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Line 1

Posted March. 08, 2006 03:07,   


On March 29, the musical “Line 1” will make its 3,000th performance, an unprecedented number.

Hakchon Theater’s “Line 1”is the first ever single performance to reach the 3,000 mark. The first show ran in 1994.

On March 6, Dong-A Ilbo met with President Kim Min-gi of the Hakchon Theater at his office in Daehakno and congratulated him. In reply, he laughed off embarrassedly “Well, it’s not something that great.”

“On February 2000, we had our 1,000th performance, and the original play writer, German Volker Ludwig, actually visited Korea and told me that it would be great to have a 2,000th show, to which I replied, ‘That’s a curse.’ But he came back in November 2003 for the 2,000th performance and wished for a 3,000th show. At the time I just shook my head, but here we are with the 3,000th performance,” Kim said.

Will the show go on to make its 4,000th and 5,000th performance? He calmly answered, “The musical will continue to perform while there is an audience. What this piece has enjoyed is already overwhelming. I don’t think we should be any greedier.”

Nevertheless, with a crowd of 600,000 having watched “Line 1,” the theater is still crowded. In Daehakno, where most theaters are struggling to attract an audience, the theater has a paying audience of 80 to 85 percent occupying its seats.

As it is well known, this piece is an adapted version of a German musical with the same title. However, only the part where an East German girl falls in love with a rocker and moves to Berlin is used, as a Yenbian girl coming to Seoul looking for the father of her unborn baby, the fruit of one night of passion. The similarity ends there, and the rest has been completely adapted in the Korean way.

In “Line 1” there are all types of characters ranging from a street food cart supervisor, prostitutes, homeless, a half-American Korean with a U.S. soldier for a father, a wealthy Gangnam woman, foreign workers, subway vendors, and unemployed workers. Eleven actors portray about 80 characters that depict Seoul in the 1990s.

In fact, the Korean version of “Line 1” has been more successful than the original German musical, which has only recently passed the 1,200th performance mark. When the Korean version surpassed the 1,000th mark, the original German writer provided the great gift of exempting royalty fees for the “longest ever running German theatrical production abroad.”

As for his happiest moment with “Line 1,” Kim mentions 1996 when the average seat occupancy rate was an astounding 104 percent.

“For the first time, the actors earned more than I did. At the time my salary was two million won but Sul Kyoung-gu earned 2.5 million won. Ten years ago such money in Daehakno was considered a fortune. I was so happy because I thought I had achieved what I had dreamt of.”

What is the secret to the show’s longevity?

“Most of the characters are dark and have difficulties. In the viewpoint of the exploited and the exploiters, one would think that they would carry anger against their enemy, the exploiting class. However, that is not true. The people are healthy and optimistic. Otherwise, they would never be able to keep living. The power of hope is much stronger than the power of hatred.”

In this respect, Kim considers the part where a North Korean native old lady sings in the latter part of the first act, “Living is such great thing baby,” as the climax of the entire musical. The song, filled with hope, might be Kim’s song, who was once the symbol of resistance with his song “Morning Dew,” toward the world.

Part of the song goes, “Being alive until I can hear, move, and stand leaning, until the moment I can hardly breathe my last breaths, still, being alive is really great, don’t you think so, people?”

Sue-Jean Kang sjkang@donga.com