Creating Culture Night

Phuc Pham | New University

Phuc Pham | New University

Everything seems smaller the third time around. The stage, the audience, the hell night practices — they all seem a bit more routine now that I’ve been with Korean Culture Night for the third year.

But of course, I do not pretend to be a spectacular performer of any sort. The spotlight is still one of the most dreaded places in the world for me, an introvert at heart who still has to dig deep for confidence in the most normal circumstances.

Korean Culture Night was created in the summer of 2011 in the hopes of unifying a very dispersed Korean and Korean American community at UC Irvine. The students who began preparations had an idea for a culture night production to match the long-standing ones of Tomo No Kai, Kababayan and the Chinese Association. One of those students, a friend with whom I had dormed our first year, asked me if I was interested in acting.

Of course, I had no idea what to expect, and after I took the offer I was introduced to a unique and special niche at UCI. And after having worked within this niche, which has grown significantly over the last three years, I’ve come to realize that while our goal to unify the Korean and Korean American community may be a collective one, the individuals are many and various. Some are content to work quietly and behind the scenes; others could give MTV a run for their money. In any case, and in every case, no matter which aspect of the show someone was involved in, they were willing to sacrifice time and energy and empower one another for the sake of the overall production.

I played Hong Gil-dong, the Robin Hood of Korea in ancient folk literature that first year in a time-traveling, wild adventure tale that would make the Doctor proud. If I recall correctly, it was my first time wearing any form of makeup.

It was also my first time witnessing the intensity behind dance group practices, the quirky and weird natures of different actors and the incredibly nitpicky demeanor of directors. Even through the second and third years, I saw the same intensity, the same amount of weirdness and the same nitpickiness.

I also saw, and felt, the emotions brought on by stress; the frustrations dealing with difficult and uncooperative individuals, as well as the effects of lacking sleep. My car can attest to that last one.

By the third time around, one can see a similar pattern emerging every year. But how boring would that be, if every year the experience in putting on a show didn’t change? During this past year, I went in not only promoting a sense of community but also trying to find my place within it. What made the repeating cycle of weariness and frustration bearable were the people I came to know through the cycle — bright, talented individuals whom I was able to stand next to and enjoy the ride with. For an inherent introvert, that was really cool.

For most, it is impossible to know everyone and be known by everyone, unless you’re one of those MTV personalities. But to find your place among a diverse group of people who are all reaching for the same goal, it is quite empowering and rewarding, especially once it has been attained. It is also quite the perspective-changer to realize that the group you are in is one of many that make up the overall community here at UCI.

Many times this past year, I found myself sitting in a friend’s living room collaborating on a script, while another couple of friends worked on writing and composing songs for “Invincible Youth,” the title of our production this year. As we explored the theme of first and second generational conflicts and key moments in modern Korean history, the material we collectively came up with flowed from our individual experiences in having experienced different aspects of Korean history and culture — a culture and history that I see every day in family, friends and myself.

For those of you who missed the show, the cast, crew and performers all absolutely killed it. As the designated acting director, I was ballistically ecstatic as I saw veterans of KCN doing their thing and first-time actors shaking off all their reservations and being truly confident in their abilities.

As I stepped onto the stage for the first of my few appearances onstage this year, I knew I had to be loud — louder than my orange pants, louder than when I sing alone in the car during my daily commutes, louder than the second-year, awkward introvert who had trouble projecting his voice when he first took the stage in spring 2011. And as I exclaimed, “Hello there,” I knew I was saying goodbye to a part of my life that I had seen grow, and had grown alongside with.