|Members of ROTHEMS are practicing for their barrier-free musical, The Ballad of Pimatgol. Photo provided by ROTHEMS.
The music, dancing, heartfelt messages of a musical can bring enlightening amusement to an audience and even bring them to tears. The magic of a theatrical performance is at many times anticipated, but there are some individuals who cannot share the wonders of musicals as much as others.
“I have always wanted to enjoy Korean musicals and shows, as they are famous for their diversity and sense of humor, especially at Daehak-ro,” said Kim San, an exchange student from King’s College, United Kingdom. “However, as my Korean is not fluent enough to fully understand and enjoy the performance, I reckon I’d rather not go and see one.”
Though there are more than 100 theaters for various performances, including plays and comedy shows at Daehak-ro, which is also well-known for musicals, not many foreigners or people with disabilities can enjoy them.
According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, only 6 to 7 percent of people with disabilities were enjoying performing arts in the form of watching and appreciating shows. Due to language barriers and physical difficulties, foreigners and people with disabilities are not able to enjoy shows as much as the larger Korean audience.
In face of such situation, some people are making efforts to break down the wall between them and the majority, and Yonsei University’s central musical club ROTHEMS (Run on The Musical Stage) is one such group leading the way.
This month, ROTHEMS is holding their 18th regular musical performance, The Ballad of Pimatgol, as their second barrier-free musical with Korean and English subtitles. It is a romantic story of a couple under an apricot tree that for a long time has protected Pimatgol, meaning Horse-Avoiding Alley in Korean, which is a narrow alleyway over 600 years old in downtown Seoul. The musical will be held at the Concert Hall in the Centennial Memorial Hall at Yonsei University from Sep. 4 to 7 for 7,000 won for reservations.
ROTHEMS tries to make a barrier-free performance culture for both the disabled and foreigners through various services such as Korean narration in real time for visually impaired people, Korean subtitles for hearing-impaired people, and English subtitles for foreigners.
“We decided to prepare barrier-free musicals after one handicapped audience told us that she could not understand any of the actors’ words at our show and decided to never go see a musical again,” said a member of the ROTHEMS team.
After six months of ceaseless effort, ROTHEMS succeeded in staging a barrier-free musical. Starting in March, the club installed subtitles, narration monitors, tools and devices at their theaters and had their very first barrier-free show.
The first barrier-free show was provided for free so that potentially anyone could experience the show and have their chance to appreciate performance arts without any burden. The 600 audience seats included 20 for visual impairments, 20 for hearing impairments, and 10 for those with other physical challenges.
Other movements toward promoting barrier-free performance arts are also spreading. Studio Musical is an audio theater in Korea that produces audio-based musicals similar to radio dramas. The barrier-free music drama I Lost My Dad was held with real-time sign language, delivered by professionals for the hearing-impaired audience.
“I hope the day when everyone can enjoy musicals and share the joy regardless of differences in appearance, ability and language comes in the near future,” said Lee Seon-Hyeong, a member of ROTHEMS. “Until then, I will try to provide great performances with my team to reach the goal of providing an ultimate barrier-free performance art; as for the rights of the disabled are not limited to a simple problem as basic living.”