The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Kim Chul-Lee
Kim, Chul-Lee, Artistic Director of the Seoul Performing Arts Festival (SPAF)
Born in 1953, Kim, Chul-Lee is a director who graduated from the Press and Broadcasting Dept. of Sogang University. He took a postgraduate degree at the graduate school of Sungkyunkwan University in the Performing Arts Dept. From 2002 to 2003 he served as artistic director of Korean National Theater Company and from 2004 to 2005 he served as artistic director of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress International Theater Festival. In 2005, he became Artistic Director of the Seoul Performing Arts Festival (SPAF). He also serves in various other posts such as Chairman of the Committee for Korea-Japan Theater Exchange. As a director he has won the New Director Award of the 26th Baeksang Arts Awards (1990), the Director Award of the 29th Donga Theater Awards (1993), the Director Award of the Baeksang Arts Awards (1997) and as a translator he won the 29th Seoul Theater Festival Translation Award (1991).
Seoul Performing Arts Festival (SPAF)
Seokma B/D 4F 1-89 Dongsoong-Dong, Chongro-ku, Seoul, Korea
PHONE +82-2-3673-2561-4
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Presenter Topics
Seoul Performing Arts Festival
Seoul Performing Arts Festival
Presenter Interview
Stimulating the Korean performing arts scene The role of Seoul Performing Arts Festival 
Held in the Daehangno (University Road) district of Seoul with its more than 100 theaters, the Seoul Performing Arts Festival (SPAF) is South Korea’s largest-scale performing arts festival. In its seventh holding this autumn from September 20 to October 14, SPAF presented 38 programs by 33 companies from 16 countries including India, France and Germany as well as South Korea. In this interview we spoke with Kim, Chul-Lee, the festival’s artistic director who constantly travels the world’s leading performing arts festivals to see with his own eyes the programs that will eventually be invited to SPAF. We spoke to him shortly after the end of the festival and just before he took off for Shanghai to begin preparations for next year’s festival.
(Interviewer: Noriko Kimura; interviewed on Oct. 16, 2007)

Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule for this interview. The Seoul Performing Arts Festival is a comprehensive performing arts festival that resulted from the merging of the Seoul Theater Festival (founded 1977) and the Seoul Dance Festival (founded 1979) in 2001. It was first organized jointly by the Korean Theater Association and the Korean Dance Association, but in 2003 a separate organization was formed to run it under an artistic director format. This was your second year as that artistic director. Can you begin by telling us about the operating policies of the festival?
There are three policies that were set down when the festival was first launched. The first is that we develop it into a festival worthy of the great international city that Seoul is. The second is that we break down the barriers between the artistic genre and stimulate the expressive potential of performing arts by creating new works in the lines of the “musical theater” that has always been a mainstream of traditional Eastern performing arts or works of “total theater.” The third is to aim to make the festival serve as an “incubator” for new performing art works born of artistic encounters.
By the way, our budget for this year’s festival was one billion won (approx. 1.1 million USD). Normally, to do a proper international festival of this type takes about three billion won. And, since we can’t cut back on the budget for invited works, the organizing office is run basically on a volunteer basis. Our money comes from the Bureau of Culture and Tourism, the Korean Culture and Arts Committee, the Seoul Culture and Arts Foundation as well as sponsorships from corporations and broadcasters and the various countries’ embassies.

A comprehensive festival must be difficult to organize with its mixture of genre.
I believe that we are no longer in an age where the artistic genre needs to be divided. My roots are in theater and I am from a generation that couldn’t look beyond our own genre. To be in a job like this, which I have the opportunity to experience so many genre is almost too good to be true, and it is such a good learning experience for me. I am just worried that people will wonder if I really appreciate dance and music fully and that I am concentrating too much on theater. I feel like I am in a position that is beyond my capabilities.

You served as artistic director for the Korean National Theater until 2003 and until 2005 you were director of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress International Theater Festival. You are also the representative of the Pipa Theater Company and director of productions of plays such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Cirano de Bergerac and Titus and Andronicus. You are also active as an actor and translator of plays. Amidst these wide-ranging activities, how did you serve as the artistic director of the Seoul Performing Arts Festival?
My profession is actually directing theater. As a director I have mainly done foreign plays in translation. But, in Korea creative (experimental) theater is the mainstream and plays in translation are traditionally not as highly regarded. And grants and other funding go mainly to original creative plays. There are also many directors like Oh Tae-Sok of Mokwha Repertory Company ( with very distinctive personal styles of theater direction. In contrast, I am a type who doesn’t use one distinct style, and that makes it harder to win recognition here in Korea. I have even been told by a theater critic that if I created a style of my own they would give me recognition (laughs). Also, as I get older I have come to feel that theater is defined by the [quality of] the actors, but due to the lack of good actors in Korea, there simply aren’t actors who can do Chekhov and Shakespeare well, even if I wanted to mount a production. These are some of the many realities of the Korean theater scene that I have struggled with as I have now entered my 50s.
It was just at the time that I was reaching this impasse as a theater director that the offer to take over the artistic directorship of the National Theater Company and I served in that post for two years beginning in 2002. During those two year, rather than directing plays there myself, I gave younger directors the opportunity to direct using the National Theater stage. I believe I am the only one who has tried programs using young talents like that at the National Theater Company. It was a very rewarding experience for me working with the young people in that way. It made me realize that creating my own works is not everything, and that searching out wonderful new talents is another way one can contribute to the development of performing arts. It was then that I felt for the first time what an attractive job a festival directorship could be. After that, and quite by chance, I was put in charge of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress International Theater Festival and was able to work officially as a festival director for the first time. It was not a full-time position, so I was able to continue working as a theater director at the same time, and in fact you might even say that I took the job partly as a way to support myself and keep myself alive in the profession (laughs). Then in 2005 I applied for the job of artistic director for the Seoul Performing Arts Festival. And that is how I got where I am today.

As artistic director, in what ways do you want to see the Seoul Performing Arts Festival develop?
When I took over the job of artistic director I had what might seem to be two rather vague goals. One was to make the Festival a place that would introduce truly world-class works, and the other was to make it a place that would serve as a platform for Korean performing arts to step out onto the world stage. In the area of Korean artists being introduced to foreign presenters for overseas activities, the Performing Arts Market, Seoul (PAMS) was launched at just the same time I was taking over as our festival’s artistic director in 2005. And, since it was also held in the same time of year, we were able to work the PAMS showcases into our festival’s program. That allowed us to concentrate our efforts instead on the presentation of foreign performing arts. South Korea lies at the far eastern edge of Asia, so it is not easy to see foreign theater here. When you are in Korea it is difficult even for the people in the theater profession to grasp what the trends are in the international theater scene. What’s more, when people think of Asia, they first of all think of Japan, and lately China. Despite the current overseas boom in popularity of Korean film and drama, there are very few people overseas who know about Korean theater. So, we have to make an effort to show people internationally that South Korea is a place with a discerning audience and places where performances can be given and foreign productions can be invited. By inviting foreign works to Korea as part of our festival program, we can both show the Korean audience what is happening in international performing arts and also show foreign people in the arts what Korea’s cultural ground is like. In fact, as a Korean festival there is an underlying assumption that we have an obligation to show Korean arts, but actually, in the past two years, we have tried to increase the number of foreign works we invite as many as possible. At present, I believe that we have about half and half Korean and foreign programs in our festival.
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