Puppetry has often been considered for children, but with shows such as War Horse, 101 Dalmatians, and the Olivier Award win for the seven actors who played the tiger in Life of Pi, as well as Little Amal touring the UK, it’s becoming much more mainstream. This year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, three shows in the Korean Showcase focus around puppetry. Is Korea having a similar boom in puppet theatre?
Theatre Moksung, who have created Puppet Pansori Sugungga, a show about “the encounter of the resident from two different worlds and their mutual prejudices”, think there isn’t a huge demand yet. “Puppetry doesn’t seem to be widely found in Korea yet. I believe that the demand is also quite low because Puppetry's mania is not that large. It’s rare to find the Puppetry show which is for all ages like our performance.”
Trunk Theatre Project, who are presenting Mary, Chris, Mars at the Fringe, agree that “puppetry is not mainstream in the Korean Theatre scene yet”, but they see a growing culture. “As more and more young creators try various things, diverse works using elements of puppetry are emerging in Korean theatre scene. With the growing interest in puppetry, the International School of Puppetry will be opened in August, in Korea, for the first time in Asia.” Gum-sul, creator of outdoor show Klaxon, adds that there are more and more young artists are getting involved in puppet theatres. “The market is especially growing from/with the puppet theatre festivals, which are supported by the government's various programmes and the local governments’ interest.”
Theatre Moksung have looked further afield for their inspiration, and have taken inspiration from Czech puppetry. “Czech puppetry belongs to the alternative theater genre. If you need something in the performance, you can use everything as a puppet regardless of any style or form.” They say that,
“traditional Korean performance objects that are needed in performances, and automata dolls that have become personally interested in them are brought and used.”
When asked why audiences connect so easily with puppets and see them as ‘real’ so quickly, they all have the same answer: because puppets are no different from actors. “We believe this is because people already know that it's not a real person. There aren’t tension or tiredness in the reality,” says Gum-sul. “Since the actor is a human being, the audiences instinctively observe the actor and feel the tension, but it’s different if it is acted by the puppet.”
Trunk Theatre Project adds, “I think it’s a human nature to have a desire to develop an emotional attachment to someone, or something. Therefore, when the audiences capture the moment of the actors giving emotion to the puppet, they naturally can do the same.”
Theatre Moksung finishes with, “The word puppet means a human shell, a human form, when translated into Korean. However, during the time of the performance, humanity is given and recognised as the same living object as the actor. The puppet is created and born for performance and contains all the implicative contents of the play. Therefore, the audience can fully grasp the play and easily fall into it just by the appearance of an actor named puppet.”
Mary, Chris, Mars by Trunk Theatre Project is a family-friendly show about two astronauts who find each other in space, at Summerhall 3 – 28 Aug 1.30pm
Puppet Pansori Sugungga by Theatre Moksung is an exploration of prejudice through a fable-like story, at theSpaceUK 5 – 20 Aug 6.05pm
Klaxon by Gum-sul is an outdoor performance about the things and people gone and abandoned, outside theSpaceUK 2pm and 4pm
The Korean Showcase is a programme of cross-genre theatrical work performed at the Edinburgh Fringe presented by Korean Cultural Centre UK (KCCUK). The programme gives international Fringe audiences a taste of the breadth of performing arts happening in modern Korea. This year, the showcase includes seven shows: Are You Guilty?; BreAking; Klaxon; Korean Yeonhee Concert; Mary, Chris, Mars; Puppet Pansori Sugungga, Six Stories.