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Independence fighters' parenting saga comes alive in musical

'Jessie's Diary' sheds light on an unusual side of activists amid the Japanese occupation

By Park Ga-young

Published : Sept. 12, 2023 - 16:10

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Actors from Actors from "Jessie's dairy" perform a scene during a press conference on Thursday at Dream Art Center in Daehang-no, Seoul. (Yonhap)

During the Japanese occupation, a man and a woman find love and give birth to a child while in exile in China, anticipating the day when their homeland might regain its sovereignty. Like any other parents, they raise their child, evolving and learning from their experiences.

This story is the real life story of Yang Woo-jo (1897-1964) and Choi Seon-hwa (1911-2003). Yang worked for the Korean Provisional Government, a government-in-exile based in China. Raising their first daughter, whom they named Jessie in the hopes that she might become someone who shines on the world stage, the couple wrote a parenting diary for eight years, from her birth in 1938 until 1946, a year after Korea achieved its independence.

The diary was made available as a book titled “Jessie’s Diary” in 1999 by the couple’s granddaughter. In 2016. it was released as a graphic novel by cartoonist Park Geon-wung.

The story has now been brought to the stage in Seoul as the musical "Jessie’s Diary.”

Oh Se-hyeok, the executive producer of the musical and CEO of Never Ending Play, said that he had wanted to bring the story onto the stage ever since he heard about the story from composer Lee Jin-wook before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The creative staff tried to strike a delicate balance between the two sides of the parents.

"While independence activists have a strong image, I decided to focus on the fact that 'Jessie's Diary' is the parenting diary of inexperienced parents," said Kim Ha-jin, the playwright for "Jessie's Diary," during a press conference on Thursday. "I find the appeal in the actual record of parenting. I worked on it to bring out a cheerful and optimistic atmosphere."

Even though the parents and Jessie have all passed away, the couple’s second daughter, Jenny, attended the show last week.

“She told us that she was really happy to see her parents and older sister on stage. That made me feel a sense of responsibility and I’ll try my best until the end of the show,” Ahn Yoo-jin, one of the three actresses who portray Jessie, said.

“Jessie’s Diary” opened Aug. 29 at Dream Art Center and is set to run until Sept. 29.