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Behind the scenes with the KAA

The plan for an evening of performance and visual arts at the KCC came quite suddenly, and when I met Park Sunnee for a quick chat about it six weeks ago the plans all seemed rather vague. I have in the past been sceptical about Korean organisational abilities, and the mountain to climb in such a short timeframe looked impassable.

Chatting about the possibilities of an event in early September
Chatting about the event in early September

I was proved massively wrong.

Somehow the KAA organised itself into disciplined little subgroups working on discrete sections of the evening: Jung Ji-eun masterminded the performers, Song Bada the visual arts, Judy Jung Front of House, with invitation design by Park Sunju, programme design and on-the-day event co-ordination by Kim Young-shin; some catering by Park Hye-kyung; and stage management by the unflappable Demetry Grey. Above it all, Sunnee ably coordinated, and did the rounds of various Korean restaurants with Bada trying to extract funding. One of the restaurants claimed a free Chuseok dance from Sunnee in recompense.

Kim Young-shin with Peter Corbishley
Kim Young-shin with Peter Corbishley

Even though some things might not have happened as early in the project as one might have expected, on the day it all came together. At the last minute, as always.

And as always, there’s something that goes wrong. The KCC technology set-up is fine for basic things. A DVD screening is something that has now been tried and tested many times. A simple welcome speech never goes wrong. But I can’t remember having been to an event there which requires more than the bare minimum where the technology hasn’t failed, whether it be connecting the laptop to the projector or connecting equipment to the sound system. This occasion was no exception. During the afternoon rehearsal the sound system developed a throbbing electronic heartbeat all of its own, delaying things from an already late start. Towards the end of the afternoon, Sunnee was making a few last minute adjustments to her choreography, and Ji-eun and Sungmin were rehearsing their ensemble, at the same time as the presenter and stage manager were trying to figure out the best positioning on the stage for the keyboard for Younee’s numbers. Younee herself had not yet arrived.

Judy Jung with her young helper in charge of Front of House
Judy Jung with her young helper in charge of Front of House

The guests had started to arrive an hour early, and were beginning to tuck into the rice cakes and the wine, and still not everyone had rehearsed. And it suddenly dawned on the presenter that he didn’t have a clue how he was going to introduce all the works by the visual artists. He scuttled downstairs to try to figure something out away from the crowds, with 20 minutes to go.

Park Sunnee welcomes the guests
Park Sunnee welcomes the guests

At 7pm, we tried to get everyone seated, but there were too many guests. Sunnee welcomed everyone in Korean, and handed over to the presenter.

Those familiar with events at the KCC were puzzled at this departure from normal protocol. Normally an Embassy or KCC official makes a few welcoming remarks at the start of the evening: in fact at the KAA’s event last year the Ambassador himself, in one of his first engagements at the KCC, said a few words noting the importance of promoting Korean culture as part of his own brief. This year most of the Embassy staff were otherwise engaged entertaining some government inspectors over from Seoul, leaving the new KCC Director as the senior official present – but he wanted to keep his involvement in this particular event low-key.

As the introductions finished, people were still arriving, and latecomers either stood at the entrance to the multi-purpose space or even sat on the hard concrete floor. They seemed not to mind, though.

The performers and artists line up
The performers and artists line up

On the night, the sound system and visual projection all worked perfectly (maybe it helped having two technicians present). The pianists didn’t seem to mind that their instrument was a Yamaha keyboard rather than the real thing, and everyone genuinely pulled out all the stops. There wasn’t a weak spot in the evening. As one experienced audience member said afterwards,

I thought Friday’s event was very good – an incredible diversity of outstanding talents, some clearly destined for great futures in their fields. If time and resources work out, you could easily have a monthly or quarterly event.

I’m not sure that we have the energy for a monthly gig, but another outing in 2010 is surely on the cards.

Photos of the evening courtesy of Lee Hyung-wook of The East newspaper

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