Called the “Jeanne d’Arc of Daehagno” among young theatrical people, Lee Jihyun (LEE) is doing her best to re-glorify the value of Daehagno. Taking a leave from school, she founded JH Company, a production company, as well as borrowed a theatre hall to perform productions. She also wrote a play that dramatizes the webtoon Sambong Barbershop by Ha Ilgwon. She not only focuses on developing productions and her troupe, but also centres on developing various events in Daehagno such as DJ Festivals. The Sookmyung Times (SMT) spent some time with her to understand her love towards theatre and how she became a pioneer in her field.
SMT You are currently known as the person who contributes the most to reviving Daehagno. However, there are other various cultural attraction areas in Seoul such as Bukchon, Insadong and Shinchon in Seoul, so why did you choose to nurture Daehagno?
LEE Daehagno has over one hundred small theaters. In other words, more than one hundred performances are shown daily exclusively. This is a rarity even worldwide. I thought Koreans needed to develop that. Like Broadway is an icon for musicals, I wanted Daehagno to stand as the icon for theatre. Most of all, my love of the theatre was what drove my affection towards Daehagno.
SMT Your first production, Sambong Barbershop, was dramatized by yourself. Are there any specific reasons why you produced this particular play?
LEE The director that I am currently working with suggested I write a play based on a web-cartoon, so my first search lead to My Heart is Pounding by the cartoonist, Ha Ilgwon. At first I thought, ‘This is the one!’ but I soon became concerned with how to adopt a swimming pool and swimsuit concept onto the stage. Further searches led to Sambong Barbershop catching my eye. Actually, it also had various unrealistic factors, and I had to agonize about whether and how to dramatize it. However, each line from the cartoon and its overall message were so heart-warming that I decided to go with it.
SMT Looking at your company’s website, I found several articles by supporters of your work. It’s unusual for a production company to have gathered such supporters as they are usually recruited by larger industries or festivals. What is your reason to adopt the system?
LEE I think they are not always drawn to larger companies. Although companies, musicals and festivals with larger budgets operate ‘Supporter Systems,’ it is stereotypical to think small companies are unable to do it. By adopting the system, I created another trend that corresponds to the amount of capital. Also, in terms of support, it is not common for a company to recruit supporters that are interested in both theater and performance art. Moreover, most supporters consider university students a huge untapped group because audiences at theatres are mainly made up of adults in their twenties and thirties. It provides more youth and vitality to advertising ideas for performances and improves the overall effect to the company.
SMT You took a leave from school in 2010 to start your own business. What were your reasons for your leave from school and founding JH Company?
LEE At first, I left school simply because I wanted to be an actor. Actors work in various fields but as a member of a theatre club, I thought I would begin my career there. I was and still am ambitious. Starting from affection towards acting to vague ideas on writing productions and producing, my career in the field quickly developed. As for founding my company, I signed up for the ‘Youth Business Establishment 1000 Project.’ Signing up, I decided that if I were to fail to get the funding, I would not go through with establishing my own company as it would have meant that my business idea was not worth pursuing. Thankfully, I got accepted and through the investment from the Seoul Metropolitan Government, and I founded JH Company.
SMT It is known that you used to be a member of ‘Limelight,’ SMU’s theatre group; however, you studied law, a major that seems quite distant from the theatre. Did you have any interest in theatre before attending university?
LEE Yes. Like I said before, I am very ambitious and am interested in various fields. Since my youth, I was fascinated by the entertainment business, but growing up I did not have the chance to enter that field. I even chose the university I would attend just after twelfth grade unlike others who usually decide where they plan to go at least one or two years before the last year of high school. At that time, I was still considering the Department of Drama and Cinema but was not courageous enough to apply. I chose law to develop professional knowledge and diversify my thinking because I believed it could help me in many ways.
SMT Then, how would you describe your school life while at SMU?
LEE Mostly, I played a lot. I usually studied my major rather than take liberal arts classes. Meetings, blind dates, and club work were the main things that sum up my school life. I was a member of clubs that focused on developing experiences like dance, theatre, traveling, and so on. Sometimes, I regret having played so much rather than studying, but I believe I am who I am by not tying myself down with studies and did what I want.
SMT Unlike most students who strive to add more to their resumes, you are pioneering your own way, a path that you chose. What advice do you have for SMU students?
LEE I started my career earlier than others, but I cannot help but miss university life. Although I played and did whatever I wanted, I should have gained more experiences. When I say ‘play,’ I don’t mean become idle. Look for things you like and experience them. Then, you can find something to burn your energy on and resume add-ons will eventually follow. There are limits to fancying yourself up with clothes and jewelry that do not suit you. I hope you find the field that best suits you the most.
Lee Jihyun (LEE)
·Division of Law ’09, currently on leave
·Head of JH Company and Playwright Producer as well
·Known to as the Jeanne d’Arc of Daehagno