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02/25/2018 Interview > Alumni


Catching the Moment of the Act

An interview with the esteemed play critic, Kim Ock Ran


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“A play is an exciting form of art. It exists in each moment, and every performance is different and special.” The celebrated play critic, Kim Ock Ran (Korean Literature, 87'), recently awarded the Yeoseokki Critic Award, showed a visible air of excitement and love for the theatrical art. “I love being part of the moment. Not only do I write about the plot and acting of the play, I watch the audience, observing how their breath changes in reaction to the performance.”


Kim confessed that her interests were strictly in plays. She hardly watches movies. (Photo courtesy of Lee Eun Kyeong)


Red and Black

Winner of the 2017 Yeoseokki award, Kim writes about plays in a wide scope of magazines and journals. “It is an extreme honor to have been awarded this prize. This award is a very special recognition. If no noteworthy piece is published that year, the award isn't given at all.” Named after the late play critic, Yeo Seok-ki, who established the field of play critic, the award is dedicated to continuing his legacy and recognizing great writers in the field. Kim also mentioned that the award was given by Yeo's daughter, which was another great honor. Kim was awarded for her book, Red and Black. The book held piercing criticism towards the government in the years from 2013 to 2015 when the “Black list” scandal had created a huge issue. “Plays are more vulnerable to government censorship since it has to happen on stage. During the black list period, stages would suddenly go under construction blocking plays from even happening.” According to Kim, censorship had become a critical tool for the government, especially after the Sewol Incident. She was surprised to find out the pattern of censorship as she had organized and wrote about the dispersed cases of government intervention. “I realized a lot of things while writing this book. I learned how pervasive censorship is and the role I play as a critic. The book also helped me find and secure my voice.”

“My philosophy in writing is to “write easily.” More than anything, the readers should be able to read with ease. I had the privilege to visit the late critic Yeo and asked him how I should write.” His answer was to write in a simple and clear tone, and since then, it has been the guideline for Kim. She confessed that she rewrites her pieces several times, focusing on how she can shorten her sentences. “The key point in critic writing is empathy. Readers need to relate to the message that I aim to deliver. It also needs to be alive. Because plays are very much alive.”


Life as a play critic

According to Kim, her decision to become a play critic came very naturally. She majored in Korean literature, specializing in Korean plays. Therefore, she had many opportunities to see theatrical performances as a student. Furthermore, personal mediums such as blogs and social networking portals had just come into existence at the time. “I had plenty of things to write about and the perfect place to write on. It all just came very naturally.” During her years as a student, the Department of Theater and Film belonged to the College of Humanities, giving her more opportunities to get involved in the arts. It was also an era of demonstrations, so students spent more time on the streets than in classrooms. According to Kim, there were many seminars back then and many discussions and debates. She received much constructive feedback and ideas during her seminar sessions. Her life as a student was very active, participating in photography clubs and traveling. “I did everything with passion. I don't think I could live so actively if I had the chance to go back.”


"I traveled, took photos, wrote, watched performances, and just had so much fun." (Photo courtesy of Lee Eun Kyeong)

The future of Korean plays and Kim's role

“Up until the 1980's and 90's, the writer held the most power and influence over plays. After that, it was the era of directors. Although the text was given, the manner of delivering the piece unto the stage was most important, a task best suited for directors. The trend these days has turned to production theaters. Until now, theaters were merely hardware. Always rented and reserved.” Now the tide has turned to production theaters. Theaters regularly decide on the themes, adapting the stage to cater to it. Then the directors and writers are casted, creating a line-up for the season. According to Kim, the influence of ideas and social issues has grown stronger. The trend has also begun to provide performance opportunities abroad. She sees it as a development, giving productions more independence and power. “Plays in the past had too much intervention from the Korean National Drama Company."


"I think this is the last step of democratization for Korean theaters." (Photo courtesy of Lee Eun Kyeong)

Kim sees the field of play productions as going through a period of struggle and development. With the recent scandals concerning sexual harrasment and inequality, the theatrical arts is going through a tough period. Kim has also expressed great remorse over the course of events. “Many people devoted to this form of art are devastated. The pillars that we cherished and celebrated had been rotten from the start.” Nevertheless, Kim was hopeful, as she sees it as a step towards a better society. “It hurts, very much. But it was something unacceptable, and the people are moving towards change." Kim was determined to cover every inch of this change as a person researching this field. “I have an obligation to keep a certain distance, and record this moment in history as objectively as possible. It is a time that requires much wisdom and courage, and I am optimistic for the future we will approach.”

Lee Changhyun 
Photo by Kang Chohyun

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