While boys snooze, Czechs bounce

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While boys snooze, Czechs bounce

The stage was a step down and the audience was a tough one for Jan Gebauer and Jaroslav Cezka, two Czech Republic mime artists who arrived in Seoul last weekend. The duo was in the middle of a seven-day tour of Korea organized by a local nonprofit organization, Beautiful World, which visits poor regions and puts on uplifting programs.

The mimes were to perform for the teenage boys at eastern Seoul's Don Bosco Technical School, a school run by volunteer teachers and Roman Catholic priests and funded by charity. The show was the Czechs' third in Korea, after performances in Incheon and Chuncheon.

Though the two Czechs have played small venues like school gymnasiums and army bases in the past, they are more used to performing in national opera halls and at international theater festivals. The stage at Don Bosco's was about half the width of the stage they usually perform on in Prague. Inspecting the meager space, The two said they were worried that they would stumble and fall into the first row of seats. "It's very dangerous," said Mr. Gebauer. "But we are glad to be here and are really doing this out of our heart."

Ten minutes before the show, the boys who attend the technical school were pouring into the cozy auditorium after finishing an early dinner at the school cafeteria. Many of them are orphaned teenagers who come to learn job skills. The mime show was the highlight of the school's festival week.

Normally this is the time of day when the students are in classrooms getting supplementary lessons, which run until 9 p.m. During the day, they're in hands-on classes learning practical skills.

Unsurprisingly, the boys weren't too excited about watching mimes. "It would be a lot better if we had some girls here with us," one 16-year-old boy with a pierced ear said to his friend.

Another boy turned to his teacher and asked, "Are they really famous? When I think of mimes, I think of art for idiots."

When asked, the boy confessed that he had never seen live theater before. "The closest I've been to something like that was a live show of SES singing in a recreational park," he said, referring to the local pop group.

When the red velvet curtains parted, the show began with the nostalgic strains of Robert Schumann's "Dream." But the song was blasting out of a portable stereo, giving the production the atmosphere of a grade school talent show.

Mr. Cezka came out in a flamboyant cherry-pink dress to perform "Saengerin," a part of the artists' main repertoire, which is inspired by classic 16th century Russian pantomime. After the act, the master of ceremonies, Kim Ki-soo, with the organizing team, explained the significance of the art. The mime duo went on to perform 10 pieces, most of them based on themes about dreams and hope. Much of the humor was conveyed in an obvious and even low-brow way.

Between each act Mr. Kim came to the stage to make sure the students were awake, and tried to keep them entertained while the performers were fixing their makeup or adjusting the lights. But the room was mostly silent, and some students, exhausted after a long day of classes, were already asleep. One boy had buried his face on his friend's shoulder and started to snore. Another, asked what he thought of the show, said, "It's funny, but I find some parts a little peculiar."

The mimes got the most enthusiastic response from the audience when they dumped candy into the seats. Reflexively, several students sprang up to catch the goodies.

The director of Beautiful World, Song Gwang-soon, invited the two mime artists to Seoul after seeing them perform at a theater festival in Vienna last summer. "They are like heroes in eastern Europe," Mr. Song said. "They agreed to come to Korea purely based on friendship after we extended our invitation."

Would the boys, at least the ones who were awake, remember the show in the future? One 18-year-old, Lim Sang-hun, said, "I think I will. I didn't know what the actors were trying to say, but they looked very sad at some moments."

by Park Soo-mee

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