Celebrating Shakespeare, on Stage and on Air

Last week, I had a short interview with Radio Bremen, on the occasion of Shakespeare’s 400th day of death. Via Skype, I chatted with host Katrin Krämer about problems of translation, creative adaptations, and the general importance of Will and his creations in Korea. You can hear the (German) interview online (click on “Livestream einschalten” on the right), as part of the program “Ein Tag für William Shakespeare”, probably after 2 pm (UPDATE: A recording of the five-minute interview is available online.)

skype interviewI knew the interview would be only five minutes long. Still, having focused mostly on other things during the last few years (I gave a presentation on Shakespeare in Korea in 2009 and revisited the topic only occasionally), I did some background research and read some newspaper articles on the plans to celebrate this anniversary in Korea.

Richard III (리차드 /세 / 理査三世) National Theater Company of Korea & National Theatre of China

Richard III (리차드 /세 / 理査三世) National Theater Company of Korea & National Theatre of China

To my (positive) surprise, the interview focused mostly on Taroo’s “Pansori Hamlet Project” (see my reviews of the first and second showcase, as well as the final production [coming soon]) that I had suggested as an example for an experimental approach towards Shakespeare. So there is some “leftover” information that I’d like to share, mostly trawled from newspaper articles, other announcements, and the ticket reservation site Interpark, using the search term “셰악스피어” (the nowadays common Korean spelling of “Shakespeare”). The interactive map of “Shakespeare around the Globe” did not prove very helpful, but maybe it will fill a bit more? You can find a (necessarily incomplete) list with basic information and links below, and I will try to put the most promising productions (as well as those with the most beautiful posters) with more details on my list of recommended performances. In any case, my search results were quite interesting…

First, relatively few events are announced for this year’s anniversary, especially compared to the 400th birthday anniversary in 1964, and the 450th birthday two years ago.

Much Ado About Nothing (헛소동), Seoul Shakespeare Company

Much Ado About Nothing (헛소동), Seoul Shakespeare Company

On the occasion of Shakespeare’s 400 birthday, two different editions of Shakespeare’s Complete Works (셰익스피어 전집) in Korean were published, one translated by anglicist Kim Jae-nam alone (김재남, 휘문 1964), another by a collective of scholars (정음사 1963). The many performances that hear also included a landmark festival, which, according to Jong-hwan Kim (“Shakespeare in a Korean Cultural Context”, Asian Theatre Journal 12.1, 1995, at JStor), “established a new record on the Korean stage: six different acting groups staged plays every day for one month; nearly two hundred actors took part.” He also notes, quoting Yeo Seok-gi (여석기), a scholar and critic heavily involved in the event, that “audiences during the month far exceeded the total number who attended theatres in the previous two years.” (44) In a news interview from 2014, Yeo himself vividly remembers the festival fifty years earlier, “maybe the very first performance festival [공연 축제, theatre] in Korea”, and confesses that “in retrospect, I am not sure whether our main intention was really to celebrate Shakespeare’s birth – or whether we were just using him as an excuse for a big party.” (interview by Song Hwa-seon 송화선 in Weekly Dong-a 926, 2014)

Ham-ick (함익), Seoul Metropolitan Theatre

Ham-ick (함익), Seoul Metropolitan Theatre

This interview took place in 2014, when the 450th anniversary was also heavily celebrated. While the 1964 festival focused on classic works, together with the double-publication of the Collected Works a kind of inventory cleanig, fifty years later guest performances and collaborations were more central, for example the production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), by the Ensemble Georipae (연희단거리패) directed by Alexis Bug from Germany (see my interview.

This year, some Shakespeare performances have already taken place, most notably A Winter’s Tale and Richard III by the National Drama Company (국립극단), both directed by non-Korean directors. So the trend of diversifying continues…

Romeo and Juliet (로미오와 줄리엣), Universal Ballet

Romeo and Juliet (로미오와 줄리엣), Universal Ballet

Other ensembles have announced their plans. For example, the Seoul Metropolitan Theatre (서울시극단) will dedicate its entire season to Shakespeare-related projects. I suspect, that the number of productions will rise, though, probably many ensembles simply haven’t announced their plans yet. What seems clear from this list, however, is the focus on cross-genre works, free adaptations, or “hybrid” formats, opera or ballet, rather than “classical” productions of Shakespeare’s plays. This is nothing new, but rather indicative of general trends in theatre.

For anyone in Seoul, there might be something interesting among the various choices… and for those more interested in talking than in seeing – the Shakespeare Association of Korea (한국셰익스피어학회) is planning a colloquium later this year…

– 10 May 2016 (火)

The list is in chronological order, beginning with productions that have been shown earlier this year.

  • A Winter’s Tale (겨울이야기), directed by Robert Alfoldi, National Theater Company, National Theater, Dal-Oreum Theater, Jan. 10–24, 2016. Link
  • Henry IV: Prince and Fallstaff (헨리 4세 – 왕자와 폴스타프), directed by Kim Gwang-bo, Seoul Metropolitan Theatre, Sejong M Theater, March 20–April 14, 2016, 20–50,000 ₩. Link
  • Richard III (리차드 3세 / 理査三世), directed by Wang Xiaoying (王曉鷹), National Theater Company of Korea & National Theatre of China (中国国家话剧院), Myeongdong Theater, Chinese with Korean subtitles, April 1–3, 2016. Link
  • Father Hamlet (햄릿아비), directed by Lee Seong-yeol, Ensemble Baeksukwangbu, Daehangno SH Art Hall, April 8–17, 2016.
  • Much Ado About Nothing (헛소동), in English with Korean subtitles, Seoul Shakespeare Company, directed by Michael Downey, artistic director/producer/costume designer: Lauren Ash-Morgan, Theater Egg and Nucleus, May 21–June 5, 2016, 20,000 ₩. Link
  • Hamlet (햄릿), directed by Nam Yuk-hyeon, Eurasia Shakespeare Company, Geumnarae Art Hall, June 3–4, 2016, 30,000 ₩. Link
  • [ballet] The Taming of the Shrew (말괄량이 길들이기), Seoul Arts Center, Opera House, Korean National Ballet, June 23–26, 2016, 5–80,000 ₩. Link
  • Ham-ick (함익), written by Kim Eun-seong, directed by Kim Gwang-bo, Seoul Metropolitan Theatre, Sejong M Theater, Sept. 30–Oct. 16, 2016, 20–50,000 ₩. Link
  • [ballet] Romeo and Juliet (로미오와 줄리엣), Universal Ballet, choreography: Kenneth MacMillan, music: Sergei S. Prokofiev, Oct. 22–29, 2016. Link, Link2
  • Shakespeare in Ballet (Special Gala), program: highlights from Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, written by Kim Eun-seong, directed by Kim Gwang-bo, cooperation of various ballet ensembles, Sejong M Theater, Oct. 28–30, 2016, 20–50,000 ₩. Link
  • Shakespeare in Ballet 2 (Midsummer Night’s Dream), artistic director: Kim In-hui, choreography: James John, directed by Yeo Hun, cooperation of various ballet ensembles, Sejong M Theater, Nov. 11–13, 2016, 30–70,000 ₩. Link
  • Pericles (페리클레스), directed by Yang Jeong-ung, adapted by Yang Jeong-ung and Kim Se-han, Seoul Arts Center, CJ Towol Theater (revival from 2015), Nov. 15–Dec. 4, 2016, 30–60,000 ₩. Link
  • [opera] Macbeth (맥베드), opera by Verdi, artistic director: Gun-yong Lee, director and conductor: n/a, Seoul Metropolitan Opera, Sejong Grand Theater, Nov. 24–27, 2016, 20–120,000 ₩. Link
  • [opera] Roméo et Juliette (로미오와 줄리엣), opera by Charles Gounod, artistic director: Kim Hak-min, directed by Elijah Moshinsky, conducted by Kim Deok-gi, Korea National Opera, Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra, Seoul Arts Center, Opera House, Dec. 8–11, 2016, 10–150,000 ₩. Link
  • Twelve’s Night (십이야), Myeongdong Theater, directed by: Im Hyeong-taek, National Theater Company, Dec. 12–28, 2016. Link
  • Twelfth Night (십이야), family play with music, artistic director: Kim Gwang-bo, directed by Kim Han-nae, Seoul Metropolitan Theatre, Sejong M Theater, Jan. 13–30, 2017, 20–40,000 ₩. Link

About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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2 Responses to Celebrating Shakespeare, on Stage and on Air

  1. violamuse says:

    Shakespeare seems like more actively discussed and variously performed than Verdi in Korea. I think this is because people who staged Verdi’s works tend to overvalue the original text. I guess this obstructed the adoption of Verdi’s operas for Korean opera audience…

  2. Yes, I guess sticking to the text (and the score) is almost unavoidable in the case of opera. (there as a production of some Mozart-work, I think, in Germany, where the director slightly re-arranged the score, maybe even based on historical practice?, and as a result was scolded by the ‘friends of italian opera’) But who knows — maybe the (yet unconfirmed) director of Verdi’s Macbeth might go for a visually more challenging interpretation, like Lim Hyung-Jin did in La Traviata? (too bad I missed that…)

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