David Lane and Sita Calvert-Ennals talk about What Remains of Us, a show about reunions between families who have been divided across North and South Korea.
Can you tell us what What Remains of Us is about?
What Remains of Us is a story about a North Korean father and South Korean daughter who haven’t seen each other for fifty years, and their attempts to reconnect with one another after enduring two completely different and quite volatile political regimes. It’s about their very different personal journeys of remembrance and survival. In a broader sense, it’s absolutely about our world now – about how we can seek to find our common humanity in spite of our polarised perspectives and experiences. (D and SCE)
This all takes place within the real-life context of the Korean Divided Families reunions. These are sporadic events that have taken place since 2000 where the Red Cross of both North and South Korea collaborate to ensure family members from either side of the De-Militarised Zone can temporarily meet just north of the border. They meet for six meetings of around two hours each across three days – some private, some public –but with the world’s media looking on, before they part forever again. (D)
What was the research process like? Did you go to Korea?
Long! But at the start, we began with a lot of reading and gathering of reunion footage from online sources – photographs, videos, news footage. We then met with producer Judy Owen for the first time, who was recommended to us by Theatre Bristol for her links with UK/Korea theatre collaborations. Theatre Bristol had been part of a delegation in Seoul in 2014, and together with Judy we brokered a research partnership with Doosan Art Center, British Council Korea and HeeJin Lee of Producer Group Dot in Seoul, our translator. Later Judy introduced us to Korea National University of Arts (KNUA). Their partnership has been fundamental to the artistic development of the play, bringing a directly Korean contextual understanding to the story and characters, supporting the script development through dramaturg Ha Young Hwang, and the performances through acting coach Minjae Kang. The play is also set in 2000, so we were really excited to explore its ideas from a modern perspective in Korea and the UK. We ran a parallel project between students at KNUA and Bath Spa University, one of our producing partners along with Bristol Old Vic, where the students made short films in response to the play’s themes. This led us to consider even more deeply how its fundamental themes of family, separation, borders and the interplay of the personal and the political could speak across history and generations.
We undertook around a dozen interviews including meetings with North Korean defectors, the ex-Minister for Reunification, the Red Cross in Seoul, and many more: charities, Peace Red Cross administrators… We were also incredibly lucky in that the week we were there, one of the reunion meetings was taking place just north of the border. We visited an apartment in Seoul to speak with a man who had returned days earlier from meeting his sister for the first time in sixty years.(D)
My strongest memory from the first research trip was of being in the bustle of the Red Cross centre and watching a man in his 80s or 90s quietly waiting with dignity to hear if his family member was alive or dead in the first instance, so he could then find out whether he could ask for a reunion. (SCE)
How is it working with the university in Korea to write the play? Did the time difference cause a problem?
We had a couple of bleary-eyed 6.00am meetings on Skype with some very awake Korean theatre students and Ha Young (!) but aside from that we found mutually beneficial times to meet and discuss the work. What was most exciting was being challenged on our choices and perspectives, hearing how our representations of North and South Korea were landing with them as native Koreans, and getting deeper into the specificity of the characters’ likely histories and politics – then finding ways to allow those things to gently impact the script and the storytelling. (D and SCE)
What’s your favourite line/moment in the play? Or a line that sums it up for you?
“I have sailed above your head in that lake for fifty years … when I land I’m always a little girl. And you’re always there.” (SCE)
What do you want the audience to leave knowing? Or feeling?
Knowing that there is so much more that connects us than divides us, and feeling that with the full capacity of our humanity, empathy and understanding, there is always a way for hope to shine through. (D)
I want the show to resonate with them, with their own feelings of loss, separation, but also a shared sense of humanity, hope, humour, what extraordinary beings humans are and what extraordinary capacity for love we all carry. (SCE)
The show is at Bristol Old Vic 3 – 12 March. For tickets and more info please see the website: bristololdvic.org.uk/whats-on/what-remains-of-us