Reflection on Spark in Seoul, Korea
The American Culture Center at Sogang University
November 19, 2012
Coordinated by Kyung-Sook Boo and Claire Chambers
by Claire Chambers
After the reading, the student cast and audience began to discuss the relationships among the characters. To get students thinking about the dynamics of character relationship, I asked the basic question any actor poses to him or herself: “What does my character want?” Although most of the students had no prior acting experience, their responses were varied and deeply reflective, demonstrating that through this reading, they had begun to piece together vivid subtextual, internal lives for their characters.
The following are paraphrased responses from the cast and audience (taken from my hand-written notes).
Hye Won as Ali: I think Ali wants freedom. She is so energetic; she wants to explore. But most of all, she wants a father, and I think she sees an image of her father in Lexie. She looks to Lexie as a role model because she feels the loss of her father…Lexie stands in for that lost father figure.
Jun Soo as Hector: He wants happiness, and new life. He wants to add happiness to the lives of others. Maybe he is a kind of nurturer. He wants to take care of the sisters and especially Evelyn.
Dien as Evelyn: Evelyn is really complicated. She definitely wants what is best for her family, but seems disconnected from Lexie and Ali. She’s not really tuned into what they need, even though she works so hard to try to provide that for them. She wants to be in control, but she doesn’t like being in control either. She doesn’t want to have to be in control. She’s the bread-winner, the head of the family, but that responsibility weighs on her. She has a hard time expressing herself; she’s in conflict with herself.
Jeeyun as Lexie: Maybe it sounds too vague but I think Lexie just wants to be. She has been through and experienced so much, which has been so different from what Evelyn and others see on a daily basis. How can she explain it to them? She just wants to be herself, just exist, without having to re-think…somehow she wants to take out all she’s experienced in the past five years, put it aside, and breathe. But that experience is also her crown. It’s what sets her apart from her sisters. That’s why she says, “You don’t know what I’ve been through.” She doesn’t like the war, but it’s her main accomplishment. She tries to not be aloof, but can’t express herself. She doesn’t want to fight with Evelyn, but she can’t seem to communicate in any other way. When Lexie enters a scene, things immediately get tense. She doesn’t like that this happens, but at the same time she does like it.
Seunghoon as Vaughn: He’s there to support Lexie, maybe to act as a mirror to her of her sacrifice. With the litany of all the places he has family in the world, he becomes a kind of universal soldier, someone who finds purpose everywhere. But at the same time, because he’s like a ghost, it’s as if he is nowhere. He could be Lexie’s father, but we can’t be sure. Maybe he is all the fathers who have gone to war and then can’t come home. Or they come back, but they can’t really come “home”.
Lorraine Hansberry once said, “In order to create the universal, you must pay very close attention to the specific.” Our SPARK reading allowed us to educate ourselves about military culture in the USA, and especially the challenges faced by female soldiers both during active duty and upon discharge. But even more importantly, the specific politics of SPARK allowed us to dive deep into its human landscape. Working with the cast in rehearsal and in the reading, I was immediately impressed with the students’ ability to connect with this script in a personal way, despite the great differences in age, experience, and culture between the students and the characters they portrayed. I think SPARK was so accessible because it speaks to themes that they, as international exchange students and Korean nationals living in Seoul, already know intimately: what it is like to feel in a kind of limbo between different cultures, languages, and communities; what it is like to leave your family, to grow into a different person, and then return marked by that change; what it is like to not be able to fully express your thoughts or experience to someone who is not part of your particular context. Because SPARK explores themes of departure, exile, and homecoming, it is also a play about communicating—or attempting to communicate, to various degrees of success—across those invisible yet still viscerally tangible borders that spring up between people when they find themselves separated by events and experiences for which they weren’t fully prepared. It’s also about the ethical responsibilities involved in negotiating crossings of those borders into sensitive territories of emotion and desire. That these students were able, after only one rehearsal, to start sketching the complicated emotional map of this play—and to become cartographers of their own emotional terrain—speaks greatly to SPARK’s sensitivity and appeal as not only a family but a human drama.
Claire Chambers teaches 20th Century Drama in the Department of English at Sogang University in Seoul, Korea. Her articles appear in Performance Research, Liturgy Journal, Performance and Spirituality, and Ecumenica. She writes about intersections between religion, spiritality, theatre, cultural politics, and performance, broadly conceived. www.practicingapophasis.