UCLA Korean Culture Night: A voice for the voiceless

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One of Southern California’s most respectable universities, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), has more than 800 clubs and student organizations on campus. Korean Culture Night (KCN) is among one of these many organizations, but they are a group that has definitely made a huge impact, especially in the Korean-American community. Started in 1993, KCN first began as a talent show and it wasn’t until 2008 when UCLA KCN was the first to have changed from a typical talent show format into a full, theatrical production. After gaining high interest after its first show, KCN continued on with providing the best, creative student run productions that show the audience what Korean traditional culture and contemporary Korean-American culture is about.  It wasn’t long after when KCN groups from other universities have also followed after their footsteps. Celebrating their 21st year, UCLA KCN 2014 will be presenting their production of “Arirang”, on Thursday, April 10 at 7pm at UCLA’s Royce Hall. This year’s Director Stephanie Kim and Finance Advisor David Kang met with K-Herald to talk about their upcoming production and each of their own perspectives.

KCN Photo 3K-Herald: Can you tell us about 2014 UCLA KCN?
Stephanie Kim: We just recently had our retreat where we do a run-through from each department. Everything’s starting to come together – all the different departments. We have traditional dance, poongmul, b-boy, and drama – all in one. It’s not going to be a musical this year. One real exciting thing for this year is that even though our audience has seen all those departments come together before, we’re really hoping to take a twist and use those different art forms in a way that our audience might not be expecting.
We always pride ourselves in being able to bring traditional and modern dance together. Instead of being a talent show, it’s just one theatrical production. The story of this year’s production ties in a story in North Korea about a boy named Tae-woo and as we follow along his life, all the different forms of art and dance will come together and integrate into the story.


KH: How did you come up with the title “Arirang” to represent stories of North Korea?
SK: Some people think it might be cliché, but as I was researching, there is actually a rich meaning that many people don’t know about. Most people know it as a Korean folk song, but it also has a deep meaning towards the word han, which is a word that brings people together, and sorrow. Another interesting fact is that “Arirang” is a song sung in both South and North Korea.

KH: Why did you choose this year’s topic to be on North Korea?
It was definitely a challenge on doing a theme based on North Korea. Not only is it a sensitive topic to some, but it was also difficult to build a script around it! (laughs) We really wanted to do it because it’s an issue where it’s overly politicized with nuclear weapons and the tyrannical leaders, but as college students, what we find empowering are the refugee stories – the stories about people. I drew upon a lot of inspirations from stories such as Joseph Kim’s TED talk and the biographies on LiNK’s (Liberty in North Korea) website. I wanted to create something for the audience that would be educational for those who don’t know anything about North Korea, but more than anything, to show them there is life, family, real relationships, and humanity in North Korea. I think that’s something we often forget.
I felt that with such an important and emotional topic, I wanted to show that KCN isn’t just all about the gimmicks and singing. I wanted it to be more where the audience can really listen to the dialogue and stories and tug at the heartstrings instead of the production being known for its great singing.

KH: What were past themes of KCN’s productions?
SK: Previous themes were on the IMF crisis where Koreans lost money and immigrated to U.S. to start small businesses, the Korean War, and one of our most powerful productions we did regarding the LA community – the LA Riots. The reason why I’m excited for this year’s is because I was able to use my creative voice where we’re not looking into something that happened in the past for us to say, “this is Korean culture”. It’s something that’s currently going on right now where we can really have a voice and opinion on it and I think that’s really empowering.

KH: Do you think you can predict on what KCN would look like in the future?
David Kang: Although UCLA was the first to start a production, it’s become a continuing trend as we see other schools try to follow along. We still try to do the best that we can. The future I see in KCN is when all the UCs and all the KCN from the different schools gather together to make one huge production. Now, the downfall of that would be UCLA losing its status of having the “biggest and best” production (laughs), but I think those sacrifices should be made because production cost is really expensive. Ours alone is just $30-40,000 per production and for college students to come up with that kind of money is not easy at all. It’s hard enough where we have to pay for our own tuitions so it’s really important that we ask for the support from our local community. So in the future, I do think I see that happening one day where all the schools will come together to work together. Because one we reach a point where all the UCs are doing productions, it’s going to be even more competitive finding sponsors because there’s only one Koreatown, but there’s 7 different schools and everyone’s all tapping into the same resources. We try to rely on alumni and the government, but even that’s hard. Schools has a hard time giving money to organizations now as internal funds decrease tremendously if the school decides to have a big event. We even considered changing to a different venue for this year. It’s hard for anyone to give money, but they have to know that they’re giving it for a good cause and that’s it’s for the future generation. If they’re not willing to put in money for that, then we also lose hope where this can go.
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Down the line, I think it also opened up to a lot of non-Koreans to join KCN. Just in our dance team alone, more than half of them are non-Korean. One thing that was encouraging for me at the retreat was that some of the non-Korean dancers were saying how thankful they are to be a part of this year’s production because it’s on North Korea. I think it’s because in past years, the productions were about historical events that happened where non-Koreans find it hard to find any connection with, but with North Korea, they can still relate and connect on a personal level because the stories are based on real events that are currently going on.

KH: How do you manage to fit KCN with your school schedule, studies and personal life?
It is really hard to struggle with going to school and being in KCN. If I didn’t think it was worth it, it would be really easy to quit. I first got involved in KCN purely to have fun. I was a cast when they did a musical. As I kept getting more involved, I was assistant director my second year and now I became the director for this year. It went from just my own selfish desires on wanting to be a part of the stage to realizing that this is a really good opportunity as a student and for our community. My heart for North Korea has grown because of KCN as well.

DK: I work with the financial team and I can truly say I have never worked with a better team. It’s a good combination of fun, dedicated, and successful. Not only do I do finance, but I also run administrative. And that’s okay with me because I care enough to do it. I believe that KCN is really worth being involved in.

KH: What’s something you learned about yourself from being a part of KCN that you didn’t know before?
I’m an English major and my passion is to teach one day. I’ve learned that even though I’m not the best writer, the fact that I can still make a big difference and empower people really inspired me. KCN also gave me that taste of how it’s not just about making a Hollywood blockbuster and making money, but it was a chance for me to hopefully write a script that will impact our audience and reach out to the LA community. All of the effort we put in, it’s for the audience. It’s not for our own satisfaction. We want to impact an audience because if we can really share that story to the audience, then it’s another voice for the voiceless.

DK: I love stage presence and being in front of people. Ever since I was young, I loved public speaking whether I was good at it or not. But KCN is the one job where I don’t get to do that. I work more behind-the-scenes. The person that was interviewing me told me that my job was going to be the least glorious and least recognized position, but I needed to work the hardest. What I do right now, I really do it for KCN and the UCLA students. I also really loved being able to meet new people and get to know the Korean community better. The fact that we were able to meet top-notch people was awesome and that’s something really hard for a normal college student to do. This also opens doors to my future too and I saw value in that.

Yuna Hwang

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