10 years since the founding of multicultural theater company ‘Salad’

Acting is basic… Immigrant artists do everything from directing, staging, and lighting

Multinational members such as Mongolia, the Philippines, and China also recently performed multicultural creative musicals.

“We’re not good at Korean, but we speak the script well… Because it’s our story, we know it best.”

Yoon So-yeon (Chosun Ilbo News Paper Reporter, 2014)

Ironworks Alley in Mullae-dong, Seoul. At some point, the sound of singing began to spread in this place where only the sound of metal could be heard. Occasionally, I can hear the clumsy pronunciation of Korean. The troupe ‘Salad’, made up of multinational immigrants, has set up a 20-pyeong practice room here and is preparing for a performance. Eight foreign students and marriage migrant women from Mongolia, the Philippines, Kyrgyzstan, China, and the United States are active. The actors, the stage director, and the director are all in charge.

“I went to study in Germany to learn film. As I was discriminated against there, I naturally became interested in the issue of immigrants. In 2005, after returning to Korea, ‘Salad’ was made only by staff from multicultural families. Like salad, it means that various people can live together. At a time, the term ‘multicultural’ didn’t even exist.”

Members of the multicultural theater company Salad gathered for a rehearsal for the musical “Sucry.” From left: Nash Ang (Philippines), Margaret Kim (USA), Lorna De Mateo (Philippines), CEO Park Kyong Ju, Urna (Mongolia), Valdez Ma Glaiza (Philippines), Lan Chienwha (China). Copyright of image Ⓒ Chosun Ilbo

Park Kyong Ju (46), CEO of Salad, started with broadcasting and expanded her career to plays and musicals. Currently, she is concentrating on operating the theater company. In May, 10 years after its establishment, the government recognized it as a social enterprise. The creative musical ‘Suklay’ was performed for three days from the 11th to commemorate this. As the audience, mainly multicultural families and the underprivileged were invited.

The script was written by Park herself, based on the experience of her 5th-grade son being bullied by his friends. It is about Gyeong-hee, a second-generation member of a multicultural family, bullied by his classmate Jin-ju, but eventually reconciled. It was directed by Lorna De Matteo (35) from the Philippines. She said, “Even though it seems to be dealing with a multicultural family, in the end, it is pointing out problems in our society, such as bullying. I also wanted to point out the social atmosphere that seldom apologizes.” In the play, while singing Filipino songs, Kyung-hee, Jin-ju, and even her mother get along well together.

The operation of the troupe ‘Salad’ was not smooth. Since most of the members are married immigrant women, they had to overcome the difficulties of working housewives as well as the prejudice against immigrants. There have been many times when the husbands of the Salad members came to visit and threatened CEO Park. It was also not uncommon for members who had not received any acting training to leave to raise children or work in a factory to earn money just before they were barely trained and put on stage.

“The career interruption of migrant women is also serious. Husbands support it thinking it is a ‘hobby’ at first, but they hate it when there are frequent local performances or late-night rehearsals.

Only members who are passionate enough to fight with their husbands all night and come to the practice room with swollen eyes are now left.”

The practice of ‘Salad’ takes three to four times longer than other Korean troupes. This is because they communicate by using a mixture of Korean, English, and Tagalog. We eat together in the practice room every day for at least a month before the performance and live together. Free performances are held at multicultural schools across the country more than five times per work. “Because the nationalities of the actors are diverse, children from multicultural families in the audience cry as if they think of their mothers.”

CEO Park said, “Another big wall is the prejudice that ‘it must be an amateur’.” It is a prejudice that Koreans do all the directing, scenarios, and technical support, and that only actors go on stage as ‘face madame’, which symbolizes multiculturalism. However, migrant members are in charge of both the stage and the lighting. Over 50 foreigners have been through the troupe. In the early days, they only acted, but these days they got used to it and solved everything themself.

Mateo, who has been working as an actor and director in Salad for four years, said, “Sometimes people from multicultural backgrounds are treated as children because they are not familiar with the Korean language and culture, but once people see the play, their gaze completely changes.” She said, “Even though they stutter in Korean, everyone memorizes the script, and maybe that’s why the impression the audience gets is more than doubled,” she said. Ⓒ Chosun Ilbo News Paper

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