BLACKOUT. BACKGROUND music fades out gradually and then, a moment of silence. Tak! A warm, yellow light illuminates the stage, and act one begins. All eyes turn to the stage as the actors speak their opening lines, seamlessly slipping into their chosen roles. It is easy to be in awe of these performers who so naturally switch from ordinary people into characters often larger than life. It is also easy to believe that this is a world where only the talented can thrive. But here, at Yonsei University, there is a theater club which says we are all actors in our own worlds. To learn more about this club and what it takes to perform on the big stage, The Yonsei Annals met with Yonsanggeukwuhui’s President, Kim Eun-ho (Jr., Dept. of Applied Statistics).
Annals: Could you give us a brief introduction to your club, Yonsanggeukwuhui?
Kim: Yonsanggeukwuhui is College of Business & Econ.’s only theater club. Since it was founded in 1970, we have been putting on regular performances every semester at Muak Theater. Later this May, we will be presenting our 72nd performance, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. We welcome Yonseians [of any majors] who have a genuine passion for theatre or are simply curious [about what we do]. You can join as a cast member, director, stage staff, or planning division member and make once-in-a-lifetime memories with our crew.
Annals: How does the club generally function?
Kim: Our club has two main types of activities: during the semester and over the breaks. After our recruiting session at the beginning of the semester, we hold a regular seminar once a week and have get-togethers between new recruits and old members to promote good fellowship. The purpose of the regular seminar is to build improvisational acting experience by having members perform randomly selected scripts on the spot. Anyone can participate in this seminar, even those who have signed up for a position other than acting. Then, after mid-terms, we organize a workshop team to put up a short play before the semester ends. This short play is mostly for our benefit: to give our actors more hands-on experience with performing, to get them comfortable with the atmosphere, and primarily just to have fun. We don’t place a lot of pressure on the short play. The prep stage for our regular performance actually begins over the break. Both the stage reading** team and the regular performance team prepare for the performances to be staged at the start of the next semester.
Annals: How do you recruit your members? Do applicants go through auditions?
Kim: We receive online applications during our recruitment period which is right after the regular performance ends. We share detailed information about our recruitment procedure on our Facebook page, group chats, and Everytime so you will be able to find us easily. After you fill out some basic information—such as your desired position—in Google Forms, we will notify each applicant about possible time slots to sign up for interviews at Sinchon or Songdo campus within a few days. I would say that these interviews are mostly casual. After the interviews, we let you know the final results through text messages. Apart from becoming a member of our club, in order to become a cast in the regular performance, you must also go through a separate audition hosted by the director. Here, you will be given a direct excerpt from the play and be asked to do some acting. We try our best to provide opportunities to every applicant.
Annals: What does it take to put up a play in Muak Theater?
Kim: This can be a very long process. Around early July and January, the club heads nominate a director based on the play they have chosen for the upcoming performance. After the club heads select the play and the director, we hold cast auditions to select the final members of the regular performance team. Afterwards, the director gathers everyone’s schedules and creates a two-month practice schedule. The cast is expected to devote at least four days a week to [roughly four-hours a day] practicing, and we make sure to remind applicants of the commitment required [for the play] during the audition. The first month is mostly devoted to reading and analyzing scripts as well as memorizing them, and this is the time when the actors get to really familiarize themselves with their characters. Any changes to the script, including major adjustments such as changing the ending are also made during this time. The second month consists mainly of repeated rehearsals for different chapters of the play, minimizing mistakes and fixing bad habits. Directors provide active feedback regarding each actor’s posture, tone, movement, and gestures—also known as blocking in theater terms. As most of us are amateur actors, blocking is the part which we find the most difficult to improve upon because we are not used to such theatrical flourishes or rhetoric. Once a week, we also do a full rehearsal, to get a feel for being on the actual stage. Apart from the cast team, the stage staff discusses preparations for props and costumes and orders for paint, lumber, and the like to set up the stage with the directors. The planning division writes up the performance budget, promotes our play, and contacts alumni for sponsorships. As the D-day approaches, it’s all hands-on-deck as the entire staff gets together to schedule the theater production which takes roughly three to four days. At the basement garage of the Daewoo Hall, we gather together to construct the set, cutting and painting the lumber by hand before moving the pieces to Muak Theater for assembly. Although everyone is exhausted by the time we are finished, this manual labor is usually a very fruitful, memorable, and stress-releasing experience.
Annals: What do you think is the most difficult part of being an actor?
Kim: Starting with my first acting experience in the 65th performance Noise Off, I have starred in three plays as an actor. Fully internalizing my character with just two months of practice was the most difficult part as I had to abandon my own mannerisms and become a totally different person. Also, I was confused when my analysis of a character differed from what my director had originally intended because it is very difficult to convey the difference between your understanding of a character and another person’s as it often comes down to a difference in perspective. However, all of these hardships are soon forgotten when you hear the clapping and cheering from the audience, and that is probably the reason that I have remained in the club for so long.
Annals: What is the most memorable moment you have had at Yonsanggeukwuhui?
Kim: A lot has happened over four years, but the most memorable moment was when I first stood as an actor on the stage. My memory of the gigantic two-floor stage set and eight doors, as well as that determined look of the actors backstage, is still so vivid. Back then, I had a love/hate relationship with my first character “Gary” whom I remember being so difficult to portray. I was thrilled by my first role and because of that, the memories of the experience still leave me with a sense of wistfulness.
Annals: What makes Yonsanggeukwuhui special compared to other theater groups at Yonsei University?
Kim: Our club’s greatest advantages would be our connection with the club alumni and the friendly atmosphere. Our members are always in touch with alumni all the way back from the Class of ‘69 to ‘10, and we dine with some of them every semester. At the dinner, we listen to their valuable life advice as well as their experiences of acting back then. We also often receive sponsorships from them to make our club better. I want to emphasize this family-like atmosphere of our club as its greatest strength. Regardless of our age, major, or any other standards which distinguish us, we respect each other and become close friends. An atmosphere in which everyone mingles so naturally is the best representation of our club. I always forget that I am this club’s president because everybody calls me by my character’s name.
Annals: What is the best part of being a member of the club?
Kim: The best part of being a member was the positive changes I felt occurring in me. I used to be an introspective person who was not good with words. But after I joined this club and found myself acting in front of a huge audience, I realized that I have gained confidence in myself, and this newfound confidence has been a major driving force of my personal growth.
*Muak Theater is located on the 4th floor of the Student Union Building.
**Stage reading is a simplified form of theatre in which actors read directly from scripts in one position without separate sets or props.