If you’re artistic, they’re looking for you

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If you’re artistic, they’re looking for you

Wanted: anyone who likes theater, poetry readings and live music. Several venues in Seoul offer open mike nights, readings and book signings for the expatriate crowd. Spurred by a lack of artistic venues, particularly for expats, the owners of live music clubs and bookstores, English teachers and business managers have taken up the gauntlet themselves. If these people have one thing in common,
it’s a desire to create an artistic community.

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Wanted: Actors, set designers and more

B&H Productions
When: 10 p.m. tonight, 8:30 p.m. on Saturday
Contact: thebhpcompany@yahoo.com

Three comedic one-act plays are being staged in a part of Itaewon commonly known as Hooker Hill. The theatrics there are by expatriates taking part in BH Productions’ second production. The staff may have kept the doors of the East ‘N’ West Club locked during rehersals (“We don’t want any drunk people wandering in”), but viewing is encouraged now that the shows have opened. The final performance is on Saturday; admission is 10,000 won.
“I’m a country music type of guy,” says the owner of the club, who adds that he’s never seen this type of theater before. It mixes comedy with social commentary for some surprising moments. “The Last Yankee,” by Arthur Miller, deals with society and the loony house. “Naomi in the Living Room,” by Christopher Durang, stars a dysfunctional family. “The Battle of Bull Run Always Makes Me Cry,” by Carole Real, is girl-meets-boy, girl-discusses-boy-with-girlfriends.
Directing is Bernard Hughes, an actor turned English teacher from Ireland. “I was frustrated at the lack of opportunities for English speakers to see entertainment theater, unless you speak Korean,” Hughes says.
The first play he put on was the more serious “Cathleen ni Houlihan,” by W.B. Yeats, which was part of the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations last year. Most of the cast was from Ireland. Most of the cast members have a background in drama, and BH Productions is a way for them to continue. “Commitment, capability and talent is more important than experience,” Hughes says. “But if you have experience, even better. People have to start somewhere.”
BH Productions is always looking for talented actors and crew members, especially now that they are planning a show for March.

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Wanted: Poets

What the Book?
When: Poetry reading Dec. 12 at 9 p.m.
Contact: www.whatthebook.com, (02) 797-2342

“Write poetry? I’m not creative enough for it,” says Christian Chiavetta. But as a promoter of highbrow and lowbrow literature, Chiavetta chats with the browsers at his Itaewon used English-language bookstore, What the Book? One such person was Duane Voorhees, a professor at the University of Maryland and a poet.
Chiavetta and Voorhees began discussing poetry readings, or the lack thereof. And one day in September, Chiavetta kept his store open after the normal closing time, pushed back the couches to clear some space, and hosted a small gathering of poets. “A lot of these things take place in bars, which is not conducive to poetry,” Chiavetta says.
What the Book opened about four months ago, near another used English-language bookstore, Abby’s Book Nook. Chiavetta keeps an espresso machine on hand and stocks a variety of fiction and nonfiction.
“This gives people a place to read their poetry to other people and gives other people a chance to critique it,” Chiavetta says. While he doesn’t have plans to write any poetry, he says, “That first night, I learned a lot about poetry. One person even wrote a haiku.”

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Wanted: Musicians and other performers

Big Electric Cat
When: Open mike Tuesdays at 9 p.m.
Contact: (02) 792-0754, www.ebigcat.com

“I like rock and roll, blues, pop, all of it,” says Kim Jae-mi, the owner and founder of Big Electric Cat. She opened the live music venue in Itaewon more than a year ago. And as is only logical, the music drew musicians, some of whom were looking for a place to perform. So Ms. Kim started an open mike night a year ago.
Two of her house bands, Gypsy-and-Rainbow and Big Electric Cat Band, met on open mike nights. “They heard each other perform, realized they had the same taste in music, and before you know it, there’s a new group,” Kim says.
While she is always looking for new bands, open mike night is not an audition, but a chance to share just about any type of music. Who knows, if they like you, they might invite you back. Woodstock
When: Open mike Sundays at 8 p.m.
Contact: (02) 749-6034

Woodstock is one of the older live rock and roll venues in Itaewon. But just over a year ago, the bar slowed things down on Sundays for International Friendship Society meetings. After the meetings ended, though, people would hang out and take to the stage. Thus began an open mike series.
Most of the performances are solo, whether it be singing, instrumental performance, acting or poetry reading. Bands are welcome, though. At the beginning of the night, a list is passed through the crowd. Usually about 15 people sign up.
Over time, the open mike nights have gotten more popular, consistently drawing larger crowds than weekday nights do. Bring your own instrument, unless it’s a drum set.

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Wanted: Poets, musicians, standup comedians

Spy Club
When: Open mike night on Sundays (though not this Sunday). Doors open at 6, shows start at 7.
Contact: spy_sundays@yahoo.com

Spy Club, a club in Itaewon, may seem like an unlikely haven for the artistic community, but the manager, Vincent Sung, is a photographer. With his blessing, and the help of Cho Mi-hee, Suzanne Burrows has helped set up a place for artists to gather.
Sung and Burrows met at a conference for Koreans adopted overseas. Burrows put together a brief artists’ panel. The audience was interested in seeing more of the artistic works, so Sung told her, “Hey, I have a stage. Why don’t you put something on here?”
Since then, there have been movie nights, book readings and open mike nights every Sunday at Spy Club. Entrance is 5,000 won, which includes beer or soda.
On a recent open mike night, one man took the stage simply to get the audience talking. The topic of choice was traffic, but, says Burrows, “He’s from Holland, and it got into a ‘Pulp Fiction’-esque discussion about drugs.” Another time, an Irish singer signed up at the last minute to sing. “She had an amazing voice and I could have listened to her all night.”
Spy has hosted Ed Bok Lee, a spoken-word artist, and an author who compiled stories about adoptees. Amateurs are also invited to share their written works on Sundays.
For Burrows, who has curated shows in the United States, these gatherings have helped plug her into the community. “I knew nothing about the artist community here. I hadn’t heard of anything, especially for expatriates,” Burrows says. “It’s a volunteer effort, and I’m doing this to see if this is something I want to pursue.”

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Wanted: People who love the theater

Seoul Players
Next show: Spring 2004
Contact: the_seoul_players@yahoo.co.uk

Roman Zolnierczyk was frustrated with the lack of theater opportunities available to expatriates, so he placed an advertisment for actors in a local English-language newspaper. Every week, about 10 people e-mailed, eager to become involved with a theatrical production. And what had been an idea to create a one-off play became a community theater association called the Seoul Players.
“I set it up for purely selfish reasons, but with so much interest, I thought, let’s make it a cooperative effort,” says Zolnierczyk.
Which is why the first two plays, staged last year, were directed by other people. Rather than direct himself, Zolnierczyk, the managing director of Basell Polyolefins Korea Limited, found the theater and produced the show. “I Do Not Like Thee, Dr. Fell,” Seoul Players’ first production, was staged at Jungbo Theater in Haehwa district on a weekend, with two performances daily. “When I walked into the theater, I felt at home again,” he says.
The group has just finished its fourth production, “The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of ‘A Christmas Carol,’” a spoof on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The show ran for just over a week at Living Newspaper Theater near Hongik University.
While the fifth show is not slated until next year, the group is always looking for people trained or interested in all aspects of theater, from lighting to set design to public relations.
Seoul Players also gathers to watch other performances or workshops. For now, the group has about 100 members.
Zolnierczyk had done theater for 20 years in Australia. “I was missing it,” he says. “If I don’t see something happening, I’ll make it happen.”

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Wanted: Literati

Seoul Selection
When: Book signing in mid-December
Contact: www.seoulselection.com or selector@seoulselection.com

“In this country, a book-signing culture doesn’t really exist,” says Kim Hyung-geun. But most of his customers at Seoul Selection, across the street from Gyeongbok Palace, are expatriates. So when he found authors of the books he sells eager to promote their books, and the buyers eager to meet the authors, he started book readings and signings.
One of the first was with Jerry Pak, a professor at Hawaii University and author of “A Rice Paper Airplane.” About 70 people attended, but the signings aren’t always that large.
A Korean writer or a book about Korea is always featured, as Seoul Selection considers its mission to be promoting Korean culture to an English-speaking audience. In addition to selling DVDs and books, Seoul Selection hosts movie nights.
Next up is a book signing by Michael Breen, journalist and author of “The Koreans” and the recently released “Kim Jong-il: North Korea’s Dear Leader.” The signing will be in mid-December.


by Joe Yong-hee

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