So I am wondering whether I am a true Londoner, having lived in this city for more than half of my life and never having heard about the City of London Festival until now. It could largely be due to the fact that Korea is the focus of this years event. The Festival now in its 52nd year takes place every few weeks around June/July and exists to entertain and ignite a sense of culture to those visitors, residents and workers of the city of London.
The festival Director Paul Gudgin has visited Seoul and says it has been his personal privilege see some extraordinary work there and is delighted to welcome the Korean performers as part of the ‘Seoul in the City’ series. He believes it is a fantastic opportunity to encourage further audiences to experience a remarkable performing arts event.
In a press release issued by the City of London Festival, His Excellency the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, Sungnam Lim, says this festival will be a presentation of Korea’s most talented musicians and performers being held at some of London’s iconic venues.
So with these forthcoming shows that promises to captivate our imagination the Korean Cultural Centre on Tuesday 24th June, held a forum and a reception on an Artist Talk: Think In Performance to introduce the Seoul in the City Performances. The talk was moderated by Vincent Dowd, Arts Correspondent from the BBC World Wide Service with insights from Neil Webb, Director of the Theatre and Dance from the British Council, Louise Chantal, producer of Louise Chantal productions, Angella Kwon, Festival Director of the Seoul in the City Programme and Seok-Kyu Choi, CEO of AsiaNow with the discussion topic how to enhance the cultural exchange in the performing arts sector between Korea and the UK as well as to develop collaborative projects between the two countries.
Each of the panelists contributed to the topic and questions introduced by Vincent which ranged from the universality of theatre to the appreciation of Western and Eastern performing arts, increasing and understanding the audience and how to appeal to them and more.
Angella, spoke briefly about the history of the Korean performing arts, which has less than 30 years having started in 1977.‘Nanta’ the nonverbal musical show, meaning ‘cooking’ in English was the first Korean show to debut in the UK in 1999 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and it opened to rave reviews. Jump soon followed in 2006. I happened to catch this show in 2010 when studying in Seoul at Yonsei University for a three week language course and I found it to be an energetic and humorous performance that was all conveyed through physical theatre and wonderfully choreographed martial arts. A story that needed no understanding of the Korean language as it was all conveyed through dance and mime. Louise Chantal on the panel seemed to echo my sentiments and said the shows success was largely due to being an accessible, slapstick comedy which was very visual.
The Western Panelists, Neil and Louise talked about what they looked for in shows. Louise said it is all about finding something with a different tradition which resonates with the Western audiences and at the same time has a contemporary story. Neil said he looked at small to medium shows that would not be so expensive to showcase and ones that experimented with new forms of writing and specifically when told from a sense of person that would connect with the audience.
They both agreed that Western performing art is a more text based experience than Eastern shows, where they are more physical. Although this could largely be due to what they are familiar with given the difficulties in translating text based Korean shows to the UK audience. Angella touched on this later in an answer when she commented on a large number of shows existing in Korea, but due to the language barriers, she stressed there would be a difficulty in introducing them abroad.
I found it interesting when Vincent touched on the topic of the internet changing the way we experience theatre across both cultures. Neil commented on the audience being more engaged with the performances even before arriving in their seat, as they would have the ability to conduct background research, and even see clips of the artist interviews and performances before hand. They would also be able to understand cultural references that might have previously acted as a barrier. They can also interact with reviews online and engage with bloggers on content. People want to indulge in and create shared experiences rather than sitting at home alone streaming the content from their devices. Previously all that would have told them about the show would have been a poster and the reviews in the papers. Seok-Kyu looked at it from an artist’s perspective and believed that through the existence of the internet, there are more chances to collaborate across cultures with performing artists which would not have existed before.
Overall it was an interesting discussion but due to lack of time and limiting answers from the panel, it never truly got to the heart of the discussion. Towards the end, Vincent asked Angella, what would count as a success and Angella posed the same question back to Vincent. Thus ending the panel discussion and opening it up to members of the audience. However it is an intriguing question. How will Seoul in the City know it has been successful? What will be used to measure its success? There are of course a number of answers and one can only guess. Will it be counted by the number of people that turn up to the events, or the number of sales at the box office? Perhaps it could be the number of tweets and posts and blogs that emerge from the shows themselves? Or will it be measured in the minds and hearts of those attending the events who thoroughly enjoy themselves and vividly recall their experiences a year from now and continue to engage with Korean artists? Only time will tell.
For Seoul in the City events, please see here.