The full length performance for this year is on the 9th of May, so there are only a few days left before the performance to practice. This means that the attendance is higher, and everyone takes things more seriously.
Today in the morning (11?) 함승헌 took his 이수자 test. I recorded an interview with him about it. He said it was more frightening than when he interviewed for anything else ever in his life, he had to talk about how his life aligned with practice of SSN (as a non-full-time performer), and answer a few questions to gauge his knowledge of the art, demonstrate the basic dance motions, and perform (with just 장구 and 피리 and no one across from him) the part of 취발이. He passed. More details are on the MP3 file.
Because Ham Jr. had done his test, a certain number of people had been around for a few hours already by the time I arrived at 1:45 (practice started at 3). Principally 이한복, 강차욱 (those two played the music for the test), 김영숙, 이병옥 and 함완식 who must have been very proud that his son advanced to 이수자 but I couldn't see any hint of that in his face or deportment. Other people also arrived before me, and shortly afterwards. The 심사위원 who had come for the exam had introduced various conversations while talking with 이병옥 and 함완식 and had infected everyone with an attitude of seriousness about how to best prepare for the full length performance. One of the things they said was that the 서울놀이마당's madang is too large, and if we try to take up the whole thing it loses feeling and looks bad-- they advised that the performance happen in the center with people sitting around outside, as has been done before some years. 김영숙 is going to look into the legless chairs with backs and see if we can get some of them for the viewers.
Before practice started I mostly talked with 김영숙 about a variety of things-- I started off by talking to her about the subject of the book chapter-- women in mask dance dramas. The interview was very unscripted and rambling, I basically stayed next to her and the conversation wove in and out of the topic, commenting on people around us, and various criticism that the office manager (a woman of opinions, no joke) had about other people and recent events. I managed to pull out my voice recorder and turn it on, tucked under my arm. The moment she sees the recorder she gets too reticent, and almost won't talk about anything at all -- even without seeing a recorder she often says things to undermine the value in her words (ex. "I'm not a talented dancer"). There was a ton of background environmental noise, including even the noise of at times 3 or 4 instruments in the small space-- and the recorder was under my arm, not held close to her mouth. And, as I said, the conversation ranged widely. The critical things of course I would never use, but the comments about women doing mask dance drama I need, so I'll just send her an email in a few days with the English content referring to the conversation, and a translation, and ask if she wants me to say "an experienced woman who has been a mask dancer more than thirty years" or if it is okay to use her name. Since what she said was already very curated (on that subject) and she knows I'm writing this chapter and have already talked to a lot of other performers about it, she'll probably agree for me to use her name. If I was confident of my memory, I wouldn't have sneakily recorded at all, but I excuse the sneakiness because I'll show her exactly how I want to use her words and get her permission to use her name before I ever do it. I much prefer what I can do with people like 이병옥, just stick the recorder in his hand, and just easily record in a quiet location. At one point Yeongsuk and I went to the office, but by then she'd basically finished saying anything about her ideas and was asking me questions about my work situation and when I'll know if I am signing a new contract.
After stretching and basic motions (perhaps 30 minutes, combined), 이병옥 and to a lesser extent 함완식 pointed out some issues. One was confusion over 3 different dance motions with similar names and motions (the difference being the 장단 the motion is performed to, and whether you walk in a circle, or do the motion in place). When SSN does basic motions, unlike other mask dance dramas, such as Bongsan Talchum or Goseong Ogwangdae where everyone does the same sequence of events, the sequence and number of each motion before doing the next motions depends on who is leading. 김명하 was leading, in the front left corner facing the mirror and next to the musicians (이한복 (on piri or daegeum), 강차욱 (on janggu or piri), 윤지희 (haegeum) and another woman who is a friend of Jihee's, I think her name is 김희경, also playing haegeum plus 함완식 sometimes playing the janggu), I was in the back right corner, and over the instruments and space, I could only occasionally hear the call of the next motion, and just had to be quick on my toes so that I wouldn't make a mistake. Each motion is repeated on both sides for two, four, or even a dozen times before moving on. Since most members of the group, including 김명하 are older and their physical conditioning is not very good (they're older than me, and don't do hapkido 5 days a week), by the time they finished most people were drenched in sweat, but I felt like we had really barely practiced some of the motions. After discussion about the three similar motions and trying to clarify the names so that everyone wouldn't get confused, the discussion moved onto why SSN is called a --------- dance. I will have to ask someone, because I thought I'd noted the name correctly, but googling the name doesn't return a result. The conversation then went on to discuss if (or not) SSN has distinctively bold use of the wrist in dance motions. The senior members all denied this, although Ham Sr. brought up the fact that one of the original members at the time of certification had had particularly active wrists.
After this interlude practice of scenes commenced. The first scene was 곤장놀이, after the scene ended 이병옥 emphasized that everyone had to use very precise pronunciation in the performance. The eight monks were each told to practice at home to make their performance more "멋있어요" (in this case we can gloss this as meaning impressive). Next they practiced 침놀이 and after the scene ended 함, 이 and other senior members, such as 이수환 criticized the crucial end of the scene, correctly the delivery and actions of the players "죽든지 살든지, 내가 몰라." After this everyone last focus for a good 10 minutes, then came back together to practice the 7th scene (the first one with 노장). I was extremely happy to see them making all the 먹중 coordinate their motions, because the last two times I've seen this scene someone has been off. After the scene was rehearsed there was a discussion of line delivery "as if you have no mic" because this will match the traditional tone better (and, dare I say, the mics DO fail sometimes).
Crappy cell phone photos of rehearsal
Next the 먹중 (most of them) got a rest and they practiced the 샌님/말뚝이 scene. 다미 will perform as the youngest of the 3 양반, which disappointed me. I would really have liked to perform that role. After they practice there is a long discussion. As with most discussions the voice or authority starts with "I remember when [old teacher so and so] used to do this..." "It used to go like this" -- to actually find fault with others without bringing up the past is much less common and only happens if you're super confident about your opinion (like 이병옥). The discussion goes over where the members of the scene should be, and in what orientation to the audience, Ham Sr. accused 탄종원 of over-action, and 다미 is given feedback both pulled aside (by 장규식 who usually does this role) and by the group. There is a group repeat-after-이병옥 of some of the words (no longer used) so that pronunciation and delivery is correct. A lot of this focuses on 사처. If you drag it out it's a place for the dead, not a pigsty.
Then 김명하 runs through part of the scene as the shaman. Last year the shaman was 이영식, and I am not sure why it's changed. 김명하 will perform in the majority of the 12 acts-- my rough count has him delivery more lines and being on the stage more than anyone else.
There is a brief discussion of final bows (yes or no, carrying a mask, wearing a mask, in costume, only for those in the last scene, etc.). Should we do "fan service"? (Here they mean, should we offer a chance to take photos together when we've got our costumes on). This discussion often involves "다른 단체" (other groups...). And finally it is agreed that after the bow (where everyone is in the last costume they wore), there should be a period of group dance with the audience.
Everyone hesitated to leave, but I live so far away, I bowed and left quickly.