The Story of Secretary Bae is a performance which has already verified its worth and entertainment value through the box office to foreign visitors as well as the domestic audience. There is a secret behind such universal success; it appeals to the audience by stimulating their senses without using language. Throughout the performance, the audience can feel the message it gives—Korean traditional culture—beyond the boundary of language.
The Story of Secretary Bae is a story that originated from a classical novel Baebijang-jeon written by an unknown author in the late Joseon Dynasty. The short story is about Bae Geol-deok-swe, who is appointed the government position of secretary trying to maintain the honor of the gentry, and going to his new post in Jeju-do. There, unlike other secretaries and magistrates, secretary Bae does not mingle with the women, but scolds others for socializing with gisaengs, courtesans. The magistrate wanting to test secretary Bae who vowed never to be seduced by any kind of temptation, serves him a trick. Accordingly, one of Jeju-do’s most beautiful women, Aerang seduces secretary Bae. The performance starts from how Bae reacts to the woman’s seduction.
With such a story, The Story of Secretary Bae continues as a dance performance, which does not have any lines, but depends on the actors’ performance and chang, which is a Korean traditional narrative song. Perhaps some people may assume that for someone who is not good at Korean language unfamiliar with Korean culture, such a performance may be hard to fully understand. However, in The Story of Secretary Bae, it does not matter at all. First of all, English and Chinese translations are provided through the screens on the both sides of the stage. Moreover, the actors smoothly communicate with the audience where 60 percent of them are foreign visitors, so that they can feel the Korean traditional culture.
Jeongdong Theater, where the performance takes place, contributes to having the audience fully feel the Korean traditional culture. The box office looks like Hanok, which refers to Korean traditional housing form, and inside the hall, the window and lamp made of Korean traditional paper, changhoji, brings out the its mood well.
The performance begins with a cheerful play of samulnori, a Korean traditional percussion quartet, followed by the scene where representative actors of each role—secretary, gisaeng, magistrate, and worker— perform a Korean ritual formality. A noticeable thing was that two foreign visitors led onto the stage awkwardly but eagerly performed the rites together. This is the very scene where even foreigners can experience Korean traditional culture naturally.
“It was truly wonderful. I do not think we even needed the translations. The story was self-evident in the actors’ movements. So I think that was enough just as it was for us to understand how it was going,” said Jonathan F. Anderson a professor at California State University San Bernardino, after the performance, who went onto the stage as the representative of foreign visitors.
The performance continues to lead the audience to feel the play through the visuals. Each character’s clothes catch people’s eyes. From colorful and gainly hanbok of the Joseon dynasty era to the characteristic clothes of Jeju-do haenyeo—women who make a living by diving into the water—the characters’ clothes are one of the most eye-catching factors throughout the performance. Another arresting point is the actors’ splendid group dance. The actresses who plays gisaengs’ role performs modern dance as elegantly as angels from heaven and it is hard to take one’s eyes off the actors’ majestic fencing and ardent Nanta. Besides that, whenever the Korean folk paintings are shown on the huge screen, they captivate the audiences’ sights.
While the audiences’ eyes are overwhelmed by the stage, their ears are constantly stimulated as well. To elevate the liveliness, from the beginning to the end of the performance, the orchestra plays background music right below the stage. The small sound effects which are inserted at the right time and at the right scene, are also attractive. For example, at the scene where Ae-rang takes a bath Halla-san waterfall to seduce secretary Bae, the sounds of water slowly falling can be heard from the stage. This makes the audience sink into Bae’s tension toward Ae-rang’s irresistible glamorousness. With the liberating voice of the singer, the audience gets even more immersed into the story.
It is obvious that The Story of Secretary Bae is satisfying enough for audiences to fully experience it through their eyes and ears. However, there are several unsatisfying factors as well. Since there are many characters appearing on stage, the actors’ voices sometimes leak from their waiting room located on both sides of the stage. It was especially problematicwhen the sound leaked at a crucial moment, when Aerang seduced secretary Bae and he was in a state of ambivalence.
There are also problems derived from the structure of the auditorium. Since it is relatively small for the stage and the seats to be arranged in tiers, the space for the audience is so narrow that it is impossible to put even a bag under the seat. Also the seats begin right behind the orchestra, so the audience sitting in the first row experience very loud sounds from the instruments.
Except for such inconveniences, The Story of Secretary Bae at Jeongdong Theater allows the audience to feel the Korean traditional culture. Even though there is not any Korean explanations despite being a performance about Korean culture, it successfully appeals to both Korean and foreign audiences.
▲ Jejudo’s characteristic culture is well shown. Provided by http://blog.naver.com/bluefrench.
▲ Korean traditional clothes, Hanbok, was beautiful enough to captivate audience. Provided by http://blog.naver.com/bluefrench.
▲ The actors are performing splendid group dance. Provided by http://blog.naver.com/bluefrench.
▲ Ae-rang seduces secretary Bae. Provided by http://blog.naver.com/bluefrench.
Date : April 3 ~ December 31
Time : Open run 16:00 / 20:00 (Closed on Mondays)
Running Time: 70 minutes
Ticket : VIP 60,000 won / R 50,000 won / S 40,000 won