Monday, May 12, 2008

Exit Napoleon Pursued by Rabbits

I am of course an actor, playing a part, and I have been since I got here. I always knew this was the way it would be, and it's one of the reasons I chose to title every entry in this blog after a dramatic work. Free will or fate? You know my answer, and as Laplace's demon has inevitably revealed itself as my time in Busan unfolded, I have followed the script as it has been delivered to me, trying my best to fade into the background as an extra, but all the while feeling I was being watched as though I was walking centre-stage.

Standing outside the theatre on the Kyungsung University campus where a film crew is hovering, I felt the inevitability of them being drawn towards me, and a minute later I am once again stood next to a student union building giving an interview - different country, same modus operandi - smile, be diplomatic, don't start a riot.

What do I think of the festival so far? Let me explain how my life works here - "There's a mime, do you want to go? OK." Context often comes in retrospect, and I'm usually far too busy to worry about something until it happens. So I've seen some banners for the Busan International Performing Arts Festival, quickly put two and two together, and explain how this is my first event so I really don't have a view yet, but how I'm sure it's great for Busan and a good way of promoting the city internationally. Please don't ask any deeper questions about what I'm here to watch because the first time I glanced at the script was a couple of hours ago and I certainly haven't studied it in any detail.

We are here to see Exit Napolean Pursued By Rabbits, performed - I discover once I get home - by Nola Rae, or rather, Nola Rae MBE - making her a Member of the Order of the British Empire, which is more than I'll ever be, particularly if I keep taking the Empire to court. Which is all to say that Nola Rae is moderately well-known, and certainly well-respected back home in the Empire, so this then, is no ordinary mime.

Before this revelation I'm just hoping that attending doesn't transpire to be a mistake. I've arrived in a group with twelve other people and I've been told the mime is British. so even though this wasn't my idea I can't help feeling that like everything else which is British in Korea, it reflects on me to some extent. I needn't have worried though, because the Koreans apparently loved it, despite some finding themselves dragged onto the stage. They should be used to it anyway, because I have yet to attend anything here where there members of the audience weren't conscripted as part of the entertainment. I always try my best to appear invisible at these points; I'm already on the stage in Korea without being on it literally, and I only want to carry the metaphor so far. But here's a tip if you don't want your fifteen minutes of fame here, don't sit on the front row. I suppose that's life all over. Participation eventually extended to the whole audience, which evidently wasn't to The Times of London's liking, but as Ms. Rae made puppets of us all from the stage, I thought surely this was the point. Did we refuse to stand, to gesture, to make fools of ourselves or was it easier to go along with arbitrary and illogical diktats of someone commanding the majority? After the show, it was our hosts turn to be on the spot as an audience member suddenly burst out that it was Children's Day in Korea the next day and 'requested' that the performer pose for pictures with all the children in the audience. Exit Napoleon had demonstrated how quickly one dictator can be fall and be replaced by another, perhaps in more ways than one.

I've never sat through 75 minutes of mime before, unless you count two years I worked under an old boss, so I wasn't sure it would appeal to me, although it held my interest - and not just because the material seemed vaguely autobiographical. But while we cycled through various European dictators some uncertainty was voiced to me afterwards as to how many of the references the local audience picked up on. It's easy to grow up with a Euro-centric view of history and not appreciate how the 'important global events' taught in school turn out to be merely important European ones, with little coverage of, or meaning to, our Asian peers. In the question and answer session which followed the performance someone asked about the genesis of the work and Nola Rae commented on the importance of opposing dictators, a message which does, however, have a particular resonance here.

On the way out the film crew caught me again and once again I offered my diplomatic answers. For some reason, this time they were quite keen for me to say 'something unknown... fighting!' to the camera, where the something unknown is presumably the name of whatever group they belonged to. So one moment we are condemning dictators and the next we are shouting 'Korea Fighting!' or whatever other cause you want to rally people's base emotions to. It seems we walk a fine line indeed. I did it of course; it was in the script.

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