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[Herald Interview] Mistakes turn into blessings in street performance, director says

April 28, 2024 - 15:20 By Choi Si-young
Song Jae-sung, the director overseeing Gyeongbokgung shows during the K-Royal Culture Festival this week, poses for a photo with the palace in the background on April 22. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Where to draw the line separating the audience from actors in a street performance is tricky for any director. Some are wary of seeing the script derailed by indulging too much into on-the-spot impromptu interaction with spectators.

But not so for Song Jae-sung. The director oversees various shows scheduled at Gyeongbokgung this week as part of the annual Seoul festival promoting five palaces from the Joseon era (1392-1910).

The nine-day K-Royal Culture Festival, now in its 10th year, kicked off Saturday, organized by the Cultural Heritage Administration.

The added weight of having to pull off the festival’s signature shows at the main palace Gyeongbokgung, crucial in shaping the event’s overall perception, did not seem to daunt Song. He had his reasons.

“One distinction I draw when it comes to stage and street performances is that for the street, the boundaries separating the spectators and actors are less clear. Something unexpected happens and we roll with it,” Song said in an interview with The Korea Herald last week. “There are no mistakes because mistakes are part of the show. And there’s the fun.”

Instant “fixes” made on the spot as the show goes on are the kind of “two-way communication” that defines “street art,” as Song calls it. He appeared confident that people will be able to see just that in “A Time Travel, King Sejong,” set to run from Wednesday to May 5.

The 90-minute show, introduced at last year’s palace festival, will this time teach participants court routines -- from trying on clothing and preparing food to painting palace tiles and practicing martial arts. Reenactments will take place to commemorate the most famous king of the Joseon era.

Song has his eyes on inclusivity as well. Programs dedicated to foreign visitors and people with disabilities have been put together. This is the first time the palace festival has made separate efforts to accommodate these groups.

Song Jae-sung, the director overseeing Gyeongbokgung shows during the K-Royal Culture Festival this week, poses for a photo at the palace on April 22. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

“Fun shouldn’t be made exclusive,” Song said of special tours for foreigners to Gyeonghoeru, a pavilion at Gyeongbokgung where kings hosted banquets and received foreign dignitaries. Visually impaired people will be introduced to the palace kitchen, where they will “smell and taste” desserts and refreshments.

The 45-year-old director described his shows this week as one of two defining moments that have shaped his career path. “The other was when I was on a team organizing public events marking the opening of the Cheong Wa Dae compound to the public,” he noted, referring to what once served as the presidential office.

The Yoon Suk Yeol government opened the grounds to the public in May 2022, moving the presidential office to the Ministry of National Defense building in Yongsan-gu. Song was on the team from May that year to October 2023. His participation there might have helped him land the director job to put on the Gyeonbokgung shows, Song said.

“We’re still making last-minute checks on the performances,” he said of his team. As the lead director, he works with six other directors as well as writers. Managing over 150 actors is part of the job.

Finding fun is not limited to shows being presented, according to Song. “In our line of work, there’s always disagreement, internally and outside with officials arranging shows,” he noted, saying he tries to meet with each person face-to-face, because exchanging facial expressions in person renders the entire process joyful.

“We’re expecting our audience to have fun with our show,” Song said.

“We can’t ask them to have fun if we don’t have fun ourselves preparing for it.”