The 32 faces of actress Kim Seong-nyeo
To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Kim will once again stage the amazing performance from tomorrow until Feb. 16 at Myeongdong Theater in central Seoul.
Over the past decade, Kim has stood in front of audiences more than 500 times to star in that one-woman play, and not once has she received anything less than a standing ovation. She is known for her “thousand faces,” the ability to switch from one role to another, acting as a 5-year-old girl one minute, then effortlessly becoming an old grandmother the next.
Kim takes on many roles in real life as well. She is the artistic director of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea, director of the theater company Michoo and a professor at Chung-Ang University’s traditional arts department.
The JoongAng Ilbo sat down with Kim in her office at the National Theater of Korea in central Seoul late last month to hear more about her life story. Despite her age, Kim seemed to be full of drive.
“Time flies. Now I want to shine brightly on stage,” she said. “When I turned 50, my life became somewhat comfortable. I found myself not comparing myself to others anymore. I realized that I have my own kind of talent and gained confidence. That’s when I first met ‘The Fairy in the Wall.’”
Kim said that in her 20s, she felt as though she was the prettiest and the most talented actress alive. But in her 30s, she began to see others who were prettier and more talented, and became intimidated. In her 40s, she grew upset as she felt that others who were less talented than her were now on top of the scene.
Sohn Jin-chaek, 67, former artistic director of the National Theater Company and Kim’s life-long partner, shared his view on his wife’s ups and downs. They met in 1976 while working on a play called “Ascension of Hanne.” He was the director and she was an actress.
“The Fairy in the Wall” is based on a story by Hukuda Yoshiyuki that was set in the Spanish Civil War but was re-imagined for Kim’s version to be set in Korea after the country was liberated from Japan in 1945.
In the play, a man gets caught up in an ideological dispute and has to live the rest of his life hiding inside a closet, and his wife is forced to keep his secret. Unaware of the truth, the couple’s daughter grows up thinking there is a fairy living inside the closet.
“Because I took on so many different roles over my acting career, I wasn’t afraid of taking so many roles and switching between them,” said Kim. “The challenge was in not just imitating the characters. I had to make sure all 32 characters came alive on stage through me. To do that, it needs more than just acting technique.”
Kim has participated in a long list of works. She says she had no choice because she had to act to make a living. She took roles in plays, dramas and musicals, regardless of the characters’ age or gender.
Since the establishment of the Michoo theater company in 1986, Kim has never missed taking the lead role in the company’s annual madangnori, or traditional outdoor performance, which was the bread and butter of the company until January 2011. With the revenues they made staging the madangnori at each year-end, she was able to sustain the 100-member company for a whole year.
“‘The Fairy in the Wall’ is a work that can show my accumulated talents of 30 years like a mosaic,” Kim said. “The set design is simple. It only needs two wooden boxes and a bed. The rest is filled with my acting.”
Kim says she practices at her home in Daehangno, central Seoul. With her husband as the director and her son Sohn Ji-hyung as the assistant director, the whole crew lives at her home, so Kim says she can finish all the preparations up until the full stage rehearsal just two days before the first show.
“The lines come out of my mouth in one click of a finger,” said Kim, although she said her son always tells her “not to go overboard.”
While most assistant directors defer to Kim’s seniority and reputation, she says her son is willing to tell her off when she is going the wrong way.
Kim’s tenure as the artistic director of the National Changgeuk Company ends in March 2015 and her professorship at Chung-Ang University finishes in February 2016. Kim says she is planning on giving back the head position of Michoo to her husband, who established the company but then handed her the reins when he became the artistic director of the National Theater Company. Kim said she would just like to enjoy being an actress.
“I want to stay physically fit and celebrate the 20th and 30th anniversaries of ‘The Fairy in the Wall,’” she said. “I’m at my happiest when I’m on the stage.
“Every performance is new and my heart flutters for that.”
BY LEE JI-YOUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]