Reflection On A Midsummer Night’s Dream From The East
A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the East by Yohangza Theatre Company is adapted from one of the Shakespearean comedies that has the same narrative. Directed by Korean director, Jung Ung Yang, the production retells a story of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ based on the imagination that what the story would have looked like if the narrative was carried out in the East. The comedic and farcical story presents the complexity of love and the ephemerality of dream by featuring four lovers and goblins in the wood, and is dream-like and fantastic.
Based in Seoul, Korea, Yohangza (means ‘Voyager’ in Korean) Theatre Company has produced not only A Midsummer Night’s Dream but many productions. Their main focus is placed on a re-creation of Western classic plays. Each production is a reflection of the director’s aesthetic philosophy, which is producing images through harmony among theatrical mediums including setting, lightings, sound, music, physicality and so on. All of these fit well in the narrative. Under the umbrella of his philosophy, the classic Shakespearean play is reincarnated into a contemporary and eastern performance. Due to this ingenuity, the company and the director have received numerous accolades and acclaims from worldwide. The company has traveled around the world with its crews and has enticed exotic audience to the aesthetics of eastern cultures.
The play I watched was hosted by and filmed at The Globe Theatre in London, the descendent theatre of ‘The Globe’. The prestigious theatre contains a long history as it was one of the biggest ampitheatre where popular plays written by William Shakespeare used to take place in the late 1500s to early 1600s. The theatre was situated on the South bank of the river Thames in Southwark. The current modern building was reconstructed in 1997. The Korean Shakespearean play has became more meaningful as it was performed at the symbolic place where contains the spirit of Shakespeare.
The Korean adaptation of William Shakespeare’s romantic farce borrows the majority of its aesthetics from Korean traditional aspects. The Korean director’s unique interpretation of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ changed the rendition’s spatiotemporal settings, historical background and scenes. The story is set in Joseon dynasty in 1900s before the Republic of Korea was established. During the period, Confucianism permeated every aspect of life as it was a national philosophy as well as laws that the ‘Lee’ regime approved. According to the philosophy, patriarchy was taken for granted and women was asked to be submissive to its opposite sex in any situations, including a marriage. Interestingly, the change in the temporal and physical settings is still connected to the original storyline.
The play begins with two guys, whom represent Puck in the original story. Puck is split into two beings, but speak and behave as a one person. The geisha-like make-up on their faces and geeky facial expressions indicate that they are not normal humans but un-identified creatures. For me, they seem more like ‘Do-kkae-bi‘ rather than fairies. The adaptation of ‘Do-kkae-bi’, a legendary monster that often emerges in Korean traditional folklore, gives more sense to the spatiotemporal settings. The two crews’ slapstick is amusing and hysterical. A hilarious moment is spotted when the two enters the stage with one being hung and when the two goblins kick each other with their feet.
Even though they do not use verbal languages frequently, the two goblins are the most interactive characters in the production. They get physically close to the audience by frequently utilizing Shakespearean strategy, which is to come through the audience. At the beginning of part 2, they throw bracelets to the audience and invite an audience onto the stage. Their interaction gives vibrancy to the play. In addition, they conveys a story through eerie mime, facial expressions and gestures instead of speaking. This keeps the audience – even non Korean speakers – engaged with the play. Moreover, throughout the play, the Pucks act as a bridge between the spirits in the wood and four lovers. Their existence, therefore, holds two separate story together.
Excluding two goblins’ instruction, there was no noticeable moment of the Fourth Wall. It may be because the imaginary wall between the actors and me was immediately broken at the moment when the Pucks appeared and talked directly to the audience. When they asked not to take picture by showing a cell phone, a juxtaposition between the modern technology and their costumes grabbed my attention.
Then the actors come out the stage and break into a song. While they are dancing and singing out loud, they their facial expressions are very expressive and bizarre. By doing so, the actors appeal their geekiness to the audience and the audience can infer the overall atmosphere of the story. The effect of background music and the actors voice is amplified as the auditorium is big and the stage is surrounded: the echoing works efficiently in this type of stage. The actors present themselves toward the audience by showing their facial expressions and gesture one by one. Their movements looks they’re inspired from Korean traditional clown’s gesture. After they gather in the center of the stage area show their facial expressions all together, the impact gets more amplified.
There’s no clear distinction between the lead characters and ensemble characters. Instead, two different groups alternate. Byuk(Hermia) decides to flee to marry Hang(Lysander). Byuk is an epitome of the type of a woman that traditional society wanted: a mild woman who maintains her dignity and is submissive to men. Her being conservative in a love relationship (i.e. She hesitates physical contacts with Hang) shows that she’s affected by Confucianism. Through Byuk represent a typical Korean women in 1900s, she breaks the social more by disobeying her father. Having informed of their elopement, Eeck(Helena) discloses the secret to Rue(Demetrius) in order to be loved by him. Without hearing any words, I could see Eeck’s obsession with Rue because of her facial expressions and desire to be physically attached to Rue. Rue, who falls in love with Byuk and is supposed to marry her, chases the couple. Dressed in a green robe, Rue always holds a traditional fan in his hands. The fan amplifies his lonely mood.
A tension created by Hang and Byuk’s love scene is unforgettable. The sounds and goblins (Do-kkae-bi) add a tension to the scene . The contrast between the couple’s dynamic emotions and the goblin’s stillness further entices the audience into the scene.
Although the play is focus more on delivering the narrative ‘the four lovers’, a story of Gabi(Oberon) the womanizer and his spouse takes an important part of the play. In this play, a wife revenges on her husband whereas the original story is the opposite. Having smelled the order of the poisonous flower, Gabi falls in love with a creature he sees first as he wake up, which turns out to be Ajumi(Bottom). Ajumi is the exact opposite of Byuk. In addition, she is transformed into a pig. His obsession with Ajumi creates lots of fun. Due to the power of the flower, Gabi thinks that Ajumi is the most elegant and beautiful creature. The audience laughter bursts out when Gabi dates with Ajumi and calls her ‘My beauty’ and when he feeds her because he thinks Ajumi, who can split watermelon into a half by her hand, is too lean and weak. The audience is all aware that Ajumi is not, therefore, the audience enjoys observing the irony. Also, I could tell that Gabi is a unreliable character as he judges things only from his own perspective.
The story reaches to its climax when the “Two-guys-one-girl” situation happens. By duduris’ mistake, Hang falls in love with Eeck. Rue also falls in love with Eeck. Eeck believes that they are making fun of her and Hang believes Eeck seduced both. Their dialogue gets faster and the volume of their voices gets bigger as the story intensifies to its climax. Physically, they begin to chase one another at fast pace. The music and sound effects add more tension to the climax. As Hang and Rue start to fight over Eeck. The overall atmosphere that this scene creates is chaotic. Even though the four people is having a quarrel, there’re some hilarious moments. Hang drags Byuk whom he used to love, Rue challenges Hang by insulting him and Byuk’s anger toward Eeck explodes and she tries to hurt Eeck. The chaos allude to the overall theme of the play, the insanity of love.
Four characters’ movements get extremely slow as Gabi’s wife observes them and realizes the issue. Her message in this part if of importance, therefore, needs exclusive attention. The change in the four characters’ tempo works effectively because the audience is able to pay attention to Gabi’s wife who is speaking in the corner of the stage. After everybody is awaken to the reality, the four lovers stand in a square and are equidistant to each other. Since the actors are placed on each corner of the stage, the center of the stage is empty. Along with music, the characters seem confused at the incident but soon promise eternal love to their proper parters. Ajumi is then placed on the center, creating a focal point. As Ajumi returns to a human and discovers a rare herb, the play finishes.
The narrative and the theme are effectively conveyed not only by characters but also by different theatrical mediums and elements. Instead of turning lights on and off, the director uses a smog as main special effect in order to tell the transition from one scene to another. The smog makes the audience to have suspension of disbelief, therefore, plays a crucial role in overcoming the spatial limitation that theatre often faces. Also the beat informs the entrance and exit of a character. The platforms placed on each side of the stage is a great use of space and levels to gain attentions.
An incorporation of Korean philosophy, tradition, style and culture further supports the story. The characters are dressed in traditional clothes and use adapted Korean literate language. In terms of sound, the beat sound played when a character enters the stage is a sound of Moktak. My favorite moment was when Ajumi appears, singing out loud based on the rhythms of traditional Korean folk percussion music. The music is called ‘Sa-mul-no-ri‘ . Sa-mul-no-ri refers to a percussive tribal music played by 4 traditional instruments consisting of Jang-gu, Jing, Ggwaeng-gua-ri, and drum. Each instrument symbolizes four elements weather (rain, wind, lightening and clouds). The folk music represents the spirit of ancestor farmers as it used to be played mostly by farmers to wish a luck on their farmings. I was impressed by the director’s decision to blend Sa-mul-no-ri with Ajumi and Shakespearean play to give the audience an auditory pleasure. However, as a person who plays ‘Jang-gu’ and ‘Sa-mul-no-ri’, I have noticed that the actors are playing music out loud without any techniques. This might be intentional or because they are not professional.
Compared to the majority of Shakespearean play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream From The East restrains verbal communication. Shakespeare’s plays are in it for entertaining the audience through its classic dictions and poetic words. On the other hand, this play makes the audience indulge into physical movements. The play shows lots of symbolic gestures, repetitive movements and transformation of these movements. Their physical theatre enables the actors to transcend the cultural and linguistic barrier between them and the audience. The actors speak in Korean, however, I could notice that they are conscious of where they perform because they occasionally spoke English. They sometimes speak English in Korean intonation to emphasize what they were saying, such as “Don’t change your mind.” and “Only you.“. The actors also use English to communicate with the audience, by saying things like “Hello” and “Would you like something to drink?” to the audience. Ajumi also makes reference to an English culture by saying she wants to eat ‘Fish and Chips’.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream From the East is a blend of eastern and wester comedy. Overall, the play is filled with joy, exuberance and vibrancy. The play is successful at re-telling the story of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and its theme, by showing oriental characters overcoming their hardship.
Reflection on IB MYP
Over the course of 9 or 10 months, my knowledge in theatre grew up significantly. I can use a wide range of theatrical language when I am writing my journal. I was also exposed to the field of theatre by performing in the production ‘the Factory’ and watching the ‘LIONBOY’. Through various exercises including the Viewpoints, the Suzuki Training and so on, I can now display my emotions and tell the story implicitly. Also I challenged myself and had opportunities to teach drama to junior students and classmates. I am now a more reflective and knowledgable actor who can coordinate with other performers well. Moreover, I have begun to investigate the world of theater deeply by analyzing performances. MYP Drama has morphed me into a prepared actor and drama student for IB DP theatre HL course.
The Old Globe Theatre History, http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-globe-theatre.htm
Life In Korea, http://www.lifeinkorea.com/culture/samul/samul.cfm
New Mission, m.newsmission.com
Play DB, 열 살 된 <한 여름 밤의 꿈> 4년 만에 서울 무대, http://www.playdb.co.kr/magazine/magazine_temp_view.asp?kindno=4&no=729
한 여름밤 떠나는 도깨비 여행, http://blog.donga.com/confetti/archives/1043