The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Contents
Presenter Interview
Stimulating the Korean performing arts scene The role of Seoul Performing Arts Festival
Seoul Performing Arts Festival
There have been several different types of festivals starting up in Korea in recent years. What do you see as the positioning of the Seoul Performing Arts Festival among them?
There has certainly been a growth in the number and variety of festivals, including festivals with distinct color like the Gwacheon Hanmadang Festival as a street performing arts festival, the Uijeongbu Music Theater Festival, the largely outdoor performance Suwon Hwaseong Fortress International Theater Festival and the Chuncheon International Mime Festival, as well as regional festivals like the Keochang International Festival of Theater, the Busan International Performing Arts Festival, and then the various dance festivals. In 2004 we formed a “Korean Performing Arts Festival Association” for the purpose of exchanging information and mutual cooperation, and it presently has 12 member organizations. Of course there are also some organizations that are not members, but I believe that these 12 are the main performing arts festivals in South Korea. However, each of the regional festivals has different conditions under which they are held that inevitably color their festival contents. That is a factor that limits the size of these festivals. In contrast, our Seoul Performing Arts Festival, taking place as it does in the city of Seoul where there are always a wealth of performing arts events going on, rather than coloring the contents of the festival in any particular direction or genre, I believe it is important that we should be dedicated to presenting programs of a higher quality within a larger framework that will truly make it a worthy showcase of the international metropolis that Seoul is today.

We hear that you always make a point to go and see productions with your own eyes before inviting them to SPAF. I would like to hear your thoughts about what the criteria for selection should be.
In the last four years I have been to about 30 festivals around the world besides the Avignon and Edinburgh festivals. Avignon and Edinburgh are festivals with long traditions, so they are not really a good model for Seoul, and many people go to see them as well. I always go to see the actual performances of the works before making my decisions, and in the case of theater the criteria for judgment is quite simple. It is that it be a “good work.” So, what makes a good work? Although it may sound somewhat abstract, it must be a work that is strongly rooted in human life. If it is a good work in this sense and one that will be stimulating to the Korean theater scene, there is no need for it to be what you would call cutting edge, and there is no need to limit the style of expression involved. In the field of dance, Korea already has world famous dance festivals like Modafe (International Modern Dance Festival) and SIDance (Seoul International Dance Festival), so we choose works that have different color and styles from the works on those festivals’ programs.

What about the selection of domestic works?
Domestic works are selected through an open public application process. We have the applicants submit a production plan, a statement about the intent of the play or choreography and video of performances. Then we review these applications to make our selections. In the case of domestic artists, the more knowledge you have of the domestic scene, the more difficult it can actually be to discover new talent. This open application system expands the possibility of discovering new talents we knew nothing about. We disregard experience and focus only on potential and level of quality.

Can you describe your festival’s audience for us?
The audience consists mainly of people in the theater scene, students and performing arts aficionados. There are not so many people from the general public and that fact has led to some cynical comments about whether or not the Seoul Performing Arts Festival is really a festival to promote the arts for the public (laughs). I believe that since the people who are moved by these performances will influence people or cause change indirectly in the long run, the initial interest of the general public or the size of audience the festival programs draw is not the issue. But I do believe that increasing the general-public audience is one of the issues we must address for the future. And, by the way, we did have larger audience draw this year and that was a gratifying result. The festival has just ended and we don’t have any specific figures yet but the invited foreign works drew a total audience of about 13,000 and including the domestic works a total audience should be about 30,000, and while some of the audience was invited, almost all of the houses were full. And a lot of the press and our young staff were really surprised to see the response of the audiences when the performances ended—there were standing ovations and curtain calls like you might see at a popular musical. Seeing these people who are learning to watch these performances and to feel something from them, I sense the possibility that even if it isn’t immediately, these people from the general public will be coming back to the performing arts. Yes, don’t you think that we should measure the success of programs not just in terms of audience numbers but also with an applause parameter?

The theme of this year’s SPAF was “Challenge! Dare to dream of Provocation.”
I don’t really like the general idea of having festival themes, and in fact the program is usually decided before the theme. The things that you are thinking about day-to-day end up influencing the selections of works you make, so when you look back you can find a theme they followed in that sense. And, that is how it usually goes. This year’s theme was “challenge” and when you look at Latvia’s New Riga Theatre’s Long Life, Germany’s Schaubuehne am Lehniner Platz’s Death of a Salesman, Romania’s National Theater’s Waiting for Godot, they were all definitely challenges. The Waiting for Godot from Romania was a realism theater production that had no script and I think it succeeded in breaking down the common concept in Korea of realism theater as something with lots of script and long dialogues in everyday language. And we got the strong feeling that it is not enough just to have a style that makes a strong impact like so many Korean productions. We realized that beyond the style there has to be depth of content as well. As for Death of a Salesman, it has been 40 years since this play was first performed in Korea and numerous directors have mounted productions of it since. But, none of those productions have differed significantly from the way the play was originally staged in the U.S. And while Im Young-Woon has done repeated remakes of Waiting for Godot and continued to develop it, there have not been any other productions coming out. I deliberately chose these three works with the hope of stimulating some new developments in this area.

Also on the schedule you had Rain in Seoul (the Japan-Korea joint production directed by Koji Hasegawa) and Performing Women – Medea, Jocasta, Helen; a joint Uzbekistan, India, Iran and Japan production produced by Japan Foundation).
Including these kinds of joint productions is not really a specific part of our programming policy. In the future we want to produce joint productions in the area of music theater, but efforts like that take time and money and we are now investigating methods that will make such productions possible for us.
Rain in Seoul is a work that was recommended to us by director Park Gun-Hyeong of Golmokgil Theater Company. Hasegawa wrote this play based on Japan-Korea history, but I believe that in fact it is more of a lovely story about relationships between man and woman or human relations. Also, I feel that there wasn’t enough time for actors speaking different languages and from different cultural backgrounds and with differing style of expression to really come together in this production. I am a member of the Committee for Korea-Japan Theater Exchange and we used to go ahead with a project whenever someone put forward an idea for one. But, I think we are perhaps at a stage now where we should rethink how Korea-Japan collaborations are handled. Personally, I would like to explore the possibilities of collaborating on works from a third country rather than limiting ourselves to works from either Japan or Korea.
 
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