Performing the City #BerlinTheatreSchedule part1

This January, I went to Berlin for three weeks with a group of eight Korean students, all majors of German Language and Literature at Ewha Womans University. The goal of this three week “Overseas Education Program” (해외교수인솔프로그램) is to learn German at a winter school of Humboldt University and to explore what the city has to offer culturally, particularly in the field of theatre. Under the title “Berlin, City of Theatres”, I had prepared a program of seven theatre visits, a special lecture, a guided tour, and a drama workshop. While I was excited to see what’s happening on Berlin stages myself (I haven’t really had the chance to see theatre in Germany for almost a decade as I usually visit during summer when theatres take a break), I was even more looking forward to introduce the Berlin theatre scene to my students, hoping to spark their interest in everything performative. I have twittered using the hashtag #BerlinTheatreSchedule, first on the challenges and problems I faced making online reservations for a group of nine, followed by live reactions to the performances we saw. Here, in a series of blog posts, I expand on these notes, both as a “memory protocol” of our experiences in Berlin and as a help for future excursions.

The first week was about getting to know Berlin. Having arrived on Sunday night, the first day was Monday, January 6. After the official start of the Winter School, we took a stroll around Humboldt University, had lunch in the crowded mensa, and got everyone a working cell phone. Wednesday, January 8, was dedicated to the basics: We met at Friedrichstraße, walked across Museum Island through the Hackescher Markt neighborhood, then by bus (line 100, of course) towards Brandenburger Tor, and finished with the Holocaust Memorial, which is even more uncanny after early nightfall. Some students also took a tour to the Bundestag, the German parliament.

Holocaust Memorial

Theatre began on Friday, with 100% Berlin Reloaded by Rimini Protokoll, a collective that had just turned twenty years old. I had seen some of their earlier works back then (inc. Black Tie on overseas adoption from Korea), but had missed most of their recent productions. The “100% City”-format dates to the production 100% Berlin (2008), which was conceived for the 100th anniversary of Hebbel Theater and has since then been adapted in over thirty cities around the world. Rimini Protokoll also came to South Korea in 2014 and produced 100% Gwangju as part of the pre-opening program of the theatre of Asia Culture Center (국립아시아문화전당), a full video is available on the production’s website. On the global scope of the “100% City”-format and the “serial nostalgia” it evokes, see also Douglas Eacho’s 2018 paper (Theatre Research International 43.2).

100% Berlin Reloaded by Rimini Protokoll, photo Dorothea Tuch, via Hebbel am Ufer

100% Berlin Reloaded, by Rimini Protokoll, photo Dorothea Tuch, via Hebbel am Ufer

Now the show is back in Berlin where it all started. Like twelve years ago, the cast consists of 100 Berliners who statistically represent the city, according to five criteria (age, gender, occupation, nationality, neighborhood), and perform answers to dozens of questions, touching all kinds of life realities. The answers are staged in various ways, beginning with simple hand signs or groupings, later people reply anonymously (with flashlights in the dark) or form ‘family pictures’ around a given statement (e.g. “I have enacted violence against others.”), there are questions from the audience and questions to the audience, and a moment to take a picture (“Who wants to take a picture of us?”). In some acts, Di Grine Kuzine (“a Berlin-based, klezmer-rooted, Balkan brass band”)  provides some rhythm to the choreography of everyday life in Berlin. In a stunning scene, everyone re-enacts (in pantomime) a typical day, one hour after the other. The final series of questions (“Who thinks he/she won’t be alive in twelve/twenty-four/thirty-six etc. years?”) leads to a full stage and draws the performance to its conclusion.

The makers call this format a “statistical chain-reaction” (e.g. in the introduction to the 2008 production 100% Berlin), because the one hundred citizens are cast through a system of recommendations. One by one, they’re all connected, as indicated in the little book that (instead of a regular program brochure) allows everyone to present her/himself on one page. In the very first scene, everyone passes by on the revolving stage of Hebbel Theater (which inspired the original production) and has the chance to introduce him/herself to the audience. Most persons also show a mascot or some other object for easy identification later on, such as a red gown, a football, or a trolley. When all turn into a large crowd, filling the stage, moving around, regrouping according to the questions, they don’t turn into an anonymous collective. The top-mounted camera that shows their movements from a bird’s-eye view suggests an anthill, small dots on a complex chart.

But actually – and that’s a big part of the fun –  everyone remains, more or less, individual and recognizable. Familiar faces pop up in different constellations, one can follow a single person or several (with one’s eyes, of course) through the ways they make. The moving image that emerges and transforms live on stage, a bit like “Where’s Wally”-books, is interactive in the sense that I can – and have to – choose on who or what to focus or look for. All in all, a great start to three weeks in a great city.

The next day, Saturday, we met at Ku’damm, downtown of the old West-Berlin, where, theatre-wise, Thomas Ostermeyer, director of Schaubühne, rules since the early 2000s. Besides various Shakespeares and Ibsens, he also directed abgrund (abyss), a contemporary play by Maja Zade, which premiered a year ago. After a brief meet-up with a friend and colleague from Seoul, we went into the black box and took our seats. They were way back, but thanks to what seemed like a technical gimmick at first, we were as close to the actors as if we were next to them on stage.

abgrund by Maja Zade, directed by Thomas Ostermeyer, photo: Arno Declair, via schaubühne

abgrund by Maja Zade, directed by Thomas Ostermeyer, photo: Arno Declair, via schaubühne

The actors – playing two conventional cis couples plus two singles having a dinner party – had microphones attached to their face. These were connected to headphones that we, the spectators, were wearing. This was necessary, as the actors spoke in regular voice, without the projection typical of stage acting. They would have been almost inaudible (except, maybe, from the first rows) without the amplification. This technical set-up produced an intimacy I’ve rarely encountered in theatre. It was like a fabricated cocktail party effect, where you zoom in, so to speak, into conversations that otherwise get intermingled when everyone is speaking at the same time. Here, technicians provided the mixing that gave our ears focus, which I checked several times by taking of the headphones for a while – all I heard was an incomprehensible mumbling from stage. (This effect can be grasped, partly, in the video trailer that is available on Youtube.)

So much about the acoustic soundscape, which was, also, the most fascinating part of this evening. The plot – middle-class smalltalk disturbed only slightly by the violent death of a baby next door – was unremarkable but the actors’ dialogues where fun to listen to. In a way, it was an attempt at a psychological portrait, of a semi-creative, semi-alternative, well-saturated class of thirty-somethings some consider emblematic of Berlin (or at least Prenzlauer Berg, where I happen to stay this time). The program book features some related essays that provide a theoretical framework, stressing the social determination of human behavior. The texts range from sociologists like Simmel (on the functions of shared meals) and Bourdieu (on the distinctions the actors enact and display), or Yuval Noah Harari’s thoughts on the evolution of human conversation as a means to socialize, to the story of Kain and Abel from Genesis.

Apart from these underlying concepts, the play consists of much inside talk, some local references (Osloer Straße, Winsstraße, edeka and Rewe, Manufactum etc.), current discourse (refugees: “Flüchtlinge” or “Geflüchtete”, the most obvious one), all quite hard to grasp for non-locals. The English surtitles, projected into the set, otherwise would have been quite helpful for my students, but I think many details got lost (I tried to explain some of those I got afterwards). For details on the production and the director’s concept see Joseph Pearson’s essay “A Glittering Abyss” on Schaubühne’s blog.

It was a fun evening for myself, but as an introduction to Berlin and its theatre, Rimini Protokoll’s “sociological” approach last night was way more informative and entertaining, if not as profound and psychologically plausible. Still, a nice glimpse into the theatrical selves of my generation, maybe as not as interesting to my students, though, who still have some time left before turning thirty-something.

Taking a closer look at life in Berlin, both productions share an interest in the here and now. 100% Berlin Reloaded takes a more quantitative and documentary approach, abgrund is fictional and by putting the characters in an extreme (and likewise fictional?) situation stresses qualitative reactions on a smaller scale. Living means, as we learn day by day, to perform oneself – one’s class, gender, and citizenship, but also one’s emotions and interpersonal relations – in a specific environment, thus contributing to the Berlin we share, even if (in our case) it is only for three weeks.

— 10 & 11 Jan. 2020 (金 & 土)

  • 100% Berlin Reloaded, concept, text & direction: Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi, Daniel Wetzel (Rimini Protokoll), set: Mascha Mazur, Marc Jungreithmeier, research & dramaturgy: Cornelius Puschke, live music: Di Grine Kuzine, assistance direction: Lisa Homburger, production management: Juliane Männel, produced by Rimini Apparat in co-production with HAU Hebbel am Ufer Berlin, funded by Hauptstadtkulturfonds, HAU1, premiere on January 9, 2020, performance on January 10, 2020, 8–9.50pm. [Hebbel am Ufer], [Rimini Protokoll]
  • abgrund, written by Maja Zade, directed by Thomas Ostermeier, set and costume design: Nina Wetzel, video: Sébastien Dupouey, music: Nils Ostendorf, sound design: Jochen Jezussek, dramaturgy: Maja Zade, lighting design: Erich Schneider, with: Christoph Gawenda, Moritz Gottwald, Jenny König, Laurenz Laufenberg, Isabelle Redfern, Alina Stiegler, and Tabea Fromholz / Lucy Kip / Nele Richter, Schaubühne, (world) premiere on April 2, 2019, performance on January 11, 2020 (Sat.), 8.30–10.30pm. [schaubühne]
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In the News: Summer 2019

I posted a list of recent research papers on matters that interest me earlier this winter. Now here are some more reads for the days between the years, mostly grouped in thematic pairs or triplets (ranging from Shakespeare to Space and the Wild West), that I read this summer. I usually stumbled upon these articles through aggregator sites like Arts & Letters Daily, the German portal Perlentaucher, or they were suggested by friends and colleagues on social media.

News in Summer 2019

Two texts on performing celebrity

Heel turns
By Irina Dumitrescu, Times Literary Supplement, Sept. 17, 2019 Link

Dictators: the great performers
From Mussolini to Papa Doc Duvalier, how image and theatre give tyrants their power
By Sue Prideaux, New Statesman, Sept. 18, 2019 Link

Two texts on dance

Can Modern Dance Be Preserved?
By Joan Acocella, New Yorker, July 1, 2019 Link

Dancing with the Ancients
By Alexandra Enders, New York Review of Books, July 20,  2019 Link

Two texts on space

Fifty Years Ago We Landed on the Moon. Why Should We Care Now?
By Jill Lepore, New York Times, June 14, 2019 Link

Liu Cixin’s War of the Worlds
By Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker, June 24, 2019 Link

Two texts on western

The Wild West Meets the Southern Border
By Valeria Luiselli, The New Yorker, 10 June 2019 Link

The Code of the Western: The oldest genre is still alive and kicking
By Terry Teachout, Commentary, March 2019 Link

Two texts on peripheral work in music

Why Page Turners Matter
By Benjamin Poore, VAN, Oct. 3, 2019 Link

What does a conductor do, anyway?
By Anne Midgette, Washington Post, Oct. 2, 2019 Link

Three more texts on music

Alan Lomax and the Search for the Origins of Music
By Geoffrey Clarfield, Tablet, July 19, 2019 Link

The Guardian view on classical music: art or status symbol? (Editorial)
The Guardian, July 4, 2019 Link

All Along the Ivory Tower: Amateur geeks and scholarly nerds come together to discuss Bob Dylan and his music
By Kevin Dettmar, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 11, 2019 Link

Three texts on Shakespeare

Was Shakespeare a Woman?
By Elizabeth Winkler, The Atlantic, June 2019 Link

Looking for Shakespeare’s Library
By Stuart Kells, Lapham’s Quarterly, April 3, 2019 Link

How finding Shakespeare’s lost London home could unlock secrets to his most popular plays
By Nick Smurthwaite, The Stage, July 12, 2019 Link

For more interesting academic thoughts on Shakespeare in Adaptation, see also, always, Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation, in the latest issue with a surprising take on a Korean movie:

Adele Lee, “The Player King and Kingly Players: Inverting Hamlet in Lee Joon-ik’s King and the Clown (2005)”, Borrowers and Lenders VII.1 (fall 2018). Link PDF

Some texts on translation

Carrying a Single Life: On Literature and Translation
By Teju Cole, New York Review of Books, July 5, 2019 Link

This article is adapted from a keynote address given at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, on June 18, 2019.

Lost in Translation: Writing treaties in two languages can lead to unexpected problems
By Tyler McBrien & Prayuj Pushkarna, History Today, July 5, 2019 Link

Translation’s Burden
By Matt Reeck, Public Books, August 8, 2019 Link

Note: This is a review essay on three relatively recent books:

  1. Lawrence Venuti, Contra Instrumentalism: A Translation Polemic, University of Nebraska Press, 2019 Link
  2. Karen Emmerich, Literary Translation and the Making of Originals, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017 Link
  3. Rosemary Arrojo, Fictional Translators: Rethinking Translation through Literature, Routledge, 2017 Link

And, last but not least, a two-part text on some “Long Forgotten Stories of Translation” by Brother Anthony of Taizé, published in Asymptote on August 7 and 8, 2019: part 1, part 2

Two texts on K-pop

South Korea’s Corruption, Exposed by Burning Sun
By CedarBough T. Saeji, Korea Exposé, May 2, 2019 Link

The Seungri Scandal and South Korea’s Gender Disparity
By CedarBough T. Saeji, Korea Exposé, April 13, 2019 Link

… And some random stuff

‘Rejection didn’t hurt my pride – I had none left’: confessions of a failed actor
By Rhik Samadder (@whatsamadder), The Guardian, July 20, 2019 Link

The rise and fall of French cuisine
By Wendell Steavenson, The Guardian, July 16, 2019 Link

Do You Want My Garbage?
By Agnes Callard, The Point, n.d. Link

The Dangerous Art of Pyotr Pavlensky
By Fernanda Eberstadt, New York Times, July 11, 2019 Link

Two texts on DJ Peggy Gou

Finally, two older interviews with DJ Peggy Gou (about whom I’ve first read in ZEIT Magazin). Hear more from her on Soundcloud and Bandcamp:

Ready, Peggy, Go!
Interview by Louise Donovan, Elle, April 2019 Link

Peggy Gou is winning over the world. In a one-off lecture, she’s coming home to reflect on the journey
The Fader, 15 March 2018 Link

— July–Sept. 2019

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Academic Articles on (Mostly) Korean Performing Arts in Summer 2019

In the last month, quite a few papers on Korean theatre, music, dance etc. and related issues came out (including one by myself on performing arts heritage development). This is my to-read list from this summer.

First a special shout-out to CedarBough Saeji’s guest post at Second Face: Museum of Cultural Masks (a website dedicated to all things masks), a great introduction to “Masked Dance Dramas of the Korean Peninsula”.

The following papers are listed in alphabetical order:

Hyun Kyong Hannah Chang, “Singing and Praying among Korean Christian Converts (1896–1915): A Trans-Pacific Genealogy of the Modern Korean Voice”, The Oxford Handbook of Voice Studies, edited by Nina Sun Eidsheim and Katherine Meizel, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2019. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199982295.013.18

Abstract: In late nineteenth-century Korea, American-style hymn-singing and the related practice of praying began in missionary churches as the number of Christian converts grew at an ex­ ceptional rate that was not replicated in any other parts of Asia. Born within the context of colonial pressures from the United States and Japan, Korean Christian singing and praying in the early-twentieth century exhibit a trans-Pacific genealogy of the modern Ko­ rean voice, that is, a genealogy that materialized at the intersection of Pacific colonial projects, local experiences, and pre-existing cosmologies. This chapter investigates Kore­ an Christian singing and praying by examining missionary and Korean records, as well as some Japanese colonial sources. Activities directed by the missionaries, hymn-singing, and praying among Korean converts reflected a network of American aesthetic, moral, and economic ideologies. The author argues that Korean Christian singing and praying formed a complex site in which North American religious practices and Korean social mo­ bilization converged in the contexts of Japanese colonialism and US-Japan rivalry in the Pacific. This inquiry allows the author to hear and describe not a Korean voice in mimesis of or opposition to the West, but a trans-Pacific voice, exhibiting a trans-Pacific genealogy. The voice, then, can be understood as a kind of technology through which Korean con­ verts negotiated their way into a “global history” not as full agents or subjects, but in their markedly compromised positions, within multiple shifting power relationships.

  • Seokhun Choi, “Pansori Hamlet Project: Taroo’s New Pansori Shakespeare for the Local Audience”, Asian Theatre Journal 36.2, (Fall 2019): 349–369. DOI: 10.1353/atj.2019.0025. Link via Project Muse

Abstract: This essay focuses on the South Korean performance group Taroo’s locally-oriented aesthetics in Pansori Hamlet Project (2014) as an alternative model to the notion of “Global Shakespeare” which presupposes intercultural spectatorship as well as intercultural practice. A natural corollary of this “global” discourse is overlooking smallscale productions and verbal genres such as pansori despite their artistic merit and cultural significance for the local audience. Taroo’s pansori Shakespeare features four Hamlets who tell the story of the Danish prince with reference to Korean popular culture in local dialects. The pluralization and localization of the Shakespeare’s melancholic hero transform Hamlet into a play of contemporary Korean young adults going through a difficult time together while recreating the traditional form of pansori as a popular genre they call “gugak musical.” Taroo’s pansori adaptation showcases a local Shakespeare that is not motivated by “bardolatry” or universalism underlying many intercultural Shakespeares but relies on indigenous language and music as a powerful vehicle of sympathy and renewal of tradition for the local audience.

PS: The same issue of the Asian Theatre Journal also contains two reviews of Korea-related books:

    • Jungmin Song, review of Elizabeth W. Son, Embodied Reckonings: “Comfort Women,” Performance, and Transpacific Redress (U of Michigan Press, 2018), Asian Theatre Journal 36.2, (Fall 2019): 496–498, DOI: 10.1353/atj.2019.0038) Link via Project Muse
    • John D. Swain, review of Jeungsook Yoo, A Korean Approach to Actor Training (Routledge, 2018), Asian Theatre Journal 36.2, (Fall 2019): 517–520, DOI: 10.1353/atj.2019.0045). Link via Project Muse
  • Jocelyn Clark, “SsingSsing DanceDance: Playing on Gender in Korea’s 21st Century Traditional Performing Arts”, Culture and Empathy 2.2: 116-130, DOI: 10.32860/26356619/2019/2.2.0005.

Abstract: Gender identity would seem to be more settled in the world of traditional Korean music and dance than in any other corner of the world of performing arts. Classical gagok songs are divided into female and male repertoires, and women and men both dress in the gendered costumes of the Joseon Dynasty (hanbok) as they perform ultimate expressions of Korean moral rectitude—the story of the faithful wife, the filial daughter, the benevolent brother, the loyal minister. But a closer look reveals that gender roles in the old forms are not quite so fixed. This is particularly true, and increasingly so, in Korea’s traditional folk genres. Internationally renowned cross- dressing Geonggi Folksong (minyo) singer Lee Hee-moon, with his various ensembles, including SsingSsing, is but one of many Korean artists playing with the eum (yin) and yang of gender in their performances of traditional arts today. Among Lee’s mentors and collaborators, the traditional/avant-garde Korean dancer and choreographer Ahn Eun-Me is composing, choreographing, and performing irreverent and transporting works that, through movement, makeup, and continuous exchange of costumes, seek to redefine Korean gender ideals. Both Lee and Ahn point to Korea’s roots in shamanic ritual, in which shamans channel and embody both male and female gods and spirits, as a source of inspiration for their work. This article looks at modern performances by Lee Hee-Moon, SsingSsing, and Ahn Eun-me, exploring the ways these artists are breaking down old notions of gender while carrying forward into a digital space dominated by the popular genres of the Korean Wave their updated renderings of traditional Korean music and dance.

  • Matthew Isaac Cohen, “Three Eras of Indonesian Arts Diplomacy”, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 175 (2019): 253–283. DOI: 10.1163/22134379-17502022.

Abstract: Sukarno took a personal interest in using the arts for presenting Indonesia in a positive light. He oversaw cultural missions abroad and produced ‘cultural events’ that showed off his grace and charisma on the dance floor to overseas guests. While Soeharto showed little interest in the arts, new modes of arts diplomacy flourished during the New Order—scholarships for foreigners to study arts, artists in residence at Indonesian embassies, large-scale festivals aiming to facilitate artistic exchange and encourage foreign investments, to name but a few. In Indonesia today, arts diplomacy is represented by its own sub-directorate in the Ministry of Education and Culture. Indonesia is promoting itself through collaborations between Indonesian governmental agencies and professional, international producing bodies, galleries, and festivals. Cultural Houses are being built in key cities abroad, along with a nation-wide platform for international festivals, Indonesiana. ‘Indonesianists’, including foreign academics and students of the arts, are being recruited to promote Indonesia abroad.

  • Jayoung Joo, “In Search of Asylum: Solitary Singing Practice in Koin Norae-Bang by Contemporary Korean Young People”, Asian Music 50.1 (Winter/Spring 2019): 3–27, DOI: 10.1353/amu.2019.0001. /// via ProjectMUSE:

Abstract: This article explores the phenomenon of solo singing by Korean young people in koin norae-bang, a new type of karaoke that recently emerged in South Korea. Given the commonly held notion of singing as a form of communicative expression performed with and for others, solo karaoke singing seems to contradict conventional wisdom and requires rethinking it. Although this solo singing is a very private practice, I investigate its diverse dimensions, including not just the self-satisfaction derived from it on the personal level but also the sociocultural contexts in which this practice is produced. Solitary singing implies that the performer expresses the self to the self without being disturbed by others. Getting away from the pressure to impress audiences, as in the social performance of traditional norae-bang (karaoke) scenes, individuals reveal their feelings and emotions freely by singing whatever they want in koin norae-bang. And they are keenly aware of how this singing practice helps change and improve their feeling and mood. The koin norae-bang phenomenon has also much to do with the socioeconomic circumstances confronting Korean young people today. As a leisure form, it reflects the worsening living conditions of these young people, who are forced to live in isolation and experience economic marginalization. Koin norae-bang, in this context, plays a role as a haven for these young Koreans, in which they comfort themselves and soothe their isolation and marginalization by singing alone.

  • German N. Kim and Youngsarm Hwang, “Korean Theater in Kazakhstan as a Cultural Hub of the Diaspora”, Korea Journal 59.2 (Summer 2019): 177–201. Open Access (choose in the table of contents)

Abstract: For Soviet Koreans the Korean theater, founded by amateur groups in Vladivostok, became the embodiment of ethnic art, literature, music, dance and costume. After its deportation, the theater worked in Kyzyl-Orda (1937–41; 1959–68) and Ushtobe (1942–59). It moved to Alma-Ata in 1966 and has been based there ever since. For over 85 years, the Korean theater has been maintaining and promoting national culture among not only the Korean diaspora but also the diverse ethnic populations of the Soviet Union. The promoting the cultural interests of the country of origin in a multiethnic environment. This means that the theater’s mission regarding Koreans in the former Soviet Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was and still is twofold: “diaspora building” and “Diaspora intergration.” The recent challenges and trends faced by this unique diasporic theater demands a synergy between the Korean diaspora and its ethnic motherland’s efforts.

  • Jina E. Kim, “Between Documentation and Dramatization: Modes of Critique in South Korean Yushin-Era Radio Culture.” positions: asia critique 27.2 (2019): 397–420. Project MUSE,

Abstract: Mass media radio culture and literature occupied an important and large space in the making of 1970s culture under Park Chung Hee’s Yushin regime. Radio technology and the sounds produced by radio broadcasting indelibly came to be used by the state to maneuver and discipline the masses, but it was also a medium through which programs and listeners found creative outlets to question state-produced truths. Against the popular belief that documentary texts are based on facts, and as sites for reproducing the real, most documentaries can be read as dramatizations working within the dramatic economy of their given medium. South Korean radio used the documentary turn in the 1960s and 1970s as a way of responding to the growing repressive regime and technological innovations. These documentaries specifically used dramatization to reenact truth and reality. Therefore, docudramas can be heard as a site of an intricate drama being played out among the state, mass media, and listeners, who are after all interested in trying to translate what is real and true. Doing so opens up possibilities for situating documentaries in line with work that produces new, creative meanings rather than work that merely reproduces or adheres to hegemonic beliefs and practices.
This article analyzes 1970s South Korean radio culture by juxtaposing one of the most popular radio docudramas of that decade, Pŏpch’ang yahwa (Anecdotes of Law and Order), with Ch’oe In-hun’s linked novel The Voice of the Governor General to suggest that even amid Park Chung Hee’s Yushin era, which enforced media censorship and dictated nationalist propaganda, documentation and dramatization in radio enthusiastically played with alternative truths. This, the author argues, happened in radio broadcasting because its sori, or sound, drew a contingent fidelity among the state, radio (broadcasters and authors), and listeners (implied and real) where truth could be held in suspension and engage in producing sonic imagination. The author shows that the radio and auditory texts complicate the idea of fidelity precisely because sound and voice have been “seen” as ephemeral and contingent, whereas vision and reading are linked to fidelity and truth.

  • Kyounghye Kwon, “Korean Traditional Puppetry and Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH).” Puppetry International 45 (spring/summer 2019): 14–17.

Abstract: The article discusses a research which shows the intangible cultural property in South Korea. It highlights the promulgation of the cultural property protection law to preserve cultural properties and promote cultural aspiration nationwide. An overview on the puppetry theater and performances in the country, is also emphasized.

  • Kyounghye Kwon, “Women, Marriage, Femininities: “Kkokdu Gaksi Geori” (or the “Love Triangle” Scene) in the Korean Traditional Puppet Play.” Women and Puppetry: Critical and Historical Investigations, edited by Alissa Mello, Claudia Orenstein, and Cariad Astles, Routledge, 2019, pp. 50–65.
  • Donna Lee Kwon, “Discrepant Kisses: The Reception and Remediation of North Korean Children’s Performances Circulated on Social Media”, Music and Politics 13.1 (2019), DOI: 10.3998/mp.9460447.0013.107. Link

Abstract: This article explores the burgeoning realm of videos uploaded on YouTube generated from content produced in North Korea otherwise known as the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). Through state-sanctioned and individual channels, thousands of videos of North Korean music and dance have been uploaded, some resulting in over 57 million hits on YouTube. Taking a cue from this fascination, I employ digital ethnography to investigate the online reception and remediation of North Korean children’s performances alongside their online comments on YouTube. I also draw from fieldwork conducted in North Korea in 2007. Theories that espouse the democratic participatory effects of social media platforms do not apply in North Korea where most of the uploaded material is produced and controlled by the state. Given this, I argue that North Korea’s engagement with social media is marked by a profound disjuncture where the majority of videos portray ideological North Korean subjects in an online context where very few North Korean citizens are able to engage with this material as social media. I analyze how this disjuncture plays out as international users respond to and remediate these videos in various ways or by creating mash-ups that subvert their original ideological content.

  • Adele Lee, “The Player King and Kingly Players: Inverting Hamlet in Lee Joon-ik’s King and the Clown (2005)”, Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation 12.1 (Fall 2018). Link

Abstract: Set during the reign of King Yeonsan (1476-1506), King and the Clown (Wang-ui Namja, dir. Lee Joon-ik, 2005) is an (overlooked) adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet that grafts the play onto Korean history and retells the story from the perspective of the traveling players. Employed to help Yeonsan confront and explore his unresolved (Oedipal) issues and to “catch the conscience” (2.2.582) of corrupt officials, the troupe finds itself dangerously embroiled in court politics and asked to stage a number of theatrical “mousetraps” to the point where the interior plays supersede the exterior film. By making the “clowns” the heroes and the plays-within-the-film the main foci, King and the Clown threatens to turn Shakespeare’s Hamlet inside out, structurally and thematically, an inversion that reflects South Korean resistance to western cultural hegemony. This paper will explore the ways in which Lee’s carnivalesque film functions to decenter the “original,” as well as to blur the lines of distinction between the stage and the screen, the local and the global.

  • Dong-ha Seo, “The International Actors Ensemble’s Musical Adaptation of Romeo and Juliet in Korea and its Viability”, International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies 17.1 (January 2019): 1–9, DOI: 10.18848/2327-0055/CGP/v17i01/1-9.

Abstract: This article examines the International Actors Ensemble’s production of “Hey No Nonny” (2017), which promises to present the so-called “nouvelle vague” of Shakespeare adaptation. Eleven actors from Korea, the US, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and Italy put together a contemporary adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” with six different languages and Pansori (Korean traditional music) on stage. While the adaptation aims to make full use of the characteristics of the multinational Shakespearean drama, I am particularly interested in the way in which Korea and “world” meet. This multilingual adaptation, as others have done, provides the audience with the combination of understanding and misunderstanding of linguistic divisions. However, it differs from other multilingual adaptations in dissolving the difference between the local and the global by means of blending different languages of different actors through the medium of musical sound. Korean traditional music and Western contemporary music are played separately but soon blend in musical harmony. Here, Shakespeare is now being experienced throughout harmonic sounds, both instrumental and vocal. In addition, it is worth noting that this adaptation, exploiting Shakespeare’s boundary-crossing theme in his original play (a young couple’s crossing between two conflicting houses), inserts a (national and cultural) boundary crossing as its basic form (multilingual Verona). Seeing “Hey No Nonny,” for example from the perspective of Patrice Pavis’s notion of “the global work,” presents us a promising way to experience multicultural Shakespeare without eliminating all of his original language and explore the innate desire of boundary crossing in his works.

  • Anna Yates-Lu, “Aligning tradition and creativity: preserving pansori in South Korea”, International Journal of Intangible Heritage 14 (2019): 49–65.

Abstract: In 2016, the South Korean government implemented the Act on the Safeguarding and Promotion of Intangible Cultural Properties (Muhyeong munhwajae bojeon mit jinheung e gwanhan beomnyul), thus entering a new stage in the preservation of intangible cultural heritage. Through tracing the development of the preservation of pansori, a sung storytelling art form which was amongst the first to be designated as intangible cultural heritage in Korea in 1964, I discuss how patterns of preservation strategies have emerged, as well as how these are being targeted by the new legislation. Although it is still too early to observe the lasting effects of the new legislation, an analysis of the critiques of the previous system, as well as the hopes pinned on the future, will indicate potential future trends.

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Between Preservation and Change: Performing Arts Heritage Development in South Korea & Other Papers on Heritage Development in Asia

My paper “Between Preservation and Change: Performing Arts Heritage Development in South Korea” has come out in the journal Asian Education and Development Studies. I wrote this paper early last year on winter break in Jejudo, with a snow storm outside, and now it’s available online via Emerald Insight.

The other papers in this special issue on heritage development in Asia also look very interesting — topics include, among others, cultural tourism in Japan, food heritage in Hong Kong, or Cantonese opera… (see below for full bibliographic information).

Most papers use original ethnographic research and I’m looking very much forward to read them! In my paper, classified as “conceptual”, I take more of a bird-eye view and compare the three traditional Korean genres pansori (판소리, singing-storytelling), pungmul (풍물 percussion-dance), and talnori (탈놀이 mask dance drama), as well as derived genres such as changgeuk (창극), samulnori (사물놀이), madang-geuk (마당극) etc. with regard to common patterns, divergences, and potential uses outside of protected heritage culture (e.g. political protest, commercial entertainment), as well as the underlying reasons.

From the abstract of my paper:

The purpose of this paper is to explore how traditional performers practice their arts in South Korea. The analysis focuses on the transformations of performance conventions and contexts, as well as on new genres that developed in response to heritage legislation and social change during the last 200 years.

If you’d like to read the paper(s) but don’t have an institutional subscription, let me know!

Last but not least, I’d like to thank Sidney Cheung (editor of the special issue), Sonny Lo (managing editor of AEDS), two anonymous reviewers, and CedarBough T. Saeji who suggested me for this special issue. And of course Ko Hyun Joo who let us stay at her beautiful (and wonderfully calm) place during that snowy winter!

— 7 Oct. 2019 (月)

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Conference Notes from Shanghai part5 (conclusion) #IFTR2019

This is the concluding (fifth) post about my time in Shanghai, covering the remaining days after the IFTR (International Federation for Theatre Research) conference 2019, held this summer (July 8–12, 2019) at Shanghai Theatre Academy (STA, 上海戏剧学院), had ended.

See part1, part2, part3, and part4 about the conference


With the conference behind me, I used the last days to explore Shanghai a little bit. I had made brief visits to the City God Temple (上海城隍庙) and “The Bund” (or Waitan 外滩, the “outer bank” of the river), already with some colleagues during the week. Now, on the rainy Saturday, we strolled around the People’s Square, passed by the infamous wedding market where parents (?) look for matching partners for their child, whose specs (as it would be called in Korea) are advertised on cardboards, thought about visiting an exhibition on city development, and saw a Korean restaurant, too. 

Wedding market on People’s Square

Wedding market on People’s Square

We finally decided to visit the Shanghai History Museum (上海市历史博物馆). Among the many objects, the section on early 20th century theatre and cinema in Shanghai was particularly interesting – see some images below:

Jin Yan’s ash tray

Jin Yan’s ash tray

A small highlight was the ash tray of movie star Jin Yan (金焰, 1910–83). He was born Kim Deok-rin (김덕린; 金德麟) in Hanseong (漢城, today Seoul) in 1910, then followed his father, an independence fighter, to Manchuria. After his father’s death Jin Yang came to Shanghai and later became naturalized as a Chinese citizen. There’s a book on him by Richard J. Meyer, Jin Yan: The Rudolph Valentino of Shanghai (Hong Kong UP, 2009, some samples at Google Books, full book apparently available to those with matching access on JSTOR).

There is also a diorama on the Jewish refugees who found shelter in the “open city” Shanghai during World War 2. The dedicated Jewish Refugee Museum we wanted to visit next was closing as we arrived, unfortunately, so instead we walked a bit around the neighbourhood.

Next to the museum is “Zum weisen Rössl” (White Horse Inn 白马咖啡馆), a former neighbourhood café and meeting place for the diaspora, that had been torn down some ten years ago, only to be rebuilt and reopened recently. (See the story of this place in multiple languages via Shanghai International Studies University.)

“Zum weisen Rössl” (White Horse Inn 白马咖啡馆)

White Horse Inn

After dinner on Saturday night, the others took off to the airport. Everyone I knew had left now and all of a sudden I got the irresistible urge to go to the theatre. What would a visit to China be without seeing some show? So I browsed around the internet and found several options for Sunday. The usual time for weekend matinés seems to be 2pm, so I had to make a choice. I finally decided on Letter from an Unknown Woman (一个陌生女人的来信), directed by Meng Jing-Hui (孟京辉), which was on at the Shanghai Grand Theatre (上海大剧院). (Here is information in Chinese) Thanks to some copy-and-paste action, I figured out that the production was based on a German novella, namely “Brief einer Unbekannten” (1922) by Stefan Zweig. (Here is some English information, including the interesting fact that the novella has been adapted as a movie, by Xu Jinglei in 2004.) Given that I don’t know any Chinese, I decided to read the original text (via Projekt Gutenberg) first, but only after securing a ticket. 

I had seen that there was a place selling tickets just around my corner, so I went out for a quick walk and checked it out. The door in the wall was closed, though, which wasn’t very surprising around midnight. But when I returned in the morning it was clear that it wouldn’t open anytime soon.

Majestic Theatre at night…

Majestic Theatre at night…

The wall with the closed door was part of a beautiful theatre, the (former) Majestic Theatre (美琪大戏院), originally built as a movie theatre in 1941, as I learned from a plaque across the street. Now the theatre is designated a “Monument under the Protection of Shanghai Municipality” (上海市文物保护单位), but still operating (see some images and interesting comments at Shanghai Street Stories). There were some musicals on the bill, but I was set on Meng/Zweig and didn’t have enough money, anyways…

…and day

…and day

So the next morning I went again to the People’s Square, where I had seen the gigantic Grand Theatre already from afar on Saturday.

Now the building was deserted, but the ticket booth was open. Unfortunately, the show was already sold out…

I decided not to abandon any hope and found a place for lunch, after reading Zweig’s novella in the park. It was a warm day and the wedding market was booming, there was even a foreign section. Besides some impressive social-realism art, I also saw another Grand Theatre across the street. (The English name is the same, but the Chinese name [大光明电影院] clearly indicates that this is a movie theatre.)



Anyway, I returned to the ticket booth around half past twelve. Of course, there were no tickets. All the same. But I decided to stick around. People came and went, getting tickets at the counter or from the vending machines.

While more and more people were entering, some guys, who I had seen hanging out in front of the theatre before, began to sell tickets. Those I asked didn’t want to sell me one, though. I assumed they were handing out tickets prepaid online, but wasn’t quite sure. Finally, after asking around, one told me to rest calm and wait for him. I waited, walked around, waited and waited. 

It was now five minutes before two o’clock and I had come towards the side entrance leading to the “Buick Theatre”, where the show was supposed to be. People were streaming in, footsteps increasing in pace. Some were still standing around, others started running. My man was somewhere across the court. It was three to two now. I glanced towards him, put a question mark on my face. All of a sudden he waved to me while talking to a guy who apparently had one leftover ticket. I was approaching and saw money changing hands. Suddenly I realized that I had about one hundred Yuan left. Would that be enough? The money the man had paid for the leftover ticket had looked like a 100-Yuan bill…

It was now one minute before two and the man handed me a last-minute ticket. Two hundred and fifty Yuan! Probably a great seat, but above my capacities. I opened my purse and handed over my last 100-Yuan bill, sure he would insist on the full price. But suddenly I remembered that I also had some Euro left, so I gave him another 20-Euro bill. He checked with someone else how much that would be but seemed to agree with me that this amount more or less to the missing 150 Yuan (I checked later and it was about right, fortunately). So I got my ticket, ran towards the entrance, past the safety conveyor belt, stepped on someone’s toes and was sitting the moment the announcer knocked on the microphone to announce the play. Lights went off… 

And Huang Xiang-li (黄湘丽), the only actress (remember, it was a monodrama) entered the stage with a walkman, maybe listening to music, then started to speak – in German!? I couldn’t believe it but soon figured out that she probably was listening to a recording and repeating verbatim. A great way to start the performance with a bit of alienation, which worked differently, but nevertheless quite effectively, for me, too. 

The rest was Chinese. But even though I couldn’t understand a word, I could roughly follow along the visually, bodily impressive production – so much for now, more on the play at a later time!

Later, I walked the neighbourhood boulevards, looking at overpriced accessories.

Everyday use of technology in Shanghai is also quite impressive.

In the evening I saw two performances in Jingan Park, literally back to back: A karaoke station where everyone could sing his or her favorite song. And a rock band playing to a growing crowd.

The next day, I walked through Tianshan Park and bought some tea in an almost deserted arcade.

Then I took the plane back to Seoul.

— 13–15 July 2019 (土–月)

Posted in Abroad, Museum Trips, Spoken Drama, Theatre Buildings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Conference Notes from Shanghai part4 #IFTR2019

IFTR 2019 ShanghaiThese are some notes on the conference held by the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR, 世界戏剧研究联盟) this summer (July 8–12, 2019) at Shanghai Theatre Academy (STA, 上海戏剧学院). I haven’t been to such a large-scale academic event in a while and it was a bit overwhelming at times, but thanks to a dozen panels going on at the same time, there was always something interesting going on. And I was in China for the first time, too…

See part1, part2, and part3


Some highlights from the last two days of the IFTR conference (see below for a list of the talks I attended, times are of the respective panel):

On Thursday, in the “Translation, Adaptation and Dramaturgy” Working Group, Barbara Leonesi (University of Torino) discussed a radical re-interpretation of Teahouse (茶館), a classic modernist play by Lao She (老舍, 1899–1966) that was adapted by Meng Jinghui (孟京辉, *1964). The production premiered at Wuzhen Theatre Festival last year, causing stirs (see some press coverage), and is now to be shown at the Festival d’Avignon (July 9–20, 2019), with a translation provided by Claire Conceison (who later wrote a post on the production process and the reception in France for the MCLC Resource Center). The synopsis of Teahouse on the festival’s homepage is short: “The life of a teahouse challenging the wheel of time to reveal the mutations of Chinese society and a yearning for freedom”. Leonesi’s presentation revealed the various layers of the production, from the inclusion of different texts by Lao She but also by European authors like Brecht, Heiner Müller and others, that lead to new subtexts, to the idea of the circularity and “destructive power” of time that permeated the production, visualized by a giant movable stage-construction (the “wheel of time”). Much food for thought—and the hope that this production will come to Korea, too!

Barbara Leonesi on Meng Jinghui

Barbara Leonesi on Meng Jinghui’s Teahouse

The second presentation by Giselle Garcia (University of Exeter) deals with Makbet, a production by director Nonon Padilla (based on Rolando Tinio’s  Tagalog translation) of, you guessed it, the Scottish Play (see a review by Mina Deocareza). The highly re-contextualized production (“Shakespeare localized beyond metaphor”) featured English surtitles, interestingly not re-translated from the script but reverting to Shakespeare’s original, catering to code-switching upper-class audiences who might feel more familiar (and comfortable) with the classical text than with the Filippino translation/adaptation. (I remember a similar situation, original Shakespeare subtitles for a localized adaptation, when attending a changgeuk version of Romeo and Juliet at the National Theater of Korea; of course, the status of English and the implications for theatre audiences are very different here…) Garcia interpreted the production as a “comment on the audience demographics”  and the privilege it embodies, which becomes clear in the surtitling that catches the eye. The hierarchized bilingualism the production implies, thus my understanding, can arouse both the pride and the shame of the neo-colonial frame that Shakespeare evokes, contrasting it with the realities of the ruling regime of populist president Rodrigo Duterte that is referenced.

Giselle Garcia on Makbet

Giselle Garcia on Makbet

The following discussion suggested a clear difference (also depending on place, obviously) of global and local classics. In China, Barbara Leonesi noted, Shakespeare is nowadays basically “free-for-all material” that is used to speak to Chinese audiences, while Chinese classics (such as Lao She’s Teahouse) are treated differently, almost untouchable, “protected rather than deconstructed” – which seems to be one cause of the scandal over Meng’s adaptation.

In (South) Korea, where “canonical” productions of Shakespeare (especially of rarely played works) co-exist, , localized adaptations, cross-genre works, and other derivations nevertheless dominate are on the rise (see my post on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death). With regard to modern classics of Western origin, traditional productions seem to dominate. “Second” productions of Korean original works, on the other hand, are relatively rare, as smaller ensembles rather play new works than replay existing ones. An exception is an ongoing series dedicated to the “rediscovery of modern plays” (근현대 희곡의 재발견) by the National Theater Company of Korea (국립극단). (Just now, a restaging of the play Binghwa [빙화] from 1940, written by acknowledged pro-Japanese collaborator Im Seon-gyu [임선규], to be shown this September, has been cancelled amidst the Korean-Japanese trade war).

In any case, the discussion left a lot of intriguing open questions on the role of classics, translation and adaptation, horizons of expectation etc. in Asia and non-Western parts of the world in general.

On Thursday afternoon I took a bit time off to visit Shanghai with some colleagues.

Shanghai street

We went to the City God Temple:

Shanghai City God Temple

And a visit to Shanghai can’t be complete without this postcard image, taken at the Bund, or Waitan (外灘, lit. “outer beach”), as the riverfront is known in Chinese. “The Bund”, according to Wikipedia derived from Persian, means something similar to “embankment” or dam.

Shanghai – Bund (day)

Shanghai – Bund (night)

A curated panel by the “Historiography” Working Group early on Friday was just a wonderful start of the last conference day: three rich (his)stories about different times, places, institutions – a 19th century amateur theatre club in Berlin, an early 20th century touring theatre-turned national theatre in Australia, and a public theatre in the UK throughout the last sixty years.

Meike Wagner (Stockholm University) discussed how in the Berlin theatre club “Urania”, a “safe space” with its own democratic constitution that allowed for free speech, a “common language of citizens” developed. At the same time, this playground for civic society was characterized by the exclusion, at least in the early years, of workers, jews, and women, and the “educated performer” celebrated by members and their friends (a recommendation system allowed for associated to attend performances) stood in stark contrast to travelling performers of earlier times who operated on the brink of society.

Meike Wagner on Berlin theater club Urania

Meike Wagner on Berlin theater club Urania

Laura Ginters (University of Sydney) traced the fascinating career of travelling theatre pioneer Kate Howarde (1968–1939). While maybe best-remembered for Possum Paddock, her 1919 play (later also a movie) that was set in the bush and became an iconic work of “Australian-ness”, her decades of theatrical activities shook up the imaginary binary of city and bush. When Howarde temporarily settled down, she opened up the “suburb” for art, turning the formerly female-connotated space, situated somewhere between civilized city and primordial bush, into a “third space” for theatre. 

Laura Ginters on theatre in the suburbs

Laura Ginters on theatre in the (Australian) suburbs

Claire Cochrane (University of Worcester) concluded the panel with a critical discussion of the development of “The Rep” (Birmingham Repertory Theatre) throughout the last decades, from a small, modernist theatre of 500 seats that moved to a redeveloped area, the Centenary Square, and was subsequently integrated into a larger complex with the municipal library. An interesting talk of applied historiography, considered a “re-arrangement of the historical record”.

Claire Cochrane on the Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Claire Cochrane on the Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Together, these three talks were a perfect reminder of how fascinating historiography can be. I used to eschew bygone productions in favor of live performances I could attend in person, but the more I learn from research like this, the more I dig into documents myself, the more I appreciate the past in all its diversity and ambivalence.

In the next panel I attended, a talk on the use of chinoiserie in early (18th century) US-American theatre by Esther Kim Lee (Duke University) stood out. First, she showed how chinoiserie was common practice in interior design and persisted while pre-revolutionary (exterior) architecture, often modeled on European neo-classicism, transformed to post-revolutionary federal-style. In a similar vein, on-stage chinoiserie featured in costumes, stage and prop design, as well as make-up, confining the imaginary “China” to a realm of the “decorative, ornamental, theatrical”. While Chinese imagery remained firmly in this “heterotopia”, real Chinese migrants were excluded from society. A great presentation that sparked discussions on various concurrent issues, including yellow-face and colorblind casting.

Esther Kim Lee on Chinese imagery in early American theatre

Esther Kim Lee on Chinese imagery in early American theatre

During lunch break, the “Asian Theatre” working group had a book launch: An edited volume titled Modernization of Asian Theatres: Process and Tradition (edited by Yasushi Nagata and Ravi Chaturvedi, Singapore: Springer, 2019, DOI: 10.1007/978-981-13-6046-6). The book is available online for those with an institutional subscription. In the South-Asian market, the exact same book (with color plates instead of black-and-white, I believe) is available from Rawat Publications, Jaipur/India.

Book launch at the “Asian Theatre” Working Group

Book launch at the “Asian Theatre” Working Group

According to the blurb,

Modernization of Asian Theatres: Process and Tradition edited by Yasushi Nagata, Ravi ChaturvediThe volume discusses the conflict between tradition and modernity in theatre, suggesting that the problems of modernity are closely related to the idea of tradition. Although Asian countries preserved the traditional form and values of their respective theatres, they had to also confront the newly introduced values or mechanisms of European modernity. Several papers in this volume therefore provide critical surveys of the history of theatre modernization in Asian countries or regions—Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India Malaysia, Singapore, and Uyghur. Other papers focus on specific case studies of the history of modernization, discussing contemporary Taiwanese performances, translations of modern French comedy into Chinese, the modernization of Chinese Xiqu, modern Okinawan plays, Malaysian traditional performances, Korean national theatre, and Japanese plays during World War II.

Jean Graham-Jones, parting IFTR President with conference volunteers

Jean Graham-Jones, parting IFTR President, with conference volunteers

The end of the conference came a bit abruptly—like the rain that reached a peak when everyone gathered in front of the Experimental Theatre for a group photo (see the Shanghai Theatre Academy’s concluding report).

final group photo in the rain

A bit surprised by the video that students had shot throughout the week and apparently cut the night before, thankful to the dozens of volunteers (one Mr Wang in particular), tired and at the same time eager to see more of this city, and wondering whether I’d be able to make it to Galway, Ireland next year, the conference concluded. I had still a few more days in Shanghai, though, on which I’ll write in the final part of this series, soon to come –

— 11–12 July 2019 (木–金)

  • Barbara Leonesi, “Interpretation, Adaptation or Appropriation: Meng Jinghui’s Production of Teahouse”, July 11, 2019, 11am.
  • Giselle Garcia, “Dislocated and Dangerous: Barriers in Makbet”, July 11, 2019, 11am.
  • Meike Wagner, “Amateur Theatre, ‘Geselligkeit’, and Urban Culture in Berlin around 1800”, July 12, 2019, 9am.
  • Laura Ginters, “Neither Rural, nor City: Making Theatre in the Suburbs: Kate Howarde and the National Theatre, Balmain”, July 12, 2019, 9am.
  • Claire Elizabeth Cochrane, “The City’s Theatre: Arranging the Record of Change”, July 12, 2019, 9am.
  • Esther Kim Lee, “Chinese Palaces in Early American Cities: The Circulation and Reception of Theatricalized Chinese Images in Charleston, Philadelphia, and New York City in the Eighteenth Century”, July 12, 2019, 11am.
  • Wei Zhang, “Sichuan and Classical Flavor in Theatrical Innovation: Hu Chengde’s Chuanju Adaptation of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle”, July 12, 2019, 11am.
  • David Wiles, “Democracy and Theatre”, July 12, 2019, 2pm.
  • Magnus Thor Thorbergsson, “The Viking, the Mormon and the Mountain Lady: Staging Hybrid Identities Among Icelandic-American Mormons”, July 12, 2019, 2pm.
Posted in Abroad, Academia, Shakespeare, Spoken Drama | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Conference Notes from Shanghai part3 #IFTR2019

These are some notes on the conference held by the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR, 世界戏剧研究联盟) this summer (July 8–12, 2019) at Shanghai Theatre Academy (STA, 上海戏剧学院). I haven’t been to such a large-scale academic event in a while and it was a bit overwhelming at times, but thanks to a dozen panels going on at the same time, there was always something interesting going on. And I was in China for the first time, too…

See part1 and part2


Wednesday, back again at the Shanghai Theatre Academy, was a day full of interesting stuff. With our panel done, the more relaxed part of the conference had begun. 

I visited the “Asian Theatre” Working Group in the morning, who held a panel on “Intercultural Thinking”. Unfortunately, two of the three announced speakers were not there, but thanks to the paper by Tsu-Chung Su (National Taiwan Normal University) on an intercultural (or rather psychophysical “Asian cocktail”) staging of Beckett’s *Not I* by Phillip Zarrilli, a piece for an illuminated “Mouth” and an “Auditor” on the side. Different from earlier productions, Zarrilli took special care that the lead (in the role of “Mouth”) would be comfortable during the 15-minute-monologue, unlike, for instance, Billie Whitelaw who suffered back injuries in her 1973 performance (see a video on Youtube).

Tsu-Chung Su talking about Zarrilli’s production of Beckett’s “Not Me”

The next panel was on “Reinvigorating Communities: Performance, Resistance and the Neo-Liberal Present” and featured talks on two productions that, in a way, offered (as Susan Bennett, discussant of the panel, suggested, if I remember correctly) “curated listening as a counter-measure to visual overflow”. First, Helena Grehan (Murdoch University) discussed a scene of questioning one’s own intellectual disabilities from The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes, a production by Australian ensemble Back to Back, and Shilpa Gupta’s For in Your Tongue I Cannot Fit, an (sound-)installation that gives voice to imprisoned poets. Then Peter Eckersall (Graduate Center, CUNY) talked about the collaborative performance work Complexity of Belonging by Anouk van Dijk and Falk Richter, which, with its “fluid dramaturgy” that includes video, lighting, and soundscapes, questions the limits of our social relations. The interesting discussion that followed also touched issues of real audience compositions – who is the “we” that those works assume? – and differences of hearing/listening and attending/attuning to performances.

Helena Grehan talking about “The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes” and “For in Your Tongue I Cannot Fit”

Peter Eckersall talking about “Complexity of Belonging”

The next keynote by scholar-activist Janet Pillai (University Sains Malaysia) dealt with “socially-engaged arts”, broadly speaking, with examples from Japan and Malaysia, which reminded me of some of the activities we did at Pink Factory in Hongcheon, Korea. The question of “how to keep cultural energy alive” – methods of engaging artistically with given situations (in Hongcheon in a rural setting) beyond one-time projects – is one that we constantly ask ourselves. Even though not related to theatre in a narrow sense, this was a very thought-provoking lecture on local art activities in general.

Janet Pillai discussing socially-engaged arts

Next, I attended a session of the “Feminist Research” Working Group, which (like many other groups), circulates papers beforehand among members to focus on discussing them. Even though I hadn’t read the papers, the following discussions were very interesting and insightful for me.

Shim Jung Soon (Soongsil University) presented an intercultural approach to early feminism in Korea of the 1920s and 30s, with the particular aim of shedding new light on – and thus reappraise – the activities of pioneering woman artists such as Na Hye-Suk (나혜석, 1896–1948), Kim Won-Ju (김원주, 1896–1971), or Kim Myung-Soon (김명순, 1896–1951), who challenged traditional gender roles and the male gaze. The lively discussion of Shim’s paper (which I still have to read…) showed that the early history of feminist activism is of eminent interest for current scholarship as well as for the ongoing struggle for equal rights, in Korea and beyond.

Then Karen Quigley (University of York) discussed the effect of female “impersonators” who mimic the the “sound-bitey voices” of British politicians in Cock and Bull by Nic Green (originally 2015), turning theatre into “a place of suspicious rhetoric” (see Lyn Gardner’s Guardian review of a London revival in 2017). The repeated verbal mimicry, in what might also be considered a bodily strenuous durational piece, often performed close to the audience when touring the country, must be an extraordinarily exciting play!

Finally a highly insightful and moving talk on solo performances on/by Korean transnational adoptees, which are, as Jieun Lee (Wake Forest University) argues, “an act of resistance against Korean society’s expectation of an unproblematic adoptee assimilation based on blood-oriented familism and an American multicultural fantasy that hides racial discrimination perpetuating the idea of Asians as non-citizen others”. This is tough stuff and very interesting. The only performance of this kind I have seen was Black Tie by Rimini Protokoll (Berlin 2008, see my review at OhmyNews), in which adoptee Miriam Yung Min Stein uses a gene test to find out more about her untraceable ancestors in Korea. Jieun Lee has also published on the topic, see her article “Performing Transnational Adoption: Korean American Women Adoptees’ Autobiographical Solo Performances” (Theatre Annual: A Journal of Theatre and Performance of the Americas 70: 60–80).

After a dinner with colleagues from Germany I walked home past the golden Ying’an Temple. Besides bling and glitter, body images also seem to be a thing in this upscale neighborhood…

— 10 July 2019 (水)

  • Tsu-Chung Su, “A Critical Assessment of Phillip Zarrilli’s Intercultural Approach in Re-Directing Not I in The Beckett Project”, July 10, 2019, 9am.
  • Helena Grehan, “Attending and Listening: The Politics and Ethics of Attunement in Contemporary Performance”, July 10, 2019, 11am.
  • Peter Alexander Eckersall, “The Complexity of Belonging”, July 10, 2019, 11am.
  • Janet Pillai, “Participation and Performativity as an Enabler of Urban Cultural Sustainability” (Keynote #3), July 10, 2019, 2pm.
  • Shim Jung Soon, “Korean New Women and the Play A Doll’s House in the 1920’s-1930’s: An Intercultural Approach”, July 10, 2019, 4pm.
  • Karen Quigley, “‘It’s Always Been ‘ard’: The Gendered Voice as Strategy of Resistance in Nic Green’s Cock and Bull”, July 10, 2019, 4pm.
  • Jieun Lee, “Transnational Entanglements: Korean Overseas Adoption in Contemporary Theater”, July 10, 2019, 4pm.
Posted in Abroad, Academia, Spoken Drama | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments