[Interview] The Producer and Cast of Nanta.

by Chong Zhihao and Zhao Jiayi

Coming soon in June, the first ever Asian show to open off Broadway theatres, NANTA, will return to Singapore once again. With less than a month to go before they arrive in Singapore, we went behind the scenes to understand more about the production and the thoughts from the cast behind the hit performance!

NANTA (Cookin’)
Producer: Mr Seung-Whan Song

How did you conceive these unique show ideas?
I wanted to connect people from all over the world and let them have a peek into the Korean culture. As Korean was not easily understood by people outside of Korea, I decided to use rhythm, beats and tunes to tell the story instead and thus, NANTA was born. I thought that what better Korean tradition to showcase than a wedding. I am very glad that audiences from all over the world have come to love the show as much as I love producing it.

NANTA is the longest running show in Korean history. How has the show evolved over the past two decades to keep up with theatrical trends and audience’s changing preferences?
We are constantly observing what our audiences like or dislike in our performance to fine tune it and keep NANTA fresh. Over the years, new and exciting scenes have been added while some others have been tweaked or removed depending on our audiences’ preferences.

What are some distinctly Korean aspects of the show that you are proud of? Were you concerned that they might not be well-received by an international audience?
I am proud that NANTA showcases a significant Korean tradition – wedding. I conceptualised NANTA with the aim of targeting both foreign and domestic audiences, especially to spread the Korean culture worldwide. Thus, all elements of the show were created with international audiences in mind and thankfully, it has connected with them.

Besides items that can be found in a kitchen, what other properties do you take into consideration when choosing the ‘instruments’ used in the show?
Sound. Although visual aspects are quite important when choosing an instrument, the main focus is to find instruments that can deliver the traditional rhythm and beats clearly and vigorously so that the audience can feel the dynamic energy of Korea.

What can audiences expect to see when they watch NANTA?
Audiences can be prepared to be wowed by the music, magic and mayhem happening on stage with tons of action and fun.

Are there any ‘must watch’ moments in the show that the audience should look out for?
Everyone should definitely watch out for all the different kitchen utensils and vegetables flying around in the kitchen. If you’re lucky, you might even catch some vegetables to bring home! Keep your eyes open and be ready to raise your hand if you want to lend a hand in the preparations as well.

What are your future plans for NANTA? How do you plan to develop them further?
Although we have achieved a great record of performing in 53 countries and 297 cities so far, there are still more than 100 countries that we have not reached out to yet. We plan to continue our journey and touch the audience all over the world with the dynamic energy of Korean traditional rhythm and beats.

In your opinion, what sets NANTA apart from non-verbal musicals, say The Painters?
The success of NANTA can be attributed to the non-verbal performance charm where people of all ages and nationalities can enjoy the performance, audience participation, the fusion of Korean traditional percussions (Samulnori) and techno music rhythms as well as the constant addition of new and exciting scenes to keep NANTA fresh.

Finally, what is your favourite food?
 I love all the dishes that are featured in NANTA including Bulgogi (marinated beef), steamed dumplings, and many others. I enjoy all other Asian cuisines as well.

Cast of NANTA: (Brown Team)
Manager – Tae Wan Kim
Head Chef – Chang Hwan Ko
Hot Sauce – Hye Jin Yun
Sexy Guy – Ho Yeoul Sul
Nephew – Dong Hoon Nam

What motivated you to audition for the cast of NANTA?
Tae Wan Kim: I was always interested in theatre and musicals. A friend of mine recommended me to watch NANTA and audition for a part.  I saw the show and the traditional rhythm and beats really captured my attention.
Chang Hwan Ko: The fact that it is the representative performance of Korea really motivated me to become a part of the team.
Hye Jin Yun: I saw NANTA when I was a senior in university. The energy that the actors delivered to the audience was all I needed for motivation.
Ho Yeoul Sul: I loved the content of the show.
Dong Hoon Nam: As soon as I saw the performance, performing in NANTA became one of the things that I wanted to achieve before I die.

The cast had almost no formal culinary training prior to joining. Do you feel that your culinary skills have improved from the training?
That is a fact that all NANTA actors would agree to. As we practice on chopping boards and use real knives, our chopping and slicing skills have increased a lot!

What were some of the challenges that were faced when preparing for the show?The long practice periods are an obstacle that all NANTA actors have to overcome. We have seen a lot of actors give up in the middle of their practice periods due to the demanding amount of training. Yet, the long hours of training and practicing really pays-off the moment we go up on stage and start to interact with each other and the audience.

Were there any memorable moments you’ve had while preparing for the show? We think that the most memorable moment for all NANTA actors would be the moment we get the beats and rhythm correct. The feeling of accomplishment is something that cannot easily be compared to anything else.

How much food is used for each show?
A lot of ingredients are used in the show, but if we count only the main vegetables, we use about 10 cucumbers, 7 carrots, 5 large onions, and 7 heads of cabbages.

Outside of the show, do any of you enjoy cooking in your spare time?
Most NANTA actors enjoy cooking in their spare time. I guess that is because we are in the kitchen most of the time.

With NANTA being a non-verbal performance, does it create any challenges in communication?
We use action and music to communicate with each other and our audiences during the performance as compared to words. Not so much of a challenge, but we feel that being a non-verbal performance, NANTA actually brings much more laughter and fun to our audiences.

Multi-tasking on stage is a must – you have to be proficient in culinary sills, martial arts and acting and dance! How do you cope with this?
It might sound like a very daunting task at first but we went through six months of training before we were selected to perform on stage. That really helped us to be proficient in the various skills. We also help each other out whenever possible and are always trying to improve.

Of all the ‘instruments’ used in the show, which did you feel was the most dangerous to work with and why?
That would probably be the woks and the knives. During the cooking scene, we use fire and handle the woks, so we have to be extra careful. In the chopping board scene, as you can see, we use real knives and use them practically as drumsticks so we have to be “super super” careful!

What can audiences expect to see when they watch NANTA this time, as it’s not the first time you would be performing in Singapore?
Basically we will deliver the same dynamic energy that NANTA brought to Singapore 2 years ago. Yet, depending on the reaction of the audience we might be able to take it to another level! We are planning to interact as much as we can with the audience.

Are there any ‘must watch’ moments in the show that the audience should look out for?
Tae Wan Kim: The clapping scene of the head chef is one of my favourite parts of the show.
Chang Hwan Ko: I would say the beginning of NANTA, where the chefs appear in the darkness, is a ‘must watch’ moment in NANTA.
Hye Jin Yun: The ending scene, where we all drum together, is the climax of NANTA.
Ho Yeoul Sul: I also agree with Chang Hwan.
Dong Hoon Nam: Me too, I agree with Chang Hwan and Ho Yeoul. Although it is the first scene, it is one of the scenes that people remember the most after watching NANTA.

Finally, what is your favourite food?
Tae Wan Kim: Steamed marinated beef.
Chang Hwan Ko: Kalguksu (noodles that are made by kneading flour dough and cut with a knife, then boiled in chicken broth or along with seafood with slices of squash added).
Hye Jin Yun: Korean stews like doenjang (bean paste) stew and kimchi stew.
Ho Yeoul Sul: Steamed kimchi with pork.
Dong Hoon Nam: Tteokbokki. It is a very popular in Korea. Tteokbokki is made by cooking soft rice cakes, fish cakes, and the sweet red chili sauce called gochujang.

NANTA (Cookin’) will be performing at Resorts World Theatre, Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore from 3-5 June 2016. For more information, please visit http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/nanta0616.