‘Yoduk Story,’ a different kind of camp, returns to Seongnam for new 2-day run

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‘Yoduk Story,’ a different kind of camp, returns to Seongnam for new 2-day run


The musical “Yoduk Story,” a tragic tale of a North Korean concentration camp, will be on stage again next week at the Seongnam Arts Center.
“Yoduk Story” is a fictional epic of the lives of people in a notorious concentration camp in Yoduk, North Korea. Three years in the making, it was a labor of love by its director, Jung Sung-san, a North Korean defector whose father died in a concentration camp in Hoeryeong, North Korea.
By April 2, the last day of the show’s first run at the arts center, more than 22,000 people had watched the musical. On that day, after the show ended, Mr. Jung appeared before the audience and said, “No one believed this musical was actually going to be shown on this stage. No one believed this musical was going to be a success.”
Then he cried.
Mr. Jung initially had difficulty in financing the musical after investors pulled out, citing its controversial content. Mr. Jung received anonymous threatening phone calls and was subjected to government pressure to make the musical less provocative, he said.
When the musical was being prepared to open, advance ticket sales were very disappointing - only about 20 percent of what was expected. Three years of effort by the director to stage the musical seemed to have been in vain.
But as the show’s run continued, extensive media coverage and the presence of influential (and mostly conservative) politicians in the audience sparked a nationwide interest in the production. Opposition party politicians such as the Grand National Party chairwoman, Park Geun-hye, and former President Kim Young-sam were among the spectators, as were a number of North Korean defectors who had first-hand experience of life in the Yoduk concentration camp. They included Kim Young-sun, once a well-known dancer in the north, who choreographed one of the scenes in the musical.
As the time went by, ticket sales increased; in the last two weeks, performances were all sold out and a groundswell of demand for more productions in other parts of Korea emerged. Mr. Jung said it was particularly encouraging to him that many young Korean adults watched the show.
Some critics commented harshly about the musical’s overtly political content and the media coverage that reflected that political thrust. Others questioned the artistic value of the production; but Mr. Jung did succeed in throwing a spotlight of public interest on North Korean human rights issues.
After the encore performances in Seongnam, the production team plans a provincial tour, including informal performances in churches where pastors have requested the play be staged. The schedule for those performances, in theaters or in churches, has not yet been decided.

by Limb Jae-un

“Yoduk Story” at Seongnam Arts Center will be presented at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on April 18 and 19. Ticket prices are 20,000 won ($20) to 50,000 won. For tickets, call (031) 783-8000 or visit www.snart.or.kr.
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