Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On Interviewing People...

December 20th, 2010
Karjam and I had lunch at 경진 Gyeongjin’s house. She made a great kimchi stew, a stir-fried meat dish for her and Karjam and a mushroom and bokchoy dish as well, plus rice and various side dishes like her mom’s homemade kimchi.

I rushed from her house to 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum because I was interviewing the office manager before he went home for the night.

Interviewing people can be tough, it’s a real art and I’m not the master of the art form, for sure. It’s like this sensitive dance where you need to respond to them in just the right way, let them speak when it’s good stuff, manage to steer them back to your subject when it’s not, skip to the logical next question based on what they’ve just said instead of following a strict order, redirect, dig for a restatement if it’s unclear, etc. Of course personalities are important. Making the other person feel comfortable, joking around in a way that they’ll appreciate or being business-like if that is the best approach for them, it’s all got be hit perfectly to get the maximum benefit from the interview. It’s harder when it’s in a foreign language, of course, and I haven’t done many interviews lately because my ear infection is compromising my hearing which makes me hesitant to interview people for fear I can’t execute the dance I’ve described above. I ended up doing two interviews, one with the office manager, who I don’t know well and is a bit uncomfortable with me, and one with 김은주 Kim Eunju, my teacher on and off since early 2005. The two interviews were totally different, although the information I was looking for was essentially the same.

Interviewing people is much easier if they know you well enough to trust you and are comfortable with you. The office manager neither knows me well nor seems very comfortable, he seemed hesitant to go to the second room with me, so I had to interview him in a room with three other people all doing various things. But if other people are listening in, or if they might be, the answers you get are impacted by who those people are and what answer the interviewee feels both you –and- the people who can overhear will think. He was a bit nervous (also, undoubtedly he is rarely asked his own opinion as he’s the office manager, the person tasked with actualizing the opinions of others) and wanted to rush through the questions and the answers, making it hard for me to redirect.

It sounds like an unsatisfying interview, but it wasn’t. I got some key information from him to sort of establish a base line as I start to interview Bongsan Talchum performers. A very important thing to do with the people who come later in a series of interviews is to try to confirm or get a different take on the same information, so even though the interview was short and stiff, it allows me to have something to build off with the other interviews. I will come back to him in the future if I have a different set of questions, but he’s only been around since April and could be gone in six months or two years, so he’s not a key interviewee. He is, however, the only office manager, and as such it’s useful to hear things from his perspective.

My key interviewees with Bongsan Talchum are “teachers” (2nd ranked) 장용일 Jang Yongil, and 박상운 Bak Sang’un, “performers” (3rd ranked isuja) 정윤식 Jang Yunshik and 김은주 Kim Eunju and National Human Treasure (1st ranked, of course) 김애선 Kim Aeseon. Directly after the interview with the office manager Kim Eunju was hanging around so I interviewed her. The interview was 4xs the length of the office manager interview, and much more productive. First of all, although she’s naturally not the most opinionated person on the planet, Kim Eunju and I have a very good relationship. She’s known me so long that she has no problem understanding me, my research, my motivations and so on, in other words, she trusts me. I don’t have to dance around so actively with her. We had a very promising talk covering the direct subject at hand (presentation to the audience through announcing, pamphlets, posters, etc) and several other things that I was interested in getting her take on, now that I’d already got the recorder out and pressed play.

Class was fine, not particularly eventful, but felt busy since we have the two new people so there is always something going on (Kim Eunju will teach them for five minutes then lead us for eight minutes or so, so the room is never quiet and still). Then we ended fifteen minutes early so we could discuss our performance plans, which may be hard for me to participate in since I’ve got to be out of town.

Karjam is awesome. He helped me wash and condition my hair without getting water in my ear (which is kind of hard to do). It was really sweet. Like award-winning sweet.

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