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The Korean Theatre Journal. 2008 Spring. No. 48.
Special Issue; New Directions of Theatrical Realism


Essays on New Directions of Theatrical Realism
Yi Jeung, “21st Century Korean Theatre: Quotidian Realities without Reaching Theatrical Realism”;
LEE Kyung-Mi, “Creating Cracks in the Appearance of Everyday Reality”;
HWANG Yu-Jeong, “ The Inner Landscapes of Young Playwrights of Today.”

Local Productions: KIM Ki-Ran on A Mad Kiss by YUN Young-Sun, SONG Min-Sook on The Winter Sunflowers by Korean-Japanese Playwright JUNG Eui-Shin,  KIM Sung-Hee on Street Hamlet by PARK Keun-Hyung, LIM Sun-Ock on The Trojan Women – An Asian Story, and others.

International Productions: LEE Sun-Hyung on “Montreal Theatre in 2008,” LEE Chin-A on “Lev Dodin and Maly Theatre’s Life and Destiny,” Kalina Stefanova on  “Spielart Festival: Alvis Hermanis and other Directors.”

LEE Tae-Joo, “Problems of Adaptations: Where is Shakespeare?”

Critics Comment on the Society
LEE Sang-Il, “Eyes to See the World and Eyes to See the Theatre.”
KIM Moon-Hwan, “Globalization and Culture.”

Book Reviews
KIM Mi-Do on The Formation and Issues of Modern Korean Theatre by KIM Sung-Hee;
SHIM Je-Min on Theatre and Memory by AHN Chi-Woon.

Reports on International Symposium and Festival
KIM Hyung-Ki on the 1st Colloquium of IATC Asian Group in Beijing
KIM Yun-Cheol on the 26th Fadjr International Theatre Festival in Tehran**
**This report is translated into English by the author himself and attached here.

Report on the 26th Fadjr International theatre Festival in Tehran
KIM Yun-Cheol

In early February, I participated in the Fadjr International Theatre Festival, which commemorated the Revolution by Khomeini. This 26th edition of the festival was held from the 6th to the 14th of February in Tehran in a very big scale under the slogan of “Theatre for All.” As the slogan implies, the organizers made great efforts to accommodate as many theatre performances on diverse levels as possible, and succeeded in inviting seven foreign productions and 200 or so local productions in various forms like university students’ experimental theatre, students’ theatre, street theatre, TV drama, radio drama, staged reading, etc. 197 theatre companies, 714 performances, 103 theatres were involved on the whole.

On top of this, they organized several seminars: international theatre criticism seminar, scenic design and stage decorations seminar, educating playwriting seminar, and street theatre seminar. They also organized workshops for “thinking body,” for “total movement,” for “revolutionary acting,” and another seminar for “Oriental theatre.” There is no doubt that this Fadjr festival was meant to be an ambitious curating to show everything of the Iranian theatre and to provide all-encompassing educational programs for the Iranian theatre people.

I was invited to present a paper in the criticism seminar and delivered my short paper with the title of “What are expected of today’s theatre critics?” and spent most of my five day stay in meeting and discussing with Iranian critics. Therefore my experience with the festival was very limited. But the features of this year’s edition of the Fadjr festival are, as far as I hear from Sarsangi, the festival’s director, not very different from those found in other international theatre festivals. The only difference is their emphasis on religious values and Islamic Revolution. But, still, it is very impressive that they put so much emphasis on the education of students and practitioners, that they are so anxious to develop national repertories with their committed support to young playwrights, and that they are so eager to involve the academics in the design and running of the festival.

Leaving the concerns and worries of my family and colleagues behind, I visited Tehran, and it was not that radical or fundamentalist, but quite different from its general images reported and delivered through media. Rather it was so quiet and peaceful. Although every street in Tehran was too crowded with people–they say its population is 15 million – for me to take a leisurely walk, I felt quite safe, possibly thanks to my translator-guide. He accompanied me most of the time during my stay in Tehran. Iranian hospitalities were very generous, and efficient. There was one thing, however, that made me somewhat uncomfortable despite the enormous hospitalities and kind concerns from the festival organizers. It was my impression that the oil money in this rich country did not seem to reach the everyday lives of the ordinary citizens. From the looks of the walkers on the street, I saw the deep, dark agony, both physical and spiritual. Women were wearing either hijab or chador, making the landscape of the metropolis quite medieval to a man like me from a different culture. I came across with the impression that citizens were not particularly well cared by the government. They seemed to compete with each other for survival. The streets of this capital city were full of cars that pumped out polluted gas all day long; the traffic congestion was extremely heavy and people were performing acrobatic driving based on their physical alertness and instinctive judgment, not on the traffic signal; and pedestrians had also to compete with these crazy cars to cross streets.

To my surprise, I did not feel a strong sense of religious policing in this fundamentalist Islam republic. Three times a day, there were public calls to pray, but not many people gave attention to the calls. Very few people were seen entering the nearby mosques. While the opening ceremony of the Fadjr Festival was being held very religiously in the Khomeini’s shrine, I found myself and another Polish director interviewed by Iranian television and radio. If religion is really strictly imposed upon the citizens’ daily lives, this cannot happen. Religion seemed to me only a form for them, and unless the form is threatened, the religious leaders who rule over the political leaders did not seem to care. The difference between form and content was tangible not only in their religious life but also in other areas. The citizens of Tehran seemed to enjoy relatively quite free life-style unlike their official religious intolerance. This double life was more tangible in the politics and culture. Theatrewise, the conflict between strict, physical, official censorship and the artists’ desire to avoid it and to enjoy their private freedom was always present there like a permanent absent presence.

During my five day stay, I saw three foreign plays and one Iranian play, all directed by Iranian directors: Federico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma, directed by Reza Gouran, Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit directed by Hamied Samandarian, Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck directed by Nader Borhanie, and Afra written and directed by Bahram Beizaie. These four were selected among all the productions of the previous year in Iran, and well deserved to be taken as the representative contemporary Iranian theatre. There were no subtitles, and I had to appreciate them mainly through my visual sense. But the language was not a real big obstacle because three of the four were quite well known modern Western classics.

Some characteristics I could detect. Firstly, scenic designs were very simple and basic, heavily relying on the stage objects like in many European theatres. Unlike in European cases where objects have both artistic values and practical uses, the Iranian objects were very two dimensional, simple, basic with only conceptual values, and were not used as an integral part of the performance.
The two directors, Beizaie and Samandarian, are the most representative Iranian directors, and considered the mentors of contemporary Iranian theatre. Their stages were very dynamic, though somewhat lacking in ingenuity and revolutionary imagination. For instance, both of them seemed very fond of mob scenes, but the mobs on their stages were nothing more than utility cluster just standing there demonstrating collectivity without each member realizing his live individuality.

It may be due to the Iranian censorship that prohibits physical contact between male and female actors, that does now allow stage violence, and that makes it mandatory for female performers to wear either chador or hijab, that Iranian acting seemed very conceptual or symbolical. Their acting was directed to generalize a strong character rather than to minutely describe the quotidian reality of life. In Yerma, suppression of desire and emotion was so much emphasized that the audience had a hard time in hearing the actors’ speeches even in that small theatre. The above limitations imposed from the censorship were particularly strongly felt in Yerma, where women’s sexual desire is one of its leitmotifs, and in The Visit, where revenge and collective violence are inevitably functioning as the main vehicle to move the dramatic action forward.

Korean Theatre Journal. 2007. Autumn. No. 46.
Special issue on “Theatre and Philosophy”

Part 1: Theatre and Philosophy
KIM Hyung-Gi, “Theatre as the Space for Narratives and Memories”
AN Chi-woon, “Theatre and Philosophy”
HWANG Hoon-Seong, “Theatre of OH Tae-Suk and Postmodern Philosophising”
AN Ji-Young, “I Will Die as Harlequin”

Part 2: Reviews
Thematic Reviews on “Theatre and Popular Culture”
KWON Kyeong-Hee, “Different Popularity, and Disappearance of Popular Theatre”
KIM Hyo, “Aesthetic Strategies of Popular Theatre Challenging the Image Media”
CHOI Sung-Hee, “Popularization of Theatre: A Crisis or an Opportunity?”

Theatre Reviews by Established Critics
HUR Soon-Ja on Dancing Shadow (a musical based on the Korean play Forest Fire by CHA Bum-Suk, adapted by Ariel Dorfman, music and lyrics by Eric Woolfson, directed by Paul Garrington.)
KIM Yun-Cheol on Dancing Shadow and Story of Three Kingdoms (a Korean style musical, written by BAE Sam-Sik, music by CHO Suk-Yeon, directed by SOHN Jin-Chaek.)
KIM Yoo-Mi on the 2007 ASSITEJ Festival in Seoul
CHANG Eun-Soo on Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck

Theatre Reviews by Beginning Critics
CHUNG Soo-Jin on Alain Platel’s VSPRS
CHUN Young-Ji on CHO Yang-Kyu, the Good Man written by BAE Sam-Sik, directed by KIM Dong-Hyun

Korean Theatre Journal. 2006 Winter. Vol. 43
Special issue:
The 2006 Seoul Extraordinary Congress of IATC in Celebration of its 50th Anniversary

Editor’s note by Yun-Cheol Kim
Keynote Speeches by Ian Herbert, Bangock Kim, Patrice Pavis

Colloquium Reports
Papers on the Americas, reported by Yu-Jeong Hwang
Papers on Europe, reported by Kyung-Mi Lee
Papers on Asia, reported by Seong-Hi Chang

The Thalia Prize Ceremony
Acknowledgment Speech by Don Rubin
Congratulatory Speech by Suk-Kee Yoh
Congratulatory Speech by Myung Gon Kim, Minister of Culture
Acceptance Speech by Eric Bentley
Interview with Eric Bentley by Yun-Cheol Kim
(The full text of the interview is attached at the end of this contents.)

Reports on the Young Critics’ Seminar
by Margareta Soerenson, Young-Joo Choi, Hwa-Won Lee

Overall Reviews by Ian Herbert, Mi-Won Lee

The 2006 Seoul Performing Arts Festival
Overall review by Hyung-Ki Kim
Critiquing foreign productions by Young-Joo Choi
Critiquing domestic productions by Sook-Hyun Kim
Reviews of Individual Peformances
Kwan-Bo Kim’s production of Mother Courage and Her Children
reviewed by Mi-Do Kim
Yun-Taek Lee’s adaptation and production of Mother Courage and Her Children, reviewed by Sang-Lan Lee
Slovenian production of Heiner Muller’s Quartet, reviewed by Min-Sook Song, and Sun-Hyung Lee

Reviews of International Theatre
Ibsen Festival in Bergen, reviewed by Margareta Soerenson
2006 Avignon Festival, reviewed by Patrice Pavis

Kim: Many congratulations on your receiving IATC’s first Thalia Prize. I extend my warmest thanks for making such a long flight to receive it. It is a great honor for me, for my international colleagues and for the people of the Korean theatre. This prize is given to those who have influenced the thinking of theatre critics. As the first Thalia Prize recipient, what do you think of the future of theatre criticism?

Bentley: What future for theatre criticism? One must first answer the question what future for theatre – i.e. for shows with live actors with an audience before them. We hear that movies and TV may replace old-fashioned theatre. But will they? On the contrary, in all the great urban centers of the world, theatre is in no worse shape than it was fifty years ago. There has always been theatre and probably there always will be. But there has not always been theatre criticism, and who knows what the future holds? Does the theatre audience want to read criticism? Ought they want it?

Kim: People have always talked about “the end of theatre,” but not as seriously as they do now. The theatre is suffering from many-sided crises in terms of identity, communication, production aesthetics, commercial viability, etc. It may have something to do with the impossibility of defining today’s theatre, which is deconstructing, or negating everything that has been considered “theatrical.” Do you share this pessimistic view of theatre? If so, what is wrong with the contemporary theatre? If not, what would you like to say to those pessimists?

Bentley: Do I share the pessimism about the theatre’s future which you cite? Well, only when I am in the mood of being pessimistic about everything…which maybe is rather often these days. There is no reason to be more pessimistic about theatre than about any other aspect of present civilization. I know nothing of Korean theatre, but I know something of theatre in New York, London, Berlin and as far east as Moscow. In all those cities, there is theatre talent, even occasional genius, and a young generation dedicated to the idea of Great Theatre (i.e. great art in the theatre).

Kim: I have been reading your books since the 1960s. My favorite is Life of the Drama. In this book—your modernized version of the Poetics—you say that “Great narrative is not the opposite of cheap narrative: it is soap opera plus.” I may sound old-fashioned, but I think one of the main phenomena that have contributed to the current crisis of theatre is the lack of great narratives. If ‘great narrative is soap opera plus,’ what could that “plus” be in this text-unfriendly postdramatic, or postmodern, theatre of our times?

Bentley: Your points are two. One is about my book, the other is about great narratives. One: yes, Life of the Drama is my summa as far as theatre is concerned. It is as different from other general books on drama as can be. That was deliberate. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with the French and German schools of criticism in the 20th century (post-structuralism and all the other -isms), as they all seem to lead away from the theatre itself, as experienced by you or me. I deal with experience, not a theory of experience, though theories have to be mentioned. I say to
the reader, these are the experiences which theatre has given me, compare them with your own or go out and have more experiences and then report back to me… About your second problem, great narrative. It is just a question of talent. A narrative becomes great when it is a great artist who handles it. One of my favorite artists in this regard is Joseph Conrad. But he wasn’t much of a playwright. The great narrative playwright of the 20th century was Brecht. Or maybe the Shaw of Saint Joan.

Kim: One of the revolutions of the contemporary theatre is to talk about the centre from the periphery, about the powerful via the marginalized, as shown in feminist theatre, gay theatre, etc. You have long been known as “an outspoken advocate for gay issues.” What do you think is the major importance of gay theatre, socially, philosophically, or aesthetically speaking?

Bentley: Your question is about centre and periphery. You put women and gay people at the periphery. For me, the point there is that they used to be peripheral, but today they are central. Just look at American newspaper headlines…all about women’s role in this or that, or a gay scandal in Washington, DC.

Kim: It is widely recognized that you are one of the 20th century’s most influential men of the theatre. As critic, translator, editor, playwright, professor, mentor, director and occasional performer, you have been demonstrating in yourself the ideal relationship between practitioners and critics. But I am very tempted to ask you where you have found your greatest satisfaction in working for the theatre. In practice or in criticism? I hope you might be as personal as possible.

Bentley: My greatest pleasure, in criticism or practice? In tackling this question, I think I will begin by questioning your premises!!! For I don’t think of criticism and practice as separate and, more particularly, I don’t think of criticism and playwriting as separate. These two categories overlap. Also, the one may lead to the other, as in my case, for instance, I went from criticizing BB’s Galileo to writing my own Galileo play which criticizes BB even more. As to my pleasure, that is another subject. What gives a writer pleasure? The writing process itself or the sense of having written? I find the writing process pleasurable at some stages of the game, but arduous and even agonizing at other points. As to the pleasure of seeing one of my plays on stage? Well, that is often agonizing, too—because one’s plays are often misunderstood and mismanaged by directors, and even sometimes by actors. Some of the happiest evenings of my life have been spent performing. You can hear some of my performances on CD’s which are now available on the Smithsonian/Folkways label (Washington, DC).

Kim: You have just turned 90. But I don’t think there is a great generation gap between you and today’s young theatrical artists, being yourself a most liberal man of intellect, and one who correctly and strikingly predicted today’s theatre half a century ago. You seem to live 50 years ahead of us all. Could you give the young theatre people of today the wisdom of your experience and your insights as to how to cope with the artistic challenges of this difficult era?

Bentley: I would have liked to spend a month or two with your young Korean people…to listen to them before answering your third question! But I think our problems as theatre students (and eventual theatre artists) are not changing so much, even though world politics are now very different from the days of the Cold War, America versus the Soviet Union…I am sure, though, that we shall all have to address, if only indirectly, this terrible issue of the 21st century— Militant Islam versus Western Civilization…and that will mean also going over again a lot of old ground, such as Kipling and British Imperialism, Ghandhi and his non-violence… I think the conflicting forces are: Religious Fanaticism and Civilization — not just Western civilization but an emerging Global Civilization… Have you read the remarks of the Turkish novelist who just won the Nobel Prize? He defines for himself an interesting relationship with his government and his country…we can all learn something from him…

Kim: Please tell me, as a New Yorker, where you find the great hope for American theatre and where you feel the dark forces that threaten its future.

Bentley: What dark forces are you referring to? I don’t see the American theatre threatened by anything except forces that threaten everything. These forces at present are two—one is the enemy who brought about 9/11, the other is the enemy within, namely our own society in its present form, which I would call Plutocratic Democracy. When I was a young British subject, I joined our British Independent Labor Party, a democratic socialist party at odds with Soviet Communism… Why do I mention that here? Because I am still that person. If this intrigues you, I invite you to read my book, The Kleist Variations, which lets you know what subsequently happened to that young British socialist…not in the form of autobiography but in imaginative extension…(I was a student of Tolkien and C.S.Lewis).

Kim: I admire your two great friends—both dead now—Bertolt Brecht and Jan Kott. I am sure that your friendship with them has mutually influenced your critical thinking enormously. How would you describe your friendship with them? What is your influence on them, and theirs on you?

Bentley: I didn’t know Kott too well, but I read him and met with him a number of times. He was such a clever, wise, and witty human being. He made you see things differently and more “relevantly” in the sense of “relevant to our life as we are now living it.” I often—even usually—disagreed with his opinions on literature, especially English literature…but disagreement was a creative thing with this man. Which was why the Communists in Poland were not happy with him; they liked to have a Party Line and simply endorse it… Well, enough on Kott for now. Brecht played an infinitely more important part in my life…did you know there is a play about the Brecht/Bentley relationship? It is called Silent Partners, and is by Charles Marowitz. If I often disagreed with Jan, I clashed outright with Bertolt. But again, I have to believe that a clash can be creative…it suddenly pushed me toward creative writing of my own…beginning with my play The Recantation, which is a retort to BB’s Galileo. If you want to know more, get a hold of a recent book of mine, called BENTLEY ON BRECHT.

Professor Yun-Cheol Kim, Ph.D., teaches in the School of Drama at the Korean National University of the Arts, and serves as Vice-President of the International Association of Theatre Critics.