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.
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.
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.
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.