[ON STAGE]From the Street to the StageWhen the poet Kim Si-ra first staged his "Poomba" in 1981, critics refused to even consider it legitimate theater.
Korean theater was heavily influenced by the Western stage tradition, which makes a clear distinction between actors and the audience. Critics were perplexed by the audience-participation, which involves low-brow humor. In "Poomba" the viewer is eventually incorporated into the song and dance routines, with members of the audience frequently invited onto the stage.
"Poomba" is based on the tradition of spontaneous outdoor performances, which were frequent in post-war Korea, where the devastation left many persons begging for food, and street theater was a way they could solicit handouts.
A performance has been scheduled at the Dongsung Arts Center to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show, one of the longest-running in Korea's theatrical history.
Park Dong-kwa is one of the show's four veterans starring in the Dongsung performance. Mr. Park has received critical acclaim for his portrayal of the beggar, the show's main character. He recently completed his 1,000th show and performed in a North American tour.
"Poomba" is a celebration of the tradition of sharing food and life. The show is also a "situation drama" that reflects the current social political climate. It has been adapted over its 20-year run to mirror contemporary themes. By rotating the featured songs on a regular basis and interjecting commentary on current issues, the play, always a rousing performance, has become a social critique as well.
In the 1980s, the actors parodied the military dictatorship and the government's human rights violations by interpreting political action through the eyes of the indigent looking for food. Beginning in the 1990s, the group expanded the social relevance by raising environmental concerns and tackling issues surrounding the reunification of Korea.
The rituals depicted in "Poomba," which often took place at village weddings or other gatherings, disappeared with the nation's industrialization. But those interested in stimulating theater can view recreations of a Korean art form.
All songs are in Korean. However, the show's storyline is self-explanatory. For more information, call 02-3674-0110 (English service available).
by Park Soo-mee