Last year, many debates about women's rights and social positions in response to the Me Too movement were held in Korea. Inthe field of arts performing, many kinds of shows about women living with an independent attitude were being performed and made a big hit. For example, musical performances such as Red Book and Bernharda Alba with a woman as the lead character have been made,female characters living their lives in opposition to conservative social norms have become common. Also, the performance industry gradually has begun to adopt these new trends. In this article, CUF (Catholic University Forum) introduce some performances that students can see overall changing situation of musical industry.
1. Performances featuring a woman in lead roles:
Red Book, Marie Curie, Snowball, Bernarda Alva, Anna Karenina
Plays with male-focused storytelling have mostly been performed in the Korean musical industry for a long time. For example, men were portrayed as kings, wealthy people, and powerful men, but women’s roles were limited to wives, mothers, daughters or prostitutes. In other words, there was a lack of female characters that drew their own stories subjectively. In this situation, a musical "Red Book" portraying a female character’s own story was performed for the first time.
The musical Red Book’s back ground is 19th century England in conservative Victorian times. The main character of the Red Book is Anna, a woman who proudly writes her erotic novels without being swept away by the absurdity of the society and the atmosphere of looking down on women. Before the premiere in 2017, most performance officials were concerned that Red Book would have failed. The reason is that it did not cast a famous musical star, and was not focused on the story of a popular male character. However, the musical Red Book has been hailed by many musical fans that have become tired of male-dominated epic dramas, and have achieved a huge box office record of 97 percent in attendance. It was even awarded three prizes including Best Picture, Best Director and Best choreographer at the 3rd Korean Musical Awards, which took place on January 14 this year.
Since the musical Red Book has gained in popularity, diverse musicals such as Anna Karenina, Marie Curie and Hope that feature female leads have been appearing. Especially, In November 2018, the musical Bernarda Alva, a feminist musical, which astonished the Korean musical industry was performed. The musical has only 10 female actors. No male actor can be found on stage. For this reason, performance officials were concerned that a performance featuring only female actors would never succeed. However, all tickets were sold out during the performance. It also achieved great success by being awarded the Small Theater Musical prize at the 3rd Musical Awards.
2. Gender-free Casting: Gwanghwamun Love Song, Pirates,
Play B_Class, THE DEVIL, Rocky Horror Show
The aftermath of changing musical industry’s chronic practice did not end with a simple change in focusing on the female characters. In addition, 'Gender-free casting' system has been introduced to the performance industry. The literally meaning of Gender-free casting is that "gender: social sex-role male or women” and “free: casting actors without identifying the sex of the character’s role”. It is a concept that encourages gender-neutral casting. In other words, roles are not divided into male and female genders, so any role may be assumed regardless of the gender of the actor.
The first gender-free casting performance was the musical Gwanghwamun Love Song. Cha Ji-yeon, who is a famous Korean musical actress, was cast as the 3,000-year-old “Wolha character”, and male actor Jung Sung-hwawas also appearing as the same character in the performance. The role of Wolha was performed by male and female actors. She was also cast in the role of Black X and Black White in musical The Devil, which began to perform in the second half of last year. This news attracted great attention and musical fans showed an enthusiastic response. Besides, there have been active changes in many other performances such as the musical Rocky Horror Show, piracy and play B-class, blurring the distinction between male and female characters.
Gender-free casting has been emerging as a new wave in the world of performing arts. For example, a “Neropa system (neropa)”, one of the casting-methods ensuring that certain genders would not have to play certain characters was introduced in the U.K. The purpose of “Neropa system” is to give a female actor a chance to play more diverse characters. In the performance industry, which has developed based on a male-dominated narrative, female roles were limited. Otherwise, it is intended to break gender stereotypes. The world of performances is taking off from the stage in line with changes in society.
In process of time, performances with female-focused epic and "Gender-free casting" is also being attempted, but the Korean musical & play industry still has a long way to go. Lee Soo-jin who is a playwright and performance columnist, posted a column about the change in female characters in the performing industry on the “All That Art” page, which is a Naver(portal site) performance&exhibition magazine. It is still in the laboratory stage, for there are not enough performances for women to tell their own stories. Although some of the female-leading shows have been tried, most of the performances have a way of playing with the help of male characters. Also, responses from news articles introducing the Gender-free casting performance as "unprecedented" and audience responses expressing that it is "new" show that gender-neutral casting is not yet common in South Korea. So far, it is common for us to feel unfamiliar with this concept. We have to pay attention to how the Korean performing industry will cope with this problem in the future.