- A Korean Approach to Actor Training by Jeungsook Yoo
Among the growing body of works on the application of multicultural and intercultural performance there are few that give intimate details of the contemporary actor's process of preparation. Most of the documentation of creative processes incorporating Asian theatre come from the perspective of teachers or directors. A Korean Approach to Actor Training is a consciously detailed chronicle of the processes one twentyfirst century Korean actor uses.
The title, A Korean Approach to Actor Training, implies at least three things. One being that it synthesizes aspects of contemporary Korean theatre as generally practiced by Korean performance artists into an interculturally accessible approach. Another possibility is that the book details an approach unique to Korea and distinctly applies principles not found in other Asian performance and martial arts disciplines. Finally, the title could describe how one Korean actor prepares. The book does the second with its application of Korean Dahnhak training, but the most essential "Korean" of the title turns out to be Yoo herself.
The book's five chapters and brief conclusion aim to "better understand the psychophysical acting paradigm and further enrich it by adding a Korean and East Asian perspective" (p. 3). These include the ki ["energy"]-paradigm, meditation using the Korean Dahnhak technique, and the interconnected Chinese concepts of Tao [a way], Te [a gained body-mind virtue], and Kungfu [bodily (non-dual) discipline] the foundations of which are explained in the first two chapters. Chapters three, four, and five expound on contemporary acting and actor training using these elements in case studies of the roles that Yoo played in three productions: Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano, The Water Station (Mizu no eki, 水の駅), by Ota Shogo, and Playing "The Maids," Philip Zarilli's adaptation of Genet's 1947 play.
Each chapter presents the ways in which Yoo used intercultural and psychophysical approaches. Perhaps the most valuable question raised and answered most successfully in the book is, "can the dynamic process of discovering and accumulating Tao and Te of martial arts and [End Page 517] meditation be transferred into the context of contemporary acting?" (p. 8). This definition reinforces the multicultural nature of her approach. As Yoo states, "The contemporary actor's bodymind could be considered as a dynamic field—a process of learning where diverse cultures can meet and interact" (p. 91). This statement underlies the value of the model for actor preparation described in the book. With the ever-increasing ease of access to other cultures and their paradigms for performance and training all across the globe, this intimate introduction to a particular actor's and director's process of interdisciplinary and intercultural creation could be a roadmap for other theatre practitioners drawing on a variety of cultural sources for performance. It is "a suitable example for examining the aspects of intercultural exchanges on a performative level from an actor's perspective and what it implied in the phases of an actor's work" (p. 107).
Chapter Two is an introduction to Dahnhak practice that emphasizes the bodymind integration of ki energy in contrast to Western Cartesian dualism. The goal is for an actor to achieve "relaxed concentration [so that] heightened sensitivity to subtle ki becomes available, and readiness to react to any stimuli perceived become possible. It is a desired psychophysical state for acting as well as Dahnhak training" (p. 20). Dahnhak seems to be an excellent method for attaining a state of emptiness or receptivity that would be useful for almost any actor. In a text on Korean actor training, however, one would expect that a chapter dedicated to explaining Dahnhak would feed more directly into the Koreanness of the acting practices described in the following chapters. Chapter Two does not elucidate ways that Dahnhak is different from how other available forms of meditation practice impact the actor, nor how it is an essential element of a Korean approach to actor training.
Chapter Three describes the process Yoo and Zarilli used to create a production of...