Calling all drama nerds! Did you know that there is a thriving expat community theatre presence in Changwon? Most recently, this past June saw the smash-hit performance of Ken Ludwig’s Leading Ladies, directed by Sunil Mahtani with technical direction by Nadia Ronan and featuring local actors Jeremy Bryan, Jordan Marett, Jake Clark, Chelsea Phillips, Lindsay Auten, Michael Hamrick, John Hennigan and Lauren Kuehster. The show was staged at the Changwon Civic Stadium Art Theatre, a small black-box theatre located in a small corner of the football stadium, and played to sold-out audiences.
The theatre community is growing every year here, and you can get involved, too! We sat down with Sunil, who has masterfully directed many plays over the past few years in our city, to chat about his work here and his upcoming projects.
Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started in community theater in Korea, specifically here in Changwon?
Directing theatre has always been my passion. I was a journalist in the Eastern Townships of Quebec for 10 years and during that time, I started a community theatre company with two friends. We put on almost 20 plays and musicals during our time together. Classic shows such as The Music Man, Guys and Dolls, You Can’t Take It With You and modern classics such as Art and The Cripple of Inishmaan.
When I arrived in Changwon, I worked for two years before I got the theatre bug again. Then I felt I wanted to create it here and share it with both expats and Koreans. There isn’t much theatre in Changwon. I believe until I started there was The Vagina Monologues every year, but not the kind of linear story plays we’ve been doing.
What productions have you put on? Do you tend toward a certain genre?
Yes, my team and I have decided that to win audiences here, comedies are the way to go. Everybody needs to laugh and unwind and forget about their daily lives. We’ve put on Mom’s The Word, looking at motherhood with a sense of humor, Lend Me A Tenor, a 1930s farce about mistaken identities, The Foursome, about four guys getting to know each other again at a university reunion, and Leading Ladies, a role-revearsal farce featuring cross-dressing and unbelievable antics. That was our most hilarious comedy to date.
Where do you get your support (financial or otherwise)?
To begin every production, myself and my technical director Nadia Ronan lend each production some funds to get started. This pays for the scripts, the rights and royalties to perform the play and costumes and set materials. Then we simply make all our money back through ticket sales. We have no financial sponsors. Our budgets are such that ticket sales pay for everything. It’s self-sustaining.
Moral sponsorship, if I can call it that [laughs] comes from everywhere. We are fortunate that the expat community of English teachers have come out in droves to support our plays. They find something they haven’t seen since they were back home. And to our great surprise, half our audiences are Korean. They tell us they can’t see English productions such as these anywhere in Changwon. I can’t even begin to describe how fulfilling it is to realize we are entertaining people from another culture and who aren’t fluent in our language. This is something I never expected to do in my life. We are breaking down boundaries of culture and language and to see a sea of Korean faces laughing and smiling through one of our productions is pretty much one of the most fulfilling things I have ever experienced in my six years in this country. And the fact that I get to do it again and again is so beautiful.
What is your favorite thing about community theater in Changwon?
Without a doubt, the way it brings people together. My actors and technical crew become so close during the three-month rehearsal process that a few of them have become life-long friends. Both expats and Koreans in the audiences are laughing and enjoying this shared experience together and then meeting and discussing it together at intermission and after the show is over. Also, both high school and university students have enjoyed our shows and then have interviewed us afterwards to have a better understand of what we do. I think the effects of our productions are immeasurable.
What can we look forward to in the near future?
Well, we do one or two productions a year, so while I cannot reveal any details, a Changwon Community Theatre fall show is just around the corner! We have been focussing on farcical comedies to attract both expat and Korean audiences so that is most probably what we will stick to. Why tamper with a winning formula? Lend Me A Tenor and Leading Ladies, our two broad farces, were the two most successful shows out of the four we have done. We are in the process of forming a Facebook group of theatre lovers who can keep track of everything that we do. So just keep your eyes peeled for our announcements.
We are also planning for the fall a monthly play-reading group where all theatre-lovers can gather and read and enjoy a play over one afternoon, without committing to a three-month production. Details of that will be posted on Facebook.
Lastly, how can we get involved? (“We” meaning a Changwon-er looking to act or help out in any way with your next production.)
We are always looking for people to join our group in any capacity they desire. If someone wants to act or be involved in set and lighting, they should contact me directly through Facebook. They may also contact us via text message at 010-4440-0398.
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Contact Changwonderful and/or stay tuned on the Changwon Expats Facebook page, as well as the upcoming Changwon Theatre Facebook group, for more information about Changwon Community Theatre. We hope to see you on stage or in the seats this fall!