Musicals monopolize theater stages at expense of other performancesJust how much is too much? How about seven out of 10 days that a performance arts theater promising variety is open, dedicated to the same musical form?
That’s about the proportion of days that 10 of Seoul’s major theaters are staging musicals during the total number of days they are open for winter shows this season. Musicals have never before been so popular in Seoul and theaters are staging them frequently, even if it means they have to ignore other genres.
The winter season runs from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28 so the number of days a theater can hold performances is 90. With 10 major theaters, there are 900 stage days available. But the total number of stage days occupied by musicals is 555, more than 62 percent. Taking into account that musical producers need extra days for rehearsals, setting up and packing out, the musicals easily take up more than 70 percent, according to the theater industry. This leaves others genres such as dance, drama and traditional arts performances fighting for the remaining 30 percent of available stage days.
“These days a musical producer is not judged as capable by how good he makes [the show] or how much money he draws in,” said Seoul Do-yoon, head of musical production company Seol & Company. “It’s how fast and how often he can rent the theater.”
Another musical company staff member said he saw “plenty of people waiting outside a theater for days until they heard a ‘yes’ from the theater owner.”
Out of the 10 major theaters, Dongsoong Hall at the Dongsoong Art Center stages the most musicals, giving 88 of its 90 days to musicals. The National Theater of Korea comes in second at 77 out of 90 days given to musicals, followed by the Chungmu Art Hall and Theater Yong at the Cultural Foundation of the National Museum of Art at 69 and 67 days, respectively.
The musical craze is not only limited to the major theaters. Smaller theaters in the Daehangno area are also bustling with musicals. You will find posters for popular musicals including “Music in My Heart,” “Rent,” “The Full Monty” and “Oh, While You Were Sleeping” all over the streets of Daehangno.
“It’s like one karaoke club makes a hit and the entire alley turns itself into karaoke businesses,” said Kim Jong-heon, the head of musical production company Showtic. “Even the Daehangno theaters are now inclined to focus more on hiring their stages out than the philosophy of staging a good play.”
“Because they know that musicals work, they take the [musical’s] offer without thinking twice,” he added.
In such a situation, it is natural for producers of other genre performances to feel they are losing money.
“Producers ask us to try on musicals,” said a play director, asking for anonymity. “It is true that it is difficult to refuse such an offer.”
“Most of the small and-medium-sized producers that focused only on theater plays in the past have now turned to making musicals,” said Oh Hyun-sil, head of the 2da theater production company. “There’s a feeling that being obsessed only with theater plays is simple-minded,” he added.
Voices in support of building more musical-only theaters are growing stronger for the same reason.
“Because we are holding musicals in theaters for multi-uses, the non-musical performances are being disadvantaged,” said Won Jong-won, a music professor at Soonchunhyang University. “This is another reason why we need to build more musical-only theaters.”
by Choi Min-woo