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Oh Tae-sok
Profile
Oh Tae-sok
Director of The National Theater of Korea and The National Drama Company of Korea

Born in 1940, Oh Tae-sok is a playwright and director. A graduate of the philosophy Dept. of Yonsei University, he debuted as a playwright by winning the Hankook Ilbo New Year Literature Awards’ honorable mention in 1964 for a play titled Men in Makeup (unperformed). Later, he became active as a playwright, writing works for The National Theater of Korea. In 1984 he started his own theater group, the Mokwha Repertory Company, for which he has since continued to write and direct plays. As one of South Korea’s representative theater companies, Mokwha has performed numerous productions in Japan, the UK, India, China and other countries. The roots of Oh Tae-sok’s theater art lie in the traditional pansori musical storytelling, in which the singer intones a narrative poem written to a basic 3-4 beat rhythm. He also has his actors employ uniquely Korean physical motion to express the emotions in a very Korean way. In these ways, his plays are strongly influenced by Korean traditional performance. In addition to winning many theater awards, he is also the 2004 recipient of The Republic of Korea’s Culture and Arts Award. Presently he is representative of the Mokwha Repertory Company, Artistic Director of The National Theater of Korea and Honorary Professor of the Theater Dept. of Seoul Art University.


The National Theater of Korea
http://www.ntok.go.kr/ntok_eng/index.jsp
The National Drama Company of Korea
Presenter Interview
2008.11.4
Oh Tae-sok, a genius of Korean theater and Artistic Director of The National Theater of Korea and The National Drama Company of Korea 
 
This year the South Korean theater world celebrates the 100th year of Korean New Theater. For nearly 60 of these 100 years The National Theater of Korea has been a driving force in the country’s theater scene. In this interview we speak with Oh Tae-sok, assumed the post of Artistic Director of The National Theater of Korea in 2006 and has spent the last year (of his tenure) amidst celebrations of the 100th year of Korean New Theater. We ask him about The National Theater of Korea, The National Drama Company of Korea and his philosophy of theater.
(Interviewer: Noriko Kimura)


We are told that The National Theater of Korea is home in the hearts of many Korean theater people. Could we begin by asking you about the history and structure of the National Theater?
    The National Theater of Korea was established in April of 1950 as the first national theater in Asia. At the time it wasn’t located here in Namsan but in Seoul in the Taepyeong-ro district. Back in 1935 when Japan was ruling Korea, there was a big theater named the Buminkgwan that was built in Kyongsong-bu for the local citizens, but after Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule (on Aug. 15, 1945), the occupying U.S. Army appropriated it for their own use until 1949 when it was returned to the city of Seoul. This building was then reopened as a theater at the same time as the founding of The National Drama Company of Korea.
    However, just after it opened, the Korean War broke out in June and the National Theater had to be moved to Daegu in Gyeongsangbuk-do province temporarily. Then in June of 1957 the National Theater returned to Seoul to occupy the Arts Hall in Myeong-dong. This hall was formerly a movie theater named the Meiji-za that was also built in 1935 by the Japanese. In this way, the National Theater was buffeted by the winds of Korea’s turbulent modern history.
    The present National Theater of Korea was opened in 1973 and it has four theaters, the Sun Rising Theater (1563 seats), the Moon Rising Theater (427 seats) and the Star Rising Theater (100 seats) plus the outdoor Sky Theater (600 seats). It also has four affiliated companies, the The National Drama Company of Korea, The National Changgeuk Company of Korea, The National Dance Company of Korea, and The National Orchestra Company of Korea.

In 2006, you took the position of Artistic Director of The National Drama Company of Korea and before that you had done a lot of work with The National Drama Company of Korea, hadn’t you?
    Yes. I am probably one of the theater people who has worked most with The National Drama Company of Korea. Even my first work, Glory (1962), that I wrote in college, was performed at the National Theater when it was at Myeong-dong. In a coffee shop in Myeong-dong one day I heard that General Park Chung-hee had announced on a radio address to the nation that a “People’s Arts Festival” would be held, and even though the deadline for works to be submitted was the next day, I wrote Glory and submitted it. The amount of the prize money for accepted works was very large for the day, and the winners also got to have their works performed at the National Theater, so I even formed an impromptu theater company called the Circuit Stage (laughs).
    After that I wrote plays for the National Drama Company of Korea including Song Period (1968, directed by Im Young-un), Tall Grass Fever (1968, directed by Im Young-un), The Queen and the Eccentric Monk (1969, directed by Lee Jin-sun), Raising in Captivity (1970, directed by Na young-seo) and Corni Fructus (1980, directed by Lee Hea-rang), and from Droplet in 1978 I both wrote and directed the plays there.

What sort of presence is The National Drama Company of Korea in the Korean theater world?
    In South Korea there are almost no professional theater companies where the writers actors and staff have guaranteed incomes. Only a publicly funded national or municipal company like The National Drama Company of Korea has such financial security. I also run a private theater company in my Mokwha Repertory Company, and most of the theater companies of South Korea are of this type of small company. In the case of these small companies, by their mid 30s or so, most of the actors are marrying and having children, and the financial needs this involves makes them quit the companies. With the increase in commercial productions and musicals in recent years, some can work as professional actors after leaving the small companies, but it still not easy to continue building a career as a theater actor. These factors have led to a thinning out of the ranks of actors.
    Amidst these conditions in Korea’s theater word, actors of The National Drama Company of Korea have the privilege of being able to continue their careers with financial security that other actors don’t have. And, because our actors at the National Drama Company are able to continue their careers, we have actors from a wide range of age groups, from veterans to young actors just starting out. But recently, things are getting more difficult as we are being required by the government to become more self-supporting in our finances. Even so, we are able to mount productions without being influenced by revenues as much as private sector theater companies or commercial enterprises.
    Operating under these conditions, The National Drama Company of Korea is a place where it is possible to pursue true theater while trying the kinds of experimental things that pursuit might involve, and it is also an important presence because it is a place where you can pursue theatrical work without being swayed by every new fashion or trend that comes along. Also, this year we are celebrating the 100th year of Korean New Theater. This New Theater movement is basically the same as what you call shingeki (New Theater) in Japan, and I believe it can be said that The National Theater of Korea and The National Drama Company of Korea have played an important role in building the foundations of New Theater and Korean contemporary theater over the years.
 
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