They’re Alive! First Insa-dong Street Soripan after Ten Years (인사동 거리소리판1)

Perfect timing! On Easter Sunday, a small street performance in bustling Insa-dong (인사동 거리 소리판) gave hope that the Ttorang Gwangdae (또랑광대) are not (yet) history. Well, they are already pansori history, after ten years. But this first step might re-ignite what has been one of the most notorious artistic movements in the Korean world of traditional music.

P1090446In the early 2000s, a lose group of young singers found institutionalized pansori in a dead end. With humour and flexibility, they attempted to make pansori more accessible and relevant for today’s audiences. Their outspoken critique, made public in an online manifesto, is implicitly directed at state-funded preservation policies that in their eyes lead way to a “fossilization” of the “living pan”, fundamental to the art they cherish.

"Insa-dong, Street of Traditonal Culture"

“Insa-dong, Street of Traditonal Culture”

There are various academic papers on newly-created works of pansori and the Ttorang Gwangdae (see the bibliography I made a while ago). Korean language and literature scholar Kim Kee Hyung (김기형) in particular proved an early chronist and (supportive) critic of the Ttorang Gwangdae. In one of his texts, written in the heydays (2003), he deals specifically with “The Character and the Cultural Meaning of ‘Insadong Street Soripan’”. In his conclusion, he praises the “experimental spirit” of the singers but also expresses the hope that pansori might become more common, not only on the streets of the “traditional” neighborhood Insa-dong (where shop signs in hangeul are obligatory), but also in other parts of Seoul. Ten years later, it seems that his hopes might have been a bit too ambitious.

The protagonists of the Ttorang Gwangdae-movement have mostly dispersed, some have founded new ensembles (like Badak Sori [바닥소리], Taroo [타루], Pansori Mandeul-gi ‘Ja’ [판소리 만들기 ‘자’]) and established themselves on the fringe of the gugak world or in the theatre scene, even internationally, as in the case of Lee Jaram (이자람) who tours the world with her new works of pansori. Just some weeks ago, I had seen Kim Myeong-ja (김명자) on TV performing her modern classic “Super Wrestling”. The only time I have seen someone performing pansori literally “on the street”, however, was at the Jeonju Intl. Sori Festival (전주세계소리축제).

P1090441But now the Ttorang Gwangdae might be back for another round of free-for-all street performance. A few days before the performance was supposed to take place, I received a mail from Park Tae-o (박태오), famous for his “StarCraft”-piece Seuta-Daejeon (스타대전), who had sent out invitations to all subscribers of the original Ttorang Gwangdae Daum-café (an online forum). With the manifesto from 2004 as an attachment, he suggested a revival of the “Insa-dong Street Soripan”, next Sunday, “in Insa-dong, at that place from back then” (인사동 그때그곳).

P1090432I arrived in Insa-dong some time before 3pm and walked up the pedestrian road from Jongno (종로) towards Anguk station (안국역). I had forgotten how busy and full with tourists, vendors, musicians this pedestrian road can be on a sunny weekend. On a side-walk stage, there was a drum-and-dance (풍물) performance going on (see a video shot on that day on Youtube) and I wondered if the Ttorang Gwangdae would perform here. All along the street, there were several musicians, for example a classical violinist (This video of another street band was posted the following day).

P1090438 After strolling a bit through the side alleys, I suddenly heard the sound of a drum and followed it to place I was looking for. Concealed by crowded bystanders, a drummer was sitting on a mat on the floor, children were playing and checking the donation box, and a man in a light orange hanbok was singing. (To my delight, the performance took place right in front of a wall where more of the Red Peter-posters that had caught my attention a few days ago where affixed.)

Bak Tae-o (박태오) singing pansori

Park Tae-o (박태오) singing pansori

People were constantly coming and going, passing by, staying for a few minutes, much applause after a song, Park would ask them to draw closer together, some left a money bill. Many people took pictures, some videos – unfortunately, I could not find anything online, maybe for lack of a clear label that might serve as a tag (please leave any related links in the comments!). Most spectators seemed to be Koreans, with a few foreigners here and there, but still relatively few in comparison to Insa-dong in general.

Jo Sang-min (조상민) playing a daegeum-sanjo

Jo Sang-min (조상민) playing a daegeum-sanjo

Today’s program was about one hour, mostly pansori by Park Tae-o (박태오), with a daegeum-piece performed by Jo Sang-min (조상민) who had played the drum. Towards the end, a spontaneous mask dance (탈놀이) intermezzo by Kim Kyung-Eu (김경의), trained in Bukcheong Lion Play (북청사자놀음), made us all laugh and play along. The show ended with much applause and a photo session. I outed myself as a fan of the Ttorang Gwangdae and joined the performers for an early dwipuri in a nearby restaurant. We had a good talk, I learned more about the plans they had first-hand, and the makkeolli was refreshing, too.

Kim Kyung-Eu (깅경의) performing mask dance

Kim Kyung-Eu (깅경의) performing mask dance

I am looking forward to the next “Insa-dong Street Soripan” and am excited what the future will bring. I will attempt to chronicle the current attempts of Park Tae-o, Jo Sang-min, and their fellow Ttorang Gwangdae here with pictures, videos, and short performance reports. As of now, it is planned to have a street performance every 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month in Insa-dong. As Park Tae-o had written in the invitation: “Same time, same place”!

– 27 March 2016 (日)

  • 인사동 거리소리판, 출연: 박태오 (소리, 북), 조상민 (대금, 퉁소, 북), 김경의 (춤), 인사동길, 2016-03-27 (일), 오후 3–4시.
  • Insa-dong Street Soripan, with Park Tae-o (sori, drum), Jo Sang-min (daegeum, tungso, drum), Kim Kyung-Eu (dance), Insadong-gil, 2016-03-27 (Sun.), 3–4 pm.
  • 김기형, “’인사동 거리소리판’의 성격과 문화적 의의”, 우리어문연구 20 (2003), 175–194.
  • Kim Kee Hyung [Kim Gi-hyeong], “‘Insa-dong Geori Sori-pan’-ui Seonggyeok-gwa Munhwa-jeok Uiui” (The Character and the Cultural Meaning of ‘Insadong Street Soripan’), Uri Eomun Yeongu 20 (2003), 175–194.

About Jan Creutzenberg

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