Seensee has many stage plays in its portfolio. For the first 10 years, the company, then called the Seensee Musical Company, focused solely on musical productions. However, Park decided to go back to doing plays not only because plays were what made him fall in love with the stage but also because they provide a greater challenge.
“Making a good play is way harder than making a musical. The ability to make a good play is a foundation for creating a good musical,” Park said, adding that his company’s devotion to plays is what differentiates it from others.
Fascinated by late playwright Cha Bum-suk’s “Forest Fire,” Park was determined to present an original musical to the world stage. He created a musical adaptation in 2007 of a love story between a widow and a North Korean military escapee set during in the Korean War. He collaborated with director Paul Garrington and playwright Ariel Dorfman -- and spent 5 billion won ($3.87 million) on the production.
The result was half a success and half a failure. Despite its sweeping success at the 13th Korea Musical Awards in 2007, winning five awards including best musical, it was a commercial flop.
“However, ‘Dancing Shadows’ was a turning point for Seensee. We learned from the process by collaborating with staff from the West End and innovated our production process,” Park recalled.
Perhaps aiming for a global stage back in 2007 was going too fast at the time. It was less than 10 years after the first licensed musical was introduced, and South Korea’s musical industry was still growing.
Now, Park believes Korea’s musical industry, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the revenue generated in the performing arts sector in the country, has great potential in the global market – but “only if producers and directors try more original works.”
The quality of performers is on par with other top markets, he said. More importantly, audiences with higher standards have driven producers and directors to pay careful attention to details.
“I think musicals can also join K-drama, K-cinema, K-gaming and K-animation, but I’m not sure if we could call them ‘K-musicals’ just yet, because it’s really been stagnant for the past several years,” he noted.
Park said he hopes to see original musicals that can touch the world with Korean content. Toward that end, Park, 59, said that producers and directors should try to create original works without being concerned about success or failure. He also hopes to create truly Korean musicals.
Park is currently working on two original musicals. One is based on the life of Han Yong-un, a 20th century poet and Buddhist reformer. The other is based on his longtime inspiration -- Gut, a Korean shamanistic ritual involving offerings and sacrifices to gods, spirits and ancestors. In particular, he is interested in bringing the purification ritual of Jindo, performed to lay a vengeful spirit to rest, to the stage.
“I want to create a musical based entirely on our melodies and also a story about people’s pleasures and sorrows. This is something only Koreans can create,” said Park, who majored in Korean dance at university. “I used to be obsessed with Gut to the point where I would travel to different parts of the country to check out regional Gut performances,” he said.
Park admits that he cannot predict the success of any production when preparing original works. “People often ask me how I pick a potential hit so well. I don’t. Thankfully, people remember me more for my successful productions, but I learn what audiences love and what resonates with them only after the show ends.
“Regardless, I will devote myself to creating these original musicals, with the mindset of creating a swan song.”