Think Korea: Baudeogi

An evening of traditional street performance as part of Think Korea:

Musical: Baudeogi

11-12 September 2006
The UCL Bloomsbury Theatre | 15 Gordon Street | London WC1H 0AH

Baudeogi at the Bloomsbury Theatre, 11 September 2006

Introduction

It is one of the most superior musicals to be staged on a traditional Korean open stage on a large scale.

It features a panorama of dances, acrobatic feats, and rhythm performed by famed professional artists, including those designated as important intangible Korean cultural properties.

It is a musical that is full of emotional and artistic Korean influences in all the Korean traditional music genres.

Baudeogi is a musical dramatizing a Namsadang-pae, a group of male wayfaring performers who were from a most contemptuous social class in a contradictory social institute and who practiced the customs of the rigid Confucian society of the Joseon Kingdom, but whose wandering performances staged all over the country enjoyed phenomenal public popularity at that time; and a female Kkokduswae or leader named Baudeogi.

Our heroine, Baudeogi, is a pretty young girl aged 15 years when she joined the Namsadang-pae and became its Kkokduswae, leading the group with her outstanding artistic talent and beautiful features until she died a premature death at the age of 23. Through the hard life of such a low class woman in a male-dominative society, the joys, sorrows and frustrations experienced by Baudeogi are demonstrated in various forms of artistic performances, such as traditional dances, physical arts, and toy dramas.

Synopsis

At the moment when the troupe of the Namsadang-pae enters to start its performance tour in tune with the music from pungmul instruments, they come across Dochwui, who is receiving an insult for having attempted to skip a restaurant bill. He used to be one of them. Then through the conversation between Dochwui and Kkeulppagi, a member of the troupe, the personal history of each of the Namsadang-pae and the story of how each joined the troupe are narrated. They talk about how Baudeogi became the Kkokdu-swae , the leader of the Namsadang-pae . They recollect the history of their troupe.

Afterwards, they depart for the construction site of Gyeongbok-gung Palace upon hearing news on the palace construction work and on how so many nori-paes (performers) are swarming to the site from all provinces of the country to join a festive contest of nori performers. Our Namsadang-pae wins the contest and receives the imperial gift of the title of okgwanja (a high-ranking government official) from the supreme authority in acknowledgment of their talents and arts. The troupe rejoices in its fame as the superior performers of the Namsadang-nori in the country, wandering in every corner of the country’s provinces. It encounters a long rainy season, however, and camps in a cave without any chance of staging a performance. Unbearable starvation drives it into a state of panic to such an extent that a conflict takes place among its members and the Namsadang-pae ‘s strict disciplinary code causes the killing of one of its members.

After a long interval of silence, the troupe receives a gombaengyi (permission for a performance in advance) and stages a performance in the large festive court of a Yangban man, the ruling literati of the period. They are exhilarated in performing their tightrope feat, ground tumbling, and playing pungmul instruments. At the climax of their exhilaration, a young boy of the Yangban family suddenly jumps up on the stage, ruining their performance. This is followed by all kinds of insults and violence inflicted upon them. They barely escape death.

They try to victimize Baudeogi as the leader of the troupe, who is already at the verge of death due to her chronic tuberculosis. Leaving her dead as a scapegoat for their contemptuous lives, they depart for their wandering performance tour in tune with a quiet melody.

The Features and Significance of the Musical

  • The Namsadang-nori of the Musical is the most popular amusement performance in the field of intangible dramatic properties in Korea. This musical is such an artistic piece that the government designated it as National Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 3
  • Korean traditional amusement genres (Samulnori , Nanta rhythm, etc.) + performances (artistic performances, acrobatic feats, physical arts) + a realistic play (drama) are all fused into the Namsadang-nori.
  • The tightrope dancer of the Namsadang-nori is registered in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Namsadang-nori is the largest-scale musical of Korea with a fine array of various talented artists, some of whom have completed courses on national cultural properties and have received such properties as performing.
  • The NHK TV Broadcasting Station of Japan presented a documentary on the artistic performances, acrobatic feats, art and wandering lives of the Namsadang-pae in its program entitled The Lives of Wayfaring Artists in 1984. The Namsadang-nori is so regarded as representing the artistic performances of Korea that it performed in 12 cities in Japan that year.
  • The national government of Korea has undertaken a project to develop the Namsadang-nori as a cultural content, while various local municipal governments have already designated it as a provincial festival and many others are planning to follow suit.

The Performance Record of the Musical

2003: The Ministry of Culture and Tourism selected the musical as a creative art piece under the auspices of the Seoul Metropolis, the Chosun Ilbo, and KBS.

The first performance of the drama was staged at the Little Angels Hall from November 3 to 5.

2004: The Korean Institute of Cultural Arts Promotion under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism selected the musical as “An Artistic Work Sought by Cultural Arts Projects.”

The touring performances were staged in five provincial cities from May 2 to October 31, 2004.

The Korean Institute of Cultural Art Contents Promotion under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism selected the Namsadang musical for promotion.

(automatically generated) Read LKL’s review of this event here.

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