Director Kolleen Park gives Korean women one way to even the score in a society filled with clubs offering men the paid company of attractive young women.
Park’s answer is “Mr Show”, a musical featuring eight well-built male talents stripping on stage.
“Women, awaken your desire,” exhorts the show’s billboards. That pointed slogan is backed up by a strict policy of admitting only women aged 19 and older. Park wants her target audience to enjoy the show without concerns about possible backlash from resentful males.
The formula has produced a hit in a nation that has never seen a similar offering. Since Mr Show opened on March 27 the show has enjoyed average nightly bookings of over 90%.
Park is adept at harnessing criticism, real and imagined, to drive marketing rhetoric that sounds like a call to action to the many women who have had to endure the gender inequality of Korean society.
“Has there ever been a single space for adult women in Korea where they could freely enjoy themselves until now?,” she said to a Chosun Ilbo interviewer. “Men go to all these escort clubs that exist under various name tags such as ‘room salons,’ ‘bikini bars,’ and ‘gentlemen’s clubs,’ pretending to have ‘business meetings.’ But ‘Mr. Show’ is a performance, a fun show on stage where there is a clear division between the actors and the audience.
“We don’t get any tips in the show, and the actors don’t follow orders from the audience. There are only applause and cheers in the hall.”
“I never thought that men who haven’t even seen the show would denounce it as obscene,” Park added for good measure. She plans to give the enemy a chance to join the fray: men will be admitted on April 25.
Mr Show shouldn’t be lumped with “raunchy” all-male reviews like the ones offered at Chippendales because “the quality of our show is absolutely superior,” Park insists. “I don’t think I’ve seen this sort of jolly, clean fun, sexy show. There is no parallel in women’s revues either,” she told Korea Herald.
“Korean women go completely wild and I didn’t want to scare the boys,” she added. She is anxious to make sure that the young men, in mid-20s to early 30s, felt safe and not exploited.
She has plans to send her show to Japan “because Korean men are really popular in Asia” but isn’t sure about America and Europe due to questions as to “whether women in the West will be captivated by the body of Asian men.”
Park plans to produce a second version of “Mr. Show” that would be very different from the current one. In about two years she also hopes to produce an entirely new musical called “Airport Baby” based on the story of a Korean adopted by a Jewish American family. She is also working with others on two other stage projects, “Ghost” and “Kaboom”.
Park is also an author who published her second book earlier this year. She became a well known personality following a stint on the 2010 KBS show Men’s Qualification in which she trained TV personalities to sing in a choral competition.
As the third daughter of a Korean father and an American mother, Park’s early life was divided between Busan and California. She earned a graduate degree in Korean traditional music from Seoul National University before settling into her career in Korea.