Hearing Shakespeare in Korean

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Hearing Shakespeare in Korean


Oh Tae-suk By Lee Chan-weon

When people think about the Korean Wave, K-pop groups like Girls’ Generation or television dramas like “Winter Sonata” usually come to mind. But a new sort of Korean Wave is now making its way across Europe with theatrical and dance companies presenting their works at world-class festivals.

Three Korean arts companies have been invited to perform at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, which takes place in mid-August. Play director Oh Tae-suk’s Mokwha Repertory Company will present “The Tempest,” choreographer Ahn Eun-me’s company will perform “Princess Bari” and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra will play three musical pieces including Korean composer’s Unsuk Chin’s “Su” at the Scottish festival.

The Edinburgh International Festival was founded in 1947 and showcases standout performances of all genres from classical and contemporary music, dance, theater and opera to visual arts. Artists can participate by invitation only. The annual festival will be held for three weeks this year in Edinburgh, Scotland, between Aug. 12 and Sept. 4.

The 2011 festival features many Asian artists, and Jonathan Mills, the festival’s artistic director, calls it “a journey of discovery and revelation in which the finest artists of these Asian countries and cultures share their virtuosity and skill with all of us in the Far West.”

The Korea JoongAng Daily sat down with Oh Tae-suk of the Mokwha Repertory Company in his studio in Daehangno on April 26 to talk about the upcoming Edinburgh festival and his work on The Tempest.

Q. Why did you decide to do The Tempest for the Edinburgh International Festival this year?


A. Our version of the play is freaking crazy. We were able to express all the ups and downs of the plot in the play. When [festival artistic director Jonathan Mills] came to see our play “Romeo and Juliet” in 2006 in London, he just kept on saying it was “amazing” how we made the performance that crazy. He and I had a talk afterward, and he said he wanted us to perform another Shakespeare piece and I suggested The Tempest since it is known as the last piece Shakespeare worked on and it is rarely played in Korean theaters. I thought it would be fun to work on this piece. Of course, Romeo and Juliet would be a more flawless performance since I’ve been doing that for the past 15 years. But it’s more fun to try to bloom another flower.

This play by William Shakespeare, as you said, is not well known by Korean audiences. You have intertwined Korean history in this performance. Did you see some connection between Korea and The Tempest’s story?

The story of the events happening in Milan and Naples in Italy is written by the British playwright. But there is no need to feel estranged just because we are doing a piece written by foreign authors about events in a foreign country. As the British playwright analyzed the story with a British sentiment, I just tried to apply Korean sentiment on top of that. Then I thought of our own history that’s similar. The Silla Dynasty and neighboring country Gaya in the 5th century had troubles near their borders, just as Milan and Naples did. And of course, it was fun adapting English-written lines to Korean ones to describe what had happened in earlier times, so that the beauty of our language is presented at its best.


Oh Tae-suk’s “The Tempest,” which premiered in Korea in 2010, is going to be presented at the Edinburgh International Festival this year in mid-August. By 2DOHEE

Is the type of language you use in the play different than the type of language we use in everyday life?

It is. First of all, I followed the format of a three-four or four-four rhyme, so the conversation would sound almost like you are singing a song. [A three-four or four-four rhyme is used in a type of ancient Korean poetry called sijo.] So the unique rhythm we have with this rhyme stimulates the ears of the audience. It’s like reminding people all the things we have forgotten in our daily lives, and what a beautiful language we have.

In your opinion, in what field have you contributed the most to Korean theater?

I think I focused most on cleansing our own language. Young generations nowadays use Internet jargon or even digitize conversational language into some kind of code that the general public would not understand. Just having the right form of language recorded on tape or written in books is not enough. People need to use the proper language to communicate with others. That’s what I always tell my acting staff. We need to take initiative in preserving the beauty of our own language.

If you emphasize language so much, won’t it be difficult for non-Korean speakers to get the message you are trying to deliver through your performances?

No, actually, the message gets delivered much faster, and in much more diverse formats. I’ve seen more people crying after seeing my performances overseas. It’s all because they have more room to involve themselves in what’s happening on stage. Of course, Koreans will have an advantage in getting the message I want to deliver. But for anyone who doesn’t speak the language, it is like getting a giant white sheet of paper which they can fill with their imagination. Non-Korean speakers will apply what’s in their mind to the performance and will have an easier time relating the performance to their own lives. Basically, each of them becomes the writer for this performance. Still, they feel the Korean sentiment, because the lines are written according to the Korean rhythm.

You said previously that you are going to cut quite a lot from the original Tempest that you had presented in 2010 for the Edinburgh festival performance. How will you change the play?

For the Korean premiere we had to explain the details of the historical background since Koreans are not too familiar with the story. But at the Edinburgh festival, I’m going to cut a lot of the explanatory information, since if you fly all the way to see the festival you will likely bring some knowledge of the plays with you to the performances.

You mentioned that you are going to be cutting a lot of lines from the play as well.

Yes. I’m going to scrap the background information I put in just for the Korean audiences for the previous performance in Seoul. I focused on conveying Korean conversation style then. Since the verb comes in the end, normal Korean conversations have a very long introduction before actually getting to what people want to say. Those long introductions will all be scrapped. So with the more time and space I got from getting rid of all these, I will focus more on the rhythmical sound of the language, or take more time to explain the Korean-ness in the performance, such as describing the shadowy movement of people inside the room through the paper window, where only a single candle was lit. Or I would describe more about the curvy lines of hanbok [traditional Korean clothes]. The performance will become much simpler, so in a sense I can deliver much more diverse messages in the given time, since everything else will be cut.

Why do you usually include traditional Korean elements in the plays you direct?

It’s something we always had until Korea suffered historically because of many other powerful countries especially before the Japanese annexation period started in 1910. I’m here to reconnect what was common in Korean culture 100 years ago for the current generation. I think it’s natural for anyone to find their roots and try to revive them.

*The Edinburgh International Festival starts Aug. 12 and runs through Sept. 4 in Edinburgh, U.K. Mokwha Repertory Company’s The Tempest will run from Aug. 13 to 16 at 7:30 p.m. in King’s Theatre. Tickets range from 10 to 30 pounds ($17 to $50). Two other Korean arts groups are performing at the festival. The Eun-me Ahn Company will present “Princess Bari” between Aug. 19 and 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Tickets range from 10 to 30 pounds. The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra performs on Aug. 24 at 7:30 p.m. at Usher Hall. Tickets range from 12 to 42 pounds. For more information about other performances being presented at the festival, go to www.eif.co.uk.

By Lee Sun-min [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [연합]

오태석 “영국 관객 놀래줘야죠”

英에든버러 페스티벌서 '템페스트'로 개막 공연

"우리한테는 '우리 심성'이라는게 있어요. 우리 심성으로 본 템페스트를 우리 어법으로 풀어냈죠. 영국 관객을 놀래줬으면 해요."

영국 에든버러 페스티벌은 매년 여름 전세계 공연 예술가가 몰려드는 세계적 문화 축제다.

오는 8월 극단 목화가 한국 최초로 공식 초청받아 한국식으로 재해석한 셰익스피어의 템페스트를 전세계 관객 앞에 내놓는다.

목화를 이끌며 국내 연극계 거목 역할을 해온 오태석 대표는 최근 연합뉴스와 인터뷰에서 그가 고집해온 "우리식" 무대 어법이 셰익스피어의 본고장에서도 통할 것이란 자신감을 드러냈다.

오 대표가 에든버러 페스티벌 참가를 앞두고 "80일간의 세계 일주를 시작했다"며 웃어보일 땐 올해 72살인 나이가 무색할 만큼 뜨거운 열정과 에너지가 넘쳤다.

"제안이 들어온건 2008년이고 중간에 한번 와서 확인을 합디다. 늦었지만 한국에서도 이제라도 가게 되니 다행이고. (연극 부문에서) 개막작으로 올리게 된 것도 의미가 있죠."

'템페스트'는 셰익스피어의 후기 대표작으로 희극과 비극을 넘나드는 걸작으로 평가된다.

오 대표가 템페스트를 선택한 것은 에든버러 측이 '셰익스피어 가운데 한 작품을 해보자'고 제안했기 때문.

"템페스트를 굉장히 심각하게 생각들 하는데…. 사실 원수를 용서하는 즐거움을 담은 얘기거든요. 4시간 동안 벌어지는 즐거운 용서죠."

그는 2008년 에든버러 측 제안을 받고 템페스트 영문 원작을 수차례 탐독한 뒤 그가 고수해온 "우리식 어법"에 맞게 직접 극본을 썼다.

극중 배경이 나폴리와 밀라노 대신 신라와 가락국으로 바뀌었고 등장인물도 한복을 입고 갓을 쓴 겸지왕과 세자 등으로 탈바꿈했다.

대사도 "힘들면 지둘러. 그럼 바람이 불어 온다"는 식으로 3ㆍ4조, 4ㆍ4조 운율을 사용해 신명나는 리듬을 살렸다.

"셰익스피어 원문이 원래 운문이었죠. 근데 극장으로 가면서 산문으로 바뀌었거든. 우리는 그걸 다시 운문으로 되살렸어요. 영어로 재번역해서 자막으로 보여줄건데 사라졌던 운문을 우리가 찾아주는 건가?(웃음)"

오 대표는 지난해 예술의전당에서 초연했던 것보다 에든버러 공연에서는 "비약과 생략, 즉흥성이 훨씬 커질 것"이라고 말했다.

"동생에게 쫓겨나 섬에 사는 왕이 주술을 부려서 복수를 한다는 건데…. 알고보면 이게 즐거운 용서거든. 다친 사람이 나오는 것도 아니고, 원수의 아들을 딸과 혼인시키기도 하고. 이런 게 '우리 심성'과 맞는다는 거에요."

오 대표가 무대에서 고집스럽게 지켜내려고 하는 "우리 심성"이란 뭘까.

"우리에게는 일본이나 중국과 다른 게 있어요. 틈새라고 해야하나…. 나 이상의 존재가 있다고 믿는 것, 겸손하고 오만하지 않은 그런 것. 프로스페로도 마찬가지에요. 12년 동안 묵혔던 원한을 4시간 만에 풀어내는 거지. 마법을 좀 써서 신나게 장난 좀 치다가. 그런 게 연극 아닌가요?(웃음)"

그는 셰익스피어가 "유쾌한 할아버지"였다는 걸 그의 후손들인 영국 관객들에게 알려주겠다는 목표다.

"몇 백 년 동안 그런 건 몰랐겠지. 근데 나는 우리 심성으로 읽은 템페스트를 우리식 어법으로 풀어냈거든요. 그랬더니 셰익스피어가 유쾌한 할아버지가 되더라고(웃음). 키, 싸리 빗자루 같은 소품이나 무명천을 흩날리는 것도 우리한테는 아무것도 아니지만 저쪽에 가면 강렬해 보일 것 같아요."

오 대표는 푸른눈의 관객에게도 '엄격한' 관극 자세를 요구했다.

"연극이 원래 4할은 무대에서 보여주는 것이고 6할은 스스로 이해하는 거죠. 머리를 쥐어짜 가며 비약과 생략을 채우는 거니까. 우리 쪽 색깔과 기운과 흐름을 선명하게 보여주고 오려고 합니다."

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