An Evening at Korea House

My trip to Seoul was a quick weekend getaway packed with fun and adventure. Over the course of three days I learned a lot about Korean history, went to the top of Seoul Tower, tried Korean Barbecue, went to the DMZ, and met some amazing people along the way; but, by far the highlight of my trip was seeing a traditional folk dance performance at Korea House. To say it was just a dance performance doesn’t nearly encompass all that this show had to offer. Within the hour performers were drumming, singing, painting, danced while using traditional props and costumes and on top of it all were able to tell a compelling story.

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The show presented an adaptation of a famous Korean folk tale “Sim Cheong”. It is the story of a daughter who chooses to sacrifice her life to the sea in order to give her blind father the gift of sight. However, the fairies of the sea reward Sim Cheong for her bravery by saving her life and sending her back to shore in a lotus flower. A King finds Sim Cheong in the lotus flower and is so captivated by her beauty that he asks for her hand in marriage and in turn helps her to reunite with her father. It was wonderful to witness a story that holds such a special place in Korean history and so well demonstrates their culture’s morals.

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The opening number of the show depicted a stormy night at sea. There was a scrim at the front of the stage projecting the storm while four female performers were in formation behind and playing drums that were stacked on either side of them with intricate choreography. Projection was used repeatedly throughout the show to depict different backdrops, and was implemented appropriately into every scene making a very traditional folk tale come to life in a modern way.

There was one particular scene where a performer entered the stage with a white-canvased background behind her. She began by dancing gracefully throughout the space then made her way upstage. With a piece of black pastel she began to draw in large exaggerated strokes on the canvass in front of her, all the while continuing to dance. Only a few moments later a male performer entered the scene to join her. They were both drawing different images while also taking moments to dance together, moving from upstage to downstage in sync with the music and then rushing back to the canvass to work on one another’s pictures. At the end of the piece both performers stepped away from the canvass to showcase a scene of beautiful mountains in the distance in black and white, and then slowly a projection was shone over top to bring colour and life to the canvass. The scene was absolutely breathtaking.

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The audience was comprised of both Koreans and foreigners, which gave the performers the difficult task of overcoming any language barriers. Music, body language and choreography played a big part in telling the story, and narration was also used and projected on the scrim in both Korean and English to share the drama that took place off stage. The actors would also exaggerate their emotions to convey tragedy or bring even more humour into a comedic situation.

The blind father was particularly funny when he entered the stage from the audience looking for Sim Cheong. He stumbled in with his cane sniffing the audience members one by one until he smelled my friend sitting next to me and shouted in triumph thinking she was his daughter. When my friend corrected him and told him her name was Angie the father cried out and slowly began making his way back up to the stage, but not without dropping his cane several times and calling out for Angie to retrieve it for him.

The blind characters continuously got themselves into trouble, and made use of musical cues in their comedic timing, so even without the use of dialogue the audience was able to have a good laugh. The actors also continued to break the fourth wall throughout the show to involve the audience into some of their antics.

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Sim Cheong and the female ensemble were all absolutely stunning. They moved so elegantly with big gaping traditional garments and used fans and flowers that they manipulated to create shapes within their choreography. The lead actress playing Sim Cheong experienced a lot of heartache throughout the story, which was reflected in her slow movements and mournful expressions, while her ensemble dancers always seemed to be her guiding light. The female ensemble played roles like the fairies of the sea saving Sim Cheong from drowning, or palace officials celebrating the wedding of Sim Cheong and the King. Regardless of how hopeless Sim Cheong’s fate would seem the ensemble kept hope for the story with their beautiful soft movements and smiling faces.

At one point in the show three male performers all came onto the stage holding drums and wearing slightly different costumes. Two costumes had ribbons attached to a headpiece and the other had a large feather headpiece. All of the male performers were playing in synchronization and taking turns stepping forward to show of their skills circling and flicking their headpieces. It was incredible to see how they were able to manipulate the ribbons and feathers like rhythmic gymnasts all the while playing their drums, and leaping around the stage.

For the final scene a singer took to the stage as Sim Cheong and her father were finally reunited. She sang a powerful ballad narrating the scene before her, while Sim Cheong and her father were mouthing the singer’s lyrics. It was an interesting choice that emphasized the characters’ shared pain in their loss of time apart, but also highlighted their joy in finding one another again. To celebrate their happy ending all performers entered the stage for a final musical number.

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If you ever find yourself with a free evening in Seoul, go and see a show at Korea House! Their performance combined Korean tradition with modern technology and contemporary humour. The performers exhibited unbelievable talent in a variety of art forms that will continue to blow you away from scene to scene. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed! There is a link down below for Korea House’s website so be sure to check them out before your next trip to South Korea!

https://www.koreahouse.or.kr/en/main

 

The Pros and Cons of Life as a Cruise Ship Performer

Working as a cruise ship performer has never been more appealing. There are now ships sailing around the world, to itineraries from the Mediterranean, to Alaska, and Eastern Asia. Cruise lines are hiring the best of the best choreographers and directors to create their shows and cater them to please every generation and culture. Some shows have even been adapted from the Broadway stage. There is a lot of employment opportunity for both dancers and singers on cruise ships, but there is a lot to consider when it comes to committing to life at sea. Here are a few pros and cons to keep in mind before signing your first ship contract.

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Travelling

 PRO

Obviously a large part of the appeal to cruise ship living is the travel and for good reason! There are ships that sail through the Mediterranean, the Baltics, South America, Caribbean, Australia, Eastern Asia, and Alaska.

Though you may not always get a say in where you set sail to, you can usually put in requests for certain itineraries after you have completed your first contract.

Life at sea can give you the ability to check many places off of your bucket list in a short period of time.

If you are lucky you can also get a chance to join in on certain excursions or tours if they are not booked up ahead of time, and some ships even offer crew tours once a month or so.

CON

The actual amount of time you have to get off the boat and explore can be pretty limited. Most port stops are scheduled between 5-9 hours (though if you’re lucky your itinerary might consist of a few overnights).

It can sometimes take a while to travel from the port into the city or to the beach, and ship employees usually get off the ship after and come back earlier than passengers.

Some cruise lines also require a certain amount of crewmembers to stay on board to ‘man the ship’, so there can be days where you may be required to stay on board while your friends go off to explore.

Crew drill, extra work duties, or tech rehearsals can also keep you from getting off the ship.

Even though you will be travelling to a lot of really cool places, you can count on using a few port days every month, to find decent wifi service. Wifi service on the ship is extremely expensive and usually quite poor, so if your hoping to stay in touch with friends and family back home, cafes with wifi are a necessity.

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Food

 PRO

There is no need for grocery shopping while living life at sea!

Food is free on board, and there is usually quite a selection for every person’s tastes with themed nights that rotate every day of the week.

There are also free restaurants serving three or four course meals, which performers can usually have access to as well.

Every new port you visit will have a lot of new food to offer. You can spend your time on shore eating seafood on the east coast, mofongo in Puerto Rico, or even hitting up McDonalds for that Big Mac you’ve been craving!

CON

Crew members are not always entitled to the best food the ship has to offer. Depending on the cruise line and the ship there are usually rules limiting crew access to the passenger buffet or nicer restaurants.

Restaurant hosts can also have the power to turn any crewmember away should they see fit, whether it be because of high occupancy, or inappropriate attire.

In times when it is not possible to go to the upstairs buffet there is a crew kitchen that serves edible food on a good day, though they are not always guaranteed to be open. Depending on the ship, staff kitchens can have select times to be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and rarely do these times perfectly coordinate to a performers schedule.

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Accommodation

 PRO

ITS FOR FREE! Yes, one of the biggest advantages about living on a cruise ship is not having to pay rent.

Singers are usually guaranteed their own rooms, and depending on the size of the ship dancers can sometimes get lucky enough to end up with a room of their own or in a worst case scenario, you might have to share a room with one other person.

When living on a ship, nothing is more than a 5-10 minute walk away, so commuting to the theatre for those early morning rehearsals won’t be so bad, and a good cocktail is always within reach.

CON

THEY ARE TINY! If you have a history of being claustrophobic ship life is probably not for you.

If you do share a room with someone you will most likely be sleeping in cot sized bunk beds. Walls are thin, bathrooms are cramped, and closet space is extremely limited!

There are also a lot of restrictions in terms of what you are allowed to keep in your room. For example most ships don’t allow any perishable items, candles, extension cords, and some don’t permit any hard liquor.

There are also scheduled cabin inspections, to not only ensure you don’t have anything your not suppose to, but to make sure you are keeping your room clean, and they almost always take place early in the morning.

 

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The Work

PRO

Is there anything better than getting paid to do what you love? As a performing artist it’s not uncommon to question where your next pay check will come from, but a contract on a cruise ship can guarantee at least 5-8 months of employment!

The shows obviously vary depending on the ship, cruise line, and itinerary, but you will most likely be cast to perform in what suits your style. Shows can exhibit many styles of dance including ballroom, tap, hip-hop, and contemporary. Some ships even have Broadway musical theatre shows, and some require aerial skills.

You can pretty much count on being challenged and satisfied by the end of any performance day.

During the days you don’t have scheduled performances you can end up with a lot of free time on your hands, which can give you a chance to be productive or take advantage of all the ship has to offer.

CON

When working on ships, performing on stage is almost never your only job. Most ships will also give performers side duties to perform throughout the cruise, that can be anything from teaching dance classes, to operating the ship library.

It’s also not uncommon for dancers to be given safety responsibilities during the passenger drill, in other words if the ship is going down you can be partially responsible for gathering people and helping them into lifeboats.

It’s also important to keep in mind that while living on a cruise ship you are always at work, so anything you do, say and wear has to reflect that at all times.

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The People

 PRO

 While working on ships you will be surrounded by people from around the world, which can give you the opportunity to learn a little bit about different culture’s, and traditions.

You will also be living and performing with the same people for 6-9 months, so your cast mates can become your family. It’s easy to develop strong and meaningful bonds, and there are so many benefits to having close friends all over the world, (including reasons to visit)!

CON

If you happen to not get along with your cast mates, you can count on some rough times at sea. Any drama that happens on board feels ten times more important than it actually is because you have no way to escape it.

Even if you are lucky enough to make some amazing friendships, its never easy saying goodbye at the end of contract.

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If you are interested in working as a performer on a cruise ship feel free to contact me with any questions. If you have previously worked on ships and have anything you would like to share leave a comment down below!

If you enjoyed this post check out my other posts about ‘Auditioning as a Dancer for Disney’, and ‘Performing in the Middle East’.

DANCING IN THE MIDDLE EAST

In September of 2015 I had the privilege of performing in Doha, Qatar during the Eid al-Adha Festival. It was my first real professional job out of school, and I was so excited to finally be paid to do what I love to do most. It was also my first time travelling to the Middle East and I had no idea what to expect, and had never even heard of the Eid al-Adha Festival.

It was overwhelming to think of performing in a place and for a culture I knew so little about. I mean, everything I knew about travelling in the Middle East I had learned from watching Sex and the City 2… so it was safe to say I had a lot of research to do before hopping on a plane.

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Here are a few of the obvious questions that came to mind…

Where is Qatar?

Qatar is a small country on the northern border of Saudi Arabia, and it is about an hour flight from Dubai.

What is the Eid al-Adha Festival?

The Eid al-Adha Festival is an Islamic event celebrating Ibrahim’s commitment to Allah, and his willingness to sacrifice his own son. It is a celebrated holiday in many Muslim countries, and observed slightly differently around the world.

What are some of the Cultural Expectations?

In Qatar, modesty is more so a necessity than a virtue. It is common for local men to wear thobes and many women wear abayas (both are lose fit garments that conceal the body’s shape). However, tourists are expected to cover themselves more or less from shoulders to knees.

Physical contact between men and women in public is strictly prohibited. This includes kissing, hugging, holding hands and everything in between.

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My Cast mate Josh and I doing our best not to get too close for a photo

As a travel enthusiast I always hope to respect each new country’s history, culture, and traditions regardless of how different they may be to my own. I believe that is the joy of travelling, to witness a new way of living and learn from it. But I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous about performing as a dancer in a country with such a strict moral code.

Growing up as a dancer in Canada, I was always encouraged to show off my body. In fact, teachers in most of my classes didn’t allow students to wear baggy clothing. Almost all of the styles of dance I studied included some type of partner work, and teachers often used physical contact to correct my posture or to offer their support. And now I was going to be dancing on stage with both men and women, performing tricks that show off my flexibility, and wearing what might be considered revealing costumes, all at a religious festival in one of the most conservative countries in the world…

 

The Show

The show was Alice in Wonderland, and I was cast as a member of the ensemble playing roles like a flower, the Dormouse, and one of the Queen’s Cards. It was a forty-minute children’s show with dialogue, dance, and pop music songs meant to string the story together.

The Venue was a built up outdoor stage in the Souq Wakif in Doha. We performed the show twice a day, which was not an easy task considering the desert heat in early September averaged around 40°C. After each performance we were asked to parade around the souq, and interact and take photos with the audience.

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The Costumes

The costumes were designed to be conservative. All of the performers were covered from elbows to ankles, which felt a little overbearing considering the desert heat. But the costumes were still form fitting enough to grant us all full range of motion to kick, leap and turn (think leggings and a long sleeve top).

The Shared Dressing Room

Believe it or not we shared a dressing room…yes, in a country that doesn’t allow unmarried men and women to share a hotel room, our whole cast shared a dressing room. It was a small, enclosed, air-conditioned room with no room dividers or bathrooms to change in.

Growing up as a dancer in Canada I lost all sense of propriety when it came to my body (at least in a performer friendly environment), so the thought of changing in front of my cast mates wasn’t a problem. But it seemed a little ironic that in a place where I was suppose to cover up everything between my knees and shoulders, I was also expected to change in front of my coworkers.

 

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Audience Reaction

Considering the official language of Qatar is Arabic, and our show was performed in English, I wasn’t sure how much of the story the audience would be able to understand, but the they seemed to really enjoy it nonetheless. Throughout the show the children were clapping and dancing along to the music. When the performance came to an end there was a loud round of applause and before we were even finished with our bows there was a line of guests waiting to greet us by the side of the stage.

I was so excited and ready to meet all of the young fans in the audience. The whole cast went out together and we had a few of the local entertainment staff accompany us as security, to ensure nobody got lost in the crowds.

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I quickly realized that even though I was technically covered from wrist to ankle our costumes were still considered scandalous for Qatari culture. I wasn’t sure how the local women would react to seeing us so exposed and performing for their children. I was afraid we might be judged for our revealing costumes.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

All of the women were so lovely. We were greeted with smiles, and words of encouragement as we walked through the souq. Many women were asking for photos and fighting for a spot in line, and I was even handed a few babies to take pictures with. I felt like a celebrity.

The local men were also eager to take photos with the all of us foreign performers. Unfortunately, a few of my female cast mates said they were felt up while taking pictures with some of the male audience members in the crowd. In that moment it was clear that some of the men felt a sense of entitlement to the female dancers  “showing off” their figures; but of course, this is an issue that many dancers (and women in general) face regardless of what they are wearing or what country they are in. However, I personally was approached by a lot of respectful male guests, many of which were taking photos with their children.

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What I Learned

On one of our days off, the cast took a group trip into the desert. We were able to ride camels, drive over sand dunes and take a swim in the Persian Golf. Across the water we were able to see the border of Saudi Arabia, where women are granted very limited rights in comparison to the rest of the world. A woman in Saudi Arabia is not allowed to accept any job without the consent of a male guardian, and female Saudi Arabian performers are hard to come by. In that moment while looking over to the Saudi Arabian Shore, I couldn’t help but feel so incredibly blessed for the freedom I have been given to pursue my dreams.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Doha. It was such an honour to perform at such a significant festival in Qatari culture. Even though I was halfway across the world, dancing for people that didn’t necessarily speak my language, or share my same principles I was still able to create a connection through storytelling, and I am so thankful for that!

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