Since I have been in Seoul I have seen 4 plays – 3 in Korean.
Don’t let that fool you into thinking I even understand an ounce of it tho. Luckily in Korea, most major plays that are in Korean have English subtitles on screens that are normally to the side of the stage. I did sit through 2 plays that were entirely in Korean.
Korean theater is really amazing. The culture that is emphasized on perfection can be seen in every aspect of their lives. Even amateur theater in Korea can be seen as professional to a North American. Dancing, singing, speaking, costumes, stage sets, everything is done with so much practice and precision. It is truly mind-blowing to be able to experience it.
My first play in Korea was called The Empress and it was actually performed in one of the palaces in Seoul. It was the story of one of Korea’s empresses during the Josean dynasty, one who actually lived in the palace in which the play was taking place! It was a musical which I saw sitting under the stars in the open courtyard. Absolutely magical, and a great history lesson as well!
A month ago my school went on a field trip to watch a childrens play. Of course, I assumed I would be the least bit interested knowing it was going to be all in Korean with no subtitles to fill me in. But this was the Nanta theater, which is a home-grown style of theatre that is native to Seoul where the focus is not only on drama, but on percussion through the use of kitchen tools. The original Nanta theater is a very popular tourist attraction and the children’s theater is a branch of it.
Again, this play proved to me how talented Koreans are with the arts. It was a simple story which even I could follow without the need of the language. It was very entertaining and funny, as well as eye-pleasing with great sets, costumes, music and very colorful characters. It was well-written (well can’t really say that about the script, but story wise) and well directed. And of course, the best judge of this are the children themselves who also enjoyed every single bit of it. My students are 4 years old and sat through the 2 hour production without ever fidgeting!
A few weeks ago I went to see a play that was an all female production done by students from Korea University. Assuming it was amateur theater, I again did not expect much. I have seen plenty of amateur plays in Toronto (especially since I was part of amateur theater myself) so I wanted to go for support as well as an experience. Turns out amateur here does not mean the same thing! The play was called Viva Korea and it was a mix of traditional dance, music and song all performed live on stage by 8 females. It was my first glimpse of Korean traditional dance and it was quite soothing, elegant and beautiful. Everything about it blew me away, and I began to think if anything in Korea was at the real amateur level.
Koreans are definitely blessed with talent for the arts. I’m very happy to see that even though this culture emphasizes so much on academia, many are still able to express themselves and be very deeply involved in performing arts.
The best part about enjoying theater in Korea is that it is no way near as expensive as it is in Canada. An average ticket is about $20-$30 for Korean productions for back seats which are really not bad since theaters here are not as big.
Last week I went to see the Australian production of Cats. It was the most I have paid for a play in Korea – $60 for balcony seats. But it was in English and I still had trouble understanding it with the accent. What I enjoyed the most about Cats though was when they sang Memories in Korean. The audience loved it and was super involved during the whole thing, cheering them on and applauding. I found that very touching since this was a play not in their native language, yet they appreciated every bit of it.