Thursday, January 20, 2011

Practicing for the Performance

January 20th, 2010
As the three designated cooked breakfast (most of) the rest of us headed to the main hall to clean it after the previous evenings' party. The moment I opened the door the smell of 막걸리 makgeolli hit us like a wave. The polished wooden floor was spotted with the residue of the milky drink.

After breakfast and the morning meeting we separated into the groups for each of the main parts (승무 the monk's dance, 말뚝이 Malddugi (the clever servant), 원양반 Won Yangban (the leader of the upper class gentlemen), 문둥 Mundung (the leper) and 큰어미 the old wife). Our group of 13 plus the driver packed into a vehicle designed to seat 9. We went downtown to practice in a community center, but it turned out there was a previous schedule there and we had to come back again to the Mask Dance Museum. The community center was interesting, though. In addition to the room we were supposed to rehearse in, there were a lot of rooms we didn't see, but one we did had two small rooms with large TVs, about seven internet connected computers, desks and chairs and a small library (libraries outside universities are pretty rare in Korea). If I lived here I think I'd really enjoy going there often. Back at the museum we rehearsed under 하현갑 Ha Hyeon'gap, the same person who taught me the monk's dance in 2009. I was able to follow along well enough, but I do wish I hadn't missed the whole day yesterday.

After lunch we went back to the community center to practice. Ha Hyeon'gap wandered off and didn't come back for 45 minutes at one point, just the same as I remember from 2009. In the early evening we had a presentation on 삼천포농악 Samcheonpo Nongak from 진주 Jinju, the first kind of 풍물 pungmul to be registered with the Cultural Property Protection Law. The speaker, their National Human Treasure was very interesting. After 이연석 Yi Yeonseok invited me to join him and the other members of the preservation association and some guys associated with the Samcheonpo Nongak Human Treasure for dinner. We all piled into vehicles and drove off, I thought that it couldn't be worse than dinner with the students, and perhaps better. However, it was pheasant- raw, deep fried, and in soup. That meant there wasn't a regular plain soup and I essentially ate just rice, nori and kimchi. In other words, I was almost wishing I'd stayed with the students, today some decent cooks were on duty.

In the after dinner practice session people started to get really intense about their practice. 가은 Ga-eun who will perform 승무 Seungmu for the KNUA student team can't remember the order of the motions yet and is a bit frustrated. The mixed team practiced their Act 5 (Old Wife) to great amusement. I was almost rolling around laughing. 정운 Jeong'un and 민지 Minji will perform Act 3, the funniest in my opinion.

Cell phone photos of 성범 Seongbeom and 창열 Changyeol demonstrating Act 3:

After rehearsals we had a 뒤풀이 duipuli at our housing with just us and the instructors led by 황종욱 Hwang Jong'uk who bought a bunch of meat and booze for the students (he is their professor at KNUA), 안대천 Ahn Daecheon (a graduate student at KNUA) , 허창열 Heo Changyeol (also a grad student at KNUA), and 김범성 Kim Beomseong. I came here in 2009 and stayed in the building next to the main hall and office building, we had to cook in a kitchen with no water, and do our dish-washing outside and one floor below the kitchen. The showers were not just cold water, they were freezing water. I expected the same thing this time but instead the Mask Dance Museum's third floor has been made into a sort of group housing with three major rooms, a shower room and a bathroom. The shower has enough pressure that one person can be in the room at a time (despite the number of shower heads), and the room feels colder than outside (still below freezing), and the water temperature varied yesterday from not even in the region of luke warm to hot enough I had to adjust to add some cold water. But that's much better than no hot water at all. The biggest room we've mostly kept unheated, and it has a small TV. That's where the party was. The women sleep in the kitchen (originally it was the warmest but now the men's room has been the last couple days. We have no idea why). The kitchen is functional, the hot water also comes and goes, but we can wash food and dishes right next to where we're chopping and cooking. BUT I have to mention only our group is here, the other students (25+ others) are in the facilities I stayed in before. I'm lucky I'm with these guys.

The duipuli was very interesting, research wise. Since I didn't drink I could pay sharp attention, but it's sad how hard it is to recall details and I wish I had been able to record the entire thing. Led by Hwang there were a lot of very meaningful toasts. Hwang, Beomseong, Daecheon and Changyeol all imparted their advice and wisdom and thoughts to the students, some of whom also had to give answering extended toasts. Among themes: you could have been in the teams studying 양주별산대 Yangju Byeolsande or 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum on campus, instead you're here. It requires more effort, longer hours, living together, cooking, loss of freedom, etc. But there are advantages—among which the understanding of Goseong Ogwangdae that you could get if you actually were in Goseong being much greater than if you just learned on campus from Hwang and Changyeol. They can feel the environment, meet all or many of the performers, and get a more holistic understanding of the mask dance drama. There was a lot of associated discussion of what they could do this weekend (we're off class from Saturday midday or so until Sunday late afternoon early evening meeting). Cultural stuff was offered out (like learning to make a 창성 changseong or Korean totem pole type figure from a log) as were things the students seemed more excited about like going to a 찜질방 jjimjilbang and soaking and relaxing. Another theme was their future as performing artists and attracting an audience – this is one I sort of started by among other things telling them that the other students were their future audience, that they needed to reach out to these people who were already interested in the arts and get them to come to the their shows. Reach out to them. The one thing I really appreciated about the way the evening went was their openness to the students not drinking alcohol for once. There was water, soda and juice and several students drank mostly or all non-alcoholic beverages. Trying to remember more what was said I asked 민지 Minji and 가은 Ga-eun, they remembered only the latter point above, and Ga-eun explained that in her head right now is just (she gestures to different places on her head) "monk's dance, monk's dance, monk's dance, monk's dance." Although only one of the students is a mask dance majors, there was a fair amount of talk from their part of how much more fun they were having than they'd expected and how they now felt two weeks was short.

They really are living well here. There has yet to be a really awful meal (well, of the one's I could eat). The students are surprisingly good at cooking, and they're not cheap—soon we'll have to contribute money again. When they buy food, they also buy snacks and no one is kept away from them, it's accepted that everyone needs a snack from time to time. They use plenty of fresh vegetables in their cooking, compared to the students who I was matched with in 2009, the food situation is ideal. Of course it's not what I'd eat on my own (most of the time), but I'm a special case with my diet.

Jeong-u dishes up rice & the students play Rock, Paper, Scissors-- ultimate winner at the top of the stack.


  1. I'd be interested in a post discussing your thoughts on the (inevitability?) of the available teachers of these arts. I may be skinning my ignorance, but I presume that those who are long experienced are the ones teaching (as you've mentioned, 이수자, 전수자) but though one may be well-versed in something, one isn't always a good teacher (as we've learned in comments on various teachers you have).

    What if there could be a more concerted effort on teaching these people how to teach? Or am I asking a silly/inconsequential question? How much does the teaching play a part in the continuation of the art, and/or the interest it draws in terms of students' numbers & dedication (measured in, say, years of study or whatnot)?

  2. awesome question. jeonsuja is short time, though, and isuja is 10-25 or so years. So they really make a lot of work get done by the younger people.... it's tiring. some of these guys are really good teachers, though, esp. Changyeol