As the strict COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen in South Korea, the popularity of theater performances, such as musicals, are skyrocketing. One particular performance rapidly drawing public attention and critical acclaim is “King Arthur.”
The musical “King Arthur,” originally titled “La Légende du roi Arthur'' in French, is a rendition of the ancient legend of Arthur, the defender of Britain against the Saxon invasion. It includes well-known characters from the tale, such as Merlin, Guinevere, Mordred, and Morgan le Fay. Although loosely based on the original legend, this musical was intended as a modern reinterpretation of the story, adapting a French musical style and adding unique facets such as Celtic pop numbers and choreography based on a harmony of ballet and street dance.
Hong Ryoon-hee, an alumna of Ewha Womans University, took the role of Morgane, the French interpretation of Morgan le Fay in “King Arthur.” The now renowned musical actress pursued the path of theater arts after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in the Department of Vocal Music in 2003.
When she first started her career, Hong faced many obstacles. The concept of teamwork was entirely new for her, as she was no longer performing by herself, but as a cast member of a musical. To her, interacting with other actors onstage and backstage differed entirely from her experience performing as a solo vocalist.
Hong expressed that being a part of a musical cast is very different from even an ensemble or a choir because the actors never practice alone. Even backstage, everyone always operates as a group when going through lines and numbers. Although it was difficult to adjust at first, she believes overcoming this new performance method taught her the true meaning of teamwork.
Hong’s inspiration and motivation for acting come from not only the music and melody or the cheers of the audience, but also from the hidden efforts behind the performance itself.
“The actors are all the audience sees, but we cannot forget the authors, editors of the script, the backstage crew, and everyone else whose efforts make the performance possible,” she explained. “They just as well may be the real stars of the show.”
On her new character within the “King Arthur” musical, Morgane, Hong explained that although portrayed as the evil villain, Morgan is actually the center of tragedy. Morgane, the older sister of Arthur, had to witness her mother’s death caused by her brother’s birth. Ever since, the character is convinced that love does not exist in this world and continues to bottle up negative emotions inside herself. Traumatized by her childhood and angry at the world, Morgane vows to take revenge on those that made her so unhappy, starting with Arthur.
“King Arthur” is not only famous for its melodical numbers, but also for its unique choreography. Hong said she had a number which involved vogue dancing, which was a difficult yet entertaining learning experience.
As her favorite scene within this musical, Hong named the ending scene with Arthur’s speech where he asks the audience a philosophical question on life, specifically about which each person wishes to choose ahead of themselves when faced with a myriad of choices. Hong recalled that this speech deeply resonated with her because while being phrased as a question, it also delivered the message that whatever the result one may face in the future, one should not regret today’s decision.
Hong’s notable part of her own acting method is attempting to portray a character’s humanely relatable emotions to the audience.
“No character, even the villain, is truly evil to the core,” she said. “In the end, they are all human. I believe it is my job as the actress to convey the character’s raw, utterly human emotions to the audience and make them understand and relate to my character.”
Like every other career, being a musical actress can put one through many emotional ups and downs. Hong confessed that she was no exception and goes through periodic burnouts and slumps. In these situations, she tries to keep herself busy other jobs and recharge by taking a break from acting, instead going to teach vocal lessons, and lecturing for students at academies and schools.
Hong wishes to tell the students at Ewha Womans University who are currently struggling to find a career path right for themselves to slow down, take a breath, and focus on their current selves rather than trying to plan every step of life ahead of time.
“For some reason, many students I meet think they fell behind everyone else, and it is already too late to catch up,” she said. “But in reality, everyone is insecure of their current selves and doubting their futures. It is never just you struggling alone.”
Hong thinks that although setting high goals for oneself is important, not achieving one’s ultimate goals should not always mean failure.
“Do not lie to yourself and deny you have flaws, because those imperfections are a part of who you are,” she said. “I encourage everyone to accept that you cannot live up to everyone’s standards. Instead, try setting your own boundaries for growth within a realistic range, and do what makes you feel happy with yourself.”