Name: Rachel St. John
Hometown: Columbia, South Carolina
Length of time in Gwangju/Korea: 3 years in Gwangju, 10 in Korea
My hometown is famous for . . . Hootie and the Blowfish… sigh.
My nickname is . . . Pete, my dad has called me that since I was a little girl.
The show I am most likely to binge watch is . . . Futurama.
On my days off I like to . . . participate in GPP productions and hang out with my son.
My favorite movie is . . . Cinema Paradiso.
Do you belong to any clubs or community organizations in Gwangju?
When I first moved to Gwangju I auditioned for the Gwangju Performance Project‘s production of Rumors and was cast as a neurotic New York socialite. I have since been in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the director of the improv troupe, led workshops on improv and stage combat, and I am the current co-vice president!
What is your best tip for living in Korea?
Take turns randomly. Some of my best moments in Korea have been had because I decided to walk home a different way or we went out for a random Sunday drive. We found a 600 year old tree out near Naju one day just driving around. Back when I rode a scooter I ended up in what I’m pretty sure was the Korean version of Children of the Corn. I rode into this little village that was just… empty. I could see curtains twitch and stuff though so there were totally people there. It was very cool but also super eerie. A lot of our favorite places in Naju I found just tooling around on my little scooter.
What is the oddest job you have ever had?
Years ago in South Carolina I was the producer for a morning radio show that was hosted by this very bizarre, very libertarian lawyer. There was also this completely psychotic weather guy that did the forecasts twice an hour on the show. I would get to the station at 4am and spend the next 4 hours wondering what profanity and verbal abuse the weather guy would hurl at me. I thought it was me until someone else had to fill in for me one morning and received the same treatment. I have also at various times produced morning radio shows about guns, birdwatching and philosophy.
Tell us a strange or interesting fact about you.
I can juggle and ride a unicycle. It’s funny because I have a great fear of clowns (coulrophobia, it’s a real thing!). Even after studying clowning I’m still terrified of them, just, you know, I can speed away from them on a unicycle now. I’m set if I ever end up in a horror movie set in a circus.
What organization do you run in Gwangju?
How long has GPP been operating in Gwangju?
The GPP has been around for 5 great years, the improv troupe for a little over a year!
How did your Improv Troupe begin?
I worked with three different improv troupes in the U.S., including a competitive troupe. When I talked to the GPP committee about starting an improv troupe I wanted to have something where there was no deadline, no learning lines and blocking, but learning to trust your partners and follow your instincts. Improv tends to have a lower time commitment level than a stage play, but you learn so much! As for the GPP overall, we did A Midsummer Night’s Dream with 50 people, half of whom had NEVER acted or worked crew in their lives. It was brilliant. I have never worked with such a large group where there was no infighting, no coldness… just a huge group of people that supported and helped each other. I left the show with 50 new friends. That is why I love the performing arts. I truly believe it is something everyone can participate in.
Why in Gwangju?
Gwangju is a great city for the arts! There are tons of people interested in a wide variety of performing arts and the city is a hub for people in the surrounding area as well.
What is the best part of your day?
The best part of improv rehearsal is that moment when it “clicks”. As the members have grown closer and learned to play off each other those moments happen more often. It’s also fascinating to watch people you think are reserved or a bit shy come up with the most twisted, absurd things imaginable. We have had a roving group as people come and go, it’s always great to see new people join in and just immediately become part of the group. I get to go meet a group of friendly, funny, accepting people once a week. It’s pretty great.
What can be the most difficult part of your day?
What is the thing you wish more people knew about the Improv Troupe?
That we honestly want everyone to join in! We don’t care if English is your native language or if you have experience in performing. Improv is about crafting your skills as an actor, but more than that it is a chance to let go, be silly, be creative and learn to say YES. The nice thing about improv is that as long as you embrace what’s going on, you can never really fail. Every scene isn’t going to be hysterical, but it’s all about keeping it going and supporting each other.
How do you and the Improv Troupe fit into the community?
We are made up of the community. Because there is no audition and no fee anyone can join. Several of our past and current members are people who had never done improv, or even comedy before. And they are amazing. Our hope is to build a welcoming group that gives everyone a chance to try something new.
Are there any amusing anecdotes you can share about your day?
I love it when an actor loses it onstage. It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while someone is so “on” that their partner can’t help but erupt in a fit of giggles. My personal favorite though (and I think the others would agree) is a game called “Sing It”. We are fortunate to have some very musical people in the troupe (I am not one of them, cannot carry a tune in a bucket) so they really shine at making up songs about hiding bodies or going to an amusement park.
Is there any personal code or motto you use to run your group?
It’s not really for the improv troupe but it applies. There is a Robert Heinlein quote from the book Stranger in a Strange Land that I feel sums up why comedy matters. “I’ve found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts so much . . . because it’s the only thing that’ll make it stop hurting.” Comedy is important because it makes us forget the dark things and painful things, even if just for a little bit. Or it subverts them into something we CAN laugh at. It’s sort of like the Boggarts in Harry Potter, the way you destroy pain and fear is through laughing together.
What are some future plans you have for your business? We are hoping to do our first show soon and we’re working on putting together “Comedy Sportz”, a kind of improv Olympics.
What advice would you have for people looking to start a business like yours?
Do it. If you want to teach dance, singing, stagecraft or anything in the arts field, contact the GPP. We are always looking for new teachers and performers. We do monthly workshops on a wide variety of performing arts topics.
Are there any services you can recommend in Gwangju that a lot of folks don’t know about?
I assume most people know about it, but if not the Gwangju International Center. They have been incredibly supportive of the GPP and numerous other groups in Gwangju. They offer tons of amazing services for people in the Gwangju area and really try to help the community.
The Gwangju Performance Project’s Improv Troupe meets on alternating Sundays and Tuesdays. Their rehearsal schedule for the next couple weeks is: Sunday April 3rd at 2pm and Tuesday April 12th at 7pm. The improv sessions are held at the Gwangju International Center downtown. There is no fee or requirement to sign up, so feel free to just show up and play some games.
Gwangju International Center
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