Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Monday evening.

"Oh," says my friend Hee Jeong as we're getting ready to depart from The Coffee Bean (which I've learned has a fine selection of teas--yay to my non-dairy-consuming self) and go our separate ways. "What are you and your boyfriend doing tomorrow?"

"No plans yet."

"Do you want these tickets to see Cats? I got them from work, but I can't go."

"Sure! Where's the show?"

"Daegu Opera House. At 2 p.m." She hands me two tickets with the value of 100,000 won printed on each.

"Oh my. Are you sure you don't want them?" She assures me that she does not and tells me the seat is not yet assigned, so I'll have to present them at the box office. "Thank you so very much!"

And just like that my Children's Day holiday is planned.


The seats ended up being AMAZING. We were off to the left of the stage... in the FRONT ROW (Ok, sort of the front row. There was a section for VIPs in front of us that had three rows, but we had the leg room and entering/exiting actors passing by us that accompanies the front row!). I was all jittery and excited. I haven't been to live theater very often in Korea; it's always been one of my favorite things to do.

The whole thing was in Korean, so it's lucky I already knew this musical so well from my Broadway obsession in middle and high school. The dancers were amazing, and the singing beautiful. Sometimes when Korea takes another culture's art form, it focuses too much on the technical execution of it and not enough on the soul and power of the art, but in this case it worked alright because Cats doesn't have much of a plot. The only thing I was disappointed with was the lack of a live orchestra. Other than that, it was a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

Min Gi said it was his first time in the Opera House. He was excited also, but for different reasons. Sometimes I wonder at how different our lives were growing up. Three decades ago in Korea is almost as distant a place as you can get from two decades ago in the suburbs of DC. Min Gi's country had only just pulled themselves out of war-starved poverty when he was born, and didn't become a dominant economic power until he was in middle or high school. Going to the theater wasn't just an option his family chose not to partake of--it wasn't possible. Whereas by high school, I had seen numerous productions at the Kennedy Center, Folger Shakespeare Library, and others. Hell, I was so in love with theater that at that time in my life I planned to be a professional stage designer.

Sometimes I think about how frivolous my life has been and feel guilty about it. That somehow all the power and privilege I was born to--being from an upper-middle class home, the daughter of two highly educated scientists, white, American--would have been wasted less on someone like Min Gi. Someone who would have appreciated it more as it was happening, who would have done something with it.

But then I think that the whole reason my parents worked as hard as they did (and their parents before them and so on) was to build a life (hell, to build a country) where I could lead a life of frivolity because I was finally free to choose whatever it is that I wanted to do. Even so, it wasn't until recently that I came to appreciate just how free I am. My parents didn't want me to become an artist (and in the end I didn't... although who knows whether this writing thing will pan out now that I have the time to devote to it). They wanted me to be a scientist. But in the end, they supported my decision, whatever it was.

And then I start to wonder if in the end, maybe Min Gi and I didn't grow up so differently after all. He has the mind and soul of an artist or a philosopher, but was never given the support to pursue that side of himself. Instead, he was encouraged to pursue the route of practicality and financial stability. Now he's floundering between who he should have been in his culture's eyes and who he should have been by his nature.

I love him for this, even though he sees it as a weakness. Perhaps he'll learn, as I did, to be comfortable and proud of who he is when he gets to see the way other countries operate. Maybe he won't feel so pressured by a society that tells him that at 35, he's a loser for not being married, with two kids, in a stable company job that works him 80 hours/week. Maybe not, but I really hope so.

I don't know the Korean verses, but I sure as hell have this soundtrack playing through my head this evening:

Daylight, I must wait for the sunrise.
I must think of a new life,
And I mustn't give in.
When the dawn comes tonight will be a memory too,
And a new day will begin.


  1. I have always wanted to catch a show here in Korea. I was a little disappointed to hear that there was no live orchestra, but it sounds like you had great seats though!

  2. Apparently there was a live orchestra, but they were under the stage, out of sight from the audience. The conductor was projected onto screens at the back of the auditorium for the singers/dancers. I thought it was prerecorded, but it seems this was not the case. I certainly hope the conductor had a way to see the actors as this could cause some communication issues...

    It was definitely fun. I wouldn't see Dreamgirls in Korea (I've seen it advertised), but shows like Cats and Mamma Mia are fun... even if you don't know all the lyrics in the foreign language.

  3. This is a lovely post, thank-you. I often read your blog but have liitle to contribute so I'm kinda quiet (sorry) ... but this was particularly poignant, and I wanted to say so.


  4. but in this case it worked alright because Cats doesn't have much of a plot.I actually laughed out loud. It's funny 'cause it's true!

    The orchestra being set up that way is actually becoming more and more common - it looks more natural for an actor to focus out into the house at a screen of the conductor, because then it just looks like an actor facing out rather than looking down. The conductor has some sort of visual of the actors too, although I'm less familiar with how that works.

    See? 3 years of being a theatre major HAS taught me something :-P

  5. I played in pit orchestras for a bit (10 different musicals, if I remember correctly) and there were one or two where the conductor and orchestra were out of sight of the actors. For one performance of Pippin the orchestra was put in a loft above the stage; this made it impossible for the actors and conductor to see each other, though it did provide the musicians with a partial view of what was going on.

    Cases like that put the orchestra at the mercy of the actors - never fun - and can result in some pretty harsh words from musical directors. At the very least though, there have been speakers set up in the pit so everyone can hear what's happening on stage.



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