Korea Culture Center Nigeria (KCCN), Abuja, in a series of film screening featuring Korea traditional and contemporary performances, introduced young Nigerian artistes to the Korean theatre culture.
The event, one of the center’s means of projecting Hallyu to the world, which held August 31 to September 14, featured four recorded performances of the Seoul Arts Center (SAC), a ballet piece, Simchung, a non-verbal puppet show, Dallae Story; an opera act; Chunhyang Prison Break; and capped off with the star production, The Last Empress, which focuses on the life and death of Empress Myeongseong (1851-1895), the last Queen of the Korea’s Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1910).
Determined to see her weak-willed son take over the throne, Empress Myeongseong plan is accomplished at the cost of a civil war, which left a gap too wide between her people and the palace. However, as relations between Korea and Russia flourished, it’s Japanese neighbour are unhappy with the incursion of the west into Asia. A severing in the relationship with Russia, leaves Korea vulnerable to the Japanese, who swoops in leaving trails of dead bodies including the Empress’s whose heart could not take the ensuing destruction and the advent of Japan’s colonization of Korea.
A major feature of the SAC on Screen is its ability to provide recorded theatric performances in a manner that gives the audience the feeling of being live at the theatre space.
The tens of camera shooting from all angles and providing viewers an aerial perspective of the stage, action and movements; close ups of features at the right moments, not to mention the stunning costumes, dramatic movements and acting, all convey that magical feeling of theatre to viewers.
And that was the original intent of SAC on Screen, to make traditional and classical performing arts like ballet, opera, and musicals available to all Koreans, regardless of location.
That objective has been improved upon as SAC performances went on to tour not just Asian countries of Japan and China, but Europe and North America.
A book adaptation, The Last Empress first produced in 1995, was Korea’s first mega hit musical and has been performed 1000 times. The latest reproduction which opened at the Lincoln Center, New York, United States, on August 23, 2023, saw the transportation of over 80 performers (both Korea, and American based Koreans) to the US, alongside 600 costumes, and a budget cost of 1 million dollars, received rave reviews.
These facts about the production yielded in a discuss of the Nigerian theatre space and impediments to its ability to emulate such grandeur productions.
Discuss showed that the absence of huge productions in the country is not for lack of talent or creativity, as many internationally successful Nigerian directed and produced productions such as Yibo Koko’s Seki and Wole Ogunyemi’s Langbodo have proven, rather a case of absence of funding, substandard theatrical spaces and technology.
Although they were no clear routes on the way forward to upgrading the Nigerian theatre and theatergoing experience, participants agreed it nerds an influx of funding, dedicated (paying) audience and infusion of technology.
Perhaps, this is one area cultural exchange between Korea and Nigeria should extend towards, to share notes with SAC and other performing spaces on best practices to growing theatre audience in Nigeria, and funding sources for best, global standard productions.