Jan Creutzenberg (Freie Universität Berlin)
Moments of “We” in Contemporary Pansori Performances
Like other folk arts, the Korean singing/storytelling tradition pansori re-affirmed existing communal bonds in pre-modern times. Nowadays, both a fixed “icon of identity” and semi- participatory performance practice, pansori retains the power to evoke a sense of “we” among its diverse audiences. I approach this phenomenon from the discipline of theatre studies.
A comparison of different staging strategies of traditionally minimalist pansori performances and adaptations for the theatre stage reveals different factors – some intended, some involuntary – that facilitate communal feelings. My theoretical discussion of communality in pansori performances is firmly rooted in analyses of two dozen distinctive events attended between 2008 and 2016. These include “orthodox” full-length presentations, “touristic” potpourris of various genres, “experimental” productions of newly-created stories, as well as staged changgeuk (“traditional Korean opera”) and adaptations of Brecht and Shakespeare. My research is based on the common yet rarely elaborated conception of pansori as a “comprehensive” art, created by solo singer, drummer, and spectators together in performance. To untangle the mechanics that govern communal experiences, I employ analytic methodology from theatre studies and a threefold categorization of we-moments based on shared perceptions, participation, and pre-existing bonds, backed up by major theories from existing Korean-language research on pansori. A spectator-focused perspective reveals – besides the logics of individual and collective experience – the impact of different audiences on the communal potential of an event. While members of the art world of pansori “perform belonging” at orthodox presentations, events aimed at more general audiences rely on alternative forms of interaction, acting styles, and content, further shaped by influences from venue, spatial arrangements, musical accompaniment, and stage design.
With detailed performance analyses, my dissertation contributes both to an understand- ing of communality in performance and, by mapping concurrent pansori practices in Korea, to larger discourses of the role of tradition in society. Insights from my “outside” perspective might be limited but also avoid false notions of universality, both in experience and identity.