Throughout our whole life, we eager to explore our own personality. Who am I? What's my specialty? How can I genuinely be me? Between fate and fortune, can we find the answer to these questions? Although it depends on each choice, tuning in to other's stories can give you a hint to solve them. The 245th edition of The Mirror listened to the colorful tales of Lee Jisoo, a brilliant musical actress and alumna of Sungshin University.
Lee dramatically made her debut on the musical Les Misérables in 2012, when she gained admission to the Department of Culture and Arts Management from Sungshin University. Immersing in her first role Cosette who bloomed her life in the middle of the tempestuous revolution, she also flourished her knowledge and know-how related to the major. After graduation, she continued her career with a musical Fun Home and a play This Time It’s Real, utilizing her major by producing her own show at the same time. She shared those dazzling experiences, which only she could do, and only The Mirror could deliver.
Shall we freshly start the interview with the first topic, ‘Sungshin’?
Great! My reasons for not majoring in a practical discipline puzzle many people around me. It's because my parents weren’t optimistic about it; so it was hard to prepare for the entrance by academies. However, the grades that I kept while dreaming helped me to enter Sungshin University. Among other academic departments, the Department of Culture and Arts Management was the most related to the art. Additionally, I thought it would be beneficial for me to receive some advice from Song Seunghwan, a former professor of the department. As an outcome, the department supported me to be a better professional artist in many directions.
At that time, the department was newly established; however, the hesitation or fear about a newborn college didn't exist. My interest is not the employment, but the convergent major system of the college*. I, who dreamed to be a musical actress, did need the system which could allow me to practice singing, acting, and dancing. I gained a bunch of satisfaction, even enrolled in much more convergent lectures than my major's classes. It was possible for me to train a variety of talents and to meet reliable colleagues on campus. At the stage, I actually met my professor as a musical director and juniors as theater attendants.
My most memorable lecture was the Understanding of Culture and Art by Professor Song Seunghwan. Each week I enjoyed diverse arts regardless of genre. Plays, musicals, nonverbal performances, exhibitions, and more. Thanks to this lecture, I was able to overcome my bad habit of being a picky spectator. As I started everything only for the musical, other arts were not that attractive compared to the musical. But the class brightly introduced me to various forms of art. One interesting episode is here: I wrote an essay after watching the musical Black Mary Poppins. “This is insane. Even if it was originally created from Korea, the show has immense suspense.” In 2020, ‘Anna’, the third calm daughter in the musical, became my role. I totally didn’t expect or feel that the lecture would help me this much.
Lastly, my extroversion led me to Sungshin. Being gregarious and enthusiastic, I’d like to simultaneously be the leading role and be a director of the show. In the department, we learn performance directing, which helped my desire to come true. In 2018, I was about to graduate from Sungshin, and other people emboldened me to orchestrate a show. As a result, I directed the 1st CO_CONCERT as a graduation project. Together with other close musical actresses Park Jiyeon and Lee Yea-eun, we brought diverse numbers of famous musicals or songs to the cozy theater. In short, asperity came first. As a producer and main guest of the show, I was juggling a wide variety of tasks encompassing desk jobs, direction, and practice. From the communication with the ticket selling website to preparing gifts for audiences… Every detail had to be considered by me. What a Do-It-Yourself show! Soon, a great sense of accomplishment came together too. In the 2nd CO_CONCERT, I’d like to hire more people and draw financial investment. The second show will be more entertaining and mature. Even though we would like to hold a concert in the future, COVID-19 and a packed schedule prevent that from happening.
The only thing I regret is that I couldn’t fully enjoy my campus life. Owing to the timely debut, attending the school diligently or entirely was impossible. Nonetheless, the memory and skills from Sungshin still remain in me.
*The College of Convergence Culture and Arts' Unique system. No matter what major a student has, they must register for all major courses. (e.g Lee was a student from the Department of Culture and Arts Management but should take the department of Contemporary Music or Dance Art's lectures, too)
Let's talk about your three works: a musical Fun Home, and play This Time It’s Real.
First of all, Fun Home is a complicated musical. Based on a graphic memoir, an openly lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel reminisces her childhood with family, especially her father, who was an English teacher, undertaker, and closet gay. Alison is divided into three roles by the age: Small Alison(a kid), Medium Alison(a young adult), and Alison Bechdel.(present day Alison unlocking her memories) I was the Medium Alison(19 years old), and she was in the arduous watershed to realize her sexual orientation. Only a sentence 'I'm a bit strange...' is the Medium Alison could confess to audiences. Alison Bechdel deals with the story after the Medium. At the other musicals, I am able to penetrate the whole life of one character; in Fun Home, I couldn't deepen my emotions beyond the age of 19. Each Alison has each area that others shouldn't intrude. Still, Medium Alison has a challenging part: early Medium Alison wasn't honest to her emotions and family. As an actress, I had to sympathize with her, and divulge the secrets to audiences. The song 'Changing My Major' delicately portrays these tangled emotions so I concentrated to practice the song. The connection between each Alison was shown through the signature posture; hands were stuck in pockets, and shoulders stooped. It expresses the body dysphoria of butch lesbians. Also, all of the casts became close by spending time together. Because we are all same person, only our ages differ.
Fun Home also covers the deep relationship with her father, Bruce Bechdel. A clue to meet him and be a daughter of him was at the thinking about my father and myself. I usually build the character's behind story and find a way to act from my personal memories; because of that, people commented on my characters as 'Jisooful’ ones, which means I absorb everything of the role and show them by my own unique way.
Importantly, I first wore pants in Fun Home. As my existing image is very bright and socially feminine, I thought other neutral actresses would be chosen, but not me. But the director chose me as the play needed brightness. Though, I was haunted by huge pressure to show a different side of myself and wear only underwear on stage. In return, it becomes a gallant turning point. Both the image and field are broadened; now musical people think 'Lee Jisoo can do much diverse roles', and I also have the confidence to do so.
The first e-x-p-r-e-s-s-i-o-n of the play This Time It’s real was a true love story of a couple. As I absorbed the play, I realized that it's about love between family, lovers, and colleagues. Every character loves and heals each other. Specifically, the character Ran, which I played, needs the affection and remedy the most. She does whatever she can to become an actress. A certain aspect criticizes misogyny in her characteristics. But I think it shows the eagerness to achieve her dream on another side, which is similar to women of today. Owing to the deficient information, audiences didn't love her as much as I hoped. It is the first show that I didn't focus only on my character, but care for everyone. All crew became a family, and it was strong enough for audiences to notice our family ties. The burden to manage my first play was also there, too. I had to stand under the stage lighting only with lines and breathing, filling the vacancy of singing. After I got into the swing of the play, it was amusing!
Please send some words to Soojungs, the students of Sungshin.
The campus life never comes back, so enjoy! In the future, you must have a chance to achieve your dream. So just be fully delighted in the precious time you have now. Also, Soojungs are my audience. As a musical actress, I’d like to invite you to theaters, where a lot of vivid shows are waiting for you. Bring a light heart and clear mind, then we will fill it with elaborate songs!
During the whole interview, her true love for musical and music overflowed. “To express emotions through music is an immense charm of musical, which is irreplaceable by anything.” Recollecting her childhood, her favorite movies were all from Disney. Full of splendid scenes and melodies carefully planted a precious seed in her to love music and ultimately be a musical actress. The seed finally bloomed as she is now, a musician full of versatility and vivacity. Sungshin University, Les Misérables, Fun home, and This Time It’s Real have all helped nourish her, but her journey isn’t over; her latest musical Normal Like This will meet audiences soon, and someday the 2nd CO_CONCERT will come true, too. Whatever she encounters along the way, and wherever her destination is… she will Jisoofully step forward and sing other Jisooful songs.
By Kim Hyeyeong deputy editor in chief