Drum and Voice: A Theatre Couple

임영웅 & 오증자

© the hankyoreh

On the train to the German Language and Literature Conference in Chungcheong-do, I read a quite moving article on two theatre veterans Lim Young-Woong (임영웅) and Oh Jeung-ja (오증자). The title calls the couple “comrades in arms”, as “making theatre is a war” (’전우’가 된 이 부부, 연극하며 산다는 건 전쟁이니까).

This couple played an important role in the recent history of Korean theatre, particularly with their most famous production of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (here’s a video of the production), translated by Oh and staged by Lim. First put on stage in 1969, the piece has been shown hundreds of times for more than 30 years and has been shown abroad several times. Martin Esslin, famous for his book on Theatre of the Absurd (1961), saw the production in 1988 at the Seoul Performing Arts Festival (서울국제연극제)—and wrote a long review.

I haven’t had the chance to this evergreen yet, but every time I pass by the small Theatre (산울림소극장) I look out if Godot is on show again. The theatre opened in 1985 and is special in a way, as it was built especially for the productions of Sanwoollim Theatre Company (극단 산울림), quite unusual as there are not many theatre companies who have their own venue.

What caught my eye in the article was a particular expression: “Buchang-Busu” (부창부수 / 夫唱婦隨). Loosely translated, this means “the husband sings and the wife follows”, kind of a Confucian maxim.

Re-interpreted from a pansori-perspective, however, another possible interpretation would be “the husband sings and the wife plays the drum”. Just the final character needs to be changed, the pronunciation remaining the same: 夫唱婦手. Given the relation of mutual dependence and trust of the singer and drummer in pansori, this draws a more realistic image of the “theatre couple” Lim and Oh. (In fact, there’s a saying that goes like “drummer first, singer second”, 일고수, 이명창.)

Anyway, may the two keep on singing and drumming!

– 19 April 2013 (金)

About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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