English-language theater tries to put down roots

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English-language theater tries to put down roots

Whatever happened to Mickey Mouse? If BH Production’s “And They Used to Star in Movies” is to be believed, he’s become an alcoholic barfly, wasting away in a seedy drinking hole, pining over greatness lost. The 1970 Campbell Armstrong play, which finished its successful two-week run at the Wolfhound Irish Pub in Itaewon just before Christmas, is the ninth show BH Productions has staged in Seoul. The company, comprised of American producer Kirstie Bromenshenk and Irish co-producer and director of “And They Used to Star in Movies,” Bernard Hughes, began producing plays in Seoul in 2003.
Being taken seriously as an English-language production company isn’t easy in Korea, and the pair have had to work against a language barrier and a largely transient audience and talent pool (three-quarters of their audition book contains people who have already left Korea to go back to their countries). But they have persisted, and recently even exported their production of “Waiting for Godot” to both Singapore and Beijing as a part of the worldwide celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Samuel Beckett’s birth.
As a not-for-profit production company, with all of the money raised from plays being channelled into the next project, they have received support from the Irish Embassy and through other fund-raisers. Actors aren’t paid, but as the company’s reputation grows throughout Asia, they hope that situation won’t last.
“We’d like to attract more Koreans to our productions,” says Ms. Bromenshenk, adding that they do already have a mixed audience of about 30 percent Koreans to 70 percent foreigners. They plan to approach English programs at universities with lesson plans to help students watch future productions.
“And They Used to Star in Movies” had its own problems when it was first written, facing litigation from Disney that originally kept it from the stage. With Minnie Mouse as a desperate, aging flirt, Donald Duck as a flamboyant homosexual, and even a mention of Goofy getting thrown out of the bar for taking drugs, the controversy is not altogether surprising.
Buoyed by their new international success, the company is anxious to cement and expand their reputation as a serious theater company. Ms. Bromenshenk has recently left her job at a university to devote all her time to the company.
“We’ve been invited back to Beijing,” she says. With what they say is a strong demand for quality English-language theatre, the company hopes to expand its scope, using Seoul as a base for Asia-wide productions.
Having lately been entirely focussed on “And they Used to Star in Movies” they say they’re not sure what they’ll be putting on in future productions. They are only sure that there will be many.

by Richard Scott-Ashe
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