ED2019 Caro Meets ED2019 Children's Shows ED2019 Interviews

Yossef K Junghan and Stevan Mijailovic: Joyce

By | Published on Saturday 10 August 2019

I don’t see quite as many children’s show as I used to – I think I hit a peak when my daughter was seven or eight – but I am always on the look out for good ones. Especially up in Edinburgh, where some of the most innovative children’s shows do tend to turn up, or, like this show, make a start here.

‘Joyce’, by Turtle Company from Korea, is an international collaboration, the work of a number of creatives who have put the show together despite being based in disparate locations – including Seoul, New York and London – and it sounds brilliant.

To find out more about the show, I spoke to two of those involved, co-directors Yossef K Junghan and Stevan Mijailovic.

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘Joyce’ is all about? Where does the story take us?
YKJ&SM: ‘Joyce’ is a new play that tells the story of a father and the family hamster as they find themselves stuck inside a children’s storybook. The pair must find their way through the magic world in order to work out how to get home. Throughout the play, they meet so many weird and wonderful characters from sticks of dynamite and spacewomen to princes and giants. There is music, magic and song. It really is a lot of fun.

CM: What themes does the show explore?
YKJ&SM: The play is predominately about making sure that growing up doesn’t mean losing your imagination and your sense of fun, as we follow the story of a Dad that has distanced himself from his family, but is forced to re-engage with his inner child through the journey of the play, with the help of a now human-sized hamster.

We touch upon things like the importance of time and self-worth, and these are values that are spoken about with children in schools and at home, and anything we can do as a fun show to contribute to this ongoing conversation is great. First and foremost, ‘Joyce’ has always been about bringing joy to audiences of all ages, and the fact that happiness is always closer than you think.

CM: Can you tell us about what kind of format, and what styles of performance are used in the show?
YKJ&SM: ‘Joyce’ uses live acting, puppetry, stage magic and music to tell the tale. There is Joyce, of course, our little star of the show who is a bunraku puppet. Then there is the giant, which I won’t ruin the magic of, but let’s just say he is a very large puppet about the height of a double decker bus. The piece incorporates a number of theatrical styles and is engaging throughout.

CM: Who is the show aimed at?
YKJ&SM: The show has specifically been crafted to be aimed at both children, lets say up to the age of twelve, and adults alike. There is humour in the piece for everyone along with thematic messages as previously mentioned. We wanted to create a show, as Junghan has always said: “that he could take his little nieces to and enjoy as much as them”. We believe that there is something genuinely very special about adults and children sharing in laughter. If the joke is for the children, then the parents laugh with them in the joy of their laughter and vice-versa. Then there are the extra special moments that are for both together. This is one of the reasons we chose to involve magic in the play as we aim to induce a sense of childlike wonder in the entire audience.

CM: It’s a collaboration between a number of different people, isn’t it…? Can you explain who they all are, and how the collaboration came about?
YKJ&SM: The collaboration started when Turtle Company approached Junghan with a concept, and from there we built a team of theatre maker friends from around the world to make something fun, warm and heartfelt.

Yossef K Junghan is a theatre director based in Seoul and New York. David Couter is an actor and writer based in New York and Stevan Mijailovic is a director in London. Ahreum Cho is a composer who works in both Korea and the USA, and Minsoo Park is a competitive international magician. It’s amazing having such variety in our creative team and it is exciting having all these voices from around the world working together.

CM: It’s all so international, isn’t it – how easy is it to collaborate when you are so scattered?
YKJ&SM: It is very international and that is what is so special about it. We have all worked together previously on numerous occasions and have a strong understanding of one another’s style and process. This understanding has enabled us to minimise the need for long haul flights – although not completely – and be able to work using Skype and WhatsApp to meet, communicate and collaborate. This being said, we were all together in Seoul for its inception and there has been the odd last-minute fourteen-hour flight but with some strategic scheduling whilst juggling time zones, a little bit of jet lag and some strong creative relationships, we are here today. It all feels very worth it.

CM: How did you go about putting the show together? How did the process of creative collaboration work…?
YKJ&SM: It started simply with Junghan and Sungye’s concept. David moulding this concept into a script with a little dramaturgical help from myself and then from there it has been a process with our amazing actors. Junghan and I knew what we wanted to create and trust each other. The play was never finished truly until the actors had sprinkled their magic on the piece in bringing the characters to life. 

CM: What made you want to stage this show in Edinburgh?
YKJ&SM: ‘Joyce’ is just beginning and Turtle Company have the long aim of developing it further. They felt the Edinburgh stage gave them the opportunity to test the play in front of what is arguably the most international audience in the world and therefore learn most from its first outing. We have always been happy about this because the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is so much fun.

CM: What are you expecting, or hoping for, from this run at the Fringe
YKJ&SM: We want ‘Joyce’ to stand out as a unique family theatre experience. We hope it will be well received and that it is ready for an international audience. 

CM: Are there other shows going on in Edinburgh this Fringe that you would recommend, or are planning to see?
YKJ&SM: There are so many wonderful pieces of theatre at the festival, so it is difficult to say. I will say that the standard at Assembly this year has been fantastic and I highly recommend checking them out. From other wonderful family shows to older plays to comedy and cabaret. Assembly has a great selection. 

CM: What’s next for ‘Joyce’ after the Edinburgh run?
YKJ&SM: The play is set to develop and travel. So far on the horizon is Korea, Turkey and the USA. We are always looking for new audiences for our work. There has also been talking of developing the piece into a full-length musical.

CM: What’s next for the company? Any new projects in the planning stages?
YKJ&SM: Turtle Company are looking to set roots in more countries including the UK in order to create a fully functioning international theatre company. They are always looking for new people to collaborate with that share their ambition of making work that is not restricted by borders or nationalities. It is a very exciting time.

‘Joyce’ was performed at Assembly Roxy at Edinburgh Festival 2019.

Photo: Alex Brenner