Looking out the car window, the sight of green vegetation grew darker and a valley began to appear. This is where majestic rocks with curves, groups of pine trees and the bluish-green water all form harmony. Suseungdae, which means "a place with a view so beautiful that one forgets earthly worries," came into view.
When Korea.net staff visited Suseungdae on June 28, preparations for the 32nd annual Geochang International Festival of Theatre were underway. The forest path is a perfect place for summer vacation, with its shallow water and abundance of tree shades. This is also the venue of the nation's oldest outdoor international drama festival, which runs this year from July 22 to Aug. 5, returning for the first time in four years due to internal situations and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Launched in 1989, the event began as the October Theater Festival (unofficial translation) featuring troupes from Gyeongsangnam-do Province. As foreign groups began to participate, the festival in 1995 was expanded to an international theater gala.
Other cities also hold large-scale theater festivals such as Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do Province, and Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do. Yet the one in Geochang-gun is Korea's only event of its kind held mainly outdoors. County residents are proud of natives V, a member of the K-pop sensation BTS, and actor Gang Dong-won, but the festival is another reason to be proud of their community.
The festival eventually spurred the county and the Gyeongsangnam-do government in 2020 to set up Geochang Theater High School.
Under the theme "Midsummer's Night Dream in Geochang," the festival will hold its opening ceremony at 8 p.m. on a stage built near the water. Hwang Kook-jae, art director at the Geochang Cultural Foundation, said, "Only highlights from each work were selected and decorated so that people can see what the entire theater festival looks like during the opening works."
"A variety of performances and dazzling spectacles will be shown on summer nights such as firework drone shows."
Fifty-six groups from eight countries including the U.S., France and Greece will participate and perform 75 plays. Most of their performances are non-verbal, so there will be no language barrier.
The plays to be staged include family productions for visitors with children and 21 fringe theater teams. Fringe theater refers to performances held on the streets irrespective of stages. This genre began in 1947 when small troupes not invited to the Edinburgh International Festival began performing.
Art director Hwang singled out the non-verbal plays of American film director, actor and educator Daniel Izirrary, saying, "(Izzirary's works) are hailed as challenging, charming and unpredictable," adding, "They will provide a unique experience to viewers."
Geochang-gun County Mayor Koo In-mo said, "We consider this year's Geochang International Festival of Theater an opportunity to achieve a major advance, and will do our best to make the event reborn as the nation's leading summer outdoor festival of theater that harmonizes nature and people after the COVID-19 pandemic."
"We will turn Geochang-gun County into a place where performing arts are held year-round."
The county is about 3 1/2 hours away by bus from Nambu Bus Terminal in Seoul's Seocho-gu District. A camping site is in Geochang-gun County for visitors from other regions. For those planning to travel to Korea late this month or early next month, Geochang-gun is recommended for watching performing arts while getting immersed in nature.
More information on the vent is available on the festival's official website (http://www.kift.or.kr/). Admission is KRW 10,000 for adults and KRW 5,000 for teens.