Chongdong!

I just got back from a fantastic evening. The group spent the afternoon on the town doing several activities which I’ll get to later. The itinerary for our Saturday evening activity listed  simply “Theatre Arts Performance: Traditional Korean Performance” so I didn’t know what to expect. I asked some questions but the responses weren’t specific. What I learned was we were going to see a musical theatre performance that was based on an old Korean folktale. When we arrived, an hour before curtain, we were ushered into the theatre, and asked to remove our shoes. It’s customary to remove your shoes in restaurants and in people’s homes, so I didn’t quite understand why we had to do it in the theatre, but I complied. When I got my shoes off the usher beckoned for me to go on stage — we all were invited on stage where there we rows of drums laid out. I nearly shrieked with glee when I registered that we were getting a drumming lesson. It was wonderful. Our teacher was excellent: he was patient, articulate, and didn’t speak a word of English, but it worked to his advantage. All of us were focused on the same thing at the same time for the first time all week. He walked us through five or six basic beats, then put the whole thing together for a Gene Krupa-inspired drumming session. All told, it lasted for 20 minutes, and I doubt I’ll ever forget it. However, in case I do forget, we now live in the digital age, and we got some of it on video. Check it out.

The fun didn’t stop there. We stayed for the show, which is called “Miso.” Miso is an open run original Korean musical at the Chongdong Theater in Seoul, and its the star-crossed lovers archetype set to live music, involving dance, some Vaudeville-style entertainment, and battles between good and evil. The costumes were the vibrant traditional silk jeogori — the two piece robes from the Three Kingdoms Period — and were matched nicely with a combination of traditional dance and the moves you’d see from Gene Kelley. The story is of Miso told without dialogue: there’s a narrator character who sings the story at certain points, but the music and dance really tell the story. The show isn’t long — 90 minutes or so — but it’s certainly moving. More than a few in the audience were wiping their eyes by the curtain call. The combination of the drumming and the show were the highlights of the trip so far for me.

Those who know me and my history know that I’ve got a thing for theatre, and it’s only reinforced on nights like this one where really powerful emotions were communicated effectively without words. I wrote years ago after watching a Mariachi band perform in San Antonio about the power of live theatre and live music to transcend language and social strata to evoke human emotions. It’s been a while since I’ve seen something performed in another language, but I’m overjoyed at being reminded about how wonderful the experience is.

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