Racing the Real: Realism and Racial Representation in 20th Century Korean Theatre

  • Soo Ryon YOON (Invited speaker)
  • Kayla Ji-Hyon YUH (Invited speaker)

Activity: Talks or PresentationsOther Invited Talks or Presentations


In this presentation, we argue that theatrical conventions of racial representations in Korean performing arts are rooted in the adoption of Euro-American theatrical realism in the early to mid-20th century colonial and post-war conditions. In the 1930s, directors trained in Japanese and European institutions began considering stage makeups, set designs, and props as important means to articulate their understandings of dispositions and racialized visual characteristics of characters in a play. Their productions imagined whiteness and non-whiteness, especially blackness, in codified visuality and visual excesses (or the lack thereof). In post-war Korea, theatrical realism continued to evolve in the 1960s thanks to the theatre artists who were newly exposed to American cultural hegemony. Based on a comparative study between the 1930s’ staged adaptations of Gogol’s Revizor and Korean playwright Cha Bumseok’s Yeoldaeeo (Tropical Fish, 1966), we discuss the theatricality of racial optics used as a way to achieve what the practitioners considered “racial authenticity” in approximating their respective visions of the “real” world. We propose to understand this practice as “racing the real,” in which a staged reality is determined by a process of assigning racial dispositions to theatrical characters and their world.
Period2 Oct 2020
Event titleRealisms in East Asian Performing Arts
Event typeConference
Degree of RecognitionInternational