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‘Open Theater 2020’ to run ‘health check’ on drama scene

Shim Jae-cheon, head of the organizing committee of “Open Theater 2020,” speaks during a press conference Monday in central Seoul. (Yonhap)
Shim Jae-cheon, head of the organizing committee of “Open Theater 2020,” speaks during a press conference Monday in central Seoul. (Yonhap)

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced its plans for the “Open Theater 2020” project, aiming to invigorate the theater scene. Instead of presenting a large number of plays, the project will run a diagnostic test on the current state of the country’s drama scene.

“Open Theater 2020” will consist of 14 programs -- including seminars, talks and workshops -- all focused on creating a healthier theater scene. The project worth 2.1 billion won ($1.74 million) is being held with three goals: creating a safe production environment, nurturing a sustainable ecosystem and diversifying communication with audiences.

“This project is not about presenting plays,” Shim Jae-cheon, head of the organizing committee, said at a press conference Monday in central Seoul. Shim is a well-known stage director with more than 30 years in the theater scene. “‘Open Theater 2020’ is about checking the health of the stage art environment to suggest a direction for the future.”

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought the stage arts scene in Korea to a near complete stop. “Now it is time to define a new relationship between the stage and the audience. The coronavirus has led us to a new era, we have to think about how to live with this virus,” said Shim.

This is the second time the “Open Theater” event is being held, following the previous engagement in 1991. In April 2019, Culture Minister Park Yang-woo announced the designation of the year 2020 as an “Open Theater” year, delivering the government’s desire to support the stagnant theater scene which has suffered recently from #MeToo and blacklist issues.

The 14 projects will be held around the country, involving more than 400 figures from the theater scene, according to Shim.

The projects include the launch of a call center for theater figures, setting proper wages for theater production, creating a network for young theater figures, launching a job matching app, shining a light on lesser known productions in the history of Korea’s theater development and more. Plays for children and young people will be produced, as most plays targeting younger audiences were canceled earlier in the year. Talks on gender equality in drama will be held too.

“Plays are mirrors reflecting the present. In preparation for the post-coronavirus era, this year will be a chance to freshen up. We should be healthy ourselves to be able to offer the audiences healthy content,” Bang Ji-young, head of the Korean chapter of the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People, said at the conference.

Though titled “Open Theater 2020,” some of the projects are to continue beyond the end of the year.

“Some of these projects should be pursued consistently,” Shim said. “We are looking into having some related institutions follow up on some of the projects.”

By Im Eun-byel (