Cha Ji-yeon Learns To Live With Suffering In “Seopyeonjae’s Final Run”
The German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche said that to live is to suffer. But is there a way to avoid this suffering?
The musical “Seopyeonjae” says there is none. But that grim response is oddly comforting after watching a 150-minute show about the toils of a family grappling with heartbreaking pain that only seems to get worse as each member seeks to find their own passion.
The local musical is best known as a show on Pansori, a traditional Korean musical genre dating back to the 17th century. With a single vocalist and drummer, the genre is characterized by lyrics that tell a narrative with an expressive, sometimes speech-like singing style.
The current fifth production, which started in August, will actually be the last.
The license term for the musical’s original material, a 1976 short story of the same title by author Yi Cheong-jun (1939-2008), expires this year, according to the show’s PR firm Connected Company.
“I’m bidding my best farewell to ‘Seopyeonjae,'” actor Cha Ji-yeon, 40, told Korea JoongAng Daily during an interview at a cafe in Seoul’s southern Gangnam district. , Monday.
Cha plays Song-hwa, the show’s star, a passionate pansori performer, devoted daughter, and loving sister.
The actor has been with “Seopyeonjae” since the very beginning, when it first premiered on stage in August 2010.
Cha recalled that first performance 12 years ago when she performed to a crowd of just 30 people.
“I still can’t forget that show, and to this day I’m so grateful to those who came to see the show when it first started,” she said.
“Seopyeonjae” had a rough start. It struggled to bring audiences together as an original musical based on pansori, also referred to as a forgotten art. The first production of the musical earned less than 1 billion won ($720,000), while some 2.3 billion won was invested in making the musical. Faced with such financial problems, the producer of the musical Jo Wang-yeon committed suicide in 2011.
But after snagging five awards, including Best Original Musical, Best Director and Best Actor at the 2011 Musical Awards a month after Jo’s death, the show began to garner more public attention.
Today, “Seopyeonjae” is one of Korea’s most recognizable original musicals. His song “As We Live” is particularly famous, having been covered by high-profile celebrities such as actor Lee Sung-kyung and singer Lee So-jung.
Cha described her role as Song-hwa as an unexpected gift. She hadn’t auditioned for the role but was cast anyway because she was one of the few actresses in the industry who knew pansori.
“I come from a family with a long line of gugak [Korean traditional music] performers, but to be honest, I had no happy memories of the genre,” Cha said. “It was the kind of music I never wanted to do again, which is why I didn’t audition for ‘Seopyeonjae’.
“But being around pansori and touching those traditional instruments again during ‘Seopyeonjae’ actually helped me let go of my past and forgive.”
Although “Seopyeonjae” holds a dear place in Cha’s heart, she had already decided to take a step back, even before she realized that the show itself was coming to an end for good.
“Before I knew the show would end for good, I had already decided that this year’s production would be my last,” she said. “I felt like I had nothing left to give Song-hwa, and I didn’t want to be too comfortable in a role either.”
Compared to the Song-hwa she performed at 29, Cha said her character has matured with her over the years. She’s played the character all through her 30s and now her 40s.
“I don’t cry as much on stage as I did when I was 20,” she said with a slight smile. “Today, I just like to be fully present and totally honest with my emotions as Song-hwa, from the moment the curtains go up until they come down. It’s something I I always aspire to do on stage, but it hasn’t been easy. I think I’m finally learning now during this last season of “Seopyeonjae”.
Cha said the part of the show she was going to miss the most was the last, and arguably most iconic musical number, “Simcheongga.”
“Simcheongga” is one of the few true pansori tales to have survived time. It’s about a faithful girl named Simcheong who willingly dies to cure her father’s blindness.
Filled with ha [suffering] that built up inside Song-hwa as she grew older and grew weary with age, Cha delivers a heartbreaking rendition of the six-minute song without any background music. His raw voice quickly fills the Hanji-covered [Korean traditional mulberry paper] walls on stage and Song-hwa finally embraces her pain. Right now, there is a sense of clarity as Song-hwa reaches the pinnacle of her pansori career.
Through “Simcheongga,” the musical conveys its central message that things that have already happened cannot be undone and time cannot be turned back. Pain and suffering is not something that goes away; they must be embraced to produce transcendent power and creativity.
The main role Song-hwa will be alternated by pansori performer Lee Jaram, musical actors Cha Ji-yeon and Yuria, singers Hong Ja, Yang Ji-eun and Hong Ji-yun.
“Seopyeonjae” runs at BBCH Hall at Kwanglim Arts Center in Seoul’s southern Gangnam District until October 23. Sunday and off days. There are no shows on Mondays. Ticket prices range from 60,000 won ($45) to 130,000 won.
BY LEE JIAN [[email protected]]