From Stratford to birds on stilts, this rural Korean stage has it all

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From Stratford to birds on stilts, this rural Korean stage has it all

Geochang is a small, quiet county in South Gyeongsang province, whose 70,000 or so residents dwell in peace, mostly making their living from farming. The name of the town does not ring a bell in most cases. Posters in Seoul subway stations advertising strawberries and watermelons from Geochang are some of the few reminders that the county even exists. The humble region also bears deep scars from the Korean War, when more than 650 local civilians were massacred.
To those who love theater dramas, however, there is more than fruit and history to make Geochang special. Every summer, Geochang transforms into a city of drama, like Avignon in France, with an international theater festival. This year’s festival, the 15th, opened July 31 and runs until Aug. 17.
Thirty-four theater troupes from eight countries are offering special midsummer nights. From Shakespeare to Bertolt Brecht and Samuel Beckett, the repertoire varies from traditional to modern plays. Geochang takes pride in its natural setting, surrounded by Mount Jiri and its valleys with crystal-clear water flowing through a verdant landscape. Many of the plays are staged outdoors, in harmony with traditional buildings and the surrounding landscape.
Programs from foreign troupes include a British theater company, Lighthouse, presenting “Gastronomic,” featuring three male characters who can turn fishing flies, bullets and just about anything else into something delicious Another troupe from Australia stages a comic performance, “Yarn’ in Up,” about reconciliation between Australia’s Aborigines and its Caucasians. A Czech troupe presents “Black Light,” with a classic good-versus-evil theme.
The festival, however, has not yet drawn many expat viewers. Kim Jeong-eun, a publicist for the festival, said, “Since Geochang is thought to be a small village far from major cities like Seoul and Busan, we don’t get many foreign spectators. But Geochang is not really so far. Enjoying quality art in the heart of nature without an overwhelming crowd will make your summer break an unforgettable one.”


by Chun Su-jin

Tickets for each play cost 10,000 won ($8) for adults and 7,000 won for teenagers and children. You can reach Geochang from Seoul by bus from Nambu Terminal in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul. Take subway line No. 3 to Seoul Nambu Terminal Station and use exit No. 5. Buses leave every 40 minutes from 9 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. It takes about four hours. Call the terminal at (02) 521-8550 for more information on buses. For more on the festival call the organizers at (055) 944-0804 or 944-4738, or visit the Web site, www.kift.or.kr. Tickets are also available on the Internet at www.ticketlink.co.kr or www.ticketpark.com.

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