Musical brothers open actors’ academyMusical actor Nam Kyung-joo, 41, has often been called a “guaranteed success” in the South Korean theater industry. Any play or musical he has appeared in has been a hit, and having him perform in a show is bound to draw crowds.
Twenty years ago, in an era when Korean musicals were non-existent, Mr. Nam’s elder brother Nam Kyung-eup, 47, became one of the pioneers of the musical industry. When he was attending the Seoul Institute for the Arts, he learned dance from a friend, taught himself to sing, and is now referred to as the “father of Korean musicals.”
Now, the Nam brothers have founded an institute in Myeong-dong, central Seoul to train young professionals to become musical actors and actresses. The elder Mr. Nam is president of the institute, while his younger brother is the director of musical studies.
The “Musical Academy,” as it is called, offers a one-year course for aspiring actors and actresses, a retraining program for existing actors to recharge their batteries, and a course for the general public to learn about the theory behind musicals.
“When I wanted to learn tap dancing, I had to search nationwide for one of the best trainers,” said Nam Kyung-eup. “I discovered a man who was the son of the first tap dancer in Korea, and learned from him. I remember training until the soles of my shoes were completely worn out,” he added, recalling an experience that happened 25 years ago.
“Nothing much has changed since then,” Nam Kyung-joo said. “Musical actors and actresses have to go all around the country looking for special institutes or schools to learn acting, singing, jazz and ballet.”
He believes that musical actors should not have to do that, and decided to centralize the courses and training programs related to musical performances by establishing his school.
The elder Mr. Nam has a passion for teaching as well; he has been operating a hagwon for theater hopefuls in the Gwanak district of southwestern Seoul, and has been lecturing at arts high schools and universities for more than 16 years.
In the new Musical Academy, 40 hopefuls will be chosen this year for a one-year course in ballet, jazz, vocals, chorus and the production process, among other training programs. Courses will begin on Monday. The Nam brothers have also recruited the head of the MBC Orchestra, among other renowned musical producers and actors, to lecture at their institute.
When Nam Kyung-eup graduated from college in the late 1970s, and when the younger Mr. Nam graduated in the mid- 1980s, the local musical industry was virtually unrecognizable compared with today. There were no specialized programs to learn tap dancing or singing, as required in musicals.
Today, however, musicals are a booming commodity in Korea. “Compared to the early 1990s, the musical industry has grown more than 10 times, while there are only twice as many musical actors and actresses than there were then,” Nam Kyung-joo said. “Actors cannot be reused over and over again, they need time off to recharge their batteries and be retrained.”
“It’s great that musicals are becoming so popular nowadays, but if producers only take a short time to prepare them and only focus on the numbers, then the quality is sure to deteriorate,” the elder Mr. Nam said. “Only 20 percent of musicals succeed in attaining both financial and qualitative success. The time has come to train professional musical actors, to retrain existing ones and to develop creative new musicals.”
by Kwon Keun-young