The first show I caught at IYAF was The Princess Pyunggang, brought by a Korean youth theatre group called Bibimbab Youth Theatre. The group impressed me with not just the different theatrical elements they incorporated in their piece, but also with their ability to bring together the different traditions that these elements come from.
There was one scene in particular that I felt was really creative; meant to demonstrate the protagonist being at war, the group brought the galloping rhythms of tap dancing, an art not associated with traditional Korean culture, into a story that is set during the time of the Goryeo dynasty in Korea. This brought to mind the idea of intercultural theatre and how different companies might approach the presentation of their show on an international stage. For Bibimbab Youth Theatre here, they have mostly adapted the present piece to the norm of the audience’s environment.
One example that stood out for me is their decision to stage the play mostly in English, reserving hushed Korean for a more supernatural scene taking place in the manner of the fairies and forest in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where all sorts of reveries and mischief can occur. I think we understand that the reason for staging the play in English is simply to cross the language barrier and to make their story and Korean drama accessible to an English-speaking audience. Because the supernatural pixie-like figures do not have to be understood, the cast can use a language that the target audience does not need to understand.
However, this arguably sets up a Self and Other dichotomy where Korean, at least in language, being associated as Other. For the audience and maybe even aspiring directors and producers, this is an interesting chance to explore the practical concern of how one translates a text or production, and how one can approaching bringing a piece of work from the local to the international. How should one translate the play script? Does a foreign play have to be staged in a language that the audience understands? Do we necessarily need subtitles, or can we appreciate reading the nuances of tone in another language? What should we retain and what should we adapt?
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It is great that IYAF has featured such a production in this iteration for us to think about these challenges, which I am sure many of the young people involved will come across if they have the chance to bring a piece of homegrown work across the seas in their future.
Vanessa is a final year student at the National University of Singapore, and as part of a summer holiday to the United Kingdom, she is helping out in IYAF’s Content and Marketing team. Having an aspiration to work in the arts, and in particular with and for children and young people, Vanessa is taking this time to build on her personal experiences in the arts from Singapore with the experiences she will gather here in London.