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Stars return home, take to the stage

2007/02/22 | Permalink | Source

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Some 20 years ago, long before the country's entertainment industry was creating beautiful though look-alike celebrities, small theaters in Daehangno, Seoul were schools for amateur actors who trained to cultivate their undiscovered talents.

There were no paychecks or apartments offered for young amateur actors, who had to sleep, eat and wipe the floor of theaters just like Cinderella did under her stepmother's guidance.

Nowadays, stars who both have success and fame on their hands are returning to these small theaters, to their birthplace, where they learned how to act and how to empathize with audiences.

"Standing on the stage allows me to return to the basics and gives me a chance to look back", said Cho Jae-hyun, a top rated actor who is currently playing egocentric "Abe (father)" in "Kyungsook, Kyungsook's Father".

Set in a remote village during the Korean War (1950-53), the drama depicts a tragic but heart wrenching story of a daughter and her freethinking father. Jo, now active in both TV and film, receives only 5 million won ($5,300) for appearing four times a week over the entire three-month run of the drama, currently on at the Dongsoong Art Center in Daehangro. "I learn a lot from the character and also find lots of similarities with the character who travels around despite seeing his family suffering from his absence", said Jo.

Jo is not the only one.

Choi Min-sik, one of the country's top actors, announced his return to the theatrical stage with a West End play "The Pillowman".

Choi, 45, is a veteran actor who garnered international acclaim through the smash hit movie, "Old Boy (2003)", which grabbed the runner-up Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004.

He became one of the most influential figures in the country's cultural scene, fighting against the government's plan to reduce the number of days required for screening local films. Choi evoked public outcry when he returned the "Okgwan" medal, received for his brilliant acting in the movie, to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism last year.

Musical Heaven, the company which is to produce "The Pillowman", said that Choi wished to change his strong man image - an unforgivable killer in "Lady Vengeance" and a prisoner in "Oldboy" that strongly appealed to local audiences.

The star actor had a blockbuster film waiting, but he decided to take the role in the play first because of the script, the company added. Choi is to play the leading role in the drama as a fiction writer named Katurian.

"I was fascinated by the profoundness of the work. It showed the multi-sided psychology of the human mind", said Choi in an interview with a local paper.

Written by Martin McDonagh and directed by John Crowley, "The Pillowman" opens with the fiction writer Katurian being interrogated about crimes in his community that mirror the crimes in his short stories.

Premiered in London in 2003, "The Pillowman" won the Olivier Award in London for best new play and won two Tony awards in 2005.

The Korean version of the theatrical drama will hit the stage at the LG Arts Center in southern Seoul from May 1 to 20.

Jo Min-ki, a famous TV actor, will also greet his fans next month.

Jo is to play "The Seagull" written by legendary Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. The drama tells a story about unrequited love in which all the characters love someone who doesn't care for them. Cho plays successful author Trigorin who is in a triangle relationship with famous actress Arkadina and local girl Nina.

Veteran local actress Go Doo-shim, 56, returns to the stage in Daehangno with homegrown play "Mother", which opens in April. It is Ko's first theater appearance in seven years after performing in the solo show "I, I'm a Woman" in 2000.

Based on an essay of the same title, "Mother" tells the story of a love-hate relationship between a mother and her daughter.

There are also some cases of celebrities abandoning their TV career to become professional stage actors.

Former comedians Kim Ki-soo and Lee Jung-su recently announced that they will no longer be entertainers but become real actors on the stage. They are playing in the Korean adaptation of the off-Broadway drama "Shear Madness", a comedy where the audience gets to catch the killer.

By Cho Chung-un

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