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Kolleen Park to bring healing rites through changgeuk 'Paper Shaman'

June 17, 2024 - 15:58 By Hwang Dong-hee
From left: Actor Park Kyung-min, Director Kolleen Park, Artistic Director Yu Eun-seon, singer Yu Tae-pyung-yang and actor Kim Woo-jeong pose for a group photo after a press conference at Haneul Round Theater in Seoul, May 29. (National Theater of Korea)

Shamanism will be brought to the National Theater of Korea stage for the first time next week when the National Changgeuk Company of Korea performs "Paper Shaman,” a work that blends shamanism and pansori.

Renowned musical director Kolleen Park, directing a changgeuk for the first time, aims to deliver a message of comfort and healing.

“I'm creating this piece with the hope of soothing all lives and souls across the world that have been hurt and have suffered,” said Park during a recent press conference. Changgeuk is akin to a type of traditional Korean opera, deriving from pansori, a traditional narrative singing form that is registered as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Members of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea rehearse "Paper Shaman." (National Theater of Korea)

The story follows Shil, a girl whose name means “thread,” destined to become a shaman. After undergoing a shamanic initiation rite, Shil sets off on a journey, during which she encounters various tragedies on each continent.

The performance features diverse traditional shamanic rituals that seek to heal the destruction of life worldwide, addressing tragedies such as the slave trade in Africa, the massacre of Indigenous people in the Americas and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest in South America. The show blends traditional Korean shamanic music with shamanic music from around the world.

"It may sound like a vast story," Park said, "but it’s a modest tale that ponders how we, as humans living together with all life on Earth, should live and how we can be helpful to others, protecting life and coexistence."

Celebrated pansori master Ahn Sook-sun composed the music, with star pansori singer Yu Tae-pyung-yang participating as an assistant composer. Protagonist Shil is portrayed by Kim Woo-jeong and Park Kyung-min.

Members of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea rehearse "Paper Shaman." (National Theater of Korea)

"Here, shamans are depicted as ‘sensitive’ beings who can see and hear what others cannot, making them lonely but exceptionally empathetic. Wherever humans are born, shamans have work to do -- soothing souls and relieving pain," she said.

Growing up in a household influenced by Buddhism and shamanism, Park said she naturally gravitated towards this theme. She shared that she was exposed to various shamanic cultures from an early age through her Korean father and Lithuanian-American mother.

"When I was young, I lived in Busan, where there were many shamans in the neighborhood, so I often watched gut (shamanic rituals). I also naturally encountered Northern European shamanic culture through my maternal family. To me, this story is natural, and I wrote this piece without any doubt," she said.

Director Kolleen Park is seen at the rehearsal for "Paper Shaman." (National Theater of Korea)

The stage design embodies the aesthetics of Korean shamanic rituals, utilizing traditional Korean paper, hanji. Ritual tools and some of the protagonist's costumes are crafted from hanji, emphasizing its pure and clean image.

"When you think of shamanism, the first thing that comes to mind is hanji. Paper is a medium that records history, but it disappears when it meets water or fire, similar to human life. I used this concept to depict the thin line between this world and the afterlife, the past and the future,” Park explained.

"Paper Shaman" will be performed at the Haeoreum Grand Theater from June 26 to 30, with English subtitles available.