Exploring theater through satire and water

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Exploring theater through satire and water

Imagine this. Four actors on a stage are not portraying any characters, there is no plot to the play, and time does not unfold in a linear fashion as it would in most fictional stories. Instead, the actors stare at the audience and declare that “this is not a play.”
One is sure to be startled, if not offended. Thus, this “anti-play” is aptly named: “Offending the Audience.”
Produced by Theater76, and starring hip-hop singer Yang Dong-geun, this is a 90-minute polemical lecture about the theater, plays and acting in the theater.
It also stars veteran theater actors Jeon Su-hwan and Yun Sang-hwa. Mr. Yang, previously a teenage idol, is making his debut on stage with this piece.
It tries to be as unlike conventional theater as it can be. Written by Austrian avant-garde novelist Peter Handke in the 1960s, “Offending the Audience” is an effort to make the audience aware of itself, being watched and watching others. The very presence of the audience is the main issue of the play.
The actors relay a list of observations and limitations about the theater, from the mundane to the profound. They ask about the fundamentals of the theater, about fact and fiction, time and space, promise and coincidence.
The play mocks the theater, but in truth it is bringing to light the “life” of the theater. In the course of this, the actors and the audience become one in this “not-a-play but a play.”
It is like a football match, where the players and the audience somehow join forces mentally.
There are no astounding twists and turns in this piece aside from water being poured on the audience, and audience members being pulled onto the stage. It satirizes theater, yet it also praises the life of theater, the direct contact between the actors on stage and the audience.
The borders between observer and observed are blurred. It’s as raw as it can get. The actors’ scripts include verbal abuse delivered to the audience, which may be cathartic to some, insulting to others, or just plain puzzling to the general public.
Audiences can also expect to be doused with water during the play. It’s absurd but not funny, serious but not without wit.
When the “anti-play” was first produced in 1966, it caused a sensation and marked Mr. Handke as the leading unconventional writer of his day. It became a popular kind of “anti-play verbal play,” a new modern genre.
Theater76 has been staging the piece every two or three years since 1978. Last year, “Offending the Audience” was chosen by the JoongAng Ilbo as one of the top 15 plays in the country.
So, if one is up to “anti-theater” plays, if one is willing to be completely immersed in a play with the actors, and if one is fine with a bit of offense, experiment with this one. Don’t expect any symbolism. Just be receptive.

by Choi Jie-ho

The play is being performed at the Changjo Concert Hall in the Daehangno area until June 19. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on weekdays, and at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. on weekends and public holidays. Admission is 25,000 won ($25) for adults, 20,000 won for college students and 12,000 won for teenagers. From tomorrow until March 24, tickets will be sold at a 40 percent discount. For more information, call (02) 764-3076.
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