KAB Dialogue


InterviewJune 24, 2016 UP

I tried to find other ways which negated the present form of theater.

Hansol Yoon (director)

  • interview by:Sorataro Iwamura ( art coordinator, Kyoto Art Center)
  • photo by:Kim Song Gi
  • translation by:Moe Furukawa
  • assisted by:Micheal Whittle

-First I want to ask about your profile. Why did you start working as a director?

My very first encounter with theatre was ’91, when I joined a drama club at university, and then I had to serve the army until ’93, and got back to university in ’94. Then I started directing in the drama club. During my senior year I rented a theatre at Daehangno, which is the main theatre district in Seoul, and did a show called ‘Zoo Story’ by Edward Albee. It's a show that nobody saw, because I was a student director. We didn’t do anything about publicity. We didn’t know the system of how the theatre world works, so all we did was rent a theatre, make a poster and put the poster on the streets. But, you know, who cares? And then I thought - how can I make theatre? What do I need to learn and what do I need to know? Then I decided to get a job in a musical theatre, as I though this is never going to work, just renting theatres and making shows with no audience. I wanted to learn how the system works, and to learn it where there was already an established system, like in a big commercial theatre or a musical theatre. So I got a job at a company called ACOM, which is one of the big musical companies in Seoul. I worked there as an assistant director from ’96 until I left for New York in 2000. It was a very exciting experience, working in musical theatre, but as time went by I figured out that this was not the kind of theatre I wanted to do. It was a good experience and I like musical theatre very much, but I needed some thing more artistic. I realized that I have a very different aesthetic. At that time I was drinking so much (laughter). Well, life in theatre when you’re in your twenties, you go out every night, and especially when you’re part of a younger group. Some times you’d be expected to share the bill, but many times the elders would pay for everything. So you really didn’t need to have much money to be able to go out for dinner and drinks after rehearsals, or after a show. So I was drinking like hell at that time, and I honestly thought to myself that the drinking habit had to stop, and at the same time I really wanted to go to New York to study. So, the two needs met, to stop drinking and study in New York, and the way to do it was to leave the country – I really wanted to see New York. And so I looked for Universities and Graduate schools in New York, and there weren’t many that had directing programs in their graduate schools. I picked Columbia University and the New School, and luckily enough I got in to Columbia, where I started studying and directing. After the program, I made a company with my fellow students called ‘Green Pig’. I met a British playwright, and an American dramaturge and some designers at NYU, and we formed the company - Green Pig.

-So was the Green Pig born at your New York time?

Well, since I left New York, Green Pig New York doesn’t exist anymore. I took the name from the company that I had in New York. The program was two years, and I had to do my thesis in the third year. I had made the company at the end of my second year, and I think that was the starting point of my career as a director.


Hansol Yoon

-At that time, how did you feel about the difference in atmosphere between New York and Korea? Especially in terms of theatre and performance?

I think that levels of survival are the same – It’s very hard to survive. All the young directors and actors had to find part time jobs to make a living. Everyone was temping – as part time office workers or waitressing. For small companies just starting out with new artists it’s very difficult to find an audience. I think it was pretty much the same, but one of the differences I felt while I was in New York, the audience was much more open to variety. There were some theatres and organizations nurturing young artists. There were also small independent theatre festivals, which didn’t do all that much for you, but did give you a venue for a few days. But still you’d get a chance to show your work to somebody, to some producers. But anyway, the audience was more open to a greater variety of theatre, and to experimental theatre, but other than that I always thought it was pretty much the same.

-Why did you choose theatre at University in the first place?

My life as an artist is, in a way, a struggle with my father. I understand why he insisted - he always didn’t want me to be in the art world. I wanted to be a painter in fine art when I was in Junior High, and I wanted to go to art high school, and he didn’t let me do that. So I just had to go to a local high school. Then when I wanted to go to University I wanted to study film, and he said no. At the time I thought that I had to follow whatever my father said, and so I just gave up. But after I got in to university I had to find something to ‘hang in there’. It was very difficult for me. I was having a very difficult time not thinking about movies. So I wandered around on campus and tried to find a group or student club that I could join. A poetry jam, literature or poetry group – but I never thought of theatre. Because I had never seen any theatre until that moment. Theatre was a completely new world, until that point, until age twenty. I probably saw something aged five or six, perhaps some children’s plays, but that was it. So at University I walked around and found a student drama club, a drama association. At the time I was so ignorant I thought that movie and theatre were pretty much the same thing! I was so ignorant (laughter). So, that’s how I joined a drama club, and also what I really liked was that when I joined the first meeting with other students they were just so enthusiastic. They were studying theatre every night and rehearsing every night. And I was questioning them: ‘when do you study? and they said ‘we don’t !’ (laughter). It was kind of amazing – the air was very different. They were so enthusiastic, it was really something different. I was just such a lazy bastard at the time, I’d always wake up at two in the afternoon, you know that image of a university student everyone has. Just doing nothing except smoking all the time. Just wandering around.

-Drinking, sleeping, eating…

Yeah, and that’s how I chose drama club.


Hansol Yoon, "Nation",Kyoto Art Center Artist-in-Residence Program,2015

-Please tell more details about your New York time.

When I first got to New York it was 2000 I really didn’t know what I wanted at that time, and looking back I think I wanted to be famous. A famous director like Robert Wilson. At that time I wanted to make something similar to Robert Wilson’s aesthetic. Something very visual. And then 9-11 happened the year after, at the beginning of my second year. It was very shocking. It was a tremendous event that I had to face. I was born in Seoul in ’72 - twenty years after the war. I experienced the student demonstrations, which were very severe, a lot of the students died. Even until the early nineties I still remember that a student had died during a demonstration - I think hit by a policeman. But I had never experienced such an event. It was around eight in the morning and I got a phone call from my parents and they were telling me that a plane had crashed in to the World Trade Centre. They asked me to turn on the TV and the reporter was talking about the first crash while in the background I could see the second plane flying in to the second tower. And that was a live event! At the same time it was such a surreal experience, The World Trade Centre and the Planes! I lived in the Upper West and I tried to go down through Manhattan but the roads were all blocked. But I could see the ashes. For days afterwards on the news they explained how many people had died and what had happened and there were so many stories going around. And I think that was the very first time I had to question myself ‘Why did this happen?’ This was not like an accident where someone is killed in a car crash. This was not like a thief stabbing some one with a knife. Countless people had died. Then I went back to the theories and books that I had read at University – I hadn’t studied much, but you have to study a little to pass the tests. As an undergrad. I was reading books on theatre, and then when I went to New York I also studied theatre but at the same time I started reading books on society, books on war, books on philosophy, books on politics. That completely changed my point of view on the world but also on the theatre that I wanted to make.

After that, you had focused on social problems and could find your own style?

Yes, I mean why does that happen? Why were these people killing each other? I think I understand individual killings, just because we’re human beings, we get mad… But it’s something that should not happen, it's the worst mistake that you can make in the world. Then I started to question. Well what I said about 9-11, and how it changed my point of view, it wasn’t just the outside world which had changed, I had to question my own world, which was the theatre. I had to question why this had happened, why does war happen? Why is there conflict? Why is the hierarchy and why are some people so rich? We have an abundance of food, and there is so much waste in the city, but still there are people who starve to death throughout the world. And I had to question theatre as well – why is there such a hierarchy? Do we have to have stars in the theatre? There are big roles and small roles and actors approach these differently. For a big role the actor is considered a more important person and for a small role it is the opposite. So I had the same questions towards theatre as well. Why do we have to do it like this? Is this the only way to do it? I tried to find other ways which negated the present form of theatre, so I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I wasn’t going to do it like that. That’s where I was going to start. One of the ways was to work collectively. There is some drive that I put in as a director, but mostly we work as a collective. I started to think about ownership of the work. I wanted everyone to have equal ownership of the work. And so I always look for a different way to motivate everybody – including me. I think that’s where its leading now.


Hansol Yoon, "Nation" creation,Kyoto Art Center Artist-in-Residence Program,2015

-The way we are making the work together this time by gathering sentences, is this special for this production or something you normally do ?

I have done similar things to this, but slightly differently. The logic is the same. You collect sentences from books, articles or your own words and try to find a way to put them together. Sometimes there is a logic to the way the words are put together, other times the process is illogical, like this time. But what I have found when I do this, is that the lines and words conflict each other and that gives a different meaning and feeling to what is being said. The collision creates something that was unexpected. The order made was something new here, the way we made the order. When we do collective work at the Green Pig, we always have to find a new logic to make this kind of chart.


Hansol Yoon, "Nation" sentence chart, Kyoto Art Center Artist-in-Residence Program,2015

-So every time do you change the system?

Yes, every time we have to change the rules. It’s random. Sometimes it’s based on height: from a short actor to a tall one, that is the order. Sometimes you alternate man – woman – man – woman. You can find many rules and you watch what happens. The funny thing is even if I don’t say anything, the performers will have a very specific attitude when they say it. So I say one thing and the next line doesn’t make any sense according to the former sentence, then everybody will look at each other – ‘what does that mean?’ Then everyone starts to think ‘Well… actually that means…’ And while they’re thinking, they will hear another sentence, which might help or might not, and this keeps going. It’s not really about understanding A = B, but more about you turning the wheel of thinking. We all have to keep going, even if it doesn’t have any solid conclusion. You will still think about it. Well it feels as if it dependent upon chance, and it does in a way, but, the only way to ensure that you can work with your imagination is to incorporate chance. Otherwise you’ll only focus on something which is well made, and doing it over and over again – doing it very well. I am not interested in that, I need more imagination, more accident. Something that makes you think. I don’t want to make a theatre audience go ‘Wow!’, I want to make a theatre audience think ‘What is this about ?’

-How do you feel about Japanese Theatre in Kyoto and Japanese artists

Well, I saw Chiten and I saw Takuya Murakawa’s show and Kunio’s, and I’m going to see Zan Yamashita’s today. I was very surprised in a way because Japan has different localities. In Korea everything is so concentrated in Seoul. I don’t think there is any other city which has that many shows going on. Gwangju is another city now perhaps, but its conference driven, they’re mainly making art complexes and they’re putting everything there, so it’s a difference story. So Chiten and all the directors here, Mr. Murakawa as well, and those artists who are working in Kyoto, not just in artistic terms but also in terms of artistic survival, I think they’re doing pretty good. Especially Chiten, it’s amazing for me – the way they’re running the space – I think it’s something that every theater director, every theater company wants to do. A yearlong repertoire in a space and also doing big festivals, I think that forms a strong company. You can see in their work, the actors and director have had a long struggle to find their own vocabulary, the way they speak and move, you can tell that they spent a lot of time to find that language. That was very interesting. Not just here in Kyoto. Yukio Shiba and a lot of young directors are moving out of the city. For me that’s very interesting movement, here in Japan. Some artists here, local artists, are based in Kyoto but they’re not only working local, they’re doing so well. Another thing is that Kyoto, and in particular the Kyoto Arts Center has an atmosphere of nurturing artists, I don’t know if its just the case with me, but I always felt like I’m well respected in terms of my own pace of work. When I think of a residency it's a time of artistic relief. You’re still in the art world, but you don’t have the hassle of having to make this and that within a schedule. That’s what I expected when I came here, I want to spend just time reading and thinking about the project. Spend time in a natural flow, rather than having to do this and that and be here and there at certain times. I think it's a great atmosphere here, it feels very welcoming. But at the same time I feel like you are not pushing me.


Hansol Yoon, "Nation", Kyoto Art Center Artist-in-Residence Program,2015

-So, I have the last question. During this time, there are various problems between Japan and Korea, specifically in politics. What do you think we can do, as artists?

Well, that’s why I am doing this project. I meet Japanese people when they come to Korea, and some times I talk with them. People like us, citizens, individual relationship between us don’t really have anything to do with politics. There’s the Takeshima island problem, the situation with Korean war-time sex slaves and various problems with China, but when you meet a person individually it’s a completely different story. You always have to think about what’s going on in terms of politics, but at the same time there is a different way of making relationships between Japanese and Korean citizens. There are a lot of Japanese people working for human rights, working for poverty, working for gender issues, and I also know that there are a lot of directors and theater artists who are dealing with conflicts in society, and what issues artists should address at this time, what artists should say through their work. Junnosuke Tada and I had a workshop last year in the winter and one thing we talked about was that there has to be solidarity when we face the shame issues. We should talk to each other and try to make something together. We should try to address the issue together in both countries. That's why when we’re doing a show at Ansan about the Sewol ferry accident, Tada came over and he took a very small part. But he said that he came to Ansan and Korea to participate in terms of the solidarity of artists who share the same ideas. I think that’s more important than just inviting a show to Seoul or inviting a show to Kyoto, that kind of cultural exchange doesn’t really mean anything. Flight fare is not so expensive these days - it’s so close. I think that if you want to make that kind of cultural relationship we should try to do it on a more personal and involved level. In the case of shutting down nuclear power plants in japan, you know there are actually twenty nuclear power plants on the east coast of Korea that are just 400 km away. So shutting down the nuclear power plants in Japan doesn’t really means anything. The plants in Korea are old and we have the same issues in Korea. So the only way to make the situation truly secure is to work together. 。


Hansol Yoon

YOON was born in 1972 in Korea and currently resides there. He obtained an Master of Fine Arts in theatre directing from Columbia University, New York. Since 2006 he has been the artistic director of theatre group greenpig. In 2007 he was selected as the Arts Fund New Artist for I am Happy. One of Korea's leading dramaturges, he premiered his Step-memories: return of the oppressed at the 2010 Seoul Marginal Theater Festival and in the same year his HomoHominiLupus was awarded a prize at the National Theatre of Korea Festival. In 2013 he was named Young Theatre Artist of the Year at Secret Friend. In 2015 he premiered Nation at the Kyoto Art Center. He is currently a professor at Dankook University.

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