Two Contemporary Pansori Experiments with Chunhyang and Othello

After a summer without much theatre (except for a thunderstorm-interrupted open air play in Berlin), the performances I just need to see piled up in late September, the busy week before the Thanksgiving holidays. I managed to see two pansori performances – a re-interpretation of the classic Chunhyang-ga (춘향가) and a re-telling of Shakespeare’s Othello (판소리 오셀로) – but unfortunately missed the performance-lecture “Delegation X Korea: Hofmann’s Unification Radio” (X사절단: 호프만씨네 통일라디오) by Lunatiks (Berlin) and ensemble Seongbukdong Beedoolkee (극단 성북동비둘기, Seoul).

92 2018-09-12 ~ 20 두산아트센터 동초제 춘향가 - 몽중인 poster

Dongcho-je Chunhyang – In a Dream

The first performance, Dongcho-je Chunhyang – In a Dream (동초제 춘향가 – 몽중인), is a work by pansori singer Lee Seung Hee (script, music, director), in collaboration with Kim Sojin (vocals), Lee Hyang-ha (co-director), and other musicians who play traditional instruments but also keyboards. Most of them are former members of Lee Jaram’s ensemble Pansori Mandeul-gi ‘Ja’ (판소리 만들기 ‘자’), which disbanded last year. As part of the artist support program DAC of Doosan Art Center, Lee and her colleagues present an modern-day adaptation of a classic.

But besides the story itself, the form of presentation is also very much un-traditional. The stage design consists of a diagonal structure that includes a chair at the outer end (closest to the audience which is divided in two parts), a wooden floor, and a long table that leads towards the back, where the musicians stand and play. The singer enters in the dark and sits on the chair, back to the audience, a very untypical pose in pansori, where the singer usually interacts with the spectators and rarely breaks eye contact. The musicians, likewise appear immersed in their own world, like DJs working their sets rather than the typical drummer in pansori who closely monitors the singer to accomodate slight variations in pace immediately.

Dongcho-je Chunhyang – In a Dream ends with the two (!) singers in shiny gowns banging cymbals with increasing power, which resembles a shaman ritual more than the narrative style of pansori. It is a performance for a mechanized world, where outbursts of emotion are channeled into short moments of ecstasy, rather than in traditional pansori, where these affective highlights exist but as part of the overall audience-centered stroytelling performance. The members of the ensemble, singers and instrumentalists, rarely interact with each other, while at the same time not exclusively facing the audience. As a result, this experimental approach to pansori feels slightly self-absorbed.

93 2018-08-25 ~ 09-22 정동극장 판소리 오셀로 poster

Pansori Othello

In the second performance this week, Pansori Othello by ensemble Heebee Jeebie Juice (희비쌍곡선), the pansori singer as a narrative instance is center-stage. The adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy had premiered at the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju last year (Nov. 3-4, 2017, 국립아시아문화전당) and was now shown in an extended run at Chongdong Theatre in Seoul, already since late August with a double-cast (Aug. 25-Sept. 22, 2018, 정동극장). While the familiar story of the jealous “Moor of Venice” is retold in typical pansori-style, with switches between the various roles and short bridges in which the singer acts as narrator, an additional framing device is employed.

The solo singer (in the performance I saw Park In-hye, who also wrote and composed the piece) plays a Korean gisaeng named “Dan”, a geisha-like entertainer from Korea’s past, yet with the stance of a decidedly 21st century woman. Present and history, Shakespearean plot and Korean legend get intermingled as she introduces the performance with a reference to the story of Cheoyong (처용), an official of the Korean kingdom of Shilla. Like Othello, Cheoyong is a foreigner, possibly of Arabian origin (as I learned during dinner at the Sorak Symposium a few days later), and well-known for his poetry, which is recited in Pansori Othello. This double-framing makes the whole piece much more discursive than Dongcho-je Chunhyang – In a Dream, albeit with the singer as the exclusive communicator – the musicians remain distant in the background, a back-up band to the focus of attention, the present storyteller from the past.

Two ways of presenting pansori for contemporary audiences, one tending towards the eclectic, unconnected (Dongcho-je Chunhyang – In a Dream), one towards meta-narration as a unifying principle (Pansori Othello). Both aspects can be found in traditional pansori, in the texts and vocal styles that resemble palimpsests from various sources, and in the strong vocal authority incarnated by the solo singer. Both experiments seem fruitful and I’m looking forward to more steps into these different directions, not to replace the balanced tradition, but to supplement and accentuate it.

— 19, 22 Sept. 2018 (水, 土)

Posted in Pansori, Performance Report, Shakespeare | Leave a comment

Watching the Watchers: Pink Factory Exhibition Preview

This is partly personal notes, partly a preview of this year’s upcoming Pink Factory exhibition (opening: Sept. 15!). I’ve written this text while participating in Lee Kyeonghee’s video piece that, together with the works of six other artists from Korea, Germany, France, and China, will be part of the exhibition — looking forward for the final result! For about three hours I was sitting in an empty gallery, watching a video on a computer screen. The following is an almost verbatim reproduction of my notes, with some additional information in brackets (and links) edited in. Each section corresponds to a page in the memo pad.



I’m a fan of durational movies [aka “slow cinema”, a “genre” that can be dated back at least to the 60s, with Andy Warhol’s films Kiss, Empire, see Marina Abramovic’s talk on durational art in general)] since I first saw James Benning’s Sogobi at the Berlin Film Festival in 2002. I later saw his earlier, more narrative [e.g. The United States of America (1975), One Way Boogie Woogie (1977)], also the more romantic, transcendental later films 13 Lakes and Ten Skies (both 2004). I didn’t see his more recent RR (2007) or Twenty Cigarettes (2011), at least not in the big screen, in the dark room that they’re meant for. These films don’t work on TV or Youtube (you can find some of them there but I don’t bother to post the links).


I experienced myself a little bit with moving and motionless images, time and space, remake and retake. I used different recording equipment, what was available, from a digicam to a camcorder, finally a smartphone. Different from Benning’s movies, these are probably best seen on screen, the low resolution would hurt one’s eyes in the cinema. Maybe even better on a cellphone display.


Today, I became part of a meta-movie experience. I had agreed to participate in a video work, arrived at 10am at the gallery “Chapter II” in Seoul, the shooting location, and one hour later sat down at the simple wooded table, in front of a notebook, with only pen and paper (and an audio recorder).

I was supposed to watch, or rather to observe a three-hour video on the notebook. (Even in Benning-esque terms, this is pretty long.) That was my only task, which I was free to interpret however I wanted.

Three cameras, one fixed and two mobile [later a fourth], surrounded me. Coffee was out of reach. I almost fell asleep during the first hour.



The video turned out to be a series of rural scenes, shot by a fixed camera in Hongcheon [a county in Gangwon Province] (the artist had told me that before). Each [shot was] about 10 minutes.

There was not much movement [on screen] in the first scenes. Mountains over mountains. Sometimes flies in the foreground. Music, talk, laughter from the café next door. It turned night, the reflection on the glossy Macbook monitor showed only me, dozing off.

Then daylight again. Some movement, due to the wind. Birds or glitches?


I had remained on my chair for most of the first hour. Some stretching, standing, leaning against the white wall of the gallery (one of the most perfect white cubes I’ve seen recently).

I sit down again, grab pen and paper. Can’t get the cap off, first think this is a trick. But it’s not. Three cameras still circling me (well, two of them), sometimes getting closer, behind me, from below the table. I’m not the observer but the observed, obviously.


While the audio recorder probably won’t record much of me (2 coughs in 90 minutes), it shows me the time, well, as long as its battery lasts; it’s already blinking.

I try to ignore the surroundings. The screen is too small, to grainy (or not grainy enough?) to grab my fading attention.

There’s also a camera on the wall, I notice. I noticed that before, actually, but I have another look now. It’s probably turned off anyway.

One of the cameramen (except for the artist herself, both of her staff members are men) gets tired, looks at his cellphone. My phone is in the bag leaning on the wall across the room.


I still need to write a blogpost this month, I think. Or I want to. At least once per month, otherwise it’s a dead blog, I think.

Haven’t had time to take a clear thought this sweaty August.

– cough, cough –

I have some backlogged stuff but not enough time to finish it. I want to write more detailed on Yong Hae Sook’s Berlin exhibition but could not put my thoughts in order yet.

So some “auto-ethnographic” self-observations…

I grab pen and paper and start to write. Until now.


  • I have shot some of these fixed long takes (although slightly shorter, 2-3 minutes) in Hongcheon myself, as a documentary for a Pink Factory archival exhibition in 2016.
  • I don’t know any of these places. Could be anywhere in the countryside, only a few are distinctively Gangwon Province, the the blue, layered mountains with forests… no place seems particular familiar, though.
  • In the second hour, the video gets more interesting to watch, a wider scope, brighter images, more details (some out of focus, though), some movement (mostly wind, though) – oh, just as I wrote this, a car passes through the image (about 2:02:00), and another one in front of the gallery. Coincidences are bound to happen the more time available.
  • At about 2 hours 19 minutes, a frontal shot of Juergen Staack’s camera obscura appears, his work 20 Years(2015), installed at Pink Factory. As I think of it, both works share a similar principle: In the huge cube in Hongcheon, the surroundings are exposed on the wooden board inside, here the images from the screen are burning onto my retina…

— 30 Aug. 2018 (木)

Posted in Art Worlds, pink factory | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Papers this Summer

philanthropy-conference-23-25-july-2018_posterThis summer I’m busy with conferencing – one each month, beginning later this July! All three papers I present (and currently prepare) are quite different but share the theme of trans/intercultural exchange and adaptation. One is (mainly) about the past, two about the present and future. Two are about spoken, one about sung theatre. Two feature references to tradition (in modern times), one is about building an own tradition. And two relate to Germany while one is about Korean-US-relations. Lastly, the very first one is in Germany (see poster on the right), while the other two are in Korea – looking forward to a hot academic summer!

I have used the following hashtags when blogging or tweeting (@JanCreutzenberg) about my ongoing research, which might be of interest to some:

Anyways, my schedule for this summer is as follows (my abstracts, information on the respective panels and links to the full program are below):


First, I talk about the encounters between controversial Korean theatre maker Yu Chi-jin (유치진 / 柳致眞, 1905–74) and the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1950s and 60s, which ultimately led to the foundation of the Seoul Drama Center (서울 드라마센타, today: Namsan Arts Center, 남산예술센터) where some of the earliest experiments with traditional performing arts (as a means for theatre) took place in the 70s. While I wrote and presented on this latter part, the “search for ‘our’ roots in the world of theatre” on various occasions, the historical background (Cold War) and the role of US-foundations are new for me and I hope for interesting discussions and insights. (Munich, Tuesday, July 24, 2pm).

more information


Second, continuing my research for last year’s “Pansori in Europe”-symposium in Berlin, I will discuss some examples of Korean-German collaborations between pansori singers and other artists. You can expect to see and hear some excerpts from works by/with So Sol-i (서솔이), Choe Yong-seok (최용석, of Badak Sori / 판소리공장 바닥소리), and Park In-hye (박인혜, of Heebie Jeebie Juice / 창작집단 희비쌍곡선). This talk is part of a panel that I co-convened with Anna Yates-Lu and Barbara Wall, plus pansori singer Min Hye Sung (민혜성), who regularly performs abroad. The panel is titled “Crossing Boundaries: Beyond the Borders of P’ansori”, and will take place in the heart of Korean traditional music, the National Gugak Center (국립국악원) – eolssigu! (Seoul, Tuesday, 21 Aug., 3.50pm)

more information


Finally, I will take some first steps into the undiscovered territory of foreign language plays performed by college students (Kor. “weon-eo-geuk” / 원어극, lit. “original-language-drama”). As a lecturer at Sungshin University and now at Ewha Womans University, I have participated in the production of some plays, most recently Corpus Delicti (at Ewha, 2018) and Diebe (at Sungshin, 2017). Here, I will consider the repertories of German-language college drama in order to find out possible motivations that go into the making of this very special, highly charming form of transcultural theatre. (Gyeongju, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2pm, in German)

more information


— 24 July 2018 (火) / 21 August 2018 (火) / 29 September 2018 (土)

These are the abstracts of my presentations, as well as additional information on the conferences and links to the full programs.



International Conference “Philanthropy, Development, and the Arts: Histories and Theories”

Munich, Carl Friedrich von Siemens-Stiftung, 23–25 July, 2018, organized by the ERC project Developing Theatre, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Germany, conference homepage:

Jan Creutzenberg

Contemporary Korean Theatre, Courtesy of Uncle Sam? Yu Chi-jin, Rockefeller, and the Seoul Drama Center


Since the end of World War II and the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule, US-American policies influenced the cultural sphere in South Korea in many ways, as part of a global effort to integrate the region into a “Free Asia” in the face of communism. In this paper, I discuss the interactions between foreign benefactors and local players in post-colonial South Korea from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. I focus on director/playwright Yu Chi-jin’s engagement with the Rockefeller Foundation, which played a crucial role in the restoration of the war-struck theatre scene by offering Yu funding for the Seoul Drama Center, opened in 1962. Not only a state-of-the-art stage, the Drama Center also featured educational facilities and a research library, turning it into a hotbed for theatrical experimentation and innovation. Based on (auto-)biographical writings on Yu, internal documents of the Rockefeller Foundation, and news coverage in both countries, I explore how geopolitical agendas, cosmopolitan ambitions, audience expectations, and financial concerns contributed to the emergence of a new notion of contemporary, yet distinctively Korean theatre. In particular, the neo-traditional “search for roots”-movement, which originated at the Drama Center, at the crossroads of Western avant-garde and the revival of performing arts heritage, shows that the challenges that Korean theatre makers face today, in an increasingly international environment, date back to the Cold War and the ideology-driven globalization it encompassed.

Part of the panel “Grants in Aid for Theatre in Asia” (Tuesday, 24 July, 2018, 14:00–15:30, Chair: Rashna Nicholson)
* Contemporary Korean Theatre, Courtesy of Uncle Sam? (Jan Creutzenberg, Ewha Womans University, Seoul, Korea, Department of German Language and Literature)
* Grants in Aid for Theatre in the 1950s: Severino Montano’s Initiatives at the Philippine Normal College, Manila (Nic Leonhardt, LMU Munich, ERC project Developing Theatre & Centre for Global Theatre History)
* Experiences of Theatre Funding from Development Agencies in Sri Lanka (Malshani Delgahapitiya, Arts Administrator, Colombo, Sri Lanka)

Conference Homepage

Full program (PDF)



The 6th Symposium of the Study Group on Musics of East Asia

Seoul, National Gugak Center, 21–23 Aug. 2018, organized and hosted by the National Gugak Center (국립국악원) and the Korean Musicological Society (한국국악학회), conference homepage:

Jan Creutzenberg

From Invitation and Promotion to Collaboration and Commission: Korean-German P’ansori Exchanges


Since the second half of the 20th century, p’ansori and other traditional Korean performing arts have served in the promotion of soft values or “nation branding,” often in the form of high-profile gala shows that combine various genres to a kaleidoscopic showcase of Korean culture, sometimes with K-Pop or contemporary classic added. Apart from these “official” events aimed at a large audience, however, Korean p’ansori performers increasingly engage in individual collaborations with artists abroad, often supported or commissioned by institutions in Korea or elsewhere. The resulting performances often stay under the radar of a general public, though, serving limited groups of spectators due to their themes, venues, and PR power. In this paper, I introduce and discuss recent cross-cultural p’ansori-projects that address different local and global audiences, focusing on artists based in Korea and Germany. The diversification of production and reception does not leave these artistic exchanges untouched by cultural politics, as many projects rely on funding or commissioning. Besides the interaction between performers and spectators, my comparison therefore also includes the role of institutions that considerably influence the emerging global landscape of p’ansori. What themes are tackled in cross-cultural collaborations and how much do they rely on tradition? Where and for whom is p’ansori performed? And how do cultural politics play in the selection of support and commissioning? In approaching these questions, I propose a perspective that acknowledges both the artists’ legitimate need of support and their ambitions to create p’ansori that audiences can relate to, in Korea and abroad.

Part of the panel “Crossing Boundaries: Beyond the Borders of P’ansori” (Session B2, Tuesday, 21 August, 2018, 15:50–17:50, Conference Room B – Pungnyu Theater, Chair: Barbara Wall)

  • The Monkey King’s Journey into P’ansori: Kim Pyǒngjun’s “Ogong’s Account of Escape from Financial Depression” (Barbara Wall, University of Copenhagen)
  • From Invitation and Promotion to Collaboration and Commission: Korean-German P’ansori Exchanges (Jan Creutzenberg, Ewha Womans University)
  • Hallyu Through the Grassroots: The European P’ansori Scene (Anna Yates-Lu,, University of Oxford)
  • Ten Years Crossing Borders: A Personal Account of Performing and Teaching P’ansori Outside Korea (Min Hye Sung, Hanyang University)

Panel Abstract:

At a symposium in 1966, scholars controversially discussed whether the Korean singing-storytelling art form p’ansori should be classified as music, literature or theatre. Kang Han-yŏng gave maybe the most precise suggestion: “P’ansori is p’ansori,” as it defies conventional generic limits in remaining something completely of itself. More than forty years later, the generic limits of p’ansori continue to be tested and re-examined as p’ansori performers engage with other source material, genres and artists in attempting to engage with contemporary audiences. At the same time, the national borders around p’ansori are being opened up as it moves into the international scene. This panel examines the sites where p’ansori is crossing boundaries, be they generic or national. We address the introduction of new literary source material; German-Korean artist exchanges; p’ansori audiences and learners in Europe; and finally have a p’ansori performer describe her own experiences of crossing boundaries in the teaching and performance of p’ansori. Through this, we aim to paint a picture of a traditional genre not crystallized in an idealized past, but actively involved in the contemporary globalized world.

Full program



4. Internationales Sorak-Symposium (국제설악심포지엄)

Gyeongju, Hotel Kolon, 28-30 Sept. 2018, organized by the Koreanische Gesellschaft für Germanistik (KGG, 한국독어독문학회), in cooperation with the DAAD.

Jan Creutzenberg

Deutsch “spielen”: Studentisches Fremdsprachentheater in Korea


„Original-Sprachen-Drama“ (Won-eo-geuk), also fremdsprachiges Theater, hat an koreanischen Universitäten eine lange Tradition und spielte bei der Rezeption ausländischer Werke eine wichtige Rolle. Von der Forschung weitgehend ignoriert, erlaubt diese Form des transkulturellen Theaters – laut Günther Heeg “das privilegierte Medium einer anderen Welt-Erfahrung als der alltäglich gemachten” – schauspielenden Studierenden die spielerische Erprobung anderer Rollen und Identitäten. Anhand der Repertoires verschiedener Studierendenensembles soll untersucht werden, mit welchen Strategien Fremdsprachentheater als “Katalysator der Weltwerdung” fungieren kann. Was sagt die Auswahl der Stücke, Methoden der Adaption, Übersetzung und Neukreation, über das Verhältnis der Kulturen aus? Darauf aufbauende Diskussionen des spielerischen Umgangs mit dem Fremden, seiner Aneignung und Assimilation in interkulturellen Begegnungen, versprechen neue Zugänge zu einer Welt, deren (Sprach-)Grenzen heute unklarer denn je sind.
Part of the panel “Deutsch-Koreanische Begegnungen” (Session II B, Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 14:00–16:00, Chair: Kim Yeon Soo, Kangwon National Univ.)

  • Deutsch „spielen“: Studentisches Fremdsprachentheater in Korea (Jan Creutzenberg, Ewha Womans Univ.)
  • Koreabild im Dokumentarfilm „Im Land der Morgenstille“ (1924-25) (Iris Brose, Hongik Univ.)
  • Zwischen der monotonen Veröffentlichung und der babylonischen Sprachverwirrung – Über die verschiedenen Übersetzungen des Begriffs „Öffentlichkeit“ in ostasiatischen Sprachen (Lee Hosung, Seoul National Univ.)

Full program (ZIP)

Posted in Abroad, Academia, Korean Drama, Pansori, Theatre and Globalisation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interview with Director Im Hyoungjin on Theaterraum’s New Production “Stranger” (after Schnitzler)

Today I went to the studio of ensemble Theaterraum: Der philosophierende Körper (테아터라움: 철학하는 몸, also on Instagram). In the North-eastern part of Seoul, the Suyu-dong neighborhood, not far from Daehangno, where their new work Stranger (낯선 사람) will premiere soon at Daehangno Arts Theater (대학로예술극장), they are rehearsing, with about two weeks left until July 14 (tickets via Interpark). I took part in a promotional interview, asking the director Im Hyoungjin (임형진, an old friend of mine) everything that came to mind. And that was quite a lot: Hyoungjin had adapted a short (four-pages) narrative fragment by Arthur Schnitzler, probably written around 1900, into what promises to be an intensive four-person play about orientalism, uncanny self-reflections, and the imperial history of China.

Interview with theatre director Im Hyoungjin, head of ensemble Theaterraum (photo: Kim Hyo-Sang)

Interview with theatre director Im Hyoungjin, head of ensemble Theaterraum (photo: Kim Hyo-Sang)

The original title “Der Boxeraufstand” (Korean: 의화단 운동, Chinese: 义和团运动 / 義和團運動, i.e. Yihetuan-Movement) of course refers to the anti-imperial uprising in China at the turn of the 19th century. In Schnitzler’s text, the real events serve merely as a MacGuffin. “Der Boxeraufstand” is, basically, the inner monologue of a Western soldier responsible for the execution of Chinese rebels. I had a hard time finding the original text in Korea. Fortunately the library of Ewha University owns the collected works of Schnitzler (Die Erzählenden Schriften, Erster Band, S. Fischer, no preview on Google Books), as this minor piece is rarely featured in selections.

It is discussed in Chiann Karen Tsui’s PhD-dissertation on “China and German Modernist Literature” (fulltext via Stanford Digital Repository) and her following article with Russell A. Berman ( It is also mentioned in studies on orientalist literature or German colonialism, for instance in the introduction of George Steinmetz’ monograph The Devil’s Handwriting: Precoloniality and the German Colonial State in Qingdao, Samoa, and Southwest Africa (2007, Google Books) or in Martin Rosenstock’s article “China Past, China Present: The Boxer Rebellion in Gerhard Seyfried’s Yellow Wind (2008)” (in the edited volume Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia, 2014, Google Books)

In Korean, the title of the story (in the translation of Baek Jong-yu [백종유], part of 엘제 아씨: 슈니츨러 작품선, 문학과지성 2010) is “내가 만났던 한 중국인”, which means “One Chinese [Person] I Once Met”. The title of Hyoungjin’s adaptation – Stranger (낯선 사람) – is inspired by the final sentence of the story:

“…von allen Menschen, denen ich je auf der Welt begegnet, war er derjenige, der mir am fremdesten war.” (German original)

“…among all the people I met in the world, he was the one who [appeared?] the strangest to me.” (my translation, as there seems to be no official English one)

“…내가 여태껏 이 세상에서 만났던 모든 사람들 중에서, 내가 만났던 그 중국인은 가장 낯설고도 낯선 사람이었다.” (translation by 백종유)

Theaterraum’s production should not be confused with Camus’ novel The Stranger (Korean: 이방인), often serving as material for dramatizations nowadays (in German, for instance, recently in Hamburg, Berlin, and Basel), or the dance theatre The Strangers (낯선 사람들, video-teaser), an international Goethe-Institut co-production directed by Leandro Kees, which presents a guest performance at the 26th ASSITEJ Korea International Summer Festival, around the same time on a stage close-by (tickets via Interpark).

Stranger, adapted from Schnitzler's

Stranger, adapted (from Schnitzler’s “Der Boxeraufstand”) and directed by Im Hyoungjin, produced by ensemble Theaterraum, July 14–22, 2018 at Daehangno Arts Theater, Seoul

The play expands and re-interprets Schitzler’s short story and, notably, gives names to the unnamed protagonists. I found this a striking parallel to Kamel Daoud’s retelling “through Arab eyes” of Camus, Meursault, contre-enquête (2013, The Meursault Investigation), where the nameless “Arab” who falls victim to Meursault’s existential self-search is given a name and the spotlight. However, Theaterraum’s Stranger might take a slightly different road (and may turn out even “stranger” – sorry for the pun!) as the director, rather than reclaiming a post-colonial perspective, attempts a unified reading of the psychological aspects of the short story and its historical-orientalist background.

These are some of the (rehearsal) props and floormarks…

In any case, I’m looking very much forward to this contemporary look at this forgotten fragment of Viennese modernism.

The following are some of the questions I prepared. The transcribed interview will be sent out as press material and might appear in previews and other coverage of the production. (I’ll add links to these as soon as available.)

  • Why Schnitzler now? And why this relatively unknown (and unfinished) work?

  • Of what interest could this classic orientalist story (a European travels to the East and finds himself) be to Korean audiences today?

  • What would be the (re-translated) Korean title of the production? How to prevent confusion with Camus?

  • How does this first-person (inner) monologue transfer to the (post-) dramatic stage?

  • Is there any use of music, as in all earlier productions of Theaterraum?

— 27 June 2018 (水)

Posted in Interview, Spoken Drama, Upcoming Performance | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Korean Playwright Yeon-ok Koh Wins International Author Award at Heidelberger Stückemarkt #StueMa18

After ten days of theatre, readings of plays, performances, and discussions, the moment of truth has come: Who will be the winners at Heidelberger Stückemarkt 2018?

award ceremony at Heidelberger Stückemarkt 2018

After the award ceremony at Heidelberger Stückemarkt 2018

The very first announcement was the most exciting part for me – the International Author Award, chosen among the three Korean playwrights who had come to Heidelberg: Yanggu Yi (with The Yellow Envelope), Jae-yeop Kim (Chronicle of Alibis), and Yeon-ok Koh (The Sensibility of a Wife). (Read more on the line-up in my preview)

Now five jury members (Brit Barkowiak, David Gieselmann, Andreas Jüttner, Jürgen Popig, Maja Zade) had to select a winner. Their choice was based not only on the (due to time constraints partial) readings, but on the full German translations of the three plays.

All readings had received much applause and the spectators had asked various questions in the post-performance talks. It seemed indeed hard to predict who the jury would choose and a spontaneous poll didn‘t show any clear trend. No surprise, then, that David Gieselmann, speaker of the jury, first noted the “difficult conditions” the jury members faced, evaluating drama from a country unbeknownst to them.

The plays give insight into the theatre culture of a country, they tell us about people who live there, and they do so in more detail than the headlines and articles on South Korea, which, in these historical days, are by no means rare in Germany.

So, did the jury finally choose Kim’s Chronicle of Alibis, a play that amounts to “a course on the recent history of the country”? Or did they prefer Yi’s The Yellow Letter, “a contemporary period piece, in the best sense of the word”, something that “the local critics continue to demand – but don’t get – from German authors”?

No! The jury selected The Sensibility of a Wife by Yeon-ok Koh, for the following reason:

The fairy-tale atmosphere of the play gives way to a surprisingly realist depiction of a male-centered work environment and society. The way this play combines different scenes and styles, in suspension and in harmony, has fascinated us very, very much.

Yeon-ok Koh receives International Author Award, with Holger Schultze (left, director of Theater Heidelberg) and David Gieselmann (right, jury speaker)

Yeon-ok Koh, winner of the International Author Award (center), with Holger Schultze (left, director of Theater Heidelberg) and David Gieselmann (right, jury speaker)

The other prizes followed: Ulrike Syha received the (German) Author Award for her play Drift (original title),

the drama of a society where no one listens to another, families drift apart, and people believe those they know for decades to be capable of murder – all this put into a laconic comedy that expects the audience to do exactly what its characters cannot: Listen. And those who listen are rewarded.

The “JugendStückePreises” (for a young audience play) was awarded to Mongos by Sergej Gößner, staged by Grit Lukas at Theater Magdeburg, the NachSpielPreis (dedicated to revivals of contemporary plays) an Drei sind wir by Wolfram Höll, staged by Valerie Voigt-Firon at Burgtheater Wien.

It was a pity that I couldn’t see any of the German guest performances and readings, as I stayed in Heidelberg only for the last few days of the festival. The award speeches certainly succeeded in raising interest for these new works – it would be great to see them on stage sometime, whether in Germany or Korea.

For details on the various awards and their winners, see the (German) articles by Michael Wolf and Georg Kasch on the Stückemarkt-blog by

In the news the next day (Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung)

In the news the next day (Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung)

This is an article from the local Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung, announcing the results. More on the Korean weekend at Stückemarkt soon here, too!

— 29 April 2018 (日)

(Note: All quotes are my translation, verbatim from my recording of the jury’s German statement.)

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South Korean Theatre in Heidelberg #StueMa18

What is the Heidelberger Stückemarkt? Literally, the term means “drama market”, but actually it is a ten-day theatre festival with performances, readings, concerts, and contests, held in Heidelberg since 1984. Then again, it is sort of a marketplace for the latest theatre works from Germany and from a different guest country every year. As you might have guessed: In 2018, the guests come from South Korea.

This is so exciting! Apart from guest performances of Korean music (mostly traditional, e.g. last year’s pansori performance in Berlin), it is rare to see contemporary theatre from Korea in Germany or in Europe, for that matter. While there have been some occasions in recent years, particularly at festivals like those in Avignon or Edinburgh etc.), the productions that tend to be invited are mostly by well-established directors (some of whom have a history of abusing their power), and more often than not they are based on Shakespeare. Nothing against another Hamlet, a Tempest from the East, or an exotic Midsummer Night’s Dream. But, moreover, the few Korean plays in translation are often written by the same powerhouses who tend to stage Shakespeare abroad (or others who are dead). So it is very refreshing to see a surge of young contemporary playwrights being introduced abroad.

The Korean part of the Stückemarkt 2018 (#StueMa18) takes place from Friday (April 27) to Sunday (April 30) and consists of two sections:

First, invited guest performances. This year, these are Hyuntak Kim’s treadmill run Death of a Mans Sale (2011) after Arthur Miller (세일즈맨의 죽음, 연출: 김현탁), the self-reflective Before After (2015) by Ensemble Creative VaQi and director Kyungsung Lee, who were at Theaterformen Braunschweig in 2016 with The Conversations (“비포 애프터”, 크리에이티브 바키, 연출: 이경성), and – yes! – a Shakespeare-adaptation, but not the typical “intercultural” type, rather a colorful re-interpretation of Romeo and Juliet (2014) by Jungung Yang and his Yohangza Theatre Company (로미오와 줄리엣, 극단 여행자, 연출: 양정웅). Both Lee and Yang participated in a collaboration with Deutsches Theater (Walls – Iphigenia in Exile, 2016).

Second, the international author competition (internationaler Autorenwettbewerb), which features (partial) readings of relatively recent works by three authors, who then answer questions in a post-performance audience talk. In addition, an artwork by Hwang Kim (“Pizzas for the People”), a concert by hot neo-traditional crossover band SsingSsing (씽씽, Facebook), and a panel discussion (“Theaterlunch”) take place. The award ceremony on Sunday night, where a jury presents the winner of the international author’s prize (whom they select from the readings) concludes this weekend of theatre from Korea.


I got involved with the Stückemarkt last fall, when a scouting team visited Seoul. First, I translated excerpts of some short-listed pieces. Then, earlier this year (actually during the full winter break), I translated the three pieces selected for the international author competition.

They are as follows:

  • Der gelbe Umschlag (The Yellow Envelope, 노란봉투, 2014) by Yanggu Yi (이양구)
  • Chronik der Alibis (Chronicle of Alibis, 알리바이 연대기. 2014) by Jae-Yeop Kim (김재엽)
  • Das Gespür einer Ehefrau (The Sensibility of a Wife, 처의 감각, 2015) by Yeon-ok Koh (고연옥)

When I began my translations in January, I hadn’t seen any of these plays live, although I had heard about some of them.

The Yellow Envelope, poster: Theatre Lab Hyehwa-dong No. 1 (2014) 노란봉투, 포스터: 연극실험실 혜화동 1번지 2014

The Yellow Envelope, poster: Theatre Lab Hyehwa-dong No. 1 (2014)

In the meantime, I had the chance to see Yanggu Yi’s Yellow Envelope in a special performance at the National Assembly. The play is about a group of factory workers engaged in a fight that appears impossible to win, while news about the sinking of the “Sewol”-ferry slowly come in. The factory that the play is set in – or rather the office of the workers’ union –, is in Ansan, an industrial area in the outskirts of Seoul, home of most of the high school students who died in the (possibly preventable) ferry disaster. While the play is about workers’ rights and the various forms of their suppression, the “Sewol”-context turns it into a discussion on the state of South Korea’s risk society, divided by money and stable income.

The Sensibility of a Wife, poster: Namsan Arts Center (2018) 처의 감각, 포스터: 남산예술센터 2018

The Sensibility of a Wife, poster: Namsan Arts Center (2018)

I also saw Yeon-ok Koh’s Sensibility of a Wife last week at Namsan Art Center. An adaptation of this piece, originally written in 2015, had been shown already in 2016 as Wife of Bear (곰의 아내), directed by Koh Sun-woong (고선웅). However, just a few weeks before its presentation in Heidelberg, the original play (which has been published as a book, too) premiered at Namsan Art Center, directed by Kim Jeong (김정, who also staged Diebe last year at Sungshin University). Sensibility of a Wife is a modernised approach to a Korean legend, but plays in a decidedly contemporary setting. A woman, nurtured by a bear, returns to society and faces modern life. The play consists of several short scenes, which pair the woman (now a wife) and her husband with different characters (her mother, his boss, his lover etc.) and has a fable-like quality, but the dialogues are spot-on and as contemporary as can be – showing various facets of the modern and traditional expectations women in Korea face today.

Chronicle of Alibis, poster: National Theater Company of Korea (2013) 알리바이 연대기, 포스터: 국립극단 2013

Chronicle of Alibis, poster: National Theater Company of Korea (2013)

Finally, Chronicle of Alibis by Jae-Yeop Kim, a hit from 2013 that has been revived several times, is an autobiographical play about the live of the author’s father, who, born in the 1930s in Imperial Japan, experienced two wars, dictators, and the slow process of democratization. In the play, a stand-in for the author takes a kind of time-travel to question his father (in various incarnations, from child to young dad and old man) about the decisions he took – or did not take. I like the main actor Nam Myeong-ryeol (남명렬), whom I met at the rehearsals for I Am My Own Wife in 2013, very much. But although posters seemed to be all around town when Chronicle of Alibis premiered later that year, I didn’t have a chance to see it then… For my translation, I checked some scenes on video, but hope to be able to catch a revival some time in the future.

Or maybe a German-language production? Who knows what opportunities the Stückemarkt will bring? In any case, I’m excited to hear – for what is possibly the first time – three Korean plays in German!

All readings are on Saturday, April 28, at Alter Saal of Theater Heidelberg. They are followed by an artist talk with the author, whose answers I will translate into German. Meet me afterwards!

— 28 April 2018 (土)

  • 13:30: Der gelbe Umschlag (The Yellow Envelope, 노란봉투) by Yanggu Yi (이양구), read by: Lisa Förster, Steffen Gangloff, Dominik Lindhorst-Apfelthaler, Sophie Melbinger, Katharina Quast, Hendrik Richter, Andreas Uhse.
  • 14:30: Chronik der Alibis (Chronicle of Alibis, 알리바이 연대기) by Jae-Yeop Kim (김재엽), read by: Nicole Averkamp, Benedict Fellmer, Hans Fleischmann, Raphael Gehrmann, Marcel Schubbe, Olaf Weißenberg, Martin Wißner, Stefan Wunder.
  • 16:00: Das Gespür einer Ehefrau (The Sensibility of a Wife, 처의감각) by Yeon-ok Koh (고연옥), read by: Marco Albrecht, Steffen Gangloff, Sophie Melbinger, Katharina Quast, Hendrik Richter, Christina Rubruck, Andreas Uhse, Olaf Weißenberg.
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The Come Back of Isang Yun

The word “colloid” (콜로이드), according to the Encyclopædia Britannica, refers to

any substance consisting of particles substantially larger than atoms or ordinary molecules but too small to be visible to the unaided eye […] Colloidal systems may exist as dispersions of one substance in another—for example, smoke particles in air—or as single materials, such as rubber […]

I usually put on glasses in the theatre, but here – sitting in the first of two or three rows – this wasn’t necessary. The various fragments from, on, and by Isang Yun that were presented and discussed were visible, even to the unaided eye. Still, hard to grasp, like smoke that gets in the eyes, oil that sticks to the fingers.

(c) Theaterraum – Der Philosophierende Körper / 테아터라움 철학하는 몸, photo by Yoonjeong Choi / 최윤정

(c) Theaterraum – Der Philosophierende Körper, photo by Yoonjeong Choi

The “1917 Project – Colloid” (프로젝트 1917 – 콜로이드) by germanophile Ensemble Theaterraum: Der philosophierende Körper (테아터라움: 철학하는 몸), presented as a one-hour showcase as part of the “Creation and Experiment”-festival (창작실험: 과정과 공유, Feb. 23–25) at Oil Tank Culture Park (문화 비축 기지), approaches German-Korean (or Korean-German?) composer Isang Yun (1917–95), his life and thoughts, in colloidal way: as something murky, cloudy, turbid.

(c) ARKO / 한국문화예술위원회 ARKO, photo by Dohee Lee / 이도희

(c) ARKO / 한국문화예술위원회, photo by Dohee Lee

Besides intensive research by the ensemble, the play is based on two books on the life of Isang Yun. First, Der verwundete Drache (1977) by Luise Rinser, subtitled “Dialogue on life and work of composer Isang Yun”. Luise Rinser (1911–2002) was a (quite controversial) German author and friend of Yun. The book was translated into Korean (as 상처입은 용, 홍종도 옮김, 한울 1988) and there is also an annotated English version, likewise published in Korea (The Wounded Dragon, transl. Jiyeon Byeon 변지연, 민속원 2010). Second, a Korean memoir by Yun’s wife Sooja Lee (*1927), published in two volumes (창작과 비평 1998). The title (내 남편 윤이상) means “My Husband Isang Yun”.

03 테아터라움 철학하는 몸 Theaterraum – Der Philosophierende Körper, 최윤정 Yoonjeong Choi

(c) Theaterraum – Der Philosophierende Körper, photo by Yoonjeong Choi

In the performance, two actresses – Da-Ae Oh (오대애) as Rinser and Ja Myeong Ra (나자명) as Sooja Lee – play these two characters who reminiscent about Yun’s life and their encounters with him. They switch roles, however, variously embodying themselves on their research trip to Tongyeong, the composer’s hometown, or other side characters from the fragments that play out. Opera singer Seongil Kim (김성일) occasionally gets up, walks across stages, and sings on being “frei wie ein Schmetterling” (“free like a butterfly”), a line (I suppose) from Yun’s opera Die Witwe des Schmetterlings (Butterfly Widow), written during his imprisonment 1967/68 after the Berlin-spy-incident. In the back, a choir provides some vocals, for instance when the two actresses move around or inspect the various relicts – soil, water, stones etc. – that the production team has gathered in Tongyeong. Director Hyoungjin Im (also a scholar on Yun and his work) conducts the actors and singers on stage.

(c) Theaterraum – Der Philosophierende Körper / 테아터라움 철학하는 몸, photo by Yoonjeong Choi / 최윤정

Actress Da-Ae Oh, choir in the background (c) Theaterraum – Der Philosophierende Körper, photo by Yoonjeong Choi

(c) Theaterraum – Der Philosophierende Körper / 테아터라움 철학하는 몸, photo by Yoonjeong Choi / 최윤정

Opera singer Seongil Kim (c) Theaterraum – Der Philosophierende Körper, photo by Yoonjeong Choi

08 테아터라움 철학하는 몸 Theaterraum – Der Philosophierende Körper, 최윤정 Yoonjeong Choi

Director Hyoungjin Im (c) Theaterraum – Der Philosophierende Körper, photo by Yoonjeong Choi

No one on stage, whether singing, dancing, or playing, wears shoes. Why? This was my last question in the post-performance audience talk that I hosted. The answer: Because we are all born barefooted.

audience talk

Post-performance audience talk, photo by Yong Hae Sook

The audience also posed some other, more interesting questions. As one spectator mentioned, there wasn’t much information on Isang Yun in the play, not much to learn about him. That’s true. And in a way, that might have been the point of this “colloidal” approach to the composer and his “murky” life between suspicion of espionage and engagement with music. (Some spotlights on this life can be found in Hyoungjin Im’s article on the “border-crossing nomad” at Goethe-Institut Korea, in Korean and in my German translation.)

Other performances that took place on the occasion of Yun’s 100th birthday in late 2017 and early 2018 might fill this gap.

Photo: Gyeonggi Provincial Theatre Company, ARKO / 경기도립극단, 한국문화예술위원회

Photo: Gyeonggi Provincial Theatre Company, ARKO / 경기도립극단, 한국문화예술위원회

First, there was a theatre production named after Luise Rinser’s book, Yun Isang, Sangcheo Ibeun Yong (윤이상, 상처입은 용, “Isang Yun, the Wounded Dragon”) by the Gyeonggi Provincial Theatre Company (경기도립극단), shown in Daehangno last fall (Oct. 21–29, 2017). The play was written by Lee O-jin (이오진) and directed by Lee Dae-ung (이대웅). While the poster for the Seoul performance is kept rather dark, the poster for an earlier performance in Gyeonggi-do, with several older men arranged around Yun, indicates a more traditional approach to the biography of this historical character that spans Germany, (North and South) Korea, as well as Japan. A performance trailer and a news report show some more impressions.

“Isang Yun, Meeting the Roots!” (문화체육관광부, 국립국악원 / Ministry of Culture, Sport, and Tourism, National Gugak Center)

Photo:  Ministry of Culture, Sport, and Tourism, National Gugak Center / 문화체육관광부, 국립국악원

Then, at the same weekend that Project 1917 premiered, the Ministry of Culture, Sport, and Tourism (문화체육관광부) presented a performance titled “Isang Yun, Meeting the Roots!” (윤이상, 그 뿌리를 만나다!, Feb. 23, 2018) at the National Gugak Center (국립국악원). Traditionally trained musicians of the Gugak Center and the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra (경기필하모닉 오케스트라) took turns in playing a selection from Yun’s works, alongside with the traditional genres he used as inspiration. This included Yun’s Réak (예악, 1966) and Muak (무악, 1978), both rooted in different forms of traditional court music. The one-time event was an effort to foster interesting into traditional Korean music also among fans of Western classic, by means of Isang Yun, as producer Kim Seong-min (김성민, 전통공연예술진흥재단 공연기획팀장) explains in a news report by Gugak Broadcasting System (국악방송).

Music Theatre: Returning Home / 뮤직 시어터: 귀향 (Photo: TIMF / 통영국제음악제, Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop)

Photo: TIMF / 통영국제음악제, Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop

A bit more metaphorically, the Tongyeong International Music Festival (TIMF, 통영국제음악제), an event held to honor and continue the spirit of Isang Yun in his hometown, opened this year with the music theatre production Returning Home (뮤직 시어터: 귀향). In this piece, director Ludger Engels combines scenes from Monteverdi’s early opera Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria with the suspended vocals of the Korean literati singing tradition gagok (가곡), performed by Korean musicians (gagok: Minhee Park 박민희) and members of Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop. The title is quite fitting, as Isang Yun’s ashes were just transferred from Berlin-Gatow to Tongyeong, now enjoying a nice sea-view.

— 23/24 March 2018 (金/土)

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