Life in Korea: Performing for a crowd – where, when, and how to show off your talents

Author’s note: I’m sure I’ve missed some awesome groups – apologies, as no oversights are intended. If you’re aware of an active expat-related group that has chances for people to perform, e-mail me at chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com and I’ll update this post ASAP.

Rocky Mountain Tavern's Stand Up Seoul is once a month, and is one of the best places to see stand-up comedy around town.

On your average Thursday night, expats in Korea are doing plenty of things – getting a beer with friends, going on dates, and so on. At one bar in Itaewon, dozens of people have come to an open mic night – just one of many places to show your stuff and otherwise get away from the mono-talented mindset Korea seems to foist on foreigners.  With Sarah and Albert hosting, the open mic sign-up sheet fills up quickly – with registration starting a half-hour before the mere mortals arrive, there’s more people looking to perform than there are slots. By most estimates, however, that’s OK – for a show that starts at 9pm, it’ll go for at least a couple hours before the hosts finally say ‘good night!’.

Coming to Korea means three things for most teachers: learning patience for the idiosyncrasies of Dae Han Min Guk, keeping in touch with friends and family back home while making new friends, and being seen as just a teacher by the majority of locals. Legally speaking, most teachers are on a work visa that doesn’t permit doing anything outside the scope of their contract. And yet, tens of thousands of college graduates bring their energy and passion to a country that hasn’t (yet) enabled it. The solutions are typically grass-roots, with some buy-in from local establishments.


Boy are you in luck – the expat theater scene has gone from a couple of options to the ‘more than you can share a stick at’ level. In alphabetical order:

  • The Cut Glass Theatre – bringing classic texts alive in Seoul. Most recently performed: Our Country’s Good.
  • The Daegu Theatre Troupe – English-language theatre in Korea’s fourth-largest city. Most recently performed: Closer.
  • The Probationary Theatre – aiming to be intelligent, entertaining, and accessible. Most recently performed: Yellow Face.
  • The Seoul City Improv – improvisational acting a la ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’. Most recently performed: May 19th.
  • The Seoul Players – the granddaddy of Korean expat theatre. Most recently performed: The Vagina Monologues.
  • The Seoul Shakespeare Company – give you one guess what sort of theater they do. Most recently performed: The Tempest.
  • Shakespeare in Busan – again, a tough one to figure out. Coming up next: Much Ado About Nothing.
So you’d rather be behind the camera than in front of an audience? It’s not quite performing per se, but the dedication to one’s craft is quite similar.
  • The Seoul Filmmaker’s Workshop – watch other filmmaker’s projects, add your own, and network away on the second Sunday of every month.
  • The Seoultube group – for anyone making videos, this group meets a few times throughout the year.
Anyone can get to an open mic night – and perhaps with a little liquid courage, you might even have a talent to show off. Most open mikes are for any form of creative venture, although space might be limited based on time or physical room. In other words, bring your best poems or songs, not a four-hour soliloquy on your stamp collection.
  • At the Basement (Busan) – every Tuesday night.
  • At Crossroads (Busan) – every Thursday night starting at 10pm.
  • At Ol’55 (Busan) – claiming the title of Busan’s longest running open mic. Every Wednesday night starting at 9pm.
  • At Tony’s in Itaewon (Seoul) – first and third Sunday starting at 8:30pm.
I know you sing in the shower, and I didn’t even have to ask your neighbors. If you’d like to be heard by a larger audience (and avoid those awkward knocks on your door), check these out.
  • Camarata Music Company – one big expat choir performing the classics, along with a musical every so often. Most recently performed: Mendelssohn’s Elijah.
Whether it’s an excuse to dress up or just stay limber, be part of an organized group or do it yourself on your subway. Your call.
  • Any number of belly dancing groups have performance opportunities. This is simply one place to start looking – Google is your friend in this case.
  • Swing dancing is all around Korea – while I wrote a post way back in the day, it’s probably better to check out this more frequently updated site.
  • The JK pole dancing school – sorry guys, but kudos for thinking you can keep up. They offer other classes as well, if you’re game.
  • The White Lies Burlesque group – guys, this one’s usually for the girls only.
Your kids might think you’re funny, but just try cracking a smile out of some of the toughest crowds in the world.
  • The Ha-Ha Hole (Soul Trane, Busan) – first Friday of every month. Sign up by 9:30pm, performances start at 10pm.
  • Rocky Mountain Tavern (Seoul) – first Thursday of every month. It’s mentioned here for completeness, as I’ve been told you need to work up to this one.
  • Tony’s in Itaewon (Seoul) – every Wednesday brings out the funnymen and women. Starts at 9pm.
Testing, testing – is this thing on? For more chances to practice public speaking, or to get more confidence in your powers of projection, a few opportunities are around.
  • At Cafe Radio in Kyungsungdae (Busan) – third Saturday of the month, the group “Wordz Only” gets together for poetry and readings of what people have written.
  •  Go Getters Toastmasters Club (Busan) – meets every Tuesday night at 7:30pm.
Readers, where do you go to perform around Korea?