonging in Taiwan.

While her career as a performer has soared beyond her dreams, Nguyen has been struggling with a major challenge in her private life.

In 2008, her newborn child, her second daughter, was diagnosed with a severe kidney disease that would require daily dialysis.

“I was very sad, holding my baby and crying all day,” Nguyen said. “I wanted to commit suicide, because I felt like I didn’t want to live anymore.”

The turning point came during the shooting of The Immortal’s Play, as she and her family unveiled their lives and their pain to the public for the first time.

“We decided to talk about it publicly, mainly because we wanted to have the documentary as a family record,” she said. “After all, we didn’t know how much longer [my daughter] A-dang would be with us.”

When the documentary was released, she was surprised by the wave of public support, she said.

“For years, I’d had this feeling that Taiwanese had preconceived ideas about us [immigrants], that they just did not trust us,” she said. “But their encouragement gave me strength.”

Almost 10 years old now, A-dang still has to endure 13-hour-long dialysis sessions.

“I love her so, so much; I want to spend every second with her,” Nguyen said.

Support and encouragement have also come in the form of government initiatives that seek to improve the quality of life for new immigrants in Taiwan and break the negative stereotypes about “imported brides” from other Asian nations.

Nguyen said she often receives invitations to attend cultural seminars and is asked for her opinion on some initiatives and proposals.

“I feel that if we do well, people will recognize our efforts,” she said. “There are so many outstanding and resilient new immigrants in our society. If we’re warmly received by Taiwanese, it’s natural that we would want to contribute more to society.”