Interview about Goryeo Theater
with Byung Hak Kim - the president of Goryeo People Culture Center Kyul(결)
How did you start researching about Goryeo Theater?
I was in Kazakhstan for 30 years. I found that there were newspaper publishing company and theater that use my mother tongue. Because my language ability of Russian language was lack at that time and naturally, I came to get along with them. I started to work at newspaper and theater. I got to know with the actors and I helped them. Decisively, we decided to document the Korean song by Goryeo people from 2005 to 2007 and the works recorded by Han Yakov. By this process I got to know about Goryeo Theater.
Goryeo Theater have really special and specific history, what do you think is the reason for their history lasted for really long time?
The reason theater could last longer: Goryeo people could resolve and relieve the sorrow caused by the suppression. After that, the people succeeded with farming supported us and the other reason was the Soviet Union’s policy.
Why is the theater only in Kazakhstan, not in Uzbekistan?
It was in Uzbekistan too. But strangely, some of Goryeo theater member were immigrated to Uzbekistan by Soviet Union government. There were 2 theaters for a while. There was Chosun Theater in Xorazm, Uzbekistan from 1937 to 1942, for 5 years. And in 1937, 2 years after from the Deportation, Tashkent Chosun Theater had established in Uzbekistan. And then it closed down in 1950. Therefore, the name of the bus stop is Chosun Theater even if there’s no theater any more.
The theater would be the place of relieve and identity of Goryeo people. Would theaters have a political effect on people? Was it the place only for entertainment or the place that has political effect?
The theater were politically affected. It was always the method to promote national policy during the Soviet Union era. And theater agonize a lot over that issue. And the national guidelines and the consciousness of the head of the state become well-balanced. In this process, theater encounters criticism that they didn’t propagate the Soviet Union’s policy well. The leaders tried to relieve their people and to show the works related to their nationality.
How was the social position of the actor or the play writer in Soviet Union?
When I was living in the Maritime Province, many parents strongly opposed their child who wants to become an actor. Goryeo people at that time thought that actor is for the people who are socially low. But the Soviet Union society promoted that all occupations are equally honorable. And art was the useful method for them to propagate the social ideology. And drama was the one of them. And the people’s perception of the actor changed completely after the deportation, people preferred succeeding as an actor. Rather, another conflict had arisen. The actors had to tour around 3-4 months or more than 6 months in a year, and they had difficulty in their family. The children of actors grew up lonely or lived with their grandmother.. The children had to wait for their parents, because most of couples both work as actors.
Did actors fall victim to the Stalin Government in 1937?
There were no victims at the theater, nor play writers. At the time of the theater’s initial establishment, the best singer, not an actor but, who always cooperated with the theater had no problems. However if her husband were an activist, he would be arrested. The actors and play writers at that time were in their late teens to early 20s. Most of them were under 25 years old. They were in the position that has no social effect on the society. Looking back on it now, I think that is because they are young.
After Perestroika, have they written a play about the history of 1937 deportation of Goryeo people?
In 1988 “1937 the train of deportation” the play about deportation was released. After that there was a play named “Memory” which was written in memory of 60th anniversary of Goryeo people deportation in 1997, and they gave a play sometimes. Its title “Memory” has changed to “Remembrance” because theater in 90s was having really hard time. Since then it became possible to naturally deal with the deportation with different titles. I have seen these plays and found out a change from before, which is always about disclosing the injustice of deportation and Central Asian Kazakhs giving warm welcome. This may be true or be dramatized on purpose for their long-term peace.
Do they still perform these plays today?
Yes they used to run the play since then.
Are there many plays about Japanese empire? About the Japanese colonial era.
Yes there are many plays about it. The plays were usually about Japanese colonial period before the deportation. Dongbuk train line, North Korean partisan in Dongbyun area, Hong Beomdo, and patriots. In Maritime Province, there were 3 types of plays. And they are about resistance to the Japanese occupation, praising for the Soviet Union, and the old stories that touches Goryeo people’s feeling. The proportion of Japanese occupation declined after the deportation.
Were the plays opened to minors?
Most of the plays were for the adults. But they had to take care of their children with them. The big boys were threw out, but sometimes they sneaked in. The children sometimes participated in the classic plays such as Heungbujeon. There was a tragedy in early 1950s, we were giving a play outside with torches in mid-summer. And the children were playing with the oil-can-torches and burnt to death. It was the accident that comedy turned into tragedy.
Have they made the plays into movies?
Goryeo actors had appeared in the Soviet movies as minority race sometimes. But I haven’t find any movies about that. The theater didn’t make the movies because there were expense issues to making movies with the actors. After the Opening of Soviet Union, Gladinost, after the 90s, Goryeo director and play writer started to make documentaries and movies only for Goryeo people.
Were there any fictions which is about Goryeo people after 90s?
There was a blockbuster movie, “The Land of Promise”, which was made in memory 20th anniversary of independence by Kazakhstan government. It is based on the facts, and mostly about the Goryeo people’s deportation. And Goryeo Theater actors appear on that play. “The Land of Promise” has been showed once in Korea. You would be able to watch it if you ask, because Asia video culture center and Korea National University of Arts had a contract and we (Kyul) made the subtitles.
What is the role of Goryeo theater today and what do you expect from them?
It has been 6 years since I left. The problem of the theater is lack of acting in mother tongue. Even if how hard they practiced. I think that is the limitation. This year Korean theater visited Korea for its 90th anniversary and played “The Seagull of Antoncio” with Russian subtitle. This is the main problem that Goryeo Theater is facing. But the performance, dance, and singing is well developed.
The future of the theater: The actors have to act in their mother tongue for the theater’s existence. This is our problem. Since 1980s, the mother tongue play writers had gone and the problems have disclosed. There were people from Sakhalin among the third generation, but it was not enough even though they did a lot of translation works. There are Goryeo people who write plays in Russian. “Memory” went through the same process.
Are they still making new plays in Russian?
There are Goryeo play writers. They write new plays in Russian. It is not affordable to employ Korean writers because the conditions in Korea and Kazakhstan are different. We have ran a play written by a Christian in Kazakhstan. We run plays made by Kazakhs.
What do you want Koreans to know about Goryeo people?
Koreans here understand us a lot now but it is still not popular situation. Goryeo people had to leave Korea for their life or independence movement, but the most of them were forced to move at that time. So I think we have to understand and accompany them even if there are cultural differences because they moved not because of their personal matter, but because of the deportation.
Many young Goryeo people are living in Korea with language barriers. Do you want them to stay here, or go back to Russia? Do you have any hope or wish for them? How would you like them to live in Korea?
I want the young people to decide where to live by themselves. If someone want to live here, they have to respect Korea’s custom and learn Korean hard. But the reason I cannot impose my opinion is difficult conditions for staying in Korea. They hardly obtain nationality and even if they do, they would have to return to their country. Especially, the young students forget Korean when they go back. The government should help them with their stay. The countries whose immigration laws are well established like German and Israel, the government should provide enough good condition to settle down for young people. I think this may not be the answer for the question, but I wanted to specify this issue clearly.
Is it difficult to give nationality politically to them? How difficult is it? Would it be hard to change?
In the 50s to late 60s, we could help Chinese and Goryeo people who emigrated to the U.S. and Europe to have the right of permanent residency because they have long migrant history. But when handling this issue as Goryeo people in 1930-40s, there are too many ethnic Koreans living in China… There are matter of equities and also it would be better for the government to accommodate Goryeo people who want to come to Korea. Some of them take the test and obtain the nationality because they have problems with visa. Ethnic Koreans living in China can use mother tongue and they pass the test, but Goryeo people have language barrier and difficulty with taking the test. I want the government to offer conditions for people who want to live. In the case of taking tests, I want the support from the government, such as permitting Goryeo people to take tests in Russian because most of them can’t speak Korean well.