‘Earthy’ ways to entertain childrenFor children living in the city, getting in touch with nature sometimes requires some artificial and artistic touches. This summer, two events that specifically target children are employing natural elements for a more hands-on approach to traditional genres of theater and exhibition.
“Garuya Garuya” is a new play for children age 2 and up. Everyone is required to take off their shoes at the entrance, and after walking through a corridor filled with bamboo trees, one reaches the performance area, where there is a huge stage in the middle ― made of bread.
From the middle of this bread stage pops out our hero, “Garu,” a dreamy boy, who then gives a performance with his friends with flour ― sprinkling it around and adding water to knead it into dough. This “show,” however, only lasts 20 minutes or so, and then the audience is ushered into another spacious room where they are given their own flour to sprinkle and make into various shapes of dough.
In the “finale,” children (and parents) are allowed to enter a third room that is filled with flour. They can roll around or toss flour into the air as they wish, like playing in the snow, or create their own “flour figures.”
This unique play was developed jointly by Lee Young-ran, a director of object plays, and Song Seung-hwan, head of PMC Production, the firm that created the nonverbal performance NANTA. The literal translation for garu is “powder,” and garuya means “hey, powder.”
“Children these days are used to plastic toys and computer games so playing with flour will be a wholly different experience,” Ms. Lee said.
The entire “play” takes a little over an hour, which is long enough, given the attention span of young children. Lugging her reluctant 5-year-old daughter home, Kim Se-mi, one of those attending a recent performance, said, “I’m glad it wasn’t any longer or I would have been more exhausted. But I’m really glad we came. We had a lot of fun.”
Due to the nature of the play, only 150 people are allowed in a group; seven performances are given throughout the day.
Play With Clay Batu
In another part of Seoul is a hands-on children’s exhibition called “Play With Clay Batu.” Housed in three temporary wooden huts on the first floor of the COEX exhibition hall, the area is a playground for children who are not able to get out of the city.
Inspired by “Batu Batu,” a “clay play” directed by Ms. Lee, the woman who directed “Garuya Garuya,” this exhibition is composed of four “rooms” ― forest, water, wind and dirt rooms.
“This is a new concept of a playground in that children can not only see, but feel, smell and breathe in elements of nature,” said Park Jeong-eun, an official at Rootone Entertainment, the organizing firm of the event.
Children are required to take off their shoes before entering the rooms, which are covered in either clay or straw. In the water room, they can examine small water creatures such as minnows and water beetles, or play with soap bubbles. In the wind room, fans blow around bits of paper flower petals; the dirt room is filled with clay that children can sculpt into various objects.
“These are fried eggs and this is a cup of coffee,” said Choi In-hye, a 4-year-old busy arranging the “food” on a clay tray for her father, who was taking pictures nearby.
The playground/exhibition is quite well-organized, with professional staff members who know how to deal with children guiding small groups to the different play areas.
“I was really impressed with how the staff calmed down the crying kids and managed to keep the attention of the children for a full hour and a half,” said Yoo Soo-yun, a woman who had brought her son and her nephew.
by Wohn Dong-hee, Shin Jun-bong
“Garuya Garuya” runs until Aug. 28 at the Olympic Park Fencing Stadium. Tickets are 25,000 won. For more information, call PMC Production at (02) 569-0696. “Play With Clay Batu” runs until Sept. 11 at the COEX in southern Seoul. Tickets are 20,000 won. For more information, call Rootone Entertainment at (02) 516-1501.
Director focuses on ‘object’ plays
Lee Young-ran, 39, the director of “Garuya Garuya,” is famous for plays that involve the use of objects.
Ms. Lee studied sculpture at Sungshin Women’s University and created her first “object performance” in 1990 because she wanted to show the process of sculpting instead of just the final product.
She then became friendly with the French puppet theater director Philippe Genty, who is famous for his experimental and visual works of art. In 1991, she went to Paris and attended his workshop, where she was exposed to various forms of art and music. She stayed for a few years in Paris, participating in the theater scene, and was invited to international festivals such as the Festival Mondial des Theatre de Marionettes in Charleville-Mezieres, France in 1995.
She returned to Korea, and in 1998 performed a unique version of the play “Lady Macbeth,” based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” by sculpting ice on stage. For her performance she received the grand prize in the Baiksang Arts Award Festival in Korea.
Beginning in 2000, Ms. Lee changed her subject matter from ice to earth and began a “clay play” series for children, combining the act of playing with dirt and clay with theater. In 2003, the clay play “Batu Batu” attracted about 100,000 children.
“Garuya Garuya” is in a sense an extension of this series. “If you look at flour not as an ingredient for food but for another purpose, you can find that it has various characteristics that you would not have imagined,” Ms. Lee said. “I myself have played with flour for about 10 years. I want to show others how much fun I’ve had playing with flour.”