Global Modernizing Gestures in Staging a New Theatre
This article investigates the reformation of a guyoenkeuk (舊演劇 old theatre) into a shinyoenkeuk (新演劇 new theatre) by the nationalist theatre reformers and the Wongaksa Theatre. This reformation was associated with the first half of Korean theatre reform and the Patriotic enlightenment movement under the Japanese protectorate (1905–1910). This article attends to claims by Korea's cultural agents that they modeled their work on the theatres of civilized, Western countries to produce a new theatre as a vehicle for achieving national modernization. The article hypothesizes that these cultural agents translated and materialized their vision of a civilized, Western theatre to enlighten the Korean people by repeating ideas and practices from Korean theatre tradition with differences. Based on this hypothesis, this article analyzes how theatre reformers formulated the concept of a new theatre by utilizing and transforming Confucian music theory. In doing so, the Wongaksa Theatre created a new theatrical form and its exemplary performance, Eunsegye (銀 世界 The Silver World), by reusing pansori practice and repertoire. These practices historicized the global modernizing gestures to transmute a part of Korean theatre culture into an allegedly new, civilized, and Western form of theatre. This transformation represents one dimension of a dynamic shifting of theatre with elements from other cultures, allowing the Western project of modernity to be reconstituted in the cultural domain of Korean theatre.