The Brecht-brand and German Theatre in South Korea

Jan Creutzenberg*


When German-language drama reached colonial Korea via Japan in the early twentieth century, reception first adhered to then common notions of “Western civilization.” Bertolt Brecht was first mentioned amongst other authors of German literature in newspaper articles in the 1930s. Along with his plays and theories, Brecht, then, experienced an interesting career in post-war South Korea, from countercultural idol of academics and forbidden fruit of theatre practitioners to modern classic, on the one hand, inspiration for experimentation, on the other. This essay explores Korean-German theatre relations by tracing the twists and turns in the reception of Brecht. The image of a distant yet timely author worth studying was cemented by scholars of German literature amidst Cold War censorship, decades before the first officially sanctioned production in 1988. Headed by a German guest-conductor and billed as a musical, this Korean premiere of the Threepenny Opera reached wider audiences but let down Brecht scholars. Responses to this and other productions showed that the newly attained liberty to stage, adapt and appropriate Brecht’s work had limits, imposed by the overarching “brand” Brecht had become. Recently, works by directors of different backgrounds show attempts of rebranding and reclaiming Brecht, though, from combinations with Korean tradition to playful remixes commenting on post-COVID society. Their implications, put in perspective with discourses on “German” culture at large, contribute to a mapping of performative exchanges between Korea and Germany, including the underlying imaginaries. The changing Brecht-brand, focal point of this essay, furthermore, offers a critical perspective on the cultural capital attached to his name, the use-value of his writings and the aspirations of his affiliates.

Keywords: Korea, Germany, Bertolt Brecht, epic theatre, postdramatic theatre, branding, adaptation

Bertolt Brecht’s relation to Asia is historically loaded, to say the least. Both his plays and theories have drawn inspiration from theatre traditions in Japan, China and elsewhere, often by way of distorting them.[1] On the other hand, responses to Brecht in various Asian countries, conducted for diverging motives, range from imitation to parody, often encompassing forms of “cross-cultural appropriation” that are at odds with classic interpretations, in “a creative, dynamic process of reinterpreting and retooling certain of Brecht’s ideas or techniques” (Bodden 380). Whether with a political agenda attached or not, as a provider of impulses that may turn traditions up-side down, Brecht’s travels across the globalized world are closely linked to political, economic and cultural flows, from the Cold War era to current crises.

In South Korea, different from its closest neighbors and premodern cultural influencers China and Japan, the reception of Brecht has been complicated and partly delayed by decades of anti-communist censorship. Beginning with the first officially sanctioned production of the Threepenny Opera in 1988, ways of staging Brecht took various twists and turns, both continuing and circumventing strands of reception explored by Korean scholars before. Untangling this process, from the first mentions of Brecht in the early twentieth century to recent productions under pandemic restrictions, is the task of this essay. How is Brecht staged and discussed in Korea? How do audiences react to the resulting performances? And how do various agents contribute to wider discourses on Brecht and German theatre?

Tracing the pathways opened by these questions, this essay is guided by the notion of a “Brecht-brand,” defined as the set of associations projected onto Brecht, both the person and his work.[2] As such, the Brecht brand is historically contingent, influenced by philological, cultural and political developments, as well as the success or failure of theatrical practice. Throughout the brand’s transformations, the power granted to those who act in Brecht’s name likewise changes. In order to partake in this power, control over the brand is crucial but, as my assessment of its historical development in Korea shows, rarely permanent.

Methods of branding include material and immaterial practices. André Lefevere, for instance, shows how different forms of “rewriting”—translation, adaptation and critical responses—have played a crucial role in the canonisation of Brecht in post-war Great Britain and argues that “rewriters, often operating with an agenda of their own, play the most important part in the acculturation” (109). The efforts undertaken by Brecht himself from an early age, in an attempt at “moulding his own self-image” (Parker 102), brought to perfection not least through instructive writings and model works, are well known.[3] But the ubiquity of references to Brecht both in theatrical theory and practice begs the question whether the term “Brechtian” has been rendered “a more or less fashionable label to enhance theatre work ranging from performance art to agitprop,” as Michael Patterson, arguing for Brecht’s continuing relevance as method rather than style, suggested in 1994 (276).

Instead of reducing “Brecht(ian)” to a stylistic or generic label, which would boil down to constructing discursive boundaries to provide legitimacy (see Zarhy-Levo on “absurd” and “in-yer-face” theatre), my metaphorical use of brand terminology stresses co-creation and variable use-value beyond discourse. Unlike a corporate-owned brand, the Brecht-brand belongs to no one, not even his heirs. Yet, like a commercial brand identities that are “provisional, to be constructed and negotiated in the context of social interaction” (O’Reilly 582), scholars, critics, translators, directors, actors and other theatre workers contribute to the brand identity of Brecht that, in turn, affords or limits their activities.[4]

Even though Brecht-related theatre practice and scholarship may sell tickets and yield research funding, the profits the brand may provide largely consist of cultural capital derived from Brecht’s status as a modern classic, which co-creators presumably aim to maximize. It may be tempting to consider the Korean reception of Brecht within the framework of a fetishistic fixation on “the fantasy of originary cultural wholeness, the last vestige of universalism,” as Marjorie Garber characterizes the British “construction and dissemination of Shakespeare as an academic and cultural commodity” (242–43). Universalism certainly plays a role in the ways Brecht is recognized and represented, as well as adapted and appropriated in Korea, but comprehending the handling of Brecht both on paper and on stage as a form of branding allows to pay particular attention to the conflicts and discontinuities, struggles on terminology and translation that go hand in hand.

More complex than a label and more flexible than a fetish, the heuristic concept of a Brecht-brand as a conduit for cultural capital independent from the author and rooted in local contexts, hopefully, helps to circumvent the “clumsy colonial enterprise, dominated by Western critics and practitioners who . . . have tended to universalize and overstate aspects of his [Brecht’s] influence in given cultures,” as Mary Luckhurst characterizes large parts of “Brechtian reception studies” (4). To this end, I draw mostly on Korean voices to explore the ways the co-creators of the brand grapple with his writings and make use of his plays, navigating between the cosmopolitan appeal Brecht’s work emanates and their own aspirations for universality.[5] In the following, I will trace the historical trajectory of the Brecht-brand, between classic and contemporary, foreign and familiar, masterpieces and material for creative exploitation.

Before Branding: Early Mentions of Brecht in Colonial Korea (1930s)

The early twentieth century was an era of political as well as cultural change in Korea. While a new influx of knowledge inspired artists of all genres, colonial domination by the Japanese empire, formalized in 1910, imposed increasing limits on free cultural expression. At the same time, Japanese influences opened up new ways of intellectual exchange. First experiments with realist theatre and Western drama (sin-geuk, Kor. “new drama,” analogous to Jap. shingeki) imported by way of Japan dates back to this era. Rather than on stage, many foreign classics were first introduced in writing, though, with quotes, biographical anecdotes and novelizations appearing in intellectual journals. Friedrich Schiller’s William Tell, for instance, decades before being performed, served as a model for Bak Eun-sik’s political novel The National Foundation of Switzerland (Seosa Geon-guk-ji, 1907), meant to inspire nationalist sentiments in Korean readers (K. Kim 142).

In the early 1920s, when Brecht was beginning to make a name for himself between Berlin and Munich, the first German plays were staged in Korea. After a Japanese guest performance already in 1915 of Hermann Sudermann’s Heimat (under the title Magda, following the English translation) by shingeki pioneer Shimamura Hōgetsu and his ensemble Geijutsuza (“Art Theatre,” see Hong 180–81), Wilhelm Meyer-Förster’s Alt-Heidelberg, a nostalgic melodrama from 1901 first staged by avant-garde ensemble Towolhoe in 1923 and in the 1930s several more times by other ensembles, proved popular for the exotic experience it provided (K. Kim 143–45; 154). Plays that allowed insights into “modern” themes like social hierarchies, gender relations and moral liberation, from naturalist works by Gerhard Hauptmann to more contemporary expressionism by Reinhard Goering or Georg Kaiser were staged throughout the late 1920s and 1930s, in translation and sometimes adapted to the Korean context, and received varied responses (see K. Kim 144–49).

Announcement and synopsis of Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s Threepenny-movie; Brecht is not mentioned. Maeil Sinbo, 1 Oct. 1932, p. 5. Photo: Public domain, image source: National Library of Korea

Announcements of Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s Threepenny-movie, a hit in Japan and also shown in colonial Korea in October 1932,[6] did not mention Brecht explicitly, but his name appeared occasionally in the news throughout the 1930s. Possibly the earliest reference to Brecht is from a series on “Recent International Theatre News,” compiled by critic and proletarian theatre activist Min Byeong-hwi. At a 1930 Salzburg performance of the Threepenny Opera (Kor. Sam-mun Opera, based on the Japanese translation), described as an “adapted political singing drama” (gaejak jeongchi gageuk), musicians were apparently expelled from the theatre by a “mob” (gunjung); a subsequent performance ban for the play is also mentioned without providing further details (Joseon Ilbo, 27 Sept. 1930).

Brecht’s name appears again, together with Franz Werfel, Curt Goetz, Carl Zuckmayer, Alfred Döblin, Joseph Roth and others, in an article on contemporary German literature by Seo Hang-seok, who had studied German literature in Tokyo; the concluding paragraph mentions the prosecution of communist, Jewish and other authors considered “non-German,” yet without explicitly mentioning Brecht who had left Germany as early as February 1933 (Donga Ilbo, 18 June 1933). Later, Jo Hui-sun, an early proponent and translator of German literature who had likewise studied in Japan, mentions Brecht in an article on exiled writers and introduces him as the author of the Threepenny Opera, here rendered as Seopunjjari Opera, the translation still common today (Donga Ilbo, 15 Feb. 1936). The various Korean spellings of Brecht’s name used in these articles—each of the three articles mentioned uses a different one—indicate that he was not yet recognized, merely a name on lists, one amongst many foreign authors.

Establishing the Brand: “Epic Theatre” in Post-War South Korea (1950s to 1960s)

Following the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonialism in August 1945, intellectual exchange formerly mostly limited to Japan now shifted towards the United States, the occupying force of the southern part of the Korean peninsula and main participant in the Korean War (1950–53).[7] The “West” in general became the dominant cultural influence during the Cold War, and those who could afford it or were supported by politically motivated philanthropic organizations such as the Rockefeller or Ford Foundation studied abroad, in the U.S. and Europe. Soon, a new generation of theatre practitioners began to translate and adapt various dramatic models as well as plays, inspiring the re-emerging theatre scene in South Korea. While some German plays were staged in these early post-war years,[8] English- or French-language dramas generally received more attention.

As an openly communist author from the Eastern Bloc, Brecht and his works were not deemed appropriate for public discussion—let alone performance—amidst the strict anti-communism the authoritarian Cold War governments in South Korea were based on. But his thoughts were imported via English-language sources and theatre students who had attended college abroad, such as Gunsam Lee, one of the leading playwrights of the post-war era. Lee notes in his reflections on studying in the U.S.[9] that “in 1957, everyone, whether professor, student or critic, was completely influenced by Brecht’s epic theatre” (Seo 70; see also S.-b. Lee 171–72). After returning to Korea, Lee introduced the term “epic theatre” (written in Roman letters) in a paper titled “Shakespeare in the Brechtian Theatre” (1961), despite its title written in Korean but sprinkled with English, occasional German words.[10]

Mentions of Brecht continue in the news throughout the 1960s; for instance, in an address on the occasion of the International Theatre Institute’s first “World Theatre Day” by theatre critic (and later director) Kim Jeong-ok, who had studied in France in the late 1950s (Dong-a Ilbo, 27 Mar. 1962). Not least thanks to Kim, one of the most prolific early users of Brechtian theory, terms like “epic theatre,” “estrangement effect” or “gestus” began to enter discussions of Korean theatre. For instance, in a review of Kim Ui-gyeong’s play Galdae-ui Norea (“Song of Reed,” 1964), Kim Jeong-ok notes that it is “written as if based on the theory of “epic drama” [transliterated as “epik deurama”], which is unfamiliar to our [Korean] theatre world” and mentions that one character in particular, a prostitute with a heart of gold, reminds him “of the female lead in a Brecht-play” (presumably referring to The Good Person of Szechwan), but despite the good acting, “feels removed from our [Korean] life” (Joseon Ilbo, 1 Dec. 1964).[11] Unlike the inevitable distance of earlier name-drops, the sense of difference that Kim articulates here contributes to the branding of Brecht as a modern “classic” that may be increasingly familiar but useful only in theory, not (yet) in practice.

Building the Brand: Between Ivory Tower and Stage (1960s to 1980s)

While staging Brecht’s plays remained almost unthinkable until the late 1980s, serious scholarship of his work began in the late 1960s and laid groundwork for the development of a full-fledged Brecht-brand that went beyond the name and associated terminology. The emerging academic field of German language and literature (henceforth: “German literature”) offered opportunities to engage with Brecht directly by reading his writings in German. Won-Yang Rhie, a pioneer amongst academic Brechtians, wrote the first master’s thesis on epic theatre (1968) and the first monography on Brecht (1984), when only a handful of research articles on Brecht had been published, and he translated numerous German plays until well into the 2000s. As he later regrets, however, this early scholarship was conducted “under the counter” and in the “ivory tower,” ignoring Brecht’s Marxist politics and isolated from theatre workers who, out of necessity, relied on English-language (secondary) sources to access Brecht “through the back-door” (131–32).[12]

The leading role German literature scholars played in building the Brecht-brand, backed by their exclusive access to Brecht’s writings, could not prevent political usage of Brechtian terminology, though. Students and intellectuals involved in the minjung (“people”) movement against the authoritarian regimes in the 1970s and 1980s not only found ideological support but also discovered affinities with their protest theatre, ad-hoc performances known as madang-geuk (“backyard theatre”)[13] that incorporated traditional performing arts. In particular, Brecht’s epic theatre, now known in Korean as seosa-geuk, provided a theoretical foundation to their otherwise hands-on methodology, given that the episodic structure and the common use of a narrator in madang-geuk could be interpreted as devices of “estrangement,” a term for which no authoritative translation had been established yet.[4] When the genre had lost its political urgency after South Korea’s democratization in the 1990s, German literature scholars mostly dismissed these parallels, though, citing essential incongruences between Brecht’s demand for “rational awareness” and the “collective enjoyment [sinmyeong]” or community building sought by the protestors (Chang 152).[15]

But the Brecht-brand also had use-value for less politicized theatre workers. For independent “small theatre” (so-geukjang) ensembles tired of the prevailing realism and the classics-productions at public theatres (if German plays were shown there at all),[16] contemporary works by Max Frisch and Friedrich Dürrenmatt were popular choices as “stand-ins” for Brechtian epic theatre. For instance, Dürrenmatt is introduced as a “moralist who combines Aristophanes’ comedy, Brecht’s epic-ness (seosa-seong) and Thornton Wilder’s British [sic] dramatic style” (Dong-a Ilbo, 18 Mar. 1970). Peter Handke, in contrast, whose Offending the Audience (Gwan-gaek Modok, 24 Nov. 1978) became an evergreen under Gi Guk-seo’s direction and was revived in various versions until recently, was presented as a counterpart to Brecht. German literature scholar Song Dong-jun highlights in the program book that Brecht’s “impure” epic theatre was a valid target of criticism, showing that the Brecht-brand could even function ex-negativo.

Despite cases of mutual support and collaborations between scholars and practitioners, the reliance on theory in the absence of plays, fueled by ideological division, resulted in a dialectical tension in the co-created Brecht-brand: On the one hand, Brecht remained a foreign classic, an authority that demands study and devotion, which the scholars were happy to provide. Despite their gatekeeping, Brechtian thought and terminology also served as a practical alternative to mainstream drama, with possible links to Korean tradition and political radicalism. When his plays finally became available for staging, Brecht in Korea was—as Seok-Hee Choi poignantly comments—“brand new and rather old at the same time” (377).

Limits of the Brand: Post-Censorship Productions (since 1988)

In the late 1980s, authoritarian rule in South Korea began to crumble. Not least due to the minjung movement, more liberties and civil rights were reinstated in the years leading to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, including the lifting of the ban on Brecht-related books in 1987 (Gyeonghyang Sinmun, Oct. 19, 1987). The screening of Pabst’s Threepenny-movie at the Goethe-Institut (German Cultural Center) in January 1988 (Joseon Ilbo, Jan. 20, 1988) seems in retrospect like a prelude to the first officially sanctioned production of Brecht. Later that year, the Threepenny Opera (Seopunjjari Opera, dir. Jeong Jin-su, premiere: Dec. 10, 1988) by ensemble Minjung was shown, with live music by the Seoul Symphony Orchestra and supported by the Goethe-Institut, whose director Hans-Jürgen Nagel conducted himself. Ensemble Minjung, originally one of the first small theatre ensembles co-founded by Gunsam Lee and Kim Jeong-ok in 1963, had turned their focus to producing musicals during the 1980s and promoted their Threepenny Opera as such. Even though revived the following year, the production was only a mild success[17] and received mostly negative responses. Critics condemned the conventional (realist) staging as “anti-epic” (Song Dong-jun, qtd. in E.S. Jang, “Brecht heute” 156) and noticed a “force of habit” to follow the aesthetics of Broadway-style musicals, drawing comparisons to Guys and Dolls, which ensemble Minjung had produced earlier that year (Maeil Gyeongje, Dec. 12, 1988). Despite its historical importance, the 1988 Threepenny Opera is generally remembered as a failure against which later productions are regularly measured.

Among the various productions that followed soon, mostly smaller in scope, the Korean premiere of The Good Person of Szechwan (Sacheon-ui Chakhan Yeoja, May 18, 1990) by ensemble Hanyang Repertory, consisting of students and alumni of the theatre and film department of Hanyang University, was widely discussed. Notably, director Choe Hyeong-in, an actor who had studied for several years in the United States where she encountered Brecht’s works in the 1970s (yet without much enjoying them), did not rely on the existing Korean translation by German literature scholar Im Han-sun (Sacheon-ui Seonin, Hanmadang, 1987). Instead, she translated the play herself from Eric Bentley’s 1956 English version while already conducting rehearsals (Choe 123–24). Choe later mentions that after her return to Korea in 1984, “the name Brecht ( . . . ) became a scary word” for her, as students and theatre professionals alike constantly referenced him and his theories (124). Her production could have been an easy target for those in favor of fidelity to the original, but while various problems were mentioned in reviews, it received generally more positive responses (e.g. Yu Min-yeong, Joseon Ilbo, May 20, 1990).

In a critical, yet conciliatory essay on “Problems in the Reception of Brecht” from 1990, German literature scholar Yun Si-hyang criticizes both Broadway-style “visual spectacle” and the unpolitical “Americanization” of Brecht, as well as “falsification” and “distortion” of Brecht’s “image” by critics relying on non-German sources (118). On the other hand, cautioning against “dogmatism,” she suggests the “adaptation” of Brecht’s works, from simplified translations to shortened running times, advocating joint efforts by artists and scholars for productions “appropriate for Korea” (119–20). By closing with Heiner Müller’s famous quote that “To use Brecht without criticizing him is to betray him” (“Brecht gebrauchen ohne ihn zu kritisieren, ist Verrat,” Engl. transl. Ludwig 253), Yun opens the way for what Eun-Soo Jang later calls “productive destruction” (“Brecht heute” 162)—the liberation of the Brecht-brand from its theoretical (as well as, partly, political) chains. Yun’s intervention, first presented at a symposium and then reprinted in the monthly magazine Han-guk Yeon-geuk (Korean Theatre Review), reads like a conciliatory gesture that signals a shift away from philological authenticity, but could not fully bridge the divide between scholarship and practice.

Battling with the Brand: Liberating Brecht from Theory (1990s to 2000s)

Without the limits of censorship, scholars set off to consolidate their efforts of disseminating research results in the Korean Brecht Society, founded in 1989 mostly by German literature scholars but also one each from theatre and English faculties (Dong-a Ilbo, 24 Feb. 1989). Director Yi Sang-il expresses “hope for a lively illumination . . .  of the ‘name’ Brecht that is hidden behind the ‘phrase’ epic theatre” (14). But despite scholars’ increased research output in the bi-annual academic journal Beurehiteu-wa Hyeondae Yeon-geuk (“Bertolt Brecht and Modern Theatre,” since 1995) and regular collaborations with practitioners, mostly in educational contexts, it becomes clear that name recognition of the Brecht-brand is now high enough to render academic framings unnecessary, maybe even counterproductive, as more and more established ensembles begin to approach Brecht in new ways. Ensemble Michu’s Good Person (Sacheon Saneun Chakhan Saram, 11 Feb. 1996), for instance, is set in the original (allegorical) China, but director Yi Byeong-hun, against the current tendency to “focus on theory over drama,” promises a “poetic, romantic approach” (Gyeonghyang Sinmun, 3 Feb. 1996). Oh Tae-seok’s free adaptation of the Threepenny Opera (ensemble Mokhwa, 9 June 1996) is set in contemporary South Korea, with Mackie’s wedding in a bingo parlor (rather than a stable) and the president as deus-ex-machina (instead of the Queen’s messenger), a prophetic reference to real life South Korean politics (E. S. Jang, “Brecht heute” 157–58).

While German language scholars celebrate Brecht’s 100th anniversary in 1998, theatre critic Han Sang-cheol comments on the diminished relevance of Brecht’s politics after the end of the Cold War in an editorial for Han-guk Yeon-geuk. He notes that Brecht has “lost all mystery and illusion” and “only his plays remain” (4), certainly a response to the continuing tendency to turn from general ideological questions towards South Korean issues. For instance, Yang Jeong-ung’s version of The Good Person, aptly titled The Good Woman of Seoul (Seoul-ui Chakhan Yeoja, ensemble Yeohaengja, 23 Dec. 2003), sets the play right after the Korean War, a time when dire circumstances make it difficult to live a good life, turning an allegory on the inherent contradictions of capitalist society into a history play.

Poster of Killing Brecht by ensemble Silheom Geukjang (play by U Hyeon-jong, dir. Kim Seong No, 2001); In the role of “Brecht” actor Bae Sang-don (center, in color). Photo: usage with permission by Kim Seong No, image source: ARKO Arts Archive

The continuing complication of the Brecht-brand is showcased by U Hyeon-jong’s original play Killing Brecht (Beurehiteu Jugigi, dir. Kim Seong No, ensemble Silheom Geukjang, 5 Jan. 2001). The critical reflection on the democratization process in 1980s South Korea uses motives from plays across Brecht’s œuvre—Man Equals Man, He Said Yes/He Said No and The Caucasian Chalk Circle—and features Brecht himself as a character. The program book offers different angles on the purported death of Brecht, from pretended indignation (Yi Sang-il) to hopes for “a Korean genius artist like Brecht” (Yang Hye-suk) or, in a letter to Brecht, congratulations for leaving excellent heirs behind (Yun Si-hyang). Heiner Müller’s quote on the necessity of Brecht-critique features twice, in two slightly different translations.[18] Whether localization or meta-Brechtian play, these productions show that, rather than any purported philological authenticity, still represented by German literature scholarship even though not necessarily advocated by the authors, has waned in importance. The deciding factor of a production’s popular and critical success is now to “betray” best; that is, to adapt Brecht in the most unique and relevant way, shifting authority over the brand identity further away from text to stage.

Expanding the Brand: Towards a Korean Brecht (2006)

The 50th anniversary of Brecht’s death in 2006 was generally considered a “revival” of sorts (Gyeonghyang Sinmun, 13 Oct. 2006) and lead to several key productions that evoke earlier approaches but also show new directions. The invitation of Holger Teschke, formerly of the Berliner Ensemble, to direct the Threepenny Opera with a Korean cast (Seoul Art Center, 15 Nov. 2006), supported by Goethe-Institut and Lufthansa, appears like the realization of the “authentic” Brecht some scholars had been waiting for. Indeed, in an interview Teschke stresses his adherence to the original, with a focus on Weill’s (only slightly rearranged) songs, the “backbone of the play,” but also highlights his attempts at localization; for instance, with a backdrop projection of Seoul’s skyline (6–7). Reviewers appreciate that Teschke’s approach “untangles the more difficult parts,” while offering a “quite different feeling from musicals” (Han-guk NGO Sinmun, 16 Nov. 2006), making it “unnecessary to be afraid of the name Brecht” (S.-b. Kim). The framing of the production as part of a series dedicated to “authentic theatre” (jeongtong yeon-geuk), mostly other European plays directed by non-Koreans, nevertheless, shows that Teschke’s Threepenny Opera bears traces of the “foreign” Brecht in need of explanation, this time offered by a German practitioner and with a contemporary twist.

Two different productions of Mother Courage shown earlier that year took more radical, opposite approaches towards the domestication of Brecht. Lee Yun-taek’s production (ensemble Yeonhuidan Georipae, 5 Sept. 2006), subtitled “A Chronicle of the Korean War,” changed the setting from the Thirty Years’ War to a more recent Korean past. Kim Gwang-bo’s production (ensemble Cheong-u, 17 Oct. 2006), in contrast, closely adheres to the original setting but uses unconventional staging methods to create distance between performers and spectators. Theatre critic Mido Kim, who considers the Korean reception of Brecht as “biased towards a didactic production-style,” sees both as part of a “liberation from the Brecht-obsession” of earlier times (167). Kim Gwang-bo’s “rational” production clearly intends to “estrange” the spectators, who are sitting on the stage while the performance itself takes place amongst the seats of the auditorium; the actors play several roles each and change into different symbolic costumes while the simple stage design and flexible lighting likewise stresses the theatrical situation (169). In contrast, Lee Yun-taek’s “emotional” production uses traditional pansori singing to “immerse” the audience; even without intentional estrangement, Brecht’s critical message remains largely intact (168).

While both productions received positive reactions for their distinct direction and fidelity to Brecht’s spirit (for example, Kwon 49), Lee Yun-taek’s Koreanized adaptation of Mother Courage dominated discussions and was, subsequently, revived several times. With the backing of Goethe-Institut and Korean Brecht Society, even a guest performance in Germany was planned (129). While the production was never shown in Germany,[19] Lee had proven that Brecht could be used as a vehicle for Korean tradition. He argues that his “Korean interpretation” was appropriate because the “defamiliarization effect” (saengsohwa hyogwa) as Brecht intended it could only work in Germany, based on the “extremely rational national sentiment” that “clearly separates rationality and emotionality”—in his eyes distinct from the “much more synchronous way” that Korean audiences express emotions (127). With the pitfalls of authenticity largely neutralized, Lee’s “Korean” Brecht production profited from broadened brand expectations. By convincingly showing that traditional song and emotional investment were compatible with Brecht, he expanded the brand essence itself, beyond what scholars used to consider Brechtian.

The Brand Abroad: Traditional Pansori Singing and Emotional Brecht (2000s to 2010s)

As the brand became more open for experiments with tradition, a relation that, so far, had been explored theoretically only with reluctance,[20] the most radical impulses came neither from German language scholarship nor the world of theatre but from traditional music. The pansori singer Lee Jaram, in collaboration with theatre director Nam In-u, created two all-over adaptations of Brecht plays. By combining the emotional expressiveness of the singing-storytelling art pansori with Brecht’s epic plays, humorous audience interaction with social critique, she almost single-handedly increased the aesthetic range both of the minimalist solo genre pansori and of the Brecht-brand.[21]

Sacheon-ga (lit. “Song of Sichuan,” based on The Good Person of Szechwan, 30 Nov. 2007) mainly proceeds like a traditional pansori work, as solo narration with interspersed songs. Lee Jaram plays the titular “good person” Sun-deok (the Korean Shen Te), who changes into her fictional cousin, as well as most other supporting roles. Additional actors appear as the gods, a singing and dancing trio which disrupts the exclusive focus of attention on the solo singer in short intermezzos. While Sacheon-ga localizes Brecht’s parabolic plot from a metaphorical China to a slightly anachronistic yet clearly contemporary Seoul, Eokcheok-ga (“Song of Courage,” 14 June 2011) changes the setting of Mother Courage from seventeenth-century Europe to a semi-fictional Chinese past. Here, too, the solo performer, switching effortlessly between multiple roles, remains center-stage while facing not only the atrocities of war but also discrimination as migrant laborer and challenges of single motherhood. It is, therefore, most striking when, in the final scene after the death of Courage’s daughter, Lee Jaram turns her back to the audience, denying them the expected emotional communion that is typical of pansori.

Promotional video of Eokcheok-ga (written/composed by Lee Jaram, dir. Nam In-u, 2013 revival). Courtesy of Uijeongbu Music Theater Festival (UMTF)

Both adaptations are full of critical puns and allusions to current events, but they also play with the emotional and communal power of pansori and contemporary audiences’ expectations. Not only enjoyed Lee Jaram’s pansori adaptations unprecedented popular success in Korea and were revived multiple times over years, but they were also the first (and so far only) Korean Brecht productions that toured extensively abroad. While institutional support certainly played a part in securing invitations to theatre festivals in North and South America, Asia, Australia and Europe,[22] both Brechtians and pansori-experts highlighted the productive combination of binary opposites, whether as “a communicative encounter of global and local cultures” (Y.-S. Kim 153), “a meeting of modernist Western and traditional Korean theatre styles” (H. Kim 216) or, as another reviewer put it, “a delicate compromise of reflective awareness and warm compassion” (Yi Y.-m.).

The strategic use of the Brecht-brand offers an additional reason for Lee Jaram’s international success, though. Particularly in France, where she performed half a dozen times since 2011, her works were usually shown at theatres and promoted as plays, without obvious references to either music or tradition. In the promotional material for Le dit de Femme Courage (Eokcheok-ga) at the Théâtre National Populaire de Villeurbanne (2012), for instance, pansori is only mentioned briefly, not explained, while Brecht’s name appears more prominently.[23] This strategy helps to solve the inherent dilemma overseas performances of traditional Korean performing arts face; namely, that, “however contradictory, they [non-Korean audiences] enjoy participating in events that are unusual but allow them to engage and associate” (Maliangkay 65). The Brecht-brand thus provides associations that complement the “unusual” pansori performance. Consequently, an enthusiastic reviewer of Eokcheok-ga praises the “rich” music, Lee’s “towering” performance and the “funny, stoic and desolate character” she created, not without taking note that “Bertolt Brecht may have liked this transcultural reinvention of his anti-war play” (Sidney Morning Herald, 21 Jan. 2015).

Rebranding: “Post-Epic Theatre” and National Changgeuk Productions (2010s)

Lee Jaram’s international success coincided with the publication of Hans-Thies Lehmann’s Postdramatic Theatre in Korean translation (2013). While Lehmann’s concept had been referenced earlier, usually in discussions of theatre in Germany, including guest performances in Korea,[24] now the focus turned to the question of how an explicitly Korean postdramatic performance might look like. German literature scholar Eun-Soo Jang introduces the term “post-epic theatre” (poseuteu seosa-geuk), defined as narrative theatre, a return to text and storytelling after the postdramatic turn towards performance (E. S. Jang, “Poseuteu Seosa-geuk” 404). While she does not ignore earlier associations of Brecht with madang-geuk, her theoretical rebranding seems tailor-made for adaptations like Lee Jaram’s Brecht pansori works.[25]

Jang also applies the updated brand to changgeuk (lit. “singing drama”), a hybrid genre that developed as a staged form of pansori by an ensemble cast during the colonial era and is often referred to as “Korean traditional opera” (see Killick xvii), which, until recently, was a rather unlikely candidate for experimentation with Brecht. Since the 1960s, large-scale productions by the National Changgeuk Company of Korea (NCCK) have primarily drawn on traditional pansori stories for nostalgic appeal. Only since the early 2000s has this “culinary” theatre opened up for occasional adaptations of non-traditional works and invited guest-directors from abroad, including two recent works that bear clear relations to the Brecht-brand.

For Mr Rabbit and the Dragon King (NCCK, 8 Sept. 2011), German opera director Achim Freyer adapts the traditional pansori work Sugung-ga (“Song of the Underwater Palace”) in a visually stunning and, as Freyer notes, Brechtian way. He draws attention to the “distancing effect” (English original)—glossed as “the audience realizing that the new, different [in Korean translation saengsohan, that is, “unfamiliar”] stories are eventually about their own lives today”—he attempts to evoke with his retelling of the traditional story, highlighting some of its universal themes such as social imbalance and environmental pollution At the same time, he conceptualizes the protagonist Mr Rabbit as a “Korean hero” who cunningly tricks the Dragon King, fallen ill and in need of a rabbit’s liver, and takes on the underwater ruling class.[26] While Freyer balances Korean tradition with his own aesthetic interventions, his status as “Brecht’s last student” was used repeatedly in the promotion to lend authority to his unconventional approach; for instance, in the performance brochure of the 2012 revival that also praises Mr Rabbit as “the epitome of Brechtian epic theatre” or in a teaser video that presented Freyer as a “master” (geojang).

Promotional video of Mr Rabbit and the Dragon King by National Changgeuk Company of Korea (dir. Achim Freyer, 2012 revival). Courtesy of National Theater of Korea (NTOK)

In contrast, Korean-Japanese director Chong Wishing presents The Caucasian Chalk Circle (NCCK, 21 Mar. 2015)—the first and, so far, only changgeuk-adaptation of a play by Brecht—in a more or less classical way with some unexpected changes. He leaves out the prologue, Brecht’s attempt to stress the old story’s contemporary relevance, instead highlighting the theme of motherhood, but remains otherwise close to the play’s original plot while venturing stylistically towards musical. Some traditional, pansori-derived conventions of changgeuk are kept, like the use of a narrator (who doubles as judge Azdak) and the rural dialect, but character names and costumes are not Koreanized and the raw stage design evokes war-torn landscapes and ruins, rather than the bucolic imagery typical of changgeuk. Only in the final scene, when all actors join the circle dance ganggangsullae, they reveal traditional Korean mourning garments, white gowns they wear underneath their “Caucasian” costumes.

Promotional video of The Caucasian Chalk Circle by National Changgeuk Company of Korea (dir. Chong Wishing, 2017 revival). Courtesy of National Theater of Korea (NTOK)

Both Brechtian changgeuk productions present their stories in visually unfamiliar ways with respect to the genre, Freyer by using his expressive signature style, including large paper masks worn by the singers, Chong by sticking close to the imagined setting of Brecht’s play. They both use the universality of the themes they present—social/environmental issues and motherhood—to expand the scope of changgeuk as a vehicle for contemporary theatre. Based on these and other productions, Jang suggests to “rescue the universal theatrical codes hidden within tradition” (“Poseuteu Seosa-geuk” 409) and conjures a post-epic “theatre of the future” that might fulfill what Brecht merely attempted (417). Whether this rebranding will be picked up by practitioners or will remain an attempted academic revival of former brand authority remains to be seen.[27]

Reclaiming the Brand: Brecht as Material in Post-Corona Experimentation (2020s)

After the liberation and appropriation of the brand, not only Brecht’s theories and plays, even his life and work have become material for various causes. The flexibility of the brand was reconfirmed when the Coronavirus hit South Korea in 2020 and changed the theatre landscape over-night. Brecht returned to relevance, as two productions that directly responded to the unprecedented situation—half-empty auditoriums and mandatory masks being standard for months—referenced his name even in their titles but otherwise showed few signs of brand loyalty.

Production photo of A Study on the Directing and Acting Techniques of Bertolt Brecht for Alienation Effect – Focusing on Covid19 (dir. Kim Hyeon-tak, 2020). Photo: Seongbukdong Beedoolkee Theatre

Ensemble Seongbukdong Beedoolkee Theatre addressed the ambiguities of “distancing,” now part of the “new normal,” already in the unwieldly academic title A Study on the Directing and Acting Techniques of Bertolt Brecht for Alienation Effect—Focusing on Covid19 (Bereutolteu Beurehiteu-ui “Geori-dugi” Hyogwa Changchul-eul Wihan Yeonchul-gwa Yeon-gisul Yeon-gu – Korona Baireoseu-reul Jungsim-euro, dir. Kim Hyeon-tak, 30 June 2020).[28] During the performance, a dozen spectators are mirrored on stage by just as many actors. Separated by a transparent foil that also acts as a safety device, they perform a series of short episodes that quote not only Brecht but various other related plays and genres, current issues and cultural phenomena, from a Beijing opera-parody behind Batman-masks to a Hamlet performance with human puppets, anti-Japanese discourse filtered through noh-theatre and Corona regulations through the viral “Baby Shark”-song, culminating in a cover version of “I will survive” (J.-M. Lee). The irritating, largely incoherent remix revue plays with the expectations of the audience in an attempt to satisfy the need for closeness, visible reactions and mutual perception.

Production photo of Brecht Patchwork—Capital 02 by ensemble Theaterraum (dir. Im Hyoungjin, 2021), featuring the solo performer Han Youn Choon. Photo: Yoon Jung Choi, copyright: Theaterraum – Der philosophierende Körper

The Brecht Patchwork by ensemble Theaterraum (dir. Im Hyoungjin, 12 Aug. 2020), on the other hand, reflects the tense situation with a solo show. Actor Han Youn Choon re-enacts scenes from Brecht’s life and work, jumping from southern France, where Brecht and Weill put the finishing touch on the Threepenny Opera, to Galileo Galilei’s Padua, finally to the doomed city of Mahagonny. Role changes, philological digressions (“Where is Elisabeth?”) and allusions to current debates—Galilei’s laments on his work-life balance as an adjunct lecturer rushing from one precarious teaching position to the next—overlap in the monologue delivered at breakneck speed. Between ivory tower and panic room, this pastiche delivers a time-critical commentary on the ongoing pandemic with facial expressions hardened by Zoom rehearsals. Brecht is quoted, embodied, parodied and, generally speaking, used as a toolbox for short-circuited responses to the state of emergency.

Conclusion: Beyond the Brand, Beyond Korea

Over thirty years of practical Brecht-reception in South Korea appear, in retrospect, like a history of struggles for the “real” Brecht, a heritage of the post-war divided reception. While their monopoly on theoretical knowledge and access to original texts at first allowed German literature scholars to wield authority, the end of censorship enabled theatre practitioners to catch up, with or without the consent of academic critics. Different generations of theatre authors and directors, subsequently, tested out the limits and the flexibility of the brand, from early adaptations that related Brecht’s plays to current events and attempts of making the difficult classic more popular, to visually, audibly and conceptually Koreanized versions unafraid of emotional appeal and potential for identification. The resulting transformation of the brand essence, which gradually expanded beyond philological and stylistic authenticity, solidified the simultaneous occurring shift in influence over the brand, from scholars to directors and playwrights, from translation to adaptation and appropriation. Recent experimentation suggests that the diversification of approaches will continue.

Several of Bodden’s general observations on Brecht-reception in post-World War II Asia (380–87) apply to some degree in South Korea, too: The adaptation, appropriation and refunctioning of Brecht’s plays and theories (including the recurrence of emotions), whether for individual or national aspirations, are phenomena far from unique to Korea. But the relatively high investment of German literature scholars in the Brecht-brand early on, when performances were impossible, has influenced the subsequent verbal and performative battles, the compressed and overlapping debates on authenticity and ownership of Brecht and German theatre at large in peculiar ways. Simply put, for many of those involved there was, possibly, more at stake here than elsewhere. A comparison with the various trajectories the Brecht-brand took in other places, in Asia and beyond, as well as the transnational exchanges that shaped it, will help to shed light not only on its heritage but may also give an idea of its future use-value. Even when Brecht’s work will eventually enter public domain, the collective power to define the brand lies with those who make theatre and talk about it.


This work was supported by the Core University Program for Korean Studies of the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the Korean Studies Promotion Service at the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2021-OLU-2250003). I thank Dr. Im Hyoungjin (Sangmyung University) and the participants of my graduate seminars on “Classical Drama” and “German Theatre History” at Ewha Womans University for inspiring conversations and the editors of this issue for their constructive comments, which helped improve and clarify the manuscript. All remaining deficiencies are my own.


[1] While I include discussions of Korean “tradition,” in reference to heritage (performing) arts transmitted and practiced until today, I am aware of the dangers involved in the “mis-application of Brechtian ideas” to non-Brechtian tradition. I am grateful for inspiration to the late Frank Episale (1973–2022) who discussed this issue in relation to Persian ta‘ziyeh at the International Brecht Society’s conference on “Brecht in/and Asia” (Honolulu, 2010), from where many ideas for this essay originate. While all mis-applications are my own, I thankfully dedicate this belated result of our conversation to Frank’s memory.

[2] This definition is different from the classical 1948 definition by the American Marketing Association (“A name . . . which identifies the goods or services of a seller . . . and distinguishes them from those of competitors,” qtd. in Avis and Henderson 354), widely accepted in marketing circles until the 1990s, and more akin to the “label and associations model” (“a name . . . used as a stimulus for brand associations”) proposed by Avis and Henderson in order to avoid the subsequent confusion of concepts due to diverging definitions (352); in their 2018 study covering 730 journal articles spanning 73 years, Avis and Henderson found 851 “brand-related concepts,” albeit with “large numbers of variants” (362).

[3] While Brecht might be counted amongst modern “cultrepreneurs” (O’Reilly 582), shortly after Duchamp and decades before Andy Warhol, the Brecht-brand in South Korea took shape after Brecht’s death, independent from any intervention by himself.

[4] Jonathan E. Schroeder, who attempts to bridge visual culture studies with economical marketing research, acknowledges artists as active agents (“brand managers”) in the making of their own image but stresses that “neither managers nor consumers completely control branding processes” because these are equally influenced by cultural codes (1291).

[5] The global currency of Brecht’s work, on the one hand, makes engagement with the brand an odd yet viable instance of what Christina Klein refers to as “Cold War cosmopolitanism” that asserts “a rejection of Korea’s colonial-era status as ‘traditional’ and ‘backward’” (7), particularly in South Korea, where the Cold War-setting that gave birth to this form of cross-cultural capital persists beyond the 1990s. On the other hand, comparable to Shakespeare, staging Brecht promises to serve as a “touchstone” for Korea’s universality (“The Location of Shakespeare in Korea” 263). Hyunjung Lee describes this tendency to rely on foreign validation, prevalent in Korea particularly during the 1990s and early 2000s, as a form of “global fetishism,” an “inherent obsession toward the fantastical and imaginary aura of Broadway or Shakespeare (as global entities)” (16). While Brecht may lack the aura of Shakespeare, a slight “obsession” with his work has been diagnosed (M. Kim 167).

[6] See Maeil Sinbo, 1 Oct. 1932 and Donga Ilbo, 1 Oct. 1932. The Threepenny Opera had already been translated into Japanese before the film was released there, using the title Sam-mon Opera, which is still common nowadays in Japan; the 1932 stage version by Koreya Senda who had watched the premiere in Berlin was titled Kojiki Shibai (“Beggars Play”), though. My thanks go to Misako Ohta (Kobe University) for this information; for details on the Threepenny-fever in 1930s Japan, see Ohta and Hiyama (2020).

[7] For the remainder of this essay, “Korea” refers to the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

[8] Most early post-war productions of German plays in Korea were “classics” like William Tell (1953; 1960), The Robbers (1959) and Faust (1966)—directed by Seo Hang-seok and allegedly closely modeled on Gustav Gründgens’ famous Hamburg production (K.-s. Kim 203)—but also contemporary plays like Wolfgang Borchert’s The Man Outside and Rolf Hochhuth’s The Deputy (both 1966).

[9] On Gunsam Lee’s studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, see W.-D. Kim 38–43.

[10] The paper also includes Brecht’s comparison of dramatic and epic theatre in Willett’s translation (G. Lee 68). Later, Lee would even write an own play that is clearly based on Brecht’s Mother Courage. Gesani (1983) changes the setting to the 1592 Japanese invasion of Korea, possibly to avoid censorship (for a comparison, see S.-b. Lee).

[11] In an earlier review of a production of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker (1963), Kim Jeong-ok notes the challenge this work, “which skillfully blends Molière-style humor with Brechtian elements in the stage-audience relation,” may pose to unaccustomed Korean actors as well as the director (Dong-a Ilbo, 27 Dec. 1963).

[12] The “backdoor”-metaphor (dwitmun-eul tonghaeseo) originates with Yun Si-hyang (118). Despite censorship, ensemble Freie Bühne (“Free Stage”), founded by German language graduates in 1968, showed at least three German-language performances of plays by Brecht in the 1970s at the Goethe-Institut Seoul. Not least due to the fact they were performed in German, though, they “did not receive any attention by the Korean public” (Choe, “Wie fremd” 376) and remained “under the counter” (see Rhie 132).

[13] Madang (lit. “backyard”) refers to the places that served as spontaneous communal performance spaces for activist theatre.

[14] Theatre critic and scholar Yu Min-yeong (who had studied theatre in Vienna), for instance, notes that in the madang-geuk performance of To-seonsaeng-jeon (“Story of Teacher Rabbit,” based on a traditional tale that likewise inspired the pansori piece Sugung-ga) “the plot was enlightened by methods of Brecht’s epic theatre, creating social satire through the estrangement effect [sogyeok hyogwa]” (Seoul Sinmun, 9 June 1980; qtd. in program book of To-seonsaeng-jeon, 1981). Yun Si-hyang mentions six different translations, of which sowoe hyogwa is the most common (120), at least among German literature scholars.

[15] Rhie, too, while recognizing the political impulses brought forward by these ensembles, considers their reception of Brecht as “based on a misunderstanding” and puts it closer to agitprop and proletarian theatre in the style of Erwin Piscator, known antipode of Brecht (141–42).

[16] The National Theater (116–17) lists eight productions of German plays between 1950 and 1990, including Schiller’s William Tell (1960, 1975), Intrigue and Love (1989), as well as two times Goethe’s Faust (1977, 1984).

[17] Considering that Minjung’s Threepenny Opera was shown for nine days with two performance each day (4.00 and 7.30 p.m.) at a venue with over 600 seats (Hoam Art Hall), the number of 4,500 attendances, according to the Korean Theatre Review (Han-guk Yeon-geuk, Feb. 1989, p. 83), does not seem too impressive.

[18] The author of Killing Brecht, U Hyeon-jong, translates “use” (German “gebrauchen”) with the Korean verb suyong-hada (to receive; to accept), suggesting that his play is, in a way, part of the ongoing Brecht reception. German literature scholar Yun Si-hyang, now head of the Korean Brecht Society, uses the more active sayong-hada (to use; to employ) instead. Back in 1990, when she referenced the same quote, she had translated “use” as bada-deurida (to accept; to adopt/absorb), similar in connotations to suyong-hada. It seems that Yun’s protective stance, typical of most scholars, has given way to a perspective more open to experimentation.

[19] Given that Lee Yun-taek was accused of sexual violence in 2018 and, subsequently, condemned to six (later seven years) in prison, and Yeonhuidan Georipae disbanded, future performances of their Mother Courage are unlikely.

[20] For a detailed comparisons of pansori and epic theatre, see Jeon 41–62; D. Kim 128–60; for a more general perspective by a German language scholar, see Song (1998).

[21] For the sake of simplicity, I refer to “Lee Jaram’s” Brecht adaptations; this is not meant to neglect the contributions of others, but to underline Lee’s central role as scriptwriter, composer and main performer, which also reflects the general perception of her authorship in the media.

[22] Both works were selected for showcases at the Performing Arts Market in Seoul (PAMS), a gateway for international distribution (see also H.-s. Kim 398).

[23] The efficacy of this framing, targeting theatre audiences presumably familiar with Brecht, was confirmed by the “Best Actress Award” Lee Jaram received at the International Theatre Festival Kontakt (Toruń, Poland, 2010), which was used extensively in the promotion of subsequent performances.

[24] For instance, Rimini Protokoll’s Karl Marx: Capital, Volume One (Kareul Mareukeuseu Jabonnon 1, 27 Mar. 2009) or She She Pop’s Testament (Yuseo, 13 Apr. 2012). Hyung-Ki Kim had introduced Lehmann’s concept as early as 2000 with a discussion of Robert Wilson’s Lady from the Sea, which had recently been staged in Seoul (Bada-ui Yeoin, 27 Aug. 2000).

[25] Other authors also used the term “post-epic theatre” to discuss recent productions of new German drama, such as Marius von Mayenburg’s The Ugly One (Motsaenggin Namja, 15 June 2011) and Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon (Hwanggeumyong, 6 Apr. 2013), both directed by Yun Gwang-jin (Jang Y.J.), or “post-Brecht[ian]” theatre for Rimini Protokoll’s collaborative work 100% Gwangju (19 Apr. 2014) that stages 100 citizens of Gwangju as representatives of their city (Y.E. Lee).

[26] The hybrid genre-designation of Mr Rabbit not as changgeuk but as “pansori opera,” referring both to European and Korean music theatre traditions, is emblematic of the mediation between Korean roots and “Western,” understood as universal trajectory this production attempts.

[27] With regard to changgeuk, it seems that Brecht has, for the moment, fallen out of fashion. Despite ongoing experimentation, Chong’s Chalk Circle remains the only work by Brecht, indeed the only German-language play adapted; more popular non-Korean sources for changgeuk include Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, 2009; King Lear, 2022) and Greek mythology (Medea, 2013; Orfeo, 2016; Trojan Women, 2016).

[28]Geori-dugi,” the ubiquitous expression for “(social) distancing,” is one of many ways of translating Brecht’s “V-Effekt” or “alienation effect” into Korean. See also note 14.


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*Jan Creutzenberg received a Ph.D. in theatre studies from Freie Universität Berlin and currently works as an assistant professor of German language and literature at Ewha Womans University, Seoul. His research focuses on contemporary Korean theatre, with a particular interest in performative exchanges between Korea and Germany. He has published on tradition in modernity, U.S. cold war philanthropy and overseas performances, and he has contributed to Routledge Handbook of Asian Theatre (2016) and Cambridge Encyclopedia of Stage Directors (forthcoming). He occasionally translates Korean plays into German, writes a column for Han-guk Yeon-geuk (Korean Theatre Review), tweets as @JanCreutzenberg, and blogs at

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