Rural festival adds class to the peninsula's drama scene

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Rural festival adds class to the peninsula's drama scene

Lee Jong-il, a high school Korean teacher in the rural county of Geochang in South Gyeongsang province, has always had a distinctive way of teaching. Instead of forcing his students to memorize poems and long passages from books, Mr. Lee likes to encourage interaction, to get his kids to talk about literature, especially dramas. Mr. Lee is the director of the Geochang International Festival of Theater, which raised its curtain on July 31 and runs until next Saturday.

The festival started modestly in 1989 to promote ties among theaters in South Gyeongsang province -- with Mr. Lee playing a major role, it has been held every year since. By 1993 the event had grown to a national scale. Soon after that, international troupes were invited to play. This year's lineup consists of 35 performances by troupes from eight countries. Tickets for each performance cost 10,000 won ($8).

Geochang doesn't have anything fancy or futuristic; the small county only has 70,000 residents. It takes pride in its beautiful scenery, and is surrounded by Mount Jiri and Mount Deokyu. Accordingly, the festival's theme this year is "Nature, People and Drama." Plays will be performed indoors and outdoors. "It's like the festival in 'Midsummer Night's Dream,'" said one of the organizers, Gwon Jeong-o.

Theatrical troupes from Britain, Spain, Japan, China and Russia are in the festival this year. Mr. Gwon recommends the British and Spanish troupes for international viewers. "Robin Hood," by England's Theatre Ophaboom group, will be staged in English on Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m., and is considered a good choice for children.

"Flamenco" by Spain's Theater Color Flamenco, will dazzle up the stage at 10 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday with flashy costumes and dancing to authentic Spanish music. Also presented at 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday will be "Women Rebellion," by a local troupe, Theater Seongjwa. This performance deals with a story of five pregnant women fighting against their husbands and society for their babies.

Another entry people are looking forward to is "Else What's a Heaven For?" a solo performance by Gwydion Seanan Forbes from England. Presented at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, the performance will have the soloist hanging from a rope, hoping to steal a star from the sky.

"I hope that Geochang can give birth to a renaissance in drama performances, like the Avignon Festival in France did," Mr. Lee said. "Some day, Geochang will be Asia's Avignon."

For more information, call 055-944-0804 or visit (English available).

by Chun Su-jin

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