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Eight Nomadic Years with ’Dallae’
Eight Nomadic Years with ’Dallae’
Interviewer : Kim Misun (Producer Theater for Young Audiences Research Center National Theater Company of Korea) 2016.10.07

Eight Nomadic Years with ’Dallae’
 


I won’t forget that moment in 2009 when I first crossed paths with Dallae in Charleville-Meziere, France. The moment a simple, unassuming girl captured the hearts of the French audience. For two years since, I have journeyed with her.
Even as I currently involve myself in other youth productions, I think of home and become homesick whenever Art Stage SAN and Dallae come to mind. I felt the nervousness and excitement of returning home as I made my way to meet with Director Jo Hyunsan of Art Stage SAN for this interview, and on my way there, several themes occupied my thoughts.

#sincerity, connection, fruition, dreams, community, universality, origin, time, and space

▲ Art Stage SAN© Official website

▲ Art Stage SAN© Official website

#sincerity

“Dallae’s Story” is in its eighth year. How many countries have you performed in? Also, considering that the production remains in high demand in numerous places, what do you think has given “Dallae’s Story” such staying power?

Since 2009, we have performed in fifty different locations in twenty-five countries, and to be honest, I hadn’t expected us to receive such a warm reception for such a long time. “Dallae’s Story” has truly had a long life, and I think the secret to its longevity is its sincerity. We can’t say that the production is amazing or perfect, but sincerity is undoubtedly its highest virtue. Of all the pieces in our repertory, this is the one we have performed the most, and practiced the most; at the same time, it has also been the most arduous and nerve-wracking. We’ve poured a lot into it over the years, and our audiences have accompanied us on a journey all this time.
What we have is not a grand spectacle but rather a story we wanted to tell about what is important. It’s a story of the everyday, our mundane everyday existence, to which we barely give a second thought.Even without knife-wielding, gun-toting battles, aren’t we living in a world of countless unseen wars and conflict? In the midst of all of the world’s grand agendas, what is important to us and keeps us going are our ordinary everyday lives. I think many audience members identify with this. 

#chance and inevitability

Dallae is not only a special puppet but also a superb actor. Whenever we meet her, a lot of forgotten emotions from our childhood come to the surface. How did Dallae come to be, and what do you think is her appeal?

Audiences often share after the show that they felt like Dallae was a real person. It’s funnyny t structure of “Dallae’s Story” is simple, yet many people recognize their own lives and experiences in the story. Even if their experiences are unrelated to war, it’s as if their lives, their pain, and what they have endured are projected on the stage. I think this also has a lot to do with the fact that Dallae is a child, a girl, someone very vulnerable. To us, Dallae becomes not just a doll but a family member or peer.

Dallae was born in 2009 out of various processes. Since then, we have used only the one puppet. People might think that we can simply recreate an identical doll if we have the technical know-how. Yet just like no two people are truly alike, puppets too cannot be exactly duplicated. For instance, the puppy in “Dallae’s Story” is made of square pieces of cloth. We experimented with several puppy puppets but in the end went with an impromptu version. We did attempt to fashion an exact copy after that, but they just didn’t have the right feel. I guess puppets, too, have a kind of “life,” just like people. They won’t live forever, so sometimes I wonder how long we will be able to continue performing with them.

▲ “Dallae’s Story”© Art Stage SAN

▲ “Dallae’s Story”© Art Stage SAN

#repetition and fruition

Tell us more about the process of creating “Dallae’s Story” and about Art Stage SAN’s creative process in general.

It is difficult to pinpoint where it all started. In 2002, we did a war-themed production, then there was a different version, and then we made Dallae using paper and toyed around with a variety of versions until we arrived at the production format and direction we wanted in 2009, which resulted in “Dallae’s Story.” In this way, our creative process involves first deciding what we want to talk about and then continuing to develop the concept, including changing the title a few times. The very first topic we choose goes through a continuous process of maturation. At times it feels like the project is becoming something entirely different as a result of changes in the writers and performers, but that isn’t necessarily the case. It takes a lot of time to create one production, and it’s repetitive, requiring considerable investment and effort, but you can feel how such labors add to a piece over time.  

#universality

You have performed at many venues the world over. I’m curious to know which performance was most memorable in terms of the audience’s response.

While reactions have varied across different countries, for the most part, audiences relate to  our story. We always get a warm reception.
One response was especially memorable. A Japanese audience member, a woman, said that all her reticent husband did when he got home from work was watch television and have his dinner. She really wanted to watch our performance so she implored him to come along with her. That night, after the show, although he didn’t talk about his impressions, he didn’t watch TV, either. He just sat silently at home. That story really stuck with me.

There was also this performance we did at an 800-seat opera house in Brazil. I remember being stunned by the enthusiastic applause that continued after the curtain had dropped. People who hadn’t been able to get tickets for the performance were enjoying it outdoors, where it was shown on a big screen. So there was this cheery festival-like vibe, even though our show itself isn’t very festive. And in Estonia, once, we did a showcase on an outdoor stage. It was a hot summer’s day, and there was a lot of outdoor noise, so I was initially thinking that this setup was less than ideal. But surprisingly, when we started, the whole space suddenly became quiet, and for ten to fifteen minutes, you could feel the intense concentration of the audience. I won’t forget the stillness of that moment. Many people came up to us when we were done, asking us all sorts of questions and telling us their reactions to the piece.

#community

I heard that the founding members of Art Stage SAN (director Jo Hyunsan and production manager Oh Jeongseok) have worked together for close to fifteen years. That’s pretty amazing. What is the secret to this close partnership?

We find it amazing too. We know that we can split up at any time, but we tell each other that we’ll do our best during our time together. Although we have our conflicts, and yes, we do fight, what’s important is that we can communicate our ideals to each other. What we want right now is for our company’s actors and staff to utilize their time with us to their benefit. Ultimately, I hope Art Stage SAN becomes both a physical and psychological space where puppeteers gather and create using puppets. It isn’t for the individual but should function as a community, time, and space for conversation. It would be nice if this becomes where we experiment with shows that are truly alive, like the meaning of our name Art Stage SAN.

▲ “Dallae’s Story”© Art Stage SAN

▲ “Dallae’s Story”© Art Stage SAN

#puppets, puppetry

I’m curious why you chose to work with puppets. There is actually considerable prejudice against puppetry. Where do you think its appeal lies?

Puppets are generally quite primitive and direct. While there wasn’t a real reason for my choice then, looking back now, I think this appealed to me. There’s a lot of blank space in puppet art. This space is magnified when puppets are brought before audiences, and this is a key difference and appeal when compared to other art forms. So how is this space created? Well, puppets are expressionless, so the audience has to fill in this blank for themselves. The audience has to imagine. Dallae has no expression, but audiences speak of her expressions. Dallae doesn’t move her nose or eyes or lips, and yet it is fascinating to know how the audience reads her face. Like when we read a novel, don’t we imagine the characters’ physical appearances, the smells, and the settings? Imagination is the most perfect form of expression. I’m not saying that puppet theater is better than other forms, but it definitely has its own unique appeal. The elements of this appeal are what I wish to continually uncover. The longer I work with puppets, the more I am mesmerized by such elements, like the unfilled space and the role of the imagination.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s meaningful to classify puppetry as its own genre. At the end of the day, it’s about using this method to tell the stories you want to tell. For me, I’m doing this because it interests me, and it is what I am good at. You also see puppetry being used in other genres like dance and mime. In my opinion, theater around the world is moving towards the intuitive and the visual. It’s a shame that puppets are understood only in terms of function, genre, or as a means to an end.

There is an inherent appeal with puppets. They are rudimentary and versatile. In their primitiveness, we continue to discover areas that are unfamiliar. I hope more efforts are made to bring puppets into other genres and to give them new forms of expression, as well as do more research. Through this, both puppeteers and audiences can uncover more of puppetry’s appeal. I would love for puppet art to become another method of performance in Korea and for there to be more dialogue and efforts to explore how it can be used.

#nomad

The Middle East is the current target for the Performing Arts Market in Seoul (PAMS). How did you feel about being selected for PAMS Choice, and what are you looking forward to?

I’m extremely happy about our very first nomination for PAMS Choice. Art Stage SAN has done several performance tours of Europe and Asia, so we are excited about the opportunity to expand our market to the Middle East through PAMS. I’m quite curious about how our Middle Eastern guest will react to “Dallae’s Story.” I look forward to the day when we can perform our show for audiences in the Middle East. 

How do you feel after you complete an overseas tour and return to Korea? For eight years, you have performed in numerous countries and been met with an enthusiastic reception. What is it like coming back home after such experiences?

As much as I feel both satisfaction and joy in that moment, an equal degree of pressure seeps in. I wish we could have more opportunities to share our story with others. We experience our production as something living, so we wonder how long this life will last. As much as I want our story to live on for a long time, I’m not sure what we need to do to ensure that. This is something that we are trying to figure out.

What are your plans for the future?

In addition to performing “Dallae’s Story” in South Africa in September, we are planning to perform “Box,” a joint production with a Canadian team, at two Canadian arts festivals next year. As for new productions, we have “Goodnight Alice” slated for this October. This piece was preceded by non-performance works, including experiential events, exhibitions, and parades, based on Alice in Wonderland. We have finally brought it back to the stage. It’s interesting how we approach our productions as an integrative experience rather than as a single show. “Goodnight Alice” combines puppets and videography in exploration of the themes of three- to four-year-olds who don’t like to sleep and the toys they are often attached to. We’re experimenting with utilizing various kinds of video technology, including holograms and 3D mapping. 

▲ “Dallae’s Story”© Art Stage SAN

▲ “Dallae’s Story”© Art Stage SAN

I first met Art Stage SAN in 2009. They touched me in a simple, unaffected way then, and they still do so today, years later. There’s something natural about them. They don’t think of their work as great enterprises. They have the strength of mind to seize the opportunities that come their way, regarding them as no mere accident, and look back calmly on the time and space they have traversed over eight years of telling “Dallae’s Story.” It’s a similar strength that has enabled them to utilize blank spaces and the experience of imagination to draw in audiences. This is how Art Stage SAN has evolved over the last fifteen years and how it will continue in the coming days, slowly and calmly, to attain even greater levels of momentum and growth. 

Kim Misun (<i>Producer Theater for Young Audiences Research Center National Theater Company of Korea</i>)
Kim Misun (misun.kim0601@gmail.com) started out at Mokwha Repertory Company in 2001 as a planner and went on to become a producer with Performing Arts Integrated Marketing (PAIM) Communications. In 2009, she was selected for ARKO Young Art Frontier of the Arts Council Korea, where she conducted research largely focused on world music and puppetry. She was involved in producing the Asian Folk Song Project, which involved various performers from different Asian countries, and showcased “Homemade Music 1–upopo.” Since 2012, she has been a producer for the Theater for Young Audiences Research Center at the National Theater Company of Korea.
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