UT School of Visual & Performing Arts

Posts Tagged ‘korea’

Soul of Seoul

 

 

A working vacation is always my favorite experience because you actually get to know the culture.  Much as we loved the first days of sightseeing, it was exciting to get down work!  Kookmin University’s sprawling campus is nestled in the mountains and surrounded by trees.  At its center is a large soccer field and basketball courts, which are always full of students playing– even now, though school will not be in session until the end of August, when their “second” semester begins.  In other words, their semesters are reversed from ours, with graduation happening at the end of this coming semester.
Kookmin’s modern buildings are decorated with various sculptures and fountains.  This university is ranked twentieth in South Korea and is home to twenty five thousand students.  The theatre building is also the home of Art, Dance and Film, and the rehearsal space is a blackbox space located in the basement the theatre building, and not unlike our own Studio theatre.
Everyone, from the Head of the Program, to the students, is extremely welcoming.  Our first rehearsal was primarily a chance to do introductions and introduce the directorial concept.  The students were extremely receptive, and respectful.  Korea is a Confucionist society so hierarchy is extremely important.  People will often ask your age and give you special respect even if you are only one year older.  Even among students, this is the case.  Juniors will bow to Seniors and do what they are told.  Koreans will not question authority, even if authority figures make a mistake–which will be interesting in this process, since our student Stage Manager is only a Junior and the cast are all Seniors.
Professors are treated with utmost respect in society.  Teaching (at all levels) is considered extremely prestigious, and according to a friend of mine, people will frequently pay large sums to become tenured Professors, when qualifications do not suffice.  There are always numerous students ready to help you with anything you need, and they bow each time you walk by.  I could see how this could easily go to your head!At the first rehearsal, We had the time to read through Act One and begin text analysis on the play.  The students were able to grasp the physical actions we proposed and follow direction quickly, thanks also to the great work of our translator, who sat between us and captured all the subtleties of what we were trying to say.  I was amazed by how well we were able to follow along, and even note discrepancies between translations.  For example, when Bottom is introduced to the character he will play in the play the Mechanicals are preparing, he says “what is Pyramus, a lover or a tyrant?”. We noticed that the actor was not playing the very funny antithesis between “lover” and “tyrant” and discovered that in translation the text said “what is Pyramus, a tyrant?”. It turns out that there is no word for lover in Korean!  Though we are continuing to search for a word whose characteristics are so evident in their poetic and passionate culture.

The Soul of Seoul

Cornel Gabara and I arrived at Incheon Airport in S. Korea yesterday afternoon after a fourteen hour flight. To give you some background: We have been invited to spend six weeks directing an MFA Master’s Thesis production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (in Korean!) at Kookmin University.

We opted to take the subway into Seoul (a cheaper and more interesting way to observe local culture). Among my first observations: Infrastructure!
In addition to being beautiful and cosmopolitan, Incheon Airport is extremely practical, clean and everything works! They have some great touches, such as bathroom stalls equipped with special high chairs to hold your toddler still–something I appreciated deeply, since we had our jet-lagged eight and two-year olds in tow.

The subway system is very new, clean and air conditioned. The edge is completely enclosed with a glass wall and glass doors, making falling onto the track virtually impossible. I have lived in New York and Paris and these trains put both their subways, which I always admired, to shame! Granted, those systems are much older, having pioneered service around the turn of the twentieth century. South Korea built its first line in 1974. In fact, South Korea, began really modernizing itself in the 1960’s and has completely transformed its economy and infrastructure at breakneck speed. It has become a world class economy and a democracy. Some estimates put its per capita income on par with that of the European Union.

We are staying in a skyrise in the Insadong district, a vibrant, artistic center at the heart of the city of Seoul. This sprawling metropolis boasts a population of eleven million in the city proper, and as many as twenty five million, if you include all the suburbs.

Insadong is full of streets and alleys plastered with all manner of cafes, restaurants, and everything in between. This is clearly a gastronomical city and in addition to traditional fare, there are international restaurants and American food chains all around. Shops containing fashionable clothing, art supplies, musical instruments and art galleries fill the spaces in between and skyscrapers tower over our heads. I wish I could tell you more about the city, but unfortunately we have had little chance to explore thus far.

In the evening, I gazed out at the alternating skylines and bright lights which were reminiscent of Times Square. We went to bed very early, but got little sleep. I don’t suffer from jetlag, but our sleepless daughters kept us all awake. As they tossed and turned, my attention was caught by a lonely police siren which wailed momentarily and then stopped, almost shyly. It made me aware of the silence.
I continued to listen…
No cars honking, no sirens, no shouts, no music.
None of the familiar big city sounds that I have become accustomed to in my travels…
This was a Thursday night, in the heart of downtown–and I know Koreans like to party–yet unlike any other large city I have been in, there was no sound to be heard.
A curious observation, perhaps indicative of the combination of hard work, discipline and passion that it has taken to build up this country almost overnight–or perhaps not.
It is after all, Friday today.
I guess we will find out tonight!