Book gives women directors their due

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Book gives women directors their due

In Korea, there are numerous actresses in the public eye. But well-known female stage directors (and film directors, for that matter) can be counted on one hand, if at all.
To redress this situation, a local professor has published a book on what she calls the “herstory” of female stage directors.
Shim Jung-soon, a professor of English literature at Soongsil University and a critic of theater and art, says “21st-Century Korean Women Directors: History and Aesthetics” was not published for commercial reasons.
“This book is about eight mothers of the Korean theater, who put their breath into written texts and added flesh and made it alive on the stage,” according to Ms. Shim. She says these women’s work has often been ignored in Korea’s male-centered society; she believes hers is the first book on this subject.
Seven of the women discussed in the book are contemporary stage directors. The eighth is a figure from 20th-century history whose name may be new to many.
In 1948, Park No-gyeong established Korea’s first all-woman theater company, Yeoin Sogeukjang. Ms. Park, a professor at Ewha Womans University and a graduate of Japan’s Waseda University, introduced Western dramas to Korean audiences.
She staged both Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” with its feminist themes, and Hermann Sudermann’s “Die Heimat” in Korean, with all-female casts, graduates of Ewha. With its third production, of Lillian Hellman’s “Watch on the Rhine,” the company began including men in the cast.
Though the situation for women in theater at the time was not as dire as in Shakespeare’s era, when women couldn’t even be seen on stage, in late-1940s Korea the idea of women performing onstage, outside a school setting, was very progressive, according to an old newspaper article Ms. Shim discovered in her research.
Sadly, Ms. Park died during the Korean War. In her book, Ms. Shim says that information about this theater pioneer was difficult to find, perhaps because of the chaos of war ― though Ms. Shim suspects the radicalism of Ms. Park’s ideas might have something to do with it as well.
With Ms. Park’s death, the Yeoin Sogeukjang company closed down. Most of its members are known to have gone to the North, Ms. Shim writes in the book.
Ms. Shim laments that even among people who study the theater, Ms. Park is little known; she hopes the book will give her the credit she deserves.
For the chapters on contemporary women stage directors, Ms. Shim solicited essays from some and wrote about others herself. O Gyeong-suk, Han Tae-suk and other female directors write about their views of the theater and about their experiences as directors and as women.
The book also includes reviews by critics, mostly women, of some of these female directors’ productions, including Han Tae-suk’s “Lady Macbeth” and O Gyeong-suk’s staging of Cha Hak-kyung’s “Dictee.”
“Seeing their works through women’s point of view and evaluating them is similar to digging in old ruins and finding valuable treasures,” said Ms. Shim.


by Choi Sun-young
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