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Exploring Gugak in Theatre Training

Gugak-based Voice and Movement Classes

for Actors and Performers


Sundays, 12-2pm

October 7, 14, 21, and 28
Total hours of instruction: 8
Location: Our rehearsal space near Sungshin Women's University Station (subway Line 4) (Directions will be sent to participants)
Tuition fee: 80,000KRW
Instructor: Lauren Ash-Morgan
Class size: approximately 5-12 students​
An exploratory introduction to Korean traditional dance and singing techniques, with an emphasis on their benefits for actors.
Email by October 3 with your name, your phone number, and the name of the course(s) you would like to take.
Full list of courses here.
We will respond with bank account details, and your spot will be confirmed once we receive your tuition funds. 





Expand one's abilities in vocal production and movement by learning specific new ways of moving and vocalizing

In this class, participants will:

-learn fundamentals of Korean traditional dance through practicing gibon 기본, ("basic") dance (the starting point for learners of Korean dance)

-begin learning Namdo minyo/pansori repertoire and exploring the mechanics of the voice for this particular style of singing, as well as developing methods of notating and mentally processing the music taught in the class

-learn in the manner of a typical dance or pansori group class, but with an additional eye toward benefits for actors as well as ways to approach gugak from past training in other performing arts disciplines

This class is appropriate for:

-anyone who wants to expand their abilities in vocal production and movement by learning new ways of moving and vocalizing

-anyone wishing to get a taste of Korean dance and singing

-anyone thinking of taking gugak classes at other institutions who wants to get their feet wet first

-(if there is enough interest and scheduling allows) anyone with an interest in continuing this class in the future, building a repertoire of songs and dances over time

Each session in this class will be split between dance and vocalization, roughly half and half. Participants need not be experienced or equally capable in both areas. We are combining them in this class because in order to perform vocal music on stage, one must have some Korean movement training, and because in order to dance one must have an understanding of the music. In addition, by combining these disciplines into one class, we will be able to switch from one to the other to avoid vocal or bodily fatigue, while still keeping busy and learning efficiently.

What do Korean traditional dance and singing have to do with theatre acting?


Korean dance has a number of unique properties that make it enriching for those who practice it. Many of these properties are particularly beneficial for theatre actors.

Some of these properties are:

-A unique focus on breath.--Korean dance movements are rooted in the breath, which is closely related to the rhythm of the music. This teaches breath control, which is vital not just for vocal projection, but also for calming nerves backstage and eliciting emotion onstage. Big emotions onstage often need to start from breath, and Korean dance teaches control of the breathing that doesn’t feel mechanical or forced. Instead, the breath is motivated by the music and the body’s reaction to the music, just as, in theatre, breath is motivated by thoughts and reactions to circumstances. 


-Groundedness and strength in the legs and feet. (While still being low-impact, making it gentle on the body. It is a great type of dance to study if you want to be able to continue dancing as you grow older.)

-Gracefulness--Grace is often associated with femininity, but both male and female Korean traditional dancers move in similarly graceful ways. More feminine actors may be called upon to be graceful in theatrical roles on a regular basis, making this skill extremely useful. More masculine actors will learn from Korean dance a way of moving that they may never have experienced before, making this skill an even more significant expansion of their movement capabilities. The grace and bodily control that Korean dance teaches are beneficial to people of all genders, and in theatre may be particularly helpful in portraying archetypal qualities such as royalty, mysticism, folksiness, and otherworldliness.  


-Expressiveness—in the breath, as discussed above, and also in the gestures of the hands. Knowing what to do with one's hands on stage can be one of the most difficult things for actors. Korean dance teaches one to be comfortable with (and find strength in) stillness, and also to better use the hands expressively.


-Emotion—there is a subtle, internally emotive quality to Korean dance, that is meant to be genuine and deep, rather than showy. An actor must carve out depths within himself/herself, and Korean dance is an art form that encourages this.

-Expanding one's presence onstage--while there is an inward emotional quality to Korean dance, physical objects (such as scarves, sleeves, fans, swords) are often used as extensions of the body, directing energy out into the performance space. For theatre actors, the ability to extend one's energy out into the performing space is a vital skill.



In Korean traditional music, there are many genres and styles of singing. In this class, participants will explore technique and repertoire from the genres of pansori and Namdo minyo. The repertoire that we will be studying in this class is characteristic of Namdo minyo and pansori style--it is gutsy, powerful, and rhythmically and melodically interesting. Learning this style can be freeing and open us up to stronger, more confident, and more openly emotive ways of using the voice. For many people, this type of singing feels cathartic. 


In pansori technique, very low diaphragmatic breathing is key, as is relaxation of the throat and an emphasis on natural projection. Vocal health is absolutely crucial to any performer, and through studying pansori (not with the aim of becoming a professional pansori singer, but with the aim of expanding one's vocal capabilities and learning enjoyable repertoire), one can explore a way of vocalizing that strengthens the voice, encourages one to be unafraid of being loud, and teaches the singer to habitually gauge his/her vocal health and limitations and expand his/her vocal capabilities. People who haven't studied pansori often worry that vocal damage is an inherent part of pansori technique, and it is true that (like rock singers) many pansori singers end up with vocal damage, but vocal damage is NOT the goal or a necessary part of studying pansori. Vocal health is of utmost importance, and participants in this class will be encouraged to explore their vocal capabilities without pushing too hard. 


Participants in this course will also develop general music skills such as visualizing melodic lines, developing rhythmic skills, and learning specific gugak rhythmic patterns which will inform their Korean dance practice.

Final note:

While a 4-week course is hardly enough time to gain mastery in all these areas, this course will teach new ways of moving and new, powerful vocal repertoire, and is a necessary first step in learning these styles. Gugak is an ongoing practice (like yoga or classical singing), and while a month-long exploration of this area of music and dance is beneficial for those wanting to get their feet wet and experience something new, real competence in these areas requires prolonged study. If there is enough interest, and scheduling allows, we may be able to offer this as an ongoing class after this month, adding new repertoire as we go.




Lauren Ash-Morgan majored in Music Education (Voice), receiving a Bachelor of Music from Ithaca College, during which time she developed an interest in world music and ethnomusicology, focusing at the time on klezmer music, Irish traditional songs, and gamelan. After graduation, she spent a year in Seoul, working as a music teacher, and there began to study Korean traditional music, particularly gayageum and janggu, at the National Gugak Center. She then attended graduate school at the University of Maryland, College Park, studying under Korea expert Dr. Robert Provine, and earned her M.A. in Ethnomusicology, with a focus on Korea. For her masters thesis (“Korean Dance and Pansori in D.C.: Interactions with Others, the Body, and Collective Memory at a Korean Performing Arts Studio”), she spent two years learning traditional Korean dance and pansori at the Washington Korean Performing Arts Center, in addition to taking some gayageum and janggu lessons. She sang in over 20 performances as a lead member of pansori group Washington Sorichung, at venues including the U.S. Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History, the Korean Embassy's KORUS House, the Korean Ambassador’s Residence, the National Korean War Memorial, and the Kennedy Center. (She also joined the Washington Kayo Charity Association, performing Korean trot songs in the Washington, D.C. Korean community, after winning first place in the annual KOUS Festival's Korean song competition and being invited by the judges to join WKCA.) She twice won first place in the Foreigner Division of the National Korean Traditional Performing Arts Competition in New York City, singing an excerpt from Chunhyangga. At the end of 2010, Lauren was invited to participate in the National Gugak Center's International Gugak Workshop, and she remained in Korea afterwards to continue her study of traditional Korean music and dance.  


Since then, Lauren has studied for many years at the National Gugak Center (and sometimes at private studios) with a variety of master teachers, mostly in the area of Korean dance (since there are more classes offered in this area), but also in gayageum sanjo and gayageum byeongchang (singing while playing gayageum). After many years of waiting to find the right pansori teacher in Korea, she began taking Moon Soo Hyun's excellent pansori classes for foreigners at the National Theater of Korea in 2016 (Lauren's first time being in a class with other non-Koreans since her very first gugak classes in 2005-2006). Around the same time, Lauren won First prize in the Jeonju International Sori Festival's Amateur Pansori Competition, (최우수상, 2016 아마추어 소리꾼 경연대회, 전주 세계소리축제), in which she competed with both Korean and non-Korean participants, singing a piece from the gayageum byeongchang repertoire.


During the last two years, Lauren has had to scale back her gugak class schedule because of the demands of running Seoul Shakespeare Company, but she tries to remain artistically balanced between the worlds of gugak and classical theatre, and hopes to find ways to bring elements of gugak training and aesthetics to the world of Western theatre practice, bringing the techniques and spirit of Korean traditional performing arts to a wider audience. This course is a foray into incorporating Korean dance and vocal techniques into classical theatre training. She is also developing a scaled-down adaptation of Euripides' The Trojan Women that brings elements of Korean dance and pansori to the classical stage.


Traditional Korean Dance:

Taepyeongmu (태평무, 강선영류) classes with Lee Hyeonja (이현자) and Choi Bokyung (최보경). The National Gugak Center (국립국악원), 2013-2016

Dosalpuri (도살풀이) classes with Yang Gil-sun (양길순). The National Gugak Center, 2013-2016. Private studio, 2016.

Yeongnam Gyobang Chum (영남교방청춤), Yeongnam Jinsoe Chum (영남진쇠춤), Jinju Gyobang Gutgeori (진주교방굿거리), and Salpuri (살풀이) classes with Park Kyung Rang (박경랑). The National Gugak Center, 2012, 2014. Private studio, 2012, 2014, 2016.

Han Young Suk Ryu (한영숙류) Seungmu (승무), and Salpuri (살풀이) classes with Yoon Young Ok (윤영옥). The National Gugak Center, 2012, 2014. Private studio, 2012.

Korean traditional dance classes with Kim Eun Su (김은수) and Bae Jung-Lan (배정란) at the Washington Korean Performing Arts Center, Virginia, USA, 2008- 2010 : Gibon/Basic (기본), Buche Chum (부채춤), Samgomu (삼고무), Sogo Chum (소고춤), Salpuri (살풀이), Seungmu (승무), Gyobangmu (교방무), Ogomu (오고무).


Korean Music:

Pansori (판소리) class for foreigners with Moon Soo Hyun (문수현). The National Theater, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Fall 2018

Gayageum Byeongchang (가야금 병창) private lessons with Mun Su-jeong (문수정), 가얏고을, 2016

Gayageum Byeongchang (가야금 병창) classes with Mun Su-jeong (문수정). The National Gugak Center, 2013-2016

Gayageum sanjo (가야금 산조) classes with Ha Gyeong-Mi (하경미). The National Gugak Center, 2012, 2014

Beginner level haegeum (해금) classes with Choi Sun-young (최선영). The National Gugak Center, Fall 2012

Washington Sorichung (워싱턴 소리청) member (Pansori and Namdo Minyo performance team) Washington Korean Performing Arts Center, 2008- 2010

Pansori (판소리) and Namdo Minyo (남도민요) classes with Kim Eun Su (김은수). Washington Korean Performing Arts Center, 2008- 2010

Washington Kayo Charity Association (워싱턴 가요동우회 / WKCA) (Gayo (가요) performance team), Washington D.C., 2008-2011

Janggu (장구) lessons, Fall 2007 and Summer 2008

Janggu classes with guest artist Choi Byoung-sam of the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts, University of Maryland, October 2006

Janggu class for foreigners, National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts, Seoul, South Korea, Spring 2006

Gayageum class for foreigners, National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts, Seoul, South Korea, Fall 2005

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