Buena Vista debuts its first show

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Buena Vista debuts its first show

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Members of the physical theater troupe Buena Vista, in association with the Korean Association of the Deaf, prepare for their first play, “Subway Story.” Buena Vista is made up of eight professional hearing-impaired actors, who perform physical theater using body language, facial expressions and movement. By Gong Jeong-sik

During two hours of rehearsal, not a single word was spoken among the actors of the Buena Vista theater troupe.

They connected scenes fluidly, gliding across the stage, filling in the story with their expressions, body language and movements.

This was their way of communicating with the audience.

Lee Mun-chun, one of the performers, shook his body, emphasizing his anger through his expressions rather than yelling or screaming.

Another cast member reacted to Lee. Instead of responding, “Don’t be too upset,” Hwang Sung-won smiled sympathetically.

A variety of techniques are used in theater to express events and themes, with physical theater being a common form that relies on constant motion to convey a story. So while nothing looked out of the ordinary at the rehearsal, perhaps the most intriguing thing about it were the actors themselves - all eight of the cast members are hearing impaired.

The team of Buena Vista - which in Spanish literally translates as “good view” - includes factory workers and students who range in age from their 20s to their 40s. It is the first professional physical theater company for the hearing impaired in South Korea.

And last week, at the offices of the Korean Association of the Deaf, in Nam District, Daegu, the troupe was busy preparing for its first production, “Subway Story,” which premiered yesterday evening at the Hanulim Theater in Daemyeong-dong, Daegu.

The plot is based around the 2003 Daegu subway tragedy, when an arsonist set fire to a train stopped at Jungangno Station, which resulted in 364 casualties. The 40-minute play revolves around the daily lives of those on the subway that day. The actors have been in rehearsal since March, practicing four times a week, two hours a day.

“To people like me who can’t hear anything while watching a play or a movie, ‘being touched’ itself is already asking for too much,” said a hearing-impaired woman surnamed Kim, a resident of Daegu. “We want to cry and laugh as much as anyone else.”

For Kim and others with hearing impairments, physical theater is an opportunity to interact with the community at large, with movement and expression as a unifier. It has also presented that community with a path into the performing arts.

“We can also enjoy the production just like [the non-hearing impaired],” said one of the actors. “We can all cry and laugh at the same scenes.”

Buena Vista was created last year when Lee Jae-sun, an actor at the Daegu Municipal Theater, presented his idea for the creation of a physical theater to the Korea Association of the Deaf.

When Lee visited the Scotland Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2008 with the Daegu Municipal Theater, he was surprised to learn that half of the 2,000 plays shown were presented using physical interpretations.

“I’ve encountered plays that can reach any type of audience with the same meaning, regardless of language,” said Lee Jae-sun. “I thought it would be wonderful if we could start a theater with the hearing impaired.”

The Korean Association of the Deaf started seeking cast members in February, recruiting eight actors out of 20 applicants. The association received 4 million won ($3,728) worth of aid for the project and worked with the support of the Korea Differently Abled Federation, which put forth 20 million won.

The script of Buena Vista’s debut production, which was written by Lee Jae-sun, is different than that of a text. Instead of using lines and cue sheets, most of the scenes are mapped out with pictures and sketches.

Rehearsals tend to be arduous, since the actors must rely on their bodies to express each message. They practice several times a day, with the cast members modifying their body language as they run through scenes.

Admission to “Subway Story” is free, although audience members are encouraged to make a donation.

BY KIM YOON-HO [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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