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The Story Around Us: Street Theatre

The sound of Pungmul, a kind of Korean traditional music, echoes in the heart of a city’s downtown. Acrobatic movements and mime artists can also be seen in the middle of the road. Lastly, spectators who enjoy festivals are dancing to the music and strongly drawing others in to ‘smell the roses.’ This is a story that portrays a popular scene from the Ansan Street Arts Festival. In this way, street theatre has many special and attractive characteristics compared to plays performed in theater; however, Korean people still lack a sense of understanding for street theatre. Therefore, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) now introduces what street theatre is, the festivities that occur, and interview people related to it.

About Street Theatre


Street Theatre covers a wide range of theatrical performance and presentation in public spaces such as streets, parks, or squares. It can be a performance simply put on display in outdoor spaces or an activity that tries to explore streets and make change to ordinary spaces. One of the most distinct features of street theatre is a non-traditional version of a play since it does not have a set of rules or a restriction on its surroundings. Its unconventionality can allow people to experience the freedom of festivals by escaping from their daily lives. Therefore, street theatre became considered another important aspect of performance, and it became a very popular form of cultural expression. Unlike in Korea, the term ‘street art’ which refers to all artistic activities performed in outdoor public spaces is common in Europe. According to the Hors les Murs which supports exchange information on street art in France, street art is categorized into circuses, puppet shows, or street dance and provides active support for creation. Korea, however, is not active in supporting street arts yet.


-Alternative Art

Street theatre escapes from the conventional theatre space, composition of plays, and dramatic aesthetics. Thus, it can impose cultural images on city spaces by transforming real space into a dramatic space that current arts could only create with imagination without any stage setting. Its needlessness of arti_cial space also makes street theatre environmentally friendly and economical because there is no need to produce theaters, but rather just allow nature itself to become the stage. For example, ‘Yeon-Karma’ which was performed at the Gwacheon-Hanmadang Festival found the place matched with contents of their performance in nature and emphasized harmony with the nature of Gwanak Mountain.

-Escaping from Customs

blog.naver.com/Red Shoes’ in Chuncheon International Mime Festival

The most distinctive feature of street theatre is that it does not have any limitation on time, space, and audience, and this unfixed format and production process enables street theatre to be easily combined with other kinds of art forms. Moreover, the gap between the actors and the audience is blurred so that communication between them becomes directly related to other forms of art. For instance, 40 audience members could directly participate in a performance titled ‘Red Shoes’ at the Chuncheon International Mime Festival by taking the bus to travel downtown with actors.

-Public Art

People’s demands for cultural activities have increased after rapid economic growth in Korea while there is not sufficient facilities to perform arts in local areas. Therefore, Korea has experienced a wide cultural gap between the capital city and more local cities. Street theatre, however, is open to anyone and provides an opportunity to watch a play being performed to an unspecified public without charges and facilities since it is performed in an outdoor space. Therefore, it can solve cultural inequality and achieve cultural democracy by giving the opportunity for anyone to enjoy the arts.

Festivals of Street Theatre

Most of the famous street theatre festivals are held in France. Recently, Korea has also shown efforts to raise street theatre as can be seen in the events such as ‘Ansan Street Arts Festival’ and ‘Festival Seoul’. Moreover, Seoul Street Arts Creation Center (SSACC) opened in 2015 to support education, practice, production, and active distribution of street arts.

Street Theatre Festivals in May

Ansan Street Arts Festival (ASAF) has been held every May since 2005, and it will be held throughout Ansan from May 5th-7th this year. Artists try to describe the daily lives of ordinary people with plays, performances, music, and dance in outdoor public spaces such as Ansan Culture Plaza. It is now considered as one of Korea’s most representative street arts festivals since it was awarded the gold Pinnacle Award in 2015 and selected as one of the ‘10 Best Festivals of Gyeonggi Province’ last year. As the ASAF has obtained great fame across the world, it grows larger and many performance teams from other countries apply to attend the ASAF. For example, four of the of_cial performances are performed by foreign groups from Italy, Belgium, Macao, and Australia. The upcoming 2017 ASAF will show about 70 performances including locally-developed the opening and closing performances, 11 of_cial performances, and three international exchange works. In the case of the opening street theatre performance called ‘Hello 2017’, the scale of the performance and citizen participation will be largely increased. In addition, this ASAF will contribute to the growth of street theatre by providing opportunities for new street arts groups to participate.

Interview with People of Street Theatre

Q1. Please introduce yourself.

Hello, my name is Kim Kyung-hee and I am the director of ‘Hello 2017’, the curtain raiser of this year’s Ansan Street Arts Festival (ASAF). My responsibility is to coordinate the work after watching the play as the first audience member and then to help artists not lose track of the topic of their performance while practicing. Originally, I was a stage artist who was very sensitive to performing spaces. Thus, the fact that characters of street theatre have already been created by the image of the place before writing a play seemed attractive to me since I was really interested in analyzing characters developed in the places of performing arts. This made me get interested in starting the street arts, especially street theatre and it also placed me in this position now.

Q2. Can you explain about your work ‘Hello 2017’, the curtain raiser at this year’s ASAF?

newscj.com/‘Hello 2015’

The creative group named NONI that I am currently joining in planned and produced ‘Hello 2017’. The name of the group NONI has the meaning of strolling and playing around, so anyone who wants to enjoy our project can be a member of the group without specified limitation. It now consists of people in various artistic fields such as play, dance, or Parkour, which is the movement of jumping, climbing, and running over obstacles without assistive equipment. In the case of this opening, many citizens and volunteers are also going to participate with our group to open the festival. The project ‘Hello’ started in 2015, so it will be performed for the third time this year. ASAF is known t o b e h e l d e v e r y May, but the festival was canceled once in 2014 due to the sinking of the Sewol ferry which occurred in April, 2014. Therefore, we were cautious to hold the festival the following year, and this is why we created the project named ‘Hello’ which is used when people ask for peace for the purpose of praying peace to each other by performing together.

Q3. What is the most charming aspect of working in street theatre?

First of all, street theatre is different from working inside of a theater even at its planning stage. While general performances need to be written and decided on how they should be acted before rehearsing, street theatre builds a plot at the end of the production process since each outdoor space has its own story. Therefore, it is necessary for artists to first analyze public outdoor spaces in order to make a play suitable with its present space. As it is one of the attractive points of street theatre in my opinion, I tried to spend a lot of time investigating the city of Ansan and the social problems there. Another charming point is that the street theatre is flexible based on the characteristics of the audience and the condition of the surroundings. Most street art changes since there are so many variables such as weather conditions and audience. Of course these things can be considered as dangerous due to their uncertainty, but they do not cause severe problems to street artists who thoroughly prepare for their show with several back-up plans. For this reason, I think the fact that street theatre is made with audiences at the end of the rehearsal is an appealing point compared to other kinds of art.

Q4. Are there any difficulties you face while doing street theatre?

Most Korean street artists agree that there are many difficulties while doing arts in Korea. Among many other things, I think that the most urgent issue preventing the growth of street theatre is the defficiency of public spaces. We, street artists, really require public outdoor spaces to prepare against the many invisible variables. Korea, however, provides few places for street theatre and the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center (SSACC) is the only institution to support street arts. Thus, I hope that the Korean government tries to consider establishing more institutions that aid and educate the street arts and provide outdoor spaces for us. Plus, street arts festivals in Korea need to respect the local history and traditions more than the status quo. The best place for street artists to display performing street art is at local fairs, but there are many cases where a festival experiences a drastic change without sufficient discussion with the artists or citizens. In the case of the Gwacheon Hanmadang Festival, the local government independently changed it into a festival related to horses despite the opposition of the artists and local people. When a festival that has a rich history disappears suddenly, we feel that our history of performing art is destroyed. Therefore, I hope people’s recognition of street theatre will improve, in order to preserve these festivals.

Q5. Do you have any last words for the SKKU Kingos?

The most important thing I realized by performing in street theatre is the preciousness of ‘Now, Here, and Us’. Although street artists perform the same work at the same places, it appears different depending on the surroundings and at that moment. I want Kingos to know that our lives are similar to street theatre, so enjoy and appreciate every single moment of your lives. Many students are tired of their monotonous, repetitive daily lives these days; however, they are not the same at all and are all great works of art composed of different moments. In addition, I hope far more students including the Kingos become more interested in street theatre and participate in street arts festivals like the ASAF after reading this article.

석소은  sou2146@naver.com

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