This year marks the 70th year since the foundation of the National Theater of Korea. It underwent major events of Korea’s modern history including the Korean War while making the audience laugh and cry as the pillar of Korea’s performing arts. The theater has showcased some 3,500 performances and left an indelible mark in the history of performing arts.
The theater opened at Bumingwan on April 29, 1950. It was the first national theater in Asia. It was a miracle back then that the new government laden with work to lay a foundation for the country established a national theater. The aspirations of theatrical artists for a theater led to the 47th Presidential Decree on the Establishment of the National Theater in January 1949, which came to fruition the following year.
On April 30, 1950, “Wonsulang” written by the first theater head Yoo Chi-jin and directed by Heo Seok came on the stage. More than 60,000 people out of 400,000 citizens in Seoul watched the play. The second program “Thunderstorm” was also largely successful and attracted more than 75,000 people for 15 days. “The play resonated with intellectuals so much that it was said those who haven’t seen it were uncultured,” said late actor Kim Dong-won.
The national theater had to move to the Munhwa Theater in Daegu when North Korea invaded into the South on June 25, 1950, the 58th day of its opening. It relocated to a building in Myeong-dong, Seoul four years later and again to a new site in Jangchung-dong in 1973. After the National Symphony Orchestra, Korea National Ballet and Korea National Opera broke away from the national theater in 2010, it now has three groups including the National Orchestra of Korea, the National Changguek Company of Korea and the National Dance Company of Korea.
Most seasonal programs including the 70th anniversary have been delayed or canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. But the theater plans on resuming programs with Chunhyang by the National Changguek Company of Korea. Haeoeum Grand Theater will reopen with the newest facilities at the end of this year. “We are preparing for the next 30 years by strengthening our role as the international cultural hub as a production theater,” said national theater head Kim Cheol-ho.
The National Theater of Korea recently published its 70-year history, which contains the theater’s history and cultural implications to commemorate the 70th year of its foundation.