Recent Experiments in Ch’anggŭk: The National Repertory Season 2012-13

In a few days, on Saturday, March 15, I will present some thoughts on recent ch’anggŭk productions at the Royal Asiatic Society Colloquium in Korean Studies. It is the fourth meeting of the colloquium and since last winter this monthly event has become a forum for all kinds of discussions, ranging from Korean history and politics to questions of translation or the future of North Korea. My presentation will focus on five recent productions of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea (국립창극단), a resident company at the National Theater of Korea (NTOK, 국립극장).

Here, I will provide some additional material (mostly through links) that relate to the topic, for everyone who wants to dig deeper into the interesting past, present, and future of ch’anggŭk. I decided to simply make a list of various sources that I used in preparing the paper. But first my abstract:

Jan Creutzenberg (Free University Berlin)

Recent Experiments in Ch’anggŭk: The National Repertory Season 2012-13

The history of ch’anggŭk, a staged version of the traditional Korean art of storytelling p’ansori, is a series of experiments. Born in the early 20th century out of the colonial encounter between traditionally trained p’ansori singers and modern influences from Japan, China and the West, this “hybrid” genre has been in search of its identity ever since.

Since its foundation in 1962, the National Changgeuk Company of Korea (NCCK, Kungnip Ch’anggŭk-tan), a resident ensemble at the National Theater, has been at the forefront of this project – the “establishment” (chŏngnip) of ch’anggŭk as a “Korean traditional opera”. While numerous approaches have been tried before, the “National Repertory Season 2012-13” marks a new peak in experimental approaches towards ch’anggŭk, with guest directors, adaptations of non-canonical material, and forays into other genres.

This paper discusses the five main productions of the season in order to establish current directions in conceptualizing, staging, and promoting ch’anggŭk. Navigating between traditional music and Western theatre, popular genres and high art, notions of “Korean-ness” and universality, ch’anggŭk draws on a variety of means (stories, music, stage design, costumes etc.) to attract new audiences – with varying effects. A closer look at this “traditionesque” genre casts a spotlight on the cultural landscape of Korea and the global aspirations of a post-colonial society in transformation.

A brief introduction to ch’anggŭk

First some self-promotion: This is a blogpost I wrote back in 2010, after seeing the ch’anggŭk production Cheong (청) at the National Theater. I just noticed that most of the linked images have been removed from their original sites, but a Google-search for “국립창극단 청” should bring up many images that give a better impression of the performance.

Information on the productions to be discussed

These are the basics, a click on the title brings up more detailed information on the NTOK homepage.

  • 수궁가 (Mr. Rabbit and the Dragon King), directed by Achim Freyer, Sept. 2012 [the piece premiered one year earlier, in fall 2011, and was also shown in Wuppertal, Germany, around Christmas 2011]
  • 장화홍련 (Janghwa and Hongreyon), directed by Han T’ae-suk, Nov. 2012
  • 배비장전 (Baebijang and Aerang), directed by Yi Pyŏng-hun, Dec. 2012
  • 서편제 (Seopyeonje), directed by Yun Ho-jin, March 2013
  • 메디아 (Medea), Sŏ Chae-hyŏng, May 2013

You can find some basic information on two productions that I will not discuss although they feature ch’anggŭk (because I couldn’t see them myself, unfortunately): A “total theatre” on folk painter Kim Hong Do that includes members of the various resident ensembles at the National Theater, and a children’s production on transgender issues (!) based on the Korean movie Like a Virgin (천하장사 마돈나, 2006).

NTOK magazine “미르”

The official monthly magazine of the NTOK (국립극장 월간 <미르>) provides much information on current performances, interviews with the production team and also guest reviews (I wrote one myself on Medea, see below). The magazine is also available as a free pdf-download. Don’t worry if downloading takes a while – some issues do not take more than 10MB, but some are over 100MB (don’t ask me why).

This is a compilation of articles related to the productions discussed (format: [author,] title, issue, page):


  • 독일 언론 격찬 끌어낸‘말하는 듯한 가창법’| 이용숙, 미르 08–2012, 16
  • 아주 독창적인‘판소리 오페라’| 박성환, 미르 09–2012, 8
  • 충돌 그리고 새로운 시작 | 남인우, 미르 10–2012, 36


  • 심재찬, 극단적 선택에 몰린 인간 본성을 응시하다, 미르 10–2012, 14
  • 김주연, 이 비극 앞에서 누구도 결백할 수 없다 한태숙 연출 ·정복근 작가 대담, 미르 11–2012, 6
  • 황혜진, ‘근친애’해석의 새 지평 연 <장화, 홍련>. 고전을 가슴 속에 품기, 미르 11–2012, 44
  • 심연의 괴물을 들여다보라. 다시는 침몰하지 않기 위해 고연옥 국립창극단 <장화홍련>, 미르 01–2013, 42


  • 오은희, 잃어버린 판소리 일곱 바탕 프로젝트의 시작, 미르 11–2012, 18
  • 송미경, 개콘보다 재미있는 캐릭터 열전, 미르 12–2012, 10
  • 김향, 세련된 아니리와 화려한 발림으로 부활하다, 미르 01–2013, 52


  • 김일송, 인문학으로 보는 국립레퍼토리시즌: 서편제, 요약본도 번역본도 아닌 또 하나의 원본, 미르 02–2013, 34
  • 조화연, 윤호진 연출 인터뷰; 김명화 작가 인터뷰; 안숙선 인터뷰, 미르 03–2013, 6
  • 이서정, 국립극장 SNS ‘N통이’가 전하는 <서편제> 제작일지, 미르 03–2013, 12
  • 장르별로 보는 서편제, 미르 03–2013, 14
  • 김은정, 명장면으로 다시 보는 <서편제> 이주미 창극나무에 소리새 찾아왔네, 미르 05–2013, 44


  • 김헌, 인문학으로 보는 국립레퍼토리시즌 인간본성의 극한 실험, 에우리피데스의 메데이아
    미르 03–2013, 37
  • 이경미, 에우리피데스의 고대 비극 <메디아> 왜다시고전인가? 고전, 현대를 보는 타자의 시선, 미르 05–2013, 6
  • 김주연, 비극의 파토스와 한(恨)의 정서가 만나는 지점: 한아름 작가, 서재형 연출 인터뷰, 미르 05–2013, 8
  • 황호준, 나는어떻게<메디아>의음악을만들었나, 작곡 노트, 미르 05–2013, 14
  • 다양한 버전의 <메디아>: 원전에 충실한 오페라·영화, 원전을 패러디한 소설·연극, 미르 05–2013, 16
  • 임수연, 복수는 나의 것, 미르 07–2013, 46
  • 이안 코이츤베악, 외국인의 시선으로 본 창극 <메디아> , 미르 07–2013, 46

Press Material

The NTOK homepage also offers press material for download. These are Hangul-files (reader for Windows or Mac) that include all important data on the productions, including bios of the major roles, producers etc. Much of this information also appears in the pamphlets that are for sale before performances and the magazine 미르.

Recent literature on ch’anggŭk

The most up-to-date major work on ch’anggŭk is actually published in English! Andrew Killick’s In Search of Korean Traditional Opera (2010) is a great read and a good start. (If you go to the publisher’s homepage, you can get a preview of the introduction under “Table of Contents”.) The second major work (that Killick also draws on a lot) is Han’guk Ch’anggŭk-sa Yŏn’gu by Paek Hyŏn-mi (“History of Korean Ch’anggŭk”, 1997; 백현미, 한국 창극사 연구), which is, as the title indicates, a trip through the history of ch’anggŭk, that is the 20th century, from pre-colonial times to globalization.

  • Andrew Killick, In Search of Korean Traditional Opera: Discourses of Ch’anggŭk, University of Hawai’i Press, 2010.
  • 백현미, 한국 창극사 연구 (The History of Korean Ch’anggŭk), 태학사, 1997.

There are also many other research papers in Korean on ch’anggŭk. Apart from Killick and Paek, prolific authors include Yu Yŏng-dae (유영대, former artistic director of the NCCK) and Kim Hyang (김향). This list is by no means exhaustive and I couldn’t access everything I listed. If you search for something specific, a quick RISS-search with more specific keywords often helps to locate papers and dissertations. In any case, articles from the journal P’ansori Yŏn’gu (판소리 연구, published by the 판소리학회) is available for free as pdf-download on the association’s homepage – a great resource for anyone interested in p’ansori, too, obviously.

Official sites of the NTOK

Besides its official homepage (also a slimmed-down English version), the NTOK also has a blog, a Facebook site, a Twitter account, and a Youtube channel. On Youtube, you won’t find longer excerpts from their productions, but some interesting promotion videos and short interviews. The NTOK also offers an online archive on their productions, which unfortunately doesn’t feature more recent works and should be updated. Still a well-meant effort and hopefully still in action…

That’s it for now (more to come, if I find something new). If you know any other interesting resources for research on ch’anggŭk (or on other kinds of Korean theatre, music, dance etc.), please leave comment.

– 15 March 2014 (土)


About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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One Response to Recent Experiments in Ch’anggŭk: The National Repertory Season 2012-13

  1. Pingback: Talking about Brecht and Pansori in Toronto (AAS 2017) | Seoul Stages

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