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Unpuzzled to put community into theater

A group of expats and Koreans will look to involve more Koreans in expat drama with a community theater project in Gwangju.

Unpuzzled Theatre Company, set up by British acting graduates Victoria Brown and Jamie Oliver-Jones, was set up in 2013 and has worked in Thailand and Korea, mostly on projects linked to English education. But they are looking to use their expertise for a final project in the wider community before leaving Korea in April.

The organizers hope to create short 10-minute pieces all about love, be it romantic or relating to friends, family or others, to be performed on March 28.

“We wanted to have a subject that was easy, universal and, at the same time, that everyone understood. Everyone understands love in one form or another,” Brown said.

Brown and Oliver-Jones earned degrees in acting and community theater at the East 15 Acting School in England.

But Brown said the concept of community theater among people she met here differed from what she had learned, being more focused on amateur dramatics.

She credited the local expat group Gwangju Performance Project with doing amazing work, and she had also been involved in directing “Proof” last year. But she said plays and auditions limited how inclusive it could be. 
Children rehearse during a previous Unpuzzled Theatre Company project. (Jamie Oliver-Jones)
Children rehearse during a previous Unpuzzled Theatre Company project. (Jamie Oliver-Jones)

“It’s not opening your doors completely. It’s holding an audition and you are going to be judged according to your ability,” she said.

“So this project is to eliminate that and use what we have studied as community theater in the U.K., which is opening your doors to everyone.”

Brown explained that she and Oliver-Jones had worked in the U.K. with the homeless, disadvantaged and elderly.

In one project, they spoke to residents of an old people’s home and used their reminiscences to create a dramatic production.

“When we worked with the homeless we had participants who would turn up drunk,” Brown said.

“That just would not have been tolerated in amateur dramatics but we sat down with them and asked them why, and explained that it was not something you can do. And because they really did want to be part of the project, they stopped.”

Unpuzzled hopes to spread the idea of community theater as an exercise that could involve anyone.

“It doesn’t matter about your ability or if you have done it before,” Brown said.

As a result they are keen to involve as many people from the local community as possible, especially Koreans. To do this they have involved a Korean drama teacher as a coordinator and taken steps to remove barriers, such as eliminating language requirements and moving rehearsals to the Chonnam National University area, deliberately shunning traditional foreigner hotspots.

“I feel downtown is a real hub for the foreign community, so it’s trying to take it to a different location to attract more of the Korean community,” Brown said.

Unpuzzled will not use scripts in the plays, with Brown pointing out that even native speakers can have difficulty learning lines and feel limited by them.

“We are going to try and eliminate the use of language as much as possible,” she said. “There’s probably going to be more movement, and if people do speak it’s not going to be from lines that are written down. It’s going to be improvised.”

She conceded that attracting Korean participants has been difficult, and although they know several want to be involved, they hope for more. Brown pointed to Amoeba Theater in Daejeon, which often involves university students, as an example of how it was possible for such theater projects to involve mostly Korean participants.

The rehearsals will start Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Space for Art & Culture Haewa. For more information, visit unpuzzledtheatre.com or contact unpuzzledtheatre@gmail.com.

By Paul Kerry (paulkerry@herald.corp.com)
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