Daehak-Ro is the Korean Broadway. The “it” place for theater industry playing a dominant role, 502 plays (87 percent of the total number) were performed there last year. From September 21 to November 18, The Granite Tower (GT) was able to follow the overall procedure of play production for the original play, The Gate (Mun, 門) that was performed in Daehak-Ro. Here is an exclusive story of how theater happens; from the very beginning of practice to the very end of performance.
▲ Photographed by Choi Ji Won
Producing a play is a collaborative effort, meaning that a person cannot do theatre alone. Each and every member of the team must be a part of a cohesive community. The better the whole team functions, the greater the play becomes, creating a meaningful and emotional experience for the audience.
The ideal theatrical production includes the producer, the playwright, the director, the designer, the actors, and other stage crews.
The producer is mainly concerned with money and funds; also finances anything that needs to be financed. In other words, the producer carries the role of both publicist and basic business administrator. The producer usually hires or assigns the director.
The playwright works long before the production work actually begins to write the original script; but the playwright often works with the production staff to better the script during practice period.
The director supervises and takes care of all the creative elements of a theatre production, unifying the work of others. The director casts and rehearses the actors, approves all designs, and oversees the entire production. Either the producer or the director chooses the drama to be performed. However, many veteran directors will choose their own plays, depending on the circumstances.
Various designers take care of the scenery, lighting, makeup and costumes. A creative designer must be able to visualize a production from reading the script and translate it into color mass, form, line, and so on. It is important for a designer to match his or her concept to the entire production.
The actor’s main role is to breathe life into a character and enact that character on the stage. This takes physical and vocal discipline and exercise. The actors go through analyzing the play script, memorizing lines, and the whole rehearsal process.
The stage crew include people who are in charge of the stage during technical rehearsals, dress rehearsals, and performances, making everything ready before the performance begins. Also, they are concerned with backstage activities, helping to run props and shift the equipment or scenery if needed.
▲ The Director Jang Kyung Sup is supervising and giving advice to the actors during rehearsals. Photographed by Choi Ji Won
▲ Dry reading. The actor, Lee Sung Hee is reading the script without emotion. Photographed by Choi Ji Won
▲ Reading. The lead actor, Park Sun Joo is reading the script by adding appropriate emotion. Photographed by Choi Ji Won
▲ Blocking rehearsal. This is when the actors practice with movements and gestures. Photographed by Choi Ji Won
The very first step is developing a script for the play. Some writers start with an idea, some with a character, still others may be inspired by a story. The playwright considers the target audience with the overall theme of the play. This is because the goal of a play is to give the audience the best and most meaningful experience they can possibly have. Writers have their own methods of writing; some write a scenario and work from that, others make notes or outlines, some write the scene of crisis first and then work out the scenes that lead up to that scene, while still others just begin writing with only a vague idea of where they want to go.
Then the director and the playwright choose the cast by having readings or auditions. This will give the director the opportunity to imagine how each candidate will fit into the play and handle the role very well. This can be a challenging step in the production process to recruit the “right” actors for their respective roles.
After these steps, the whole crew, the cast, musicians, director, choreographer and music director, begin rehearsals. The set designer will gather the equipment necessary to stage the play and design the sets for the play. The costume designer will create “the look” that each character needs.
Finally, everyone gets together for final rehearsals, the dress rehearsals and the music rehearsals. During these rehearsals, the people actually run the show, actualizing the performance. All pre-production elements come together in about a week to a week and a half before performance. At the same time, the staff begins making brochures and posters in order to advertise, trying to interest people in coming to see the play.
When it is show time, everyone is on the run, busy doing their jobs. After the performance, some post-production processes have feedback sessions and have a small get-together time with all the crew.
▲ The cast is on stage after the perfor-mance during curtain call. Photographed by Choi Ji Won
The Original Play, The Gate (Mun, 門)
In the case of the original play, The Gate (Mun, ), the playwright Kook Min Sung, the representative of theater company Human B, wrote the script. She said, “The social tendency being negligent on the value of life inspired me to criticize our behavior.” Starting with this idea, she developed the script with the theme of disdaining morality and respect to the elderly that all generations can empathize with. She and the director Jang Kyung Sup collaborated in producing the play and also recruited staff and actors.
The rehearsal was divided into many parts, such as dry reading, blocking, technical rehearsal and dress rehearsal. The practice started from early September with a dry-reading session; that is, reading the script without emotion. The actors read their lines adding appropriate emotion for the scene later on. After that, the crew began blocking. This is when the director and actors consider stage composition, the actors’ movements and actions on stage in detail. They took account of every gesture to be exact and precise. The rehearsals usually took almost nine hours a day. With the consultation of the playwright, the director and the actors had an exploratory process through improvisation and discussion to improve the script. The main purpose of all of these rehearsals is to organize many elements that go into a play which seldom happens in the playwright’s first draft. Most finished plays are the result of many revisions through rehearsal sessions.
Before the performance, the production team had technical rehearsal and dress rehearsal. Technical rehearsal focuses on the technological aspects of the performance, checking the gear like the lighting and sound. “A way of gaining attention from the audience on stage is lighting with contrasting colors or spotlight. Yet, it is important to emphasize and create a harmonious effect at the same time,” said the stage crew Choi Jung Ahn. Moreover, this play had a unique feature in sound effects. The composer Woo Jong Min explained, “I wanted entrace the audience by adding spice to the music. That is why I tried to incorporate Korean traditional music and contemporary music like hip-hop and rock.” The very last part of the pre-production, the dress rehearsal, was a full-scale rehearsal where performers work out every detail of the performance.
Throughout the whole pre-production process, the director seemed to be the one most responsible for the artistic elements. He acted as a guide and interpreter to all members of the production staff, working most closely with actors. He supervised rehearsals, explained his concept of the script, critiqued performances, and made suggestions for improvements. When asked about his job, the director Jang Kyung Sup said, “I try to create the stage pictures, directing the use of movement, gesture, and the use of voice and speech; and, of course, business.”
The play was held from November 1 until November 18 at Jungbo Small Theater in Daehak-Ro. Since it was a small theater, the audience could even see the actors’ vivid facial expression and directly feel the dynamic movements of the actors. It seemed that the actors and the audience were interacting. After the 90-minute outstanding performance of the opening night, the audience gave a standing ovation to the cast. The audiences on different nights gave positive feedback overall. “I think the play was well balanced. It was interesting that it had successfully incorporated traditional rhythm with western music. It was a refreshing change from a typical play,” said audience Choi Jae Won (21, Seoul) by expressing her thoughts. Another audience member, Shim Keon Woo (42, Seoul) said, “The play conveyed both elements of humor and message. Though the theme is somewhat serious, it made me think again about the priceless value of life.”
▲ Posters of the original play, The Gate (Mun) for promotion. Photographed by Choi Ji Won
Personal Perspectives in Theater-making
When asked about their passion on theater, Park Sun Joo who played the lead role of the play answered, “I think the theater creates a world that can actually have a real impact on people, presenting some kind of story that makes the audience feel enriched, also giving them something to think about.”
However, some actors wished the people would pay more attention to theater. Kwon Sang Suk said with lament, “I am motivated and love what I do, but sometimes there is not much audience. Going to the theater to watch a play was a common way of entertainment back in the 1980s and 1990s. Nowadays, however, it seems that fewer people are interested in watching a play.” He added, “The reason behind the lack of public attention can be explained by the lack of promotion. I wish there were more government support in theater.”
“Most of the theater companies go through hardships, since the actual profit is way less than the production cost,” said Hwang Sun Young, who works for the Seoul Theater Center that supports vitalizing the Korean theater industry. “Also, theater people take part in five plays a year on average, but most of them are suffering from hardships of life by only getting 1,510,000 won a month on average, which is far below living costs.”
When asked about the reason why she does not go to watch a play, Jeong Ji Yeon (’12, History) said, “As a university student, I always dreamed of enjoying cultural activities like watching plays and musicals; but the reality is that the tickets are more expensive than I thought. It would be better if the tickets are more affordable for university students.”
Yet, there seems to be a bright future in the theater industry. More private institutes and the government are providing more support for creative activities. For example, The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) is having public services like financing and aiding the theater rental fee. Also, MCST has invested more and increased the budget on fostering promotion of inclusive growth in the field of theater.
The theater companies are also trying to make steady improvements in facilitating the industry. To make the plays more affordable for the public, many performances allow discounts for students. Usually the tickets cost around 10,000 and 20,000 won, which is after discount.
GT have come along the two-month journey of theater-making. After going through the whole process, it seemed that it takes great collaborative effort of all the staff to finish a single play. Despite their hard work, there seems to be public attention and goverment support. GT anticipates more students to be interested in theater, and the active theater industry, in the near future.