How to hog a stage? Take on 9 roles

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How to hog a stage? Take on 9 roles

Some actors, most famously Robert DeNiro, are “method” actors: taking on a role like a new identity, living in character and even gaining dozens of pounds or working out for hours a day, if necessary. If that’s what it takes for one role, how can an actor do nine?
That’s the challenge for Seo Hyeong-cheol, 40, who is one-half of a two-man play called “Stones in His Pockets.” Mr. Seo has nine of the roles; his partner has it easy, at only eight.
“Stones,” running until the end of this month at Dongsoong Art Center, is just one of many plays that have been hitting Seoul’s Daehangno area these days. The neighborhood has always been known for its theaters, which have been a breeding ground for acting talent. Nowadays, however, actors need to do more to grab the spotlight, and the more characters one can play, the more stage time one has.
Mr. Seo’s characters include a country boy, a film director and a secretary, as well as an actress. The actress role seems to be the most popular, as audience members eat up the falsetto voice and girly mannerisms. Lots of fun for the audience; lots of work for Mr. Seo.
“How do I make the characters all different? Everyone has a different way of speaking,” he said. “Some people breathe long when they speak, some lower their voice at the end of the sentence, or some people say suffixes too fast.”
Mr. Seo said tone of voice was equally important. “People say that voice usually comes from the throat, but that’s not true. You have to use your body differently. To do the voice of a shy country boy, you have to tense up your whole body, and to make a monotone voice, you have to relax all your muscles.”
Mr. Seo majored in Korean literature and worked as a shoe salesman until he had an epiphany at the age of 30, when he realized that acting was his calling. Though a late entry to the profession, he says he loves his work.
“Before I started acting, I could meet a lot of people through my previous job,” he said. “That helped me play different characters and make them more lively.”
Mr. Seo isn’t the only one taking on multiple roles. Choe Gwang-il, an actor in the play “Red Demon,” a satire of human self-centeredness, must take on the roles of a playboy, a naive villager, an old man and many others. The play runs at the Arts Council Korea from Thursday to Sunday, as part of the Seoul Performing Arts Festival.
“I’ve played multiple characters before,” Mr. Choe said. “But this time, I make each character distinguishable by the way they move, not just the way they talk. The way they walk and the way they bend their bodies is different for every character, he added.
Playing a certain character in a movie or on stage can be emotionally wearing. Actors who play villians, in particular, can face depression if they stay in the role for too long. Mr. Choe, however, said that hasn’t happened to him.
“I think real acting is not about becoming the character itself,” he said. “Good actors do not become their characters, but keep a distance between them, especially when playing multiple characters. I always try to keep an objective perspective for each character and become them only when on stage.”

by Choi Min-woo
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