London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

Gossip and impressions from the Fringe

Monkey Dance
Monkey Dance gets some promotion on the Royal Mile

Before I get down to the serious business of writing up a few reviews of the shows I got to see, here is a round-up of random thoughts and gossip

The performers’ work is never done…

It’s never really dawned on me before how hard the performance teams work when they are in Edinburgh. Their shows are over in in the space of an hour, but even once they have finished cleaning up afterwards (most troupes have minimal support staff and they have to be their own stage hands) their task for the day is not done. As you walk down the Royal Mile it’s hard to avoid the self-same performers tirelessly greeting the tourists and handing out flyers, or doing mini performances on the street or even on the official showcase stage. If they’re not promoting their own show, they are supporting their colleagues’ shows: at Ensemble Su’s performance the back row of the audience consisted of the team from TAGO, bolstering the applause and providing the occasional Chiumsae.

Team TAGO queuing up to support Ensemble SU
Team TAGO queuing up to support Ensemble SU

…but sometimes there’s the opportunity to relax

Congratulations to Ongals, the Babbling Comedians, for winning the 2017 Asian Arts Award in the comedy section. We caught them celebrating with an ice cream, taking a break from their leafleting.

Ongals take it easy
Ongals take it easy (photo: Chris Ryu)

While many troupes perform for the whole month (Ongals doesn’t even have any days off), we hear that some have a more balanced approach to their overseas trip. Theatre Huam, whose Black and White Tea Room – Counsellor so gripped us at the London showcase – gave only six performances during the opening week of the Fringe, leaving them the rest of the month to enjoy all that Edinburgh has to offer. Good for them, though we wish they’d been performing during the week we visited because I really wanted to see their play in full.

Korean branding

As I look at the promotion of the Korean acts this year I can’t help but be puzzled.

Some acts received funding from ministry of culture budgets, others didn’t. I guess that’s natural: there’s not an unlimited pot of money.

L: The Korean Season booklet containing four acts; R: the more comprehensive booklet containing eighteen acts, including those in the Korean Season. But not Ongals. Confused?

But at least all the acts got listed in a well-produced booklet featuring Korean participation in this the 70th iteration of the Fringe, with two pages per act. All, that is, apart from the award-winning Ongals team, and many will wonder whose choice it was that they they would go it alone. That omission aside, another confusing feature about the Korean presence this year is the existence of a “Korean Season” – which consists of only four of the 18 acts. The “Season” is in conjunction with the Assembly venues (Lee Jungnam’s Kokdu, on at the Assembly Hall, is part of the “Season” while the same troupe’s Binari, on at C Royal, is not), but that does not explain the appearance of Hwang Sok-yong as part of the season at the Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre. Putting aside the Season, the Korea Arts Management Service has designated five of the 18 acts (including two from the Korean Season) as “KAMS picks”. Does that mean that the other acts are somehow second class? Happily, I can confirm the quality of the KAMS picks that I saw either this year or in the past, but for me the star of the Korean Fringe this year (of the acts that I saw) was the independent group Hoo Dance Company. And I wasn’t alone in thinking that. So, by all means go along to the “picks”, or follow the Season (and I overheard some members of the audience were doing just that), but do experiment and explore that acts that don’t have an official seal of approval.

The growing competition

Recognising the growing trend for troupes from Asia to use the Fringe as a launchpad for their international careers, the Fringe inaugurated the Asian Arts Award in 2014.

Taiwanese performers advertise their show on the Royal Mile
Taiwanese performers advertise their show on the Royal Mile

It seems that the Taiwanese have been watching the Koreans closely. This is now the third year of the “Korean Season”, and it’s the first time that I’ve noticed a “Taiwan Season” – with branding being promoted by performers on the Royal Mile. And the Taiwanese have gone further than the Koreans in one act: the dance performance called Together Alone in which the two dancers perform without a stitch on. The Koreans I spoke to were full of envy at the toned musculature…

The lottery of the venues, or, problems with the neighbours

Hoo Dance Company
Hoo Dance Company – magical and atmospheric, despite the galumphing upstairs

Organising a series of shows from the other side of the world has enough challenges, but there’s one thing thing that you can’t control, and that’s the neighbours. Ensemble Su, at Assembly Checkpoint, had to battle against the sound of the muzak from the restaurant next door, while the serenity of Hoo Dance Company’s After 4 – Over the Moon at ZOO Southside was disturbed by what sounded like a herd of elephants doing calisthenics in the performance space above. Fortunately, they only had to suffer this for the last week of their visit, when a new performance troupe moved in upstairs.

Audience interaction

We expect Korean shows to break the fourth wall and feature interaction between performer and audience as a key element. This year many of the Korean shows added a new element: a request for online reviews. This is not something I have noticed in previous years. As the performers accepted their applause at the end of the show, they would applaud the audience in return before asking them to publish comments or reviews of the show on social media. Behind the Mirror went a step further: the story ended sadly. But then the main narrator said: “Hang on! That’s not the way to get a five star review. Let’s run that last bit again.” The tragedy was unwound, all the unhappy events were revealed to be a bad dream, and everyone lived happily ever after. Smart.

Behind the Mirror cast member promoting the show on the Royal Mile
Behind the Mirror cast member promoting the show on the Royal Mile

Today is the last day of the Fringe. The performers and their teams deserve a long rest.

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