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
LG Art Center is an emerging theater in Seoul operated but a corporate philanthropic foundation and targeting a middle- to wealthy-class audience
The things we hear about the Korean performing arts scene today are mostly negative, like the decrease in audience due to the recession, a lack of interesting works and an overall slump in theater. What are your views of the present situation?
I think we can say that audiences will gather for a good production even during economic recession. We may have a recession but people are still willing to pay the cost of admission on "University Road" if there is a play they want to see (laughs). At the LG Arts Center we have actually seen an increase in audience compared to last year. Our membership is continuing to grow as well.

Earlier you mentioned that you have 130,000 members, which is a considerable number. What kind of members are these?
It is a free membership that people can apply for on the Internet or by phone. When we opened as a theater in 2000 we develop Korea's first Theater Management System (TMS), which involved thorough membership management in areas from ticket sales and reservations to communication with members via the Internet. For ticket reservations our members can choose the seats they want while looking at the theater seating map on the Internet. As member benefits, 5% of the cost of tickets is saved in a point system that can later be used toward ticket discounts or the cost of programs. This system, along with the repertoire, has helped build a solid audience for the LG Arts Center. The number of registered members is 130,000 but the actual information is a corporate secret (laughs). Recently, theater and dance companies have their own home pages on the Internet and are managing membership systems, but the management of one of these systems is in itself quite a job and requires a good amount of work. But, there are probably few membership systems on the scale of ours at the LG Arts Center.

Can we return to talking about the present state of the performing arts in South Korea?
I think it is true to say that the performing arts as such are in a slump right now. I believe that one of the big reasons is that even though the audience is changing the performing arts world continues to produce the same kind of fare as before. And I think this is influenced greatly by culture policy. It seems that programs in the name of cultural support have actually destroyed the power of performing arts world to grow itself. The performing arts world that had become dependent of the support system seems to have lost the drive to compete, and now that this boom in commercial musicals and plays has come they are stuck and can't keep pace. The government agencies that provide most of the support are aware of this situation too. But I think solutions can be found if the people on the scene apply themselves to the problems that are causing this confusion and search for a way out. This is a time when the performing arts world has to fight seriously for the right to survive. And it will surely be from these efforts that the next generation of performing arts will be born.

Have you begun to get glimpses of the next generation?
I don't think there is a need to give actual names, so let's speak in terms of the general scene. When speaking about today's performing arts in South Korea, theater is centered in the plays created and performed in the theaters of University Road, while in dance the center of creation and performance activities is not school dance companies but "schools" of dance led by the teachers. Under this kind of system there is no way that these groups can create productions for the mass market, either in theater or dance. And it is only natural I believe that the stimulus for people to want to see performance should decline and the consumption along with it. Within this overall situation, however, there is a group of people who are actively looking overseas. You can call this the area of overseas exchange and international joint projects. These people are placing more emphasis on exchange and cooperation than on works and hoping to break out of the present situation by getting involved internationally. International involvement can bring changes and greater diversity to the vocabulary of performing arts. This is sure to stimulate the [Korean] performing arts world and lead to new movements. We are also seeing new movements in the field of performing arts management. Until now, productions were created primarily by the artists or companies in both theater and dance, but now we are seeing the emergence of a third group of presenters and producers who have considerable power now. I think you can say that the South Korean performing arts world is standing on the start line of a period when a new map will be created. This will be the new generation and I think I am beginning to see how it will take shape.
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