Ten Years Ttorang Gwangdae

Ten years ago, a group of young pansori singers wrote a short manifesto about the state of the art. They also added a new term to the vocabulary of those interested in pansori as it is today: Enter the Ttorang Gwangdae!

또랑광대 박태오 (Bak Tae-o)

또랑광대 박태오 (Bak Tae-o)

Although the “Declaration of the Ttorang Gwangdae” by the National League of Ttorang Gwangdae (또랑광대 전국협의회) is dated to February 13, 2004, the actual posting of the text was uploaded exactly ten years ago. In preparation for an upcoming presentation on “Traditional Performance for Today’s Audiences”, I revisited this interesting (and very quotable) text once again and was struck by this coincidence.

So let’s celebrate its tenth anniversary, let’s have a fresh look at the declaration!

I checked for publishing rights with the webmaster of the Daum-café that run by the Ttorang Gwangdae, where the declaration was uploaded. He told me that the text can be freely shared by everyone, though it would be nice to provide a brief context. The images feature some members of the Ttorang Gwangdae League in action and first appeared on the Daum-café, too (click on them to see them there).

또랑광대 이규호 (I Gyu-ho)

또랑광대 이규호 (I Gyu-ho)

First of all: What does Ttorang Gwangdae mean? As Kim Kee-hyung (김기형) reminds us, the designation ttorang gwangdae (또랑 광대, roughly meaning “smalltime entertainer”), is not exactly new. In an article on the emerging Ttorang Gwangdae-Movement published right in 2004, Kim first notes its etimology (a ttorang is a “tiny stream of water running down an alleyway in a village”, while a gwangdae is a traditional performer or entertainer) and then explains its use as follows:

“그러니까 ’또랑광대’란 중앙에 진출하지 못하고 지역에 거주하면서 마을에서만 활동하는 소리꾼으로, 체계적 · 전문적 훈련을 받지 않아 소리의 기둥이 서 있지 않은 경우를 말한다.” (김기형 2004: 10)

“Therefore ‘ttorang gwangdae’ refers to a singer who lives in the province and performs only in villages, someone who is unable to advance to the center and cannot make a living doing pansori [“cannot stand on the pillar of pansori”], as he or she did not receive systematic and professional training.” (Kim Kee-hyung 2004: 10)

In other words, ttorang gwangdae is used as a derogatory term for an amateur singer who cannot face the competition in Jeonju, Seoul or other mekkas of pansori, the opposite of a myeongchang (명창, “master singer”).

또랑광대 김명자 (Kim Myeong-ja)

또랑광대 김명자 (Kim Myeong-ja)

But the twelve singers—and their ninety supporters who signed the declaration below—use the term as an expression of pride. Maybe they chose it exactly for its understatement and its affinity with rural life and the associated humble lifestyle. In 2004, are these Ttorang Gwangdae the underdogs of the pansori world?

For now, they are scattered throughout the world of traditional and new music. The National League of Ttorang Gwangdae (전국또랑광대협회), the group under whose name the declaration was originally posted, has been active from 2001 until 2008. After the disbandment of the League (with a festival), its former members keep on walking the path of a Ttorang Gwangdae, each one in his or her own way.

So this is my ad-hoc translation of the declaration. Please note that I aimed for readabilty rather than exact wording or poetic beauty.

Today we have gathered in this place to revive the sinmyeong that is constantly flowing inside us, the living pan, the sori of our time.

  • sinmyeong 신명: an aesthetic concept, joy, enthusiasm, with a divine quality… often associated with traditional arts
  • pan 판: a place of encounter, for play and participation
  • sori 소리: sound, especially the human voice, also used to refer to songs in the style of pansori

During the the last decades we were under the delusion that the dualism of the Western-style stage, [depicting life but] completely removed from the life around it, provides the superior pan. And we struggled to imitate it. In the meantime, the pan of bygone days has vanished somewhere. This pan was always linked to the life of common people and once helped us to confirm [our community through] our sweat and our breath. What used to serve as a place of mutual understanding, in happy times like in sad times, now merely exists in the past.

Furthermore, our sori used to reflect the roots of life and the spirit of the time. But now it has become fossilized. The gap [between pansori and] real life is gradually widening. The urge to understand life in all its various aspects and to record it has disappeared. The shabby mess that the system aims to protect fittingly portrays the current state of our soripan.

  • soripan 소리판: a pan for sori; the relational space that emerges when people are gathering for a pansori performance around the singer and the drummer

Nowadays, most people [here: pansori singers] have become accustomed to make compromises. They stand on stage for money and one more line in their resume. They have left behind the true meaning of the pan. Instead, we are proudly facing the false honor offered by this capitalized staging [of tradition], neglecting our duty out of greed.

The time has come to make an important decision: Will we accept the current state of the pan, one that has lost all its sinmyeong and its role as a communicative place? Will we turn away from the sori of our times and, for the sake of private benefit, choose the vain honor? Or, as pansori singers standing in life, can we grasp the meaning of the ‘true’ pan and change the current situation?
 Now is the time to turn over a new leaf. We are facing the challenge to depart from the state of fossilization and to revive a “living, breathing pan of today”. Our time demands for a living sori, one that relates to the present, one that fosters hope that once again the song of real life will be sung. To satisfy this demand, we have to tell again [relevant stories] with our sori. We have to reestablish a pan of our time.

The progressive sori collective Ttorang Gwangdae wants to spearhead the sori of today. We will work together to make, sing, and share a sori that fits our time. To this end, we are concerned about our present and turn our eyes to the life of our times. Today’s declaration is only the starting point of a firm solidarity movement for the reestablishment of this new kind of pan. We proclaim our plan: to tell about this life, through our sori and our sweat.

Year 4337 month 1 day 23 after the foundation by Dangun (Western date: 2014-02-13)

The National League of Ttorang Gwangdae: 김명자, 김석균, 김지영, 박지영, 박태오, 박흥주, 이자람, 정대호, 정유숙, 조정래, 채수정, 최용석 (in alphabetical order)

Esteemed other participants: 고은,  강은미, 강은주, 강현철, 고형렬, 곽동근, 곽명옥, 김금식, 김남하, 김도환, 김동광, 김명선, 김명수, 김민규, 김선정, 김소희, 김예진, 김용화, 김주연, 김종백, 김주영, 김정미, 김정숙, 김정은, 김정이, 김진규, 김태윤, 김향진, 김   현, 김희정, 노영수, 노용명, 박강의, 박경도, 박동수, 박승우, 박신영, 박종민, 박해경, 배정일, 백금렬, 서미화, 성영화, 손민영, 심민호, 신동흔, 안은경, 안효천, 양일동, 양향진, 엄병천, 오동익, 오삼록, 오영지, 오종근, 왕서리, 유성준, 유수곤, 윤다림, 이강용, 이강희, 이경엽, 이병관, 이상헌, 이상현, 이우진, 이왕수, 이은우, 이일규, 이종은, 이태화, 장성진, 전경호, 전인호, 정경화, 정계임, 정주환, 정일균, 조미라, 조세형, 조현정, 조해숙, 최기우, 최면정, 최은미, 최유진, 편성철, 함성주, 홍소영, 홍현종 (in alphabetical order)

  • dated from the mythical foundation of Korea by Dangun, the dangun giweon (단군기원) or short dangi (단기), 2333 BC

또랑광대 구지천 (Gu Ji-cheon)

또랑광대 구지천 (Gu Ji-cheon)

For a few more detailed readings on the Ttorang Gwangdae, see the short list below, for a more general bibliography on newly-created pansori (창작 판소리), see an earlier post.

  • 김기형, 「또랑광대의 성격과 현대적 변모」(The Character and the Modern Transformation of the ‘Ddorang Kwangdae’), 판소리 연구 제18집, 판소리학회, 2004, 7–23.
  • 박흥주,「전통 소리판의 현대적 재현 – 또랑광대를 중심으로」(Today’s revival of traditional Soripan : Ttorang-kwangdae), 구비문학연구 22, 2006.
  • 정혜정,「또랑광대 창작판소리 연구」(A Study on the Newly Pansori of “Ttorang-gwangdae”), 전남대학교 대학원 석사학위논문, 2008.

Hae-kyung Um also offers a translation of the most important parts and a contextualization of the Ttorang Gwangdae, both in her 2008 paper “New P’ansori in Twenty-first-century Korea: Creative Dialectics of Tradition and Modernity” (Asian Theatre Journal 25.1: 24–57; here: 42ff) and her recent book Korean Musical Drama: P’ansori and the Making of Tradition in Modernity (Ashgate 2013, 199).

– 24 June 2014 (火)

If you’d like to quote from this translation, please include the following information: National League of Ttorang Gwangdae (또랑광대 전국협의회), “Declaration of the Ttorang Gwangdae” (“또랑광대 선언문”), dated Feb. 13, 2004, posted June 24, 2004 at http://cafe.daum.net/NewAgePansori/7V7J/382, English translation by Jan Creutzenberg (2014), available at https://seoulstages.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/ten-years-ttorang-gwangdae.


About Jan Creutzenberg

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