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In Session: Tradition Now: New Roles, Platforms, and Audiences for Korean Performing Arts
1: Consoling the Dead: Sim U-seong’s Puppet Rituals for Modern Korea
Thursday, March 25, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, United States
Sim U-seong (1934–2018) is one of the most highly regarded folklorists in South Korea. He researched, discovered and recreated Korea’s almost-extinct traditional folk performing art forms, including Kkokdugaksi Noreum (rod puppet play), Manseokjung Nori (shadow puppet play) and Baltal (foot puppetry). In an era when old traditions were disregarded and discarded, he collected performing objects-leading in 1996 to the founding of the Gongju Folk Drama Museum out of his personal collection.
Sim’s theatre company Seonangdang was founded in 1980 following two decades of relentless research into Korean folk traditions. His base was Korean traditional puppetry, mask dance, music, and ritual performance but he did not shy away from using modern theatrical techniques. A major strand of Sim’s work in the 1980s were solo puppet performances about the Korean war, which he had experienced as a teenager, and the division of the peninsula. In these performances, he drew on the structure and affect of gut, Korean shamanic performance, in order to commune with the spirits of the war dead and to console their spirits. Later performances address victims of the massacre in Jeju Island and the Kanto earthquake of 1923. Another of Sim’s innovations was his use of ritual paper-cuts in the shape of spirits called neokjeon, a form that had almost disappeared in gut rituals. This paper will study Sim’s use of objects and puppets as media for communicating with the dead, examining the theatricalization of ritual objects and the back-and-forth shuttling between modern/secular and folk/ritual performance.