The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
LG Art Center is an emerging theater in Seoul operated but a corporate philanthropic foundation and targeting a middle- to wealthy-class audience
The LG Arts Center celebrates its 5th anniversary this year and it seems that the repertoire has changed somewhat in direction. When the theater first opened there were primarily experimental art theater works including invited foreign productions of noted contemporary works of theater like Pina Bausch, but now there seem to be mainly large-scale mass-audience musical productions like Phantom of the Opera, Beauty and the Beast and Aida.
That is what everyone says (laughs). But, of the musicals you just mentioned, the only one we were involved in was the joint production of Beauty and the Beast. When I say a joint production, we didn't actually invest anything other than providing the theater facility. With the other two productions we just leased out the theater. There has been no change in the theater's original mission of "broadening artistic horizons by offering high-quality foreign theater works that are current, with no time lag. Thanks to the present musical boom it is easy to draw attention with a musical, especially with the large amount of advertising accompanying a large-scale musical. That has given everyone the impression that the LG Arts Center has changed into to a commercial theater. As I have just said, our theater belongs to a LG Group that runs a cultural foundation. Nonetheless, it is hard for a theater to operate purely on its own productions … especially now that the interest rates are down (laughs). We have to be able to lease out the theater to commercial productions, and the reason we have leased the theater out for long-run musicals is that there are few theater facilities in Seoul that can handle large-scale musicals. There are a number of theaters that can handle musicals but because they are public facilities, they can't commit themselves to leasing for long-run productions. The fact that a number of companies have grown to the point where they can mount large-scale musical productions has also increased the need for theaters that can handle musicals. In specific terms, the product of Beauty and the Beast was put on by three companies, the Korean companies Zemiro and Seol & Company and Disney Theatrical Company. Zemiro and Seol & Company also put on the production of Phantom of the Opera. The organizers were LG Arts Center, RiseOn Inc. and the SBS broadcasting station along with a production investment company. We decided to lease our theater for the purpose of creating samples of how long-run productions are possible and for surveying audience trends. Also, the process of supplying our own quality productions begins with going abroad to survey works, and the entire process takes two to three years. We are able to devote time to those kids of preparations while we are leasing the theater out to outside productions. At present, the ratio between our own productions and leasing out to outside productions is about 50:50. Our own productions range from 15 to 20 works. But, since our productions cover the genre of plays, dance and a variety of different kinds of music like chamber music, solo concerts and jazz, there are not many productions per genre. Still, it is a busy job and we have from seven to nine people working in each of our three departments, including the technical department handling the theater's technical jobs, the administrative department in charge of administrative jobs, overall management and production selection and scheduling, and the planning department in charge of actual production and management of theater leasing.

Looking at the repertoire of the LG Arts Center's own productions, we see that in each genre they are almost all invited foreign productions. What are your thoughts about doing productions of domestic theater works?
We have done some productions of domestic works, but due to factors like the location of our theater, the kinds of plays performed along "University Road" (the area of Seoul where some 50 small theaters are concentrated) have never been successful. The LG Arts Center has a membership of 130,000 and most of them live in the new town area extending south from Kangnam, with women in their 20s and 30s making up the largest group. These people are our audience, our customers if you will, and they are a group that shows little interest in domestic works. We need to have domestic works that fit this audience and the LG Arts Center style. But works aren't created that way, by first taking the type of audience into consideration. There is a need to develop a whole new type of theater. Toward that end we are going to be involved long-term in efforts to encourage exchange with foreign artists and joint productions with them, with the aim of broadening the scope and diversity of domestic theater works. As one of these efforts we are now preparing a Pina Bausch project for June. This is something we are doing that is different from the pattern until now, where we have basically "paid" to bring in foreign works. Until now there have been very few projects where the LG Arts Center did everything from the initial proposal to the final production work. This new project will be a true "original production" in the inherent meaning of the term. And in that sense, I consider it the true start of our "original productions" at LG Arts Center.

Can you tell us about plans for the LG Arts Center activities from now on, including the Pina Bausch project?
Over the past five years, as I said earlier, we have worked primarily to broaden the artistic horizons here in South Korea by bringing in high quality foreign works and building an international network in the process. And, I think we have been successful in that role to a good extent. Of course, this will serve as an important pillar from now on, but at the same time we also want to direct efforts into creating stage productions and new works as well. I want to see us use our exchanges and joint projects with foreign artists to encourage the creation of new works by Korean artists, with "Korea" as a key word. The coming Pina Bausch project (performances June 22-26) will be a first step in that direction. Pina Bausch brought productions to our LG Arts Center for our opening in 2000 and again in 2003. We had her come in the autumn of 2004 and stay for two weeks, during which time she met with Korean artists and saw many aspects of Korean arts, including the traditional arts. This project will involve a world premiere. The actual training and rehearsals have not begun yet, and this will be the first time that we have created a work with a foreign artist on a long-term basis, so they will surely be a lot of trial and error, but I hope to investigate what kind of system we can create to make this kind of foreign-exchange production work successful for the future. I hope a lot of people will come from Japan to see the production too (laughs). Also, although the overseas works we have brought in until now have been primarily Western works from Europe, we are now investigating the possibilities of exchanges with Japan and other Asian countries. Since we have this theater facility, I want to see us work step be step with a long-term perspective to build up relationships and projects.
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