The Pansori Hamlet Project (판소리 햄릿 프로젝트) by Taroo had begun with an unusual encounter: Pansori singers meet actors, Hamlet meets us, today. An inquiry into Shakespeare’s piece and its protagonist, this first stage was about how we can understand Hamlet and his dubious intentions in a modern context. (For a more detailed review see my earlier post)
The next stage was about why we should be interested in Hamlet in the first place, featuring three women discussing their reasons to adapt this classic live on stage.
In the summer of 2013, half a year after the first presentation, Taroo held a workshop to further develop their project. The results were presented as a free one-hour “showcase” at the Seoul Theater Center (서울연극센터) in Daehangno. We arrived in the lobby just in time as the performance was about to begin. There were maybe about thirty or fourty people, young and old. I can’t say how many had come on purpose, as some might have just stopped by the Theater Center to buy tickets for another show. I had found out about this event through Facebook, only one or two days earlier.
The main title of the showcase was straightforward: Story of Three Women (세여자 이야기). The setting was likewise simple. Three women in their late 20s to early 30s, wearing skirts and high-heels, were casually sitting on bar chairs in the lobby sipping ice coffee, kind of like in a talk show. The three faces were familiar: The singers Song Bora (송보라), Jo Ella (조엘라), and Lee Weon-gyeong (이원경) of Taroo. Music director Jeong Jong-im (정종임), sitting a bit apart, occasionally played the drum and controlled the videos shown on three flatscreens. There were scenes from classical Hamlet– movies and later short interviews with random people about their opinion on a pansori-version of Hamlet.
The piece is composed of three only losely related parts. First, a discussion starts about the question “Why Hamlet?” Spoiler alert: At first all three singers are against it. They rather would like to sing about their own lives than about a fictional prince, quite understandably, although one singer mentions that playing Shakespeare might get them an invitation to England. The drummer, however, insists. In the whole piece, he has almost no dialogue, but here he shouts “Hamlet! Hamlet!”, again and again, from the sidelines, finally “convincing” the others.
Then the focus turns on the three singers themselves, who introduce themselves as three young singles “living alone”. Each one of them presents a short solo number that deals with her respective situation.
Jo Ella talks and sings about how she fears to become like her mom, who sacrificed everything for her family. Lee Weon-gyeong presents her life as an aspiring pansori singer, stuck between Jejudo (her home), Jeonju (where she can learn from a great teacher), and Seoul (where she can perform). Song Bora talks about her dating life in Hongdae, where she met a guy who doesn’t answer her messages but writes about her on his blog. In short: Everyday situations in the life of twenty-somethings are elevated to narrative material for pansori storytelling. Several repeated phrases work as choruses, such as the three choices Lee Weon-gyeong faces (Seoul-Jeonju-Jejudo) or a short catchword from some gag program (“살아있다, 살아있네”, lit. “It lives!”) that received much laughter.
Finally, the singers unite for the “To Be or Not To Be”-song. While the singers have shown their pansori-skills in their respective solos, this earwormy piece could have come straight from a Hamlet-musical. But the chorus, sung with slightly shifted melodies, is a nice closing for this showcase.
The first part of the Pansori Hamlet Project was a cross-over of theatre and pansori, but this second part rather took a side-step and reflected on the existential conditions for the whole project in a light-hearted manner. Switching between open rehearsal and confessional potpourri, it focused on the people behind the show. Although the choice of Hamlet still remains a little bit opaque, I’ve learned a lot about the three singers and their different relations to their profession.
After the well-earned applause, the singers ask the audience to like their Facebook-page (you should do, too!) and come see the final piece in February next year (that is, 2014… review coming up!). I’ll certainly be there, but I’d also like to hear more of their very own stories, preferably in pansori-style!
– 15 Aug. 2013 (木)
- 국악뮤지컬집단 타루, <세 여자 이야기>, 작: 공동창작, 연출: 박선희, 소리꾼: 송보라, 조엘라, 이원경, 음악감독: 정종임, 조연출: 전승훈, 기획: 문효원, 정경화, 장소: 서울연극센터 (로비), 2013년 8월 15일 (목), 오후 3시 ~ 4시, 무료입장.
- Gugak Musical Collective Taroo, Story of Three Women, collectively authored piece, directed by Bak Seon-hui, pansori singers: Song Bora, Jo Ella, Lee Weon-gyeong, music director: Jeong Jong-im, assistant director: Jeon Seung-hun, production: Mun Hyo-weon, Jeong Gyeong-hwa, venue: Seoul Theater Center (lobby), 2013–08–15 (Thu.), 3–4 pm, free entrance.