Sarah and I have just enjoyed our Korean TV debut thanks to our participation in the school’s annual drama festival, the self-proclaimed jewel in the crown of the Kids Club Calendar and, for some, the reason behind weeks of hard work and stress.
Held every September, The Kids Club Drama Festival is as much an opportunity for the students to sing and dance in front of their parents as it is for the school to show off their foreign teachers. This year, the presence of a TV crew meant the stakes were particularly high, and the whole month of September was given over to ensuring everything ran smoothly.
The set up is simple; each student must perform a solo song and participate in a class play, as well as take part in a number of other performances designed to demonstrate their firm and improving grasp of the English Language. The fact that they have just spent a month not learning any new English whatsoever doesn’t really come in to it and is pretty indicative of the Hagwon system, where the appearance of learning is almost as important as the learning itself.Anyway, due to the vagarities of casting or a low estimation of my abilities, I was put in three minor roles, with a total of approximately 8 lines. Sarah on the other hand was given four pretty hefty roles with lots of lines, including Snow White to my Prince – the source of a lot of amusement amongst old and young Koreans alike. Every morning for four weeks we would attend play practice and dutifully chip in our lines, while the Korean Kindegarten teachers slowly exploded with the stress of making 4 – 10 year olds act out a foreign language play with, if not coherence, at least some semblance of continuity.
As the day approached tensions ran high, particularly with regards to some uncertainty over whether we would actually get paid (to inquire about such things in Korea, as we found out, is tantamount to treason) for our efforts. Rehearsals weren’t going well, thanks in no small part to some pretty incoherent scripts, and I was starting to doubt whether it would be pulled off. Thanks to my pretty inconsequential role in things I was able to observe this maelstrom from an emotional distance, but others weren’t quite so lucky. With a huge amount of lines to learn, not to mention a number of song and dance routines, I think it’s fair to say that Sarah was feeling the pressure. After only two bungled rehearsals in the Stalinist Auditorium the stage was set – it was showtime! (sorry.)
The day itself was a bit of a mixed bag. Pissed off as we were about spending our precious Saturday working, the kids excitement was undeniably infectious and the backstage area had a good atmosphere as the teachers paraded their costumes and trundled out onto the stage. Sarah and I were in the first play of the day (Snow White) and I’m not ashamed to admit that it was with trembling legs that I stood in the wings awaiting my cue. When it came (a princely fanfare) I galloped onto the stage to rouse the poisoned Snow White with a concealed, though scandalous, kiss (the kids are still talking about it.) Contrary to my predictions, the day seemed to pass with relatively few hitches and everything appearing to come together, in typical Korean style, at the very last minute.
I’d taken the whole Drama Festival period with a heavy dose of scepticism, but as we were ushered onto stage to mime the final song with the kids (one which we had been given the words to the night before and had never even heard) I began to realise its importance. The mothers were all lined up at the front of the stage throwing their kids flowers, some of them weeping with the emotion of it all (drawing the attention away from the fact that none of us knew the song.). It struck me that this is something that both parents and children (and I) were likely to remember for years to come, and I felt pk to be a part of it.