Theatre Libraries in Daehangno

Seoul Theater Center

Books at the Seoul Theater Center

Today I spent some time at the archives. After the last of my students at Sungshin Women’s University (성신여자대학교) had finished her midterm exam, I had a short lunch and took the bus to Daehangno. This neighborhood has the highest density of theaters in Seoul, over a hundred in total, from the public-run ARKO Arts Theater (아르코예술극장) to dozens of smaller, private basement (or rooftop) stages like the Guerilla Theater (게릴라극장) or the Hakchon Theater (학전극장). The streets are covered with posters for upcoming shows (for example, this upcoming “Shakespeare and His Children” festival… see image below) and ticket vendors ask if you are in search of a show (공연 찾으세요?) on every corner. But there are also two major archives on theatre and performing arts—that’s where I was heading.

Shakespeare and his Children (festival)

Shakespeare and his Children

But first I briefly dropped by at the Book Stage (북스테이지, for some impressions see this blog), a bookshop on the ground floor of the Daehangno Arts Theater. Despite the small size, they have a good selection on theatre, music, dance, and arts in general. There is also a 10% sale on everything and everytime I’m surprised when I have to pay some odd amount, like the 2,700 ₩ for a small book by/on dramatist Go Yeon-ok today (극작수업 II: 고연옥, 국립극단 2012).

Then I crossed the street and entered the Seoul Theater Center (서울연극센터). Before going to the second floor where the archive is located, I grabbed some brochures in the lobby—the Spring Festival at Hyehwadong No. 1 about “Tradition” (혜화동1번지 2014 봄페스티벌 ‘전통’) that began in March and presents one neo-traditional performance each month sounds interesting…

Seoul Theater Center (서울연극센터)

Seoul Theater Center

Right after passing the security barrier to the archive, I stopped for the journals. They have all important Korean ones (한국연극, 연극평론, 공연과 리뷰, 춤, 몸, 객석 etc.) and a few foreign ones, including, to my surprise, the German monthly Theater heute. After checking the new acquisitions, I went over to the book shelves. The system was at first at bit confusing at first. The books are lined up horizontally, passing through the shelves (not in each shelf downwards… do you get what I mean?). So books on different topics stand above or below each other while books by the same author can be quite far away. But thanks to the labels I soon found my way. There are tons of Korean books, from drama anthologies to theory, history of theatre in Korea and abroad, to acting and directing manuals. The last shelf in the back was stuffed with printed-out dissertations. I didn’t see video material, but there was a catalogue at the counter and I suppose they can be ordered. In any case, there were a few people watching videos on the screens. I didn’t have a passport photo with me, so I couldn’t register. If you do, though, you can also borrow books. First you need to register online and then hand in your ID and a picture.

I took a short stroll through the remodeled Marronnier Park (마로니에공원). The weather was nice and there were people everywhere, some painting graffiti and others making music.

Korea National Archives of the Arts (국립예술자료원 @ 예술가의 집)

Korea National Archives of the Arts

The Korea National Archives of the Arts (국립예술자료원) is located on the second floor of the “Artists’ House” (예술가의 집), right in the park, on the opposite of the Arko Arts Theater. There is another affiliated archive at the Seoul Arts Center (to be precise: on the 3rd floor of the Hangaram Design Museum) which, I suppose, keeps material on fine arts. The one in Daehangno, in any case, focuses on performing arts.

Once again I was overwhelmed by all the books, many of them in Korean and English, a few in other languages, too. They are ordered thematically with very many subsections, which are unfortunately unlabelled, so finding specific books can be a bit tricky. There are even more journals, also some from China and Japan. In the back I found bound volumes of back issues. It was great fun to browse through the old journals and see what was on show, say, in the 70s or in 1991, the “Year of Theatre and Cinema” (연극영화의 해). There are also many DVDs of important productions from Korea and abroad and play scripts. The first one in the list is Gargamel and the Smurfs (가가멜과 스머프, 19 pages, no year), possibly this 2003 family musical by ensemble “Our Land” (우리네땅) who would produce Baebijang-jeon (배비장전) a year later (see this marvellous poster—phallic psychedelica at its best!). I read a bit and made some copies, then left at seven when the archive closed its doors.

Korea National Archives of the Arts

Korea National Archives of the Arts

Both archives are great for anyone doing research on theatre or dance. The Seoul Theater Center is run by the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture (서울문화재단) that also is responsible for various artist residencies all around the city. The National Archives of the Arts, like the Arts Council Korea (ARKO, 한국문화예술위원회) that runs the Artists’ House, belong to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (문화체육관광부). At the National Archives you find some more books in general and much more in English in particular. The working atmosphere is fine in both. I find it a bit odd myself that I didn’t come here earlier, but I always relied on university libraries (and friends who’d let me in) for books—and, of course, online databases as most recent research in my field is published in journals first. But now, as I dig a bit deeper into the history of Korean theatre, having a lot of standard works (and possibly hundreds of productions on video and as scripts) within reach comes in handy.

In any case, if you are in Daehangno and have some time to kill before a performance, you know where to go.

– 25 April 2014 (金)

  • 서울 연극센터, 운영시간: 화~토 10-20, 일 10-19, 월 유관, 주소: 110-524 서울특별시 종로구 대명길3 (명류4가 1번지), 연락처: 02-743-9333, 홈페이지:
  • 국립예술자료원 (대학로 분원), 운영시간: 월~토 10-19, 일 휴관, 주소: 110-809 서울특별시 종로구 동숭동길3 예술가의집 2층, 연락처: 02-760-4596~7, 홈페이지:
  • Seoul Theater Center, opening times: Tue~Sat 10-20, Sun 10-19, Mon closed, address: 110-524 Seoul Jongno-gu Daemyeonggil3 (Myeongnyu4ga No.1), contact: 02-743-9333, homepage:
  • Korea National Archives of the Arts, opening times: Mon~Sat 10-19, Sun closed, address: 110-809 Seoul Jongno-gu Dongsungdonggil3 Yesulga-ui Jip (2nd floor), contact: 02-760-4596~7, homepage:

About Jan Creutzenberg

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