The History of
Seoul Shakespeare Company
Seoul Shakespeare Company is a not-for-profit theatre company centered in Seoul, South Korea. Powered by a diverse community of actors and artists, Seoul Shakespeare company strives to produce quality productions that reach across linguistic and cultural boundaries while celebrating live theatre and the communities that produce these challenging and engaging works.
Seoul Shakespeare Company is an all-volunteer theatre company that brings Shakespeare’s works to Seoul audiences in English, with Korean subtitles. We have existed since 2010, and have put on fully-staged productions since 2011. We typically produce one major show per year in Korea's theatre district of Daehangno, with smaller fundraising events throughout the year, as well as acting workshops that are open to the community.
We serve three main populations in Korea:
1) Korean audience members (including students) who would like to see Shakespeare performed in the original language,
2) English-speaking audience members who would like to see theatre performed in a language they understand, and
3) English-speakers (both foreign and Korean) who want to participate in making theatre.
By being an all-volunteer company, we are able to allow people of all nationalities to participate freely in the creation of theatre. At the same time, we aim to put on productions that are professional in quality, so that we are worth the time and effort of people who are serious about a future career in the theatre. Some of our past company members are now pursuing a professional career in theatre in other countries, and one of our core purposes is to provide an opportunity for English-speaking theatre people living in Korea to continue to develop their craft, while also contributing positively to Korean society.
Founded by Kevin Gerald Connors in January 2010 as Actors Without Bard'ers (AWB), the company presented A Night of Shakespeare, its first collection of William Shakespeare's scenes and monologues, in March of 2010 in association with Seoul Players. For many participants and audience members, this was a first introduction to Shakespeare's work in Seoul performed in its original language.
That initial year was a year of exciting beginnings and changes, as Lindsey Higgins became the company's new artistic director and the company produced several small performances. The first was Julius Caesar: Condensed, performed in May 2010 at the Haebangchon Music Festival and performed again in June 2010 at the Sindorim open air amphitheater. The next performance was Love, Sex, Romance, a collection of love-themed scenes performed at the Gori Theater in Hyehwa's theater district in September 2010. This production made AWB the first expatriate theatre company to produce a play in collaboration with a Korean-owned theater since 2003. The company's last production that year was a staged reading of The Merchant of Venice, performed in November 2010. That year also included a fundraising event which brought together the talents of local visual and musical artists in June, and the company's first educational workshop in July. Under the leadership of Lindsey Higgins, the company began to focus its attention on the production of its first full play: Macbeth.
The company began its 2011 season with a showcase of monologues in February and rehearsals for Macbeth, which ran for two weekends in April at the historic Changgo Theater in Myeongdong, Seoul. By the second weekend the show was so popular that people without reserved tickets had to be turned away at the door.
After the run of this first successful production, the company formed its first executive board and changed its name to Seoul Shakespeare Company (SSC) in May 2011, celebrating with a launch party in which actors/board members Michael Downey and Charles Jeong performed. The company produced two scenes projects later that year: Shakespeare's Mirth and Merriment in August and the ambitious Shakespeare's Gore and Madness in October. Gore and Madness was performed first at the White Box Theatre and then at D.Festa, the Daehangno Small Theater Festival, in Seoul's theater district.
In 2012, Seoul Shakespeare Company began the year with Love Bitten, a performance of sonnets set to original music. For this event, SSC commissioned new music by Seoul Shakespeare Company member Jessica Adel, who assembled a group of female musicians together with local musician Jessica Rau. Other local musicians opened and closed the evening as well, performing their own original music.
Under the artistic directorship of Lindsey Higgins, Seoul Shakespeare Company produced mainstage productions for four years: Macbeth in April 2011 at Changgo Theater (directed and produced by Lindsey Higgins), The Tempest in April 2012 at Sotong Hall (directed and produced by Lindsey Higgins), Hamlet in April 2013 at Kim Dong Soo Playhouse (directed by Jessica Adel and produced by Lindsey Higgins), and A Midsummer Night's Dream in May 2014 at Kim Dong Soo Playhouse (directed by Raymond Salcedo and produced by Lindsey Higgins). SSC also produced some evenings of monologues and music, titled The Players Play, as well as acting workshops taught by Lindsey Higgins and Amy Ginther. During this time, Seoul Shakespeare Company was part of an emerging expat independent theatre scene in Seoul, together with the companies Seoul Players (Seoul's longest-running expat theatre company), Cut Glass Theatre (specializing in productions of classic plays), and Probationary Theatre Company at the White Box Theatre (an intimate expat-run theatre space that put on plays nearly every month, exposing the Seoul theatre community to a wide variety of highly regarded contemporary plays, and helping actors hone an intimate, raw performance style). Actors, directors, and stage managers shifted fluidly through the companies, honing different skills in each. An expat independent film community was also developing at this time, and Seoul Shakespeare Company engaged this community by holding two Seoul Filmmakers' Challenges, in which local filmmakers competed to interpret a scene from Shakespeare and presented their work at a public screening. While producing her final SSC production, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lindsey Higgins directed The Pillowman for Seoul Players and was accepted to East 15 Acting School's MFA program in Theatre Directing. (After graduation from East 15, she went on to become the founding artistic director of 60 Grit Theatre Company in Portland, Maine.) As Lindsey was preparing to leave Korea, longtime SSC actor and board member Lauren Ash-Morgan took on the role of artistic director of Seoul Shakespeare Company in the Fall of 2014, first helping to organize a workshop and small performance, then designing a series of free acting workshops for the public called “Shakesperiments,” and finally taking on preparations for the following year’s production.
During the transition in artistic directors, the SSC board selected the company's 2015 production, Titus Andronicus, to be directed by Raymond Salcedo and produced by Lauren Ash-Morgan. With the closure of Kim Dongsoo Playhouse, SSC found a new home at Theater Egg and Nucleus (one of very few available venues in Seoul’s theatre district with a dressing room large enough for a Shakespeare cast). Other changes took place at this time: the company increased its design budget, number of performances, and advertising; it developed an easier subtitle operation system; Lauren Ash-Morgan became the company's regular costume designer; Amy Ginther (a recent graduate of the The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama) became text and vocal coach for the production; and the company found (through Amy) a beautiful new rehearsal space owned by a dance company in northern Seoul. The company aimed to pay for increased production values through fundraising and through increased audience numbers, and while fundraising efforts were successful, the performance season coincided with a national crisis: the Middle Eastern Respiratory Virus (MERS) scare, which paralyzed the country for several weeks and caused audience numbers to remain at the previous year's levels, rather than rising as had been hoped. Still, Titus Andronicus broke new ground as a technically ambitious project with its massive set, custom-made costumes, and engagement of a voice and text coach. In order to help make up for some of Titus's ticket losses, SSC produced Love and Despair, two weekends of famous Shakespeare scenes depicting the breaking down and/or rebuilding of relationships, focusing on Macbeth, Hamlet, and Othello, with additional lighter scenes from The Tempest and Titus Andronicus. The production was an experiment in shoestring budget theatre and mostly featured remounts of scenes from previous SSC productions with the original cast members. This show also served the purpose of celebrating SSC’s five-year anniversary by revisiting SSC’s past work while introducing new scenes from Othello.
The following year's production, Much Ado about Nothing, was a year of dramatic change for SSC. Longtime SSC actor and board member Michael Downey, who had recently directed the first-place winner of Seoul Players' 10-Minute Play Festival, expressed an interest in directing a production influenced by the techniques and aesthetics of Shakespeare's Globe in London, and chose Much Ado About Nothing. Lauren Ash-Morgan again took on the roles of producer and costume designer, but also added on the roles of sound designer and set designer, in order to create a slimmed-down, streamlined, efficient design process. She also reached out to schools, bringing in several large school groups to the production. Much Ado was a great success, bringing in twice the number of audience members as in previous years, and eliciting delight from audiences. Artistically, it was set apart from previous productions in a number of ways: it was the company's first production to be set in a roughly Elizabethan era; it featured continuous action without blackouts and a minimal set (only hanging fabrics, with two stools and a bench brought on and off by the actors as part of scenes); it incorporated music and dance into the performance; and it emphasized energetic pacing, use of direct address to the audience, actor play and improvisation during rehearsals, and a focus on the ensemble as a whole. Also groundbreaking was Charles Jeong’s creation of his own Korean language translation of the play, tailored to this particular production, a task which he would undertake for every production after this. During this year, SSC also joined the Shakespeare Theatre Association, representing Korea in its Shakespeare 400 celebrations.
Following the success of Much Ado, Michael Downey directed the half-tragedy, half-comedy The Winter's Tale, using many of the same principles utilized in Much Ado, but set in a more somber, Brechtian-style, Victorian/Edwardian era Sicilia, contrasted with a bright, boisterous, Much Ado-like Bohemia. Lauren again produced, designed the costumes and sound, composed the music, and designed a very minimalistic set, centered around Michael’s Brechtian chalk line concept, with Iain Culp's lighting design being the star of the stage design. Once again, it was a completely new style for the company in terms of era and design, both building on what the company had learned from Much Ado and finding ways to contrast with that production. In preparation for this production, Lauren and Michael also offered classes to the public on performing Shakespeare's text.
SSC put on its first non-Shakespearean production in the Fall of 2017, producing the contemporary play Garage, originally devised by Dive Theatre in New York City (written by Michael Hogwood, Nathan Riley, Bryce Kemph, Jenna Kirk, and Jason Cutler) with rewrites in 2014 by Jason Cutler, regular actor with SSC. Directed by Michael Downey, produced by Lauren Ash-Morgan, and featuring as actors Lauren, Jason Cutler, and Jamie Horan, it proved to be one of SSC's most daring productions, and its first small-scale production suitable for future touring and festivals.
SSC’s 2018 production, The Merchant of Venice, was at first fraught with some personnel changes in the preproduction season, which necessitated Michael Downey returning as director shortly before auditions, assisted by Lauren Ash-Morgan who also served as producer and costume/set/sound designer. This production returned to a roughly Elizabethan era and featured all live music. To the collection of costumes from Much Ado, more elaborate costume pieces were added to reflect the play’s theme of outer opulence and wealth. Finding in the text much that subverts the play’s assumed light comedic qualities, the production explored deeper subtexts within characters’ speech and challenged the expectations of audiences about the play, particularly shocking Korean students who were familiar with a heteronormative and simplified version of the story.
King Lear, announced as Lauren Ash-Morgan’s final production as artistic director of SSC, was also her directorial debut and SSC’s first production to feature traditional Korean music and visual aesthetics. It also made much use of a core of actors now in at least their fourth year working alongside each other in SSC productions, and who had all been a part of SSC’s groundbreaking Much Ado About Nothing: Charles Jeong, Chris Zaczek, Jason Cutler, Jeffrey Wagner, and Michael Downey (now returning to acting instead of directing). This group helped to form the backbone of King Lear, around which a strong ensemble developed. Using ensemble-building techniques learned from Ben Crystal while training at Prague Shakespeare Company the previous summer, Lauren taught movement and ensemble techniques to the cast while Michael Downey taught voice and both Lauren and Michael coached actors on text techniques, which they also taught to in separate workshops to the general public. The ending of King Lear, finishing with Charles Jeong’s soliloquy as Edgar, hinted at the identity of SSC’s next artistic director.
SSC is currently transitioning to its new artistic director and board, as Lauren and Michael hand over the reins and prepare to eventually transition out of Korea, forming a new company, Speech of Fire, to focus on smaller, more mobile performances that can travel and eventually settle in a new home. Seoul Shakespeare Company is working on its next projects as we speak! Stay tuned through our website, Facebook page, and mailing list, to know what’s coming up!
Shakespeare in Seoul: A Celebration of Shakespeare 400!, April 23, 2016, Camarata Music Company Studio
Love and Despair: Scenes from Shakespeare, Program 2 (Hamlet, The Tempest, Titus Andronicus, Othello), December 5-6, 2015, Camarata Music Company Studio
Love and Despair: Scenes from Shakespeare, Program 1 (Macbeth, The Tempest), November 28-29, 2015, Camarata Music Company Studio
The Players Play (November 2014 edition): An Evening of Monologue and Song, November 29, 2014 Camarata Music Company Studio
The Players Play (July 2014 edition): An Evening of Monologue and Song, July 12, 2014 Camarata Music Company Studio
*A Midsummer Night's Dream, May 2014 Kim Dong Soo Playhouse (Daehangno)
The Players Play: An Evening of Monologue and Song, April 19, 2014 Camarata Music Company Studio
The Tempest (excerpt) November 2013 Samdong Family Fun Festival, Philippines Relief Concert
*Hamlet, April 2013 Kim Dong Soo Playhouse (Daehangno)
*The Tempest, April 2012 Sotong Hall
Love Bitten: an evening of sonnets set to original music, February 2012 Camarata Music Company Studio
Shakespeare's Gore and Madness, October 2011 White Box Theater and D.Festa Daehangno Small Theater Festival (Egg and Nucleus Theater)
Shakespeare's Mirth and Merriment, August 2011 Moon Night
*Macbeth, April 2011 Changgo Theater
A Search for Truth: A Collection of Monologues and Sonnets from William Shakespeare, February 12, 2011, Roofers
The Merchant of Venice, staged reading, November 20-21, 2010, Ruf XXX
Love, Sex, and Romance, September 2010 Gori Theater
Julius Caesar: Condensed, June 2010 Sindorim open air amphitheater
Julius Caesar: Condensed, May 2010 Haebangchon Music Festival
A Night of Shakespeare, March 2010
* Mainstage production