When my family first moved to Seoul in 1989, I was a precocious six-year-old who had just discovered her love for the stage. The year before, I’d made my musical theater debut in a production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” in Omaha, Nebraska, and I was eager to perform again.
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 “Broadway Tonight!,” a revue of classic musicals. 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. (I desperately wanted to play the main role, but there was another girl who was better for the part. It was my first lesson in humility and acceptance, and it helped prepare me for all the rejections a life in the professional theater would bring.) 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 that I wanted to be an actor.
Then, the worst happened. 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 the 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.
By Samia Mounts, for Yongsan legacy