The secret life of English teachers: ThespiansThey're English teachers by day, but at night ― for one week only ― they each became other people, before the eyes of Koreans and fellow expats. The Seoul Players’ ninth production wrapped up last night, and it was the troupe's first double bill: “This Is a Play” and “Never Swim Alone,” both by Canadian playwright-filmmaker Daniel MacIvor. It was a tribute to the tenacity of the Seoul expatriate theater group, which has survived countless comings and goings, including that of its founder, Roman Zolnierczyk, since its inception in 2001.
To get to Kkamang Theater for the show last Thursday night, I had to navigate the Daehangro alleyways, finding my way to a typical office building ― with no sign. In the small, precarious seats in the tiny black box sat 12 people. One intern from the Spanish Embassy and his date. One Korean couple from a university. One of the troupe’s sponsors. And a smattering of other Koreans and foreigners.
But neither the size of the crowd nor the broken air conditioner affected the shows.
“[This is] a really dedicated group of people just born to be hams, and who will do the show even if there’s just a rock in the audience,” says Ed Miller, who played one of the two businessmen in “Never Swim Alone.”
Indeed, the actors, who all have theatre experience in the home countries, coped admirably when some of the “meta-theatrical” jokes in “This Is a Play” flew over the heads of the Koreans in the audience. The show’s lines switch between those of “Strangers Among Us,” the vaguely Tennessee Williams-esque play within a play, and monologues of the actors’ thoughts.
“It’s a farce, and there’s so much sarcasm,” explained director Krista Sheen. “But in [‘Never Swim Alone’] the language is easier.”
In that play, directed by Amanda Doucet, “there are two guys who were best friends, but something in their past tears them apart, so they hold a 13-round competition to decide who is the best man,” explains Stephanie Bogue, whose character judged that contest.
Sheen selected the plays, which are the first North American works to be performed by the Seoul Players after a long string of English and Irish productions.
Although eight people outside the cast helped with sponsors and preparations, which included finding props and costume hunting in Itaewon, stage manager Craig McGeady says, “On the production side, there’s a shortage of manpower. In terms of actors, there are a lot of people interested in getting on stage,” but not as many willing to work behind the scenes. McGeady also served as a kind of production historian ― as a photographer, he has an exhibit opening at Gaia Gallery in Insa-dong next month.
How difficult was the rehearsal period? “My students haven’t learned a lick of English in five months,” Ed says. The players gathered in their apartments to run through the difficult, often-overlapping lines.
But they had some help ― from the writer, who, when he found out about the production, sent the cast scripts and helped them through difficult sections.
Thursday is always a small house, Sheen explained, and the group looked forward to better turnouts over the weekend. But even if the audience hadn’t grown, one feels these actors would persist. “It’s just something we can’t put down,” says actor Emily Durant. “As much as people need to see plays, we need to keep performing.”
by Ben Applegate