British teacher finds direction on stage in Vietnam

Belinda SmiBritish teacher finds direction on stage in Vietnamth, has certainly come a long way since she was a science teacher in a school near Liverpool in the UK.

Wanting a change in her life, Smith decided to try international teaching and was lucky enough to get a job at The British International School (BIS) in HCM City.

“Initially, I was only going to work abroad for two years but that was in 2005. So I’ve been here for over eight years mostly because I have fallen in love with Vietnam,” she said.

She remembers receiving a phone call from Jaime Zuniga (director and founding member of the local drama troupe Dragonfly) when her daughter was only 10 months old.

Zuniga said he wanted to stage a play in Vietnam and had proposed Smith as the perfect person to play Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest.

“Of course, I was flattered, but more than that, I was so excited to be part a group that understood the vital role theatre has in life.”

Inspired by her debut, it wasn’t long before she amalgamated her experience as a teacher and her passion for theatre in preparing an educational programme for schools.

She then took a little break while her son was very young (she was actually six months pregnant with her son while performing as Lady Bracknell) but helped with the production side of things for The Little Prince. In the latest production, Dangerous Liaisons, she was both an actress and executive producer.

Smith worked at BIS for five years as a biology teacher before leaving when expecting her daughter.

It was during the time she was away from work she became involved in Dragonfly, giving her life in Vietnam a new direction.

Smith feels she has a natural talent for acting because theatre is something she is very passionate about. However, it takes effort and hard work to turn desire to be good into actually being good, she says.

“While people see me most as an actress in Dragonfly, the majority of hours I spend with the group is in producing. There are so many parts to the process of putting on a show and I have been involved with pretty much all of it.

“Jobs include costume design, buying fabric for costumes, commissioning tailors, organising the Vietnamese subtitles, co-coordinating the set procurement, getting props, getting a license to perform the show, organising rehearsal schedules, liaising with actors, printing scripts, the list goes on and on. I do enjoy it but not as much as I enjoy being on stage.”

Smith finds many things great about Vietnam but two of these stand out. First is the strength and friendliness of the Vietnamese people and the second is food.

“Vietnam has some of the best food on the planet and the great thing is that it is available everywhere!”

About future plans, she said: “Dragonfly is always looking ahead to the next project and as we become more established and known in HCM City, we feel it is time to work on what we refer to as ‘the bridge’.

This is the link we want to form between foreign theatre and Vietnamese theatre. We have already achieved this by having Vietnamese actresses in our English speaking productions and Lan Phuong, Diem My and Trinh are a vital part of what makes Dragonfly so special.

“We would like to extend this bridge in the future by performing foreign plays like The Little Prince entirely in Vietnamese and performing classic Vietnamese tales in English for foreign audiences.”

Her son will start school in February, so she is going back to teaching part time; something she is looking forward to. Her life is about to take another change, but she knows that she will always make time for theatre in her life. Now, theatre is part of who she is.

As she looks back on her five years here, her gratitude flows: “Vietnam has been very good to me. I arrived here as a single woman and have ended up eight years later with a husband, two children, two jobs and a host of amazing friends.”

VNS/VOV online