One year in: theater

Ah man, what can I say? It’s been a year of ups and downs, and although I can’t tell you which there were more of, I can confirm that I’m still here and standing strong.

I’m homesick to the point where I’m driving myself nuts. I’m sure my friends are just about done listening to me hate on Korea just because I miss my homeland so much. It’s not Korea’s fault, that part I can confirm. I did, very willingly and after some consideration, decide to renew my contract with the same school for a second year.

So in the spirit of cheering me up, let’s look back at some of the stand-out experiences I’ve had over the last year.

In this post, I’m going to focus on theater shows that I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to see while in Korea.

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~~Ballerina Who Loved a B-boy~~

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Being on Facebook all day has its perks. In this case, the perk was a free ticket giveaway. On a freezing (and I mean Siberian wind, colder than cold, hardly able to unshield your eyes long enough to look where you’re going kind of freezing) evening in the late winter, three of us set off to find the theater and indulge in some free front row seat entertainment. I remember that this was also the first time that I was *really* glad that I could read Hangul with ease, as the directions were in English, but the theater building was marked in Hangul only. Man, it was freezing. But the show was fun!

The story is built around a ballerina, all prim and poised and uptight, who starts noticing a b-boy (who of course, is everything opposite). The show is just a mishmash of mad skillz, with most of the scenes consisting of a stage full of b-boys. Every now and then there was a ballet scene, to remind us that there was, in fact, a storyline.

bboy03My favourite routine was the masked routine. Think Jabbawockeez – you know, those guys who dance with the white masks on. In this routine, the ballerina was having a nightmare, and these guys came out dressed in all black, and each mask had this pained expression. It was all so creepy; I loved it! One of the dancers jumped out from backstage and landed right in front of us. I got such a fright that I screamed, and from there on I was caught in a fit of nervous laughter for the remainder of the routine. It was amazing!

And yes, at the end, the helpless damsel, um I mean ballerina, sacrifices her disciplined style of dance and ends up with the boy. Duhhhh.

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Photo ops with the cast, and Trevor getting interviewed about the show.

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~~Extreme Performance Flying~~

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In late 2013, the local office of education sponsored the Native English Teachers in my province on a trip to Gyeongju, a historically significant part of Korea as it was the capital of the Silla Kingdom from 57-935BC (so, like, ancient history). As part of the tour, we got to see “Extreme Performance Flying”.

Flying is described as an extreme sports comedy. The show incorporates gymnastics, cheerleading, martial arts and B-boying and it really is a spectacular mix of stunts and tricks. It’s a uniquely Korean show and the opening sequence is actually set in Silla Kingdom time. The basic storyline involves an ancient warrior following a gremlin through a time warp into a modern-day high school. And of course, it’s the physical education class. The quiet cheerleader falls in love with the warrior, so of course, the warrior chooses to stay and get all loved up. The PE teacher, who is one of the comedy highlights, falls in love with the gremlin, and follows him back through the hole and off they go.

flying02My favourite part of the show was right at the beginning, where the main character (still way back in ancient times) is in a fight scene. What’s so great about that? Well… he’s the only one on stage. His opponents are all on the screen behind him in a most spectacularly choreographed sequence.

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~~Cookin’ Nanta~~

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Nanta is a uniquely Korean non-verbal comedy show that’s been running since 1997. There’s a back story, of course, and then there’s lots of drums and rhythms, based on samulnori (traditional percussion music).

The show is set in a catering kitchen, with three chefs getting ready to cater a wedding. Then there’s the strict manager who keeps reminding them that they’re on a time schedule. The manager also brought along his incompetent nephew to help out in the kitchen, which creates drama in the kitchen, and of course leads to plenty of disaster. Kitchen implements, like cutting boards, water canisters and kitchen knives are used instead of traditional instruments.

With food flying everywhere and the clock ticking, and with lots of physical humour and some really cool stunts, Nanta really did make for an entertaining afternoon.

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Having fun at the photo station

Having fun at the photo station

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~~Phantom of the Opera~~

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When Phantom toured South Africa, it wasn’t really an option to go see it. But when it came to Korea, I was once again reminded why I wanted to live close to Seoul.

In early February, we braved the freezing cold and made our way to the theater. The foyer was beautifully decorated with memorabilia and 25th anniversary banners. I was so proud to see that the cast was largely South African.

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It was my first time seeing it live, and it was magical. Of course I don’t have to tell you what the musical is about, so I’ll entertain you with my personal experience. 🙂

I remember that we went the week before leaving for the Phillipines and Singapore, so of course all my anticipation and excitement was directed towards that. Shortly before the show started, I leaned over to Trevor and admitted something along the lines of, “I’m not really that into watching this right now. I would have no problem just leaving right now”.  Of course, that all changed the second the chandelier was revealed.

Not sure what I’m referring to? Here’s the opening scene, with the magic bit at around 4:20 ~

The entire production was just amazing, and I’m so thankful to have seen it performed live.

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~~Africa Umoja~~

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OK, so this one didn’t technically happen in the first year, but it was close. And it almost didn’t even happen. When first I heard that this show was coming to Korea, I wasn’t all too phased. I mean, why pay for something I’m surrounded by back home?

Luckily, some of my American friends were interested, and so we, along with a Brit, set off to Seoul so I could get my “African fix” (you know, cos “Africa” and “South Africa” are one and the same…).

Man oh man, from the moment I heard the marimba band playing in the foyer, my heart and soul were transported back home. I spent the entire show in a child-like glee, savouring every familiar sound.

Africa Umoja: The Spirit of Togetherness tells the story of the development of indigenous South African music. This blog has a very accurate summary, and I couldn’t have done it better myself:

This energetic and colorful show basically tells the history of music and rhythm in South Africa. The journey starts with the gentle and harmonious humming of woman as they work at their traditional tasks, and breaks out into a furious warrior dance only to cascade into a breathtakingly sensual male and female dance. This stunning introduction is followed by a number of traditional dances which make way to more modern European influences such as gospel and acapella, swing and jive. The style of music may have changed but the rhythm remains unmistakably African. As the music moves to our present day, the modern sounds of Kwasa Kwasa, Kwela and Kwaito are eventually heard.

I sat there with goosebumps for most of the show. The familiar sounds made their way into my veins in a way I didn’t realise would be possible. I felt the pulse of each beat deep within my heart. Each drumbeat, each beautifully sung note made me realise that I do, indeed, despite all its troubles, come from one of the most amazing countries on Earth.

You can watch it on youtube if you’d like to get a taste, but it fades in comparison to feeling the beat of the drum resonate through the theater. Also, I’m going to shamelessly promote the official website.

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~~Black Watch~~

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My friend Cindy has a soft spot for all things Scottish. Well, Scottish men. So when this theater show was headed for Seoul, I thought it a great opportunity to indulge in what Cindy fondly refers to as “a brogue thicker than molasses”. Four of us set of to see the show, not really knowing what to expect. And I remember each of us being so moved and so overwhelmed by the story and how it was told. It was one of those experiences where, for a while after, you just kind-of keep quiet while you wrap your head around what you just saw.

The show portrays a group of soldiers in the Black Watch regiment of the black watch01British Army. Wikipedia tells me they were serving on Operation TELIC in Iraq in 2004.

There’s a very nice description here, with this being the basic premise:

Staged stadium style, with the audience on two sides of a long playing space, “Watch” interweaves the history of the regiment with its service in Iraq and with the story of the play’s creation. Scenes of an eager, uncomfortable Writer interviewing wary veterans in a pub slip into enactments of their service in Iraq’s Triangle of Death and bits of the regiment’s history.

In summary, Black Watch was unexpectedly amazing and a show I wouldn’t even have given a second glance back home (or before I met Scotsman-loving Cindy).

break01I’m beyond excited to tell you what I’ll be seeing next. In just over a month, I’ll be ticking something off my bucket list – watching Cirque du Soleil perform. And for this momentous occasion (and because it’s so close to my birthday), I went all the way and bought VIP tickets!

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