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American premiere of Korean play bridges cultures in the School of Theatre and Dance

Center for the Performing Arts

Illinois State's Center for the Performing Arts

Last spring Illinois State University welcomed 569 international students from 74 countries. These students contribute to cultural diversity and learning across the disciplines. This fall in the School of Theatre and Dance, one international student will introduce a groundbreaking Korean play, Yellow Inn by Lee Kang-baek, and Illinois State University’s Center for the Performing Arts will host its American premiere.

When M.F.A. directing student Myeongsik (Jason) Jang first chose Yellow Inn for his final main stage production, an English translation of the play did not exist. Determined to bring the play to American audiences, Jang began working with Kee-Yoon Nahm, a School of Theatre and Dance faculty member and Korean theater artist, to translate and adapt the play for the American stage.

Jang says his purpose in producing this play in America is to illustrate that “in both Korea and America, old and young generations are divided, economic classes are divided. Though there is a different culture, society is very similar. People are not so different.” Nahm agrees, “I think that this play resonates with current discussions in the U.S. about economic disparity between baby boomers and millennials.”

Yellow Inn premiered at the National Theater Company of Korea in 2007. Nahm explains that playwright Lee Kang-baek is “famous for using allegory to explore social issues … during the military dictatorships of the ’70s and ’80s, when censorship laws were in place.” The new adaptation of the play centers on a grotesque inn run by three sisters who send guests spiraling into violence overnight. When the Third Sister makes her attempt to abandon the malicious project of her sisters, they challenge her to save just one life at the inn. This task proves more difficult than expected as class divides and hatred fuels the guests’ murderous rage.

“The audience will learn about the stupidity and selfishness of people,” Jang says, “A reflection of our personal flaws and society’s errors are all part of the greater human experience.” The play compels audiences to confront their own prejudices and ponder what madness could arise in themselves given the wrong set of circumstances.

The hard work put into translating and adapting this play is finally paying off as the School of Theatre and Dance prepares to open the production. Jang is excited to be bringing this play to the U.S. because “this play seems timeless; like it could be the United States, Korea, or another country. Diversity is growing in the theater community, but there has largely been a focus on American plays. I am excited to promote people of color and diversity within the arts.”

The production process of Yellow Inn is a great reminder of the many contributions of international students to Illinois State’s campus. Theater draws people together and the University’s production of Yellow Inn provides an opportunity to bridge Korean and American cultures through shared human experience. Jang hopes the audience will feel that they have not seen just a Korean play, but a play for and about all people. Nahm states it well: “This play establishes common ground when it comes to the question of how we can make the world a better place for everyone.”

Performances of Yellow Inn run September 25–28 at 7:30 p.m. and September 28–29 at 2 p.m. at the Center for the Performing Arts Theatre. Tickets are $12 for students and seniors and $17 for adults. Tickets are available by calling (309) 438-2535, online at Ticketmaster.com, or by visiting the Box Office, located in the Illinois State University Center for the Performing Arts, Monday–Friday from 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Free performance parking is available in the School Street Parking Deck in spots 250 and above, at 400 West Beaufort Street in Normal.

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