Discovering Broadway on Yongsan Garrison
By Samia Mounts
As the U.S. military relocates out of Yongsan Garrison, Yongsan Legacy aims to archive the living memories of those who served, worked and lived there. This is one of them.
When my family moved to Seoul in 1989, I was a precocious six-year-old who had just discovered her love for the stage. My dad was a JAG lawyer for the U.S. Air Force, and later became the U.S. SOFA secretary, and my mom was a teacher and school administrator who worked for the schools on post.
Luckily for my young heart, there was a thriving community theater program on Yongsan Garrison, my new home. We had this beautiful old theater on South Post, complete with dozens of dusty costume racks in the attic, a scene shop backstage on the ground floor, a gorgeous auditorium space with tiered seating and a stage big enough for full-scale musicals and plays. In the lobby hung framed posters from former productions. I used to stare at them, wishing I could have been there. “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Blithe Spirit,” “The Importance Of Being Earnest,” “Kiss Me, Kate!” _ all the standard titles were represented.
It felt magical to me, full of glittering potential. I worked to be involved in as many productions as I could. I performed the role of Annie in a revue of classic musicals called “Broadway Tonight!” I played the best friend in an original holiday musical called “The Silent Bells,” written by my very own drama teacher _ and personal hero at the time _ Janet O’Neill. My crowning achievement was playing the title role in a melodrama called “The Belle of Bisbee,” a production the elementary school staged. Nothing thrilled me more than being a part of all that magic, whether I was on stage or in the audience. Thanks to that theater, I knew by the time I was eight, I wanted to be an actor.
Then, a fire destroyed the housing office on post. Our theater was undamaged, but all those offices and workers needed a new space and the theater was the most expendable option. They put all the dusty costumes, hundreds of medieval gowns and zoot suits and poodle skirts, into storage. They gutted the scene shop and auditorium. They moved in office supplies and dividers and computers. That magical, sparkling haven was gone forever.
They never replaced it, and Yongsan Garrison’s community theater program died a slow death. It moved to the auditorium at the Moyer Rec Center on Main Post, but that didn’t last long. I produced a couple of shows myself in high school, even used some set pieces and costumes pulled from storage, but it wasn’t the same.
There was never the right kind of backstage energy. The ghosts of past productions, the smell of woodchips from the scene shop, the musty aura of old costumes, the glorious history of the place shimmering just beneath the surface _ all of that was missing in the new, cramped spaces.
But I’ll never forget what that old theater gave me. It’s the deepest certainty I’ve ever had in my life: theaters are magical, and I was made for the stage.
The writer is an actor, voice actor and singer active in New York and Seoul. In 2008 she published the young adult novel “Frunk the Skunk” set in a high school in Yongsan Garrison. Visit yongsanlegacy.org to read more about the history of Seoul’s disappearing U.S. garrison or to contribute your own memories.