Last Sunday I stepped out on the world for just a while but it was grand and I’d do it again. Down the stairs of the Kim Dong Soo Playhouse and into my seat I crept, entering into an ancient world of gods and legends, forest and foes, love, lust and trickery. There the Seoul Shakespeare Company swept me off to a land of enchantment as I spent my afternoon inside A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What a lovely experience it was and one that I must share with you.
The story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare has often been called the first romantic comedy ever made. I remember reading this play in high school and thinking that humour in the 1500s had a long way to go. The vocabulary was difficult, the characters seemed winded and stiff and my poor teacher struggled to make us see its value.
Seeing the story come to life on the stage last weekend changed my mind completely. The plot is based around four young lovers who escape into an enchanted forest to flee from life’s pressures back in the city of Athens. Little do they know, they’ve stumbled into a forest claimed by fairies and the intruders suffer greatly for their trespassing. This aged tale blossoms with new life – a modern feel overhangs each scene while staying true to the story’s virtue. Young, vigorous actors and actresses filled with passion and wit enthrall the audience, bringing a whole new demographic to the often dusty world of Shakespearian plays. The Seoul Shakespeare Company’s presentation did a fantastic job of bringing an old play to life for a younger –and often- foreign audience. (The play was performed all in English with Korean subtitles running on the wall.) I had the pleasure of meeting the director, Ray Salcedo, and got some background story on how the play came to be.
How long have you been in Korea?
Six years. I’ve been teaching English drama at Seoul National University for four years now.
Is this your first time working with Seoul Shakespeare Company (SSC)?
I joined SSC’s board last summer. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (AMND) is the first production I’ve directed for the company.
I heard this production took 10 months to prepare, is that accurate?
Yes. Once we decided that we would produce something lighter—a comedy—after our heavy Hamlet last year, we immediately went into production mode: as director, I immersed myself in deep textual analysis, selecting which themes I wanted to highlight, while also mapping out the design concepts for the show. As producer, Artistic Director Lindsey Higgins, along with Production Manager Angi Belsly began a wide search for a talented team of collaborators and a performance venue. For a production of this quality and scope, it takes almost a year’s time of planning and organization.
Did you already have an idea of how you wanted the main characters to be portrayed before you found the cast?
Yes and no. I certainly had qualities that I needed actors to portray for each role, but with a community as talented as ours, actors often come in with interesting interpretations of a character that directors might not have considered. It was very clear to me, however, after all auditions were over, who I wanted to cast. Our auditions drew in so much great talent, and fortunately, my first choices for all major roles accepted their parts. We did have an actor drop out mid-way due to other conflicts, but we were lucky enough to have a very talented replacement jump in last minute.
The show took a modern twist on a classic tale of love and comedy. It was also very physical. Was that your intention or did the physicality just evolve organically?
Physicality was one of my primary design concepts from the very beginning. Making Shakespeare come alive to a young and non-native English speaking community (one of SSC’s goals), means that we have to rely on more than the powerful words to grab our audiences. Movement is one way to help bring the story along. Lacey Kearns, our dance choreographer, created some hauntingly beautiful dances for us, set to the sounds designed by our brilliant sound designer, Brian Macqueen. Our actors also do an absolute terrific job moving around that stage, designed by Averi Israel, keeping all sections of the audience engaged. I am particularly fond of the big fight scene with the four young lovers. Every step, every grab, every gesture is meaningful, and it grips me every time.
Do you know what the Seoul Shakespeare Company is looking to put on next?
We in the board will probably determine that in the next month or two, but we’ve put up two tragedies and two comedies over the last four years, so I dare say a history may be in the works. Then again, it could be any of his great works. There has been a recent discovery of a long-lost play by Shakespeare, The History of Cardenio, which has not yet been released to the public, so who knows! I know I’m dying to get my hands on that text.
What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
I am currently in post-production for the filming of my short play, the award-winning “Caliban’s.” Our premiere is scheduled for mid-to-late July of this year.
How can people get involved if they’d like to volunteer or audition for the next performance?
We are always looking for people with a passion to do great work in theatre. All interested should visit www.seoulshakespearecompany.org or follow us at https://www.facebook.com/seoulshakespeare. I can also be directly contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org, or under the same name on Facebook.
Is there anything else you would like the readers to know?
Please support your local theatre community. The main reason we spend countless hours passionately creating work we can feel proud of is because of you, the audience. The audience is the most important element in any production. For tickets, please email: email@example.com.
It should also be noted that the cast and crew in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are mostly all teachers by day and Shakespeare enthusiasts by night. Hometowns range from but are not limited to: Korea, Canada, America, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Spain and Russia. Considering what their last 10 months have probably been like, it’s amazing to see what they have created as a result. The final performances are this weekend so if you’re in Seoul or the surrounding areas and looking for something unique to do, the Kim Dong Soo Playhouse in Hyewha is where you need to be.
Schedule is as follows:
Saturday May 24: 7:30 PM
Sunday May 25: *1:00 PM
Sunday May 25: 6:00 PM
* Q and A to follow 1:00 performance with cast and crew.*
20,000 won for adults, 15,000 won for students
DIRECTIONS (as taken from the website):
Exit 2 Hyewha Station (Line 4). Continue walking straight for approximately 5-7 minutes. (When you pass the rainbow poo statues, you are getting close to the theater.) When you come to the first big intersection, the theater is on your left at the corner. (Next to the Hyundai Car dealership. There are 2 theaters next to the dealer, one on each side. KDS Playhouse is the one at the corner of the intersection. It is underground, underneath the car dealership.)
Address in Korean: 김동수플레이하우스 (혜화역 2번출구)
종로구연건동 178-1 동마루빌딩
For more information on the Seoul Shakespeare Company, click here.
For more photography from Robert Michael Evans, click here.