Baltalkkun

Baltalkkun

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Arts

Writer HeoYongho(許龍鎬)

Actor and puppeteer in baltal, foot puppet play.

Actor who manipulates puppets with the hands and feet and speaks their lines in baltal performances.

In baltal, or foot mask play, there is an actor who functions as Yuramgaek, the wanderer. The actor is not a human, however, but a puppet. The human performer who manipulates the puppets and speaks their lines is called Baltalkkun, who sits inside the covered walls of the stage. The behavior and remarks of Yuramgaek, which are seen and heard by the audience, all come from the Baltalkkun. As such the Baltalkkun undertakes an important, but invisible, role in baltal performances.

To perform his role properly, the human performer needs tools such as a chair and a bamboo rod that controls the puppets’ movements like a joystick. The Baltalkkun manipulates puppets throughout the performance using his hands and feet, so it is necessary for the human performer to be securely seated in a chair that will allow him or her to undertake his duties under stable conditions. Originally, however, the Baltalkkun did not sit in a chair. During the period when Lee Dongan (1906-1995) worked as a Baltalkkun, he used a bed to lay down aslant to control the puppets, a pillow to support his head, a back support, and a legrest. However, it was extremely difficult for the Baltalkkun to speak the lines and control the puppets in a lying position. For those reasons, Baltalkkun began to use a chair. To make the arms of the puppet move the Baltalkkun needs a bamboo rod. The puppeteer holds a pair of bamboo rods in his both hands, making the movements of the puppet’s arms. The arm movements of the sightseer puppet are all controlled by these bamboo rods, called palttegi (disparaging term for “arms”), which began to be used when Lee Dongan restored the baltal performance tradition. Park Chunjae (朴春載, 1883-1950) began to use his own hands to make the movements of the puppets’ arms. Lee Dongan also tried the same method but found it cumbersome and resumed the use of bamboo rods.

Baltalkkun manipulate puppets with every fiber of their bodies. The two hands are used to move the puppet’s two arms and the feet to control its face. According to those who have seen baltal performances in person, it seems that Baltalkkun were unlikely to have used just a single method of moving the puppets. In general, there seems to have been seven types of puppet manipulation techniques in use: ① movements of the puppets’ arms made through straps connected to the shoulders of a puppet; ② double movement of the puppet’s arm using controlling straps attached to both the elbows and shoulders; ③ double movement of the puppet’s arms using controlling straps attached to the elbows and wrists; ④ arm movements made by using long sleeve extensions worn by the Baltalkkun; ⑤ strings are tied to the ends of both arms then raised up and attached to a pair of bamboo sticks, which the Baltalkkun uses to make the puppet’s arm movements; ⑥ a mask is worn on the feet, musical instruments are played by hand, and sound is made with the mouth; ⑦ a bamboo rod is attached to both the puppet’s arms. These seven techniques are categorized according to the way the puppets’ arms are controlled, as the the head movements are uniformly made by the puppeteer’s feet, which are covered with the puppet’s face mask. Those seven techniques can be recategorized as follows according to the puppeteering methods currently in use: combination of hand and string puppet manipulation methods (①, ②, ③, and ⑤); hand puppet manipulation method (④, ⑥); and combination of hand puppet and rod puppet manipulation methods (⑦).

The head movements of puppets featured in baltal performances are made by the puppeteer moving his or her feet. Baltalkkun move the feet wearing a mask, which in turn makes the puppet’s head move. This manipulation method is similar to that used for hand puppets, which are made to move by the puppeteers’ hands inside the body or head of the puppet. The unusual manipulation technique employed in baltal performances, where a puppeteer’s feet movements are used, is similar to the hand puppet manipulation method. However, in hand puppet shows, it is possible for puppets to make very subtle and exaggerated movements while this is not the case in baltal performances. This is because the puppets are controlled by the feet not by hands, which can move much more freely than the feet. Head movements of puppets that are produced by the movements of the puppeteer’s feet include leaning forward, sticking the head out by separating it from the body, separating the head from the body for a second and then returning to its original position, nodding, shaking, moving left to right, moving back and forth, swiftly moving, shaking in place, and quivering. Such movements are mostly generated by the Baltalkkun using the ankles. These head movements are rough and crude but are very similar to the way poeple move their heads in diverse situations of daily life. However, there are some exceptions. A case in point is the movement called mongnori, literally meaning “neck play, ” in which the puppet’s neck is separated from the body and stuck out far. This is a unique performance technique derived from the inherent characteristics of puppets and cannot be done by human actors wearing masks. Mongnori in the baltal performance is one of the unique acting techniques performed only by puppets.

The head movements done by Yuramgaek have certain implications. When a certain feeling or movement in given circumstances needs to be expressed, a corresponding movement is generated.

The movements of both arms of the wanderer puppet appearing in the baltal performance is the result of the Baltalkkun controlling the puppet’s arms connected to a bamboo rod. This technique is called the rod manipulation technique. The movements generated by rods are more flexible and fluid compared to movements generated by the puppeteer’s feet. Emotional changes in Yuramgaek are expressed by the arms, controlled by a bamboo rod attached to the puppet’s arms. As such, the arm movements are of great importance in representing the Yuramgaek character. The arm movements of Yuramgaek created by the Baltalkkun include shaking with both arms wide open, covering the face with both hands, covering the face with one hand, flinging out one of the arms, moving the arms back and forth alternately, keeping both arms dangling, shaking both arms from left to right, raising one arm and swaying the other, spreading out both arms, putting both arms together in an X shape and then spreading out both arms over the head, raising and shaking both hands, and putting up both hands for a little while and bringing them back to the original position. These movements are created to represent given circumstances such as when emotional changes occur in the wanderer or the wanderer is dancing.

The performance carried out by the puppets in baltal is not solely restricted to movements. In addition to the diverse movements introduced above, the puppet actors also speak and even sing. Of course, the remarks and song of the puppet actors all come from the Baltalkkun, who is behind the covered stage. Through voice acting, the Baltalkkun produces the speech and singing of the puppet. The puppeteer is behind the scenes and therefore not visible to the audience, which makes the puppet actors appear to speak and sing on their own. Baltalkkun thus move the puppet’s arms and head, while providing the voice for puppet actors, trying to make the puppets appear to speak on their own. The puppet’s remarks and song are much more natural and diverse than their body movements as the voice is not restricted, unlike their body movements resulting from their inherent characteristics as puppets. In addition to casual everyday speech, the voice ranges over diverse styles including witty repartee, chanting narrative songs of traditional Korean poems (sijo), and singing vulgar songs (japga), folk songs (minyo), short lyrical songs (danga) of pansori, and shamanic songs (muga). Baltal performances are characterized by their improvised and flexible repertoires, which include local folk songs and vulgar songs depending on the area or circumstances where performances are held, or narrative songs of traditional Korean poems or short lyrical songs that are designed to boost the audience’s viewing experience. Therefore, the Baltalkkun responsible for providing the voice of the puppet actors must be skilled in various genres, including folk songs, vulgar songs, sijo, danga and shamanic songs.

Baltal performances feature a half-body puppet that plays the part of Yuramgaek, making remarks, dancing and singing throughout the performance. The speech and movements are produced by the human performer called Baltalkkun behind a walled-stage. The human performer in baltal performances controls the puppet actor in an extraordinary manner. A mask is worn on one of the Baltalkkun’s two feet, which are stuck out through the cloth covering the stage behind which the puppeteer is sitting; a long bamboo rod that functions to move the arms is held in the left and right hands, respectively. By moving the feet and both arms, the Baltalkkun can move the head and both arms of the half-body puppet, that is, of Yuramgaek. Indeed, the entire body of the Baltalkkun is used to manipulate puppet actors. This technique of using the feet for manipulation is unique, not found in any other form of puppet show. Puppet shows performed by Baltalkkun are called baltal, baljangnan (foot play), joktal (foot mask) or jokgamyeon (foot mask), names derived from the unique way the puppet play is performed.

The head movements of the puppet in a baltal performance result from the feet movements made by the Baltalkkun. The puppeteer moves the feet, on which a mask is placed, which in turn makes the puppet’s head move. This method is similar to the manipulation method used for hand puppets, where the puppeteers’ hands are placed inside the body or head of the puppet. It can be said that baltal performances currently performed use a combination of the hand puppet and rod puppet manipulation techniques. Manipulating the foot puppet requires multiple handling skills, which is a unique feature to baltal. Among the numerous puppet actors that appear in Kkokdugaksinoreum performed by namsadangpae or Seosan Parkcheomji noreum, this combination of techniques is not required. The foot movements made by the Baltalkkun behind the stage are manifested as the head and arm movements of the puppet. The control of puppets by a puppeteer behind the confined boundaries of a covered stage is a common feature of the traditional puppet shows Kkokdugaksinoreum and Seosan Parkcheomji noreum. However, the use of both the hands and feet, employing the hand puppet and rod puppet manipulation techniques, is unique to baltal performances.

Baltalkkun

Baltalkkun
Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Arts

Writer HeoYongho(許龍鎬)

Actor and puppeteer in baltal, foot puppet play.

Actor who manipulates puppets with the hands and feet and speaks their lines in baltal performances.

In baltal, or foot mask play, there is an actor who functions as Yuramgaek, the wanderer. The actor is not a human, however, but a puppet. The human performer who manipulates the puppets and speaks their lines is called Baltalkkun, who sits inside the covered walls of the stage. The behavior and remarks of Yuramgaek, which are seen and heard by the audience, all come from the Baltalkkun. As such the Baltalkkun undertakes an important, but invisible, role in baltal performances.

To perform his role properly, the human performer needs tools such as a chair and a bamboo rod that controls the puppets’ movements like a joystick. The Baltalkkun manipulates puppets throughout the performance using his hands and feet, so it is necessary for the human performer to be securely seated in a chair that will allow him or her to undertake his duties under stable conditions. Originally, however, the Baltalkkun did not sit in a chair. During the period when Lee Dongan (1906-1995) worked as a Baltalkkun, he used a bed to lay down aslant to control the puppets, a pillow to support his head, a back support, and a legrest. However, it was extremely difficult for the Baltalkkun to speak the lines and control the puppets in a lying position. For those reasons, Baltalkkun began to use a chair. To make the arms of the puppet move the Baltalkkun needs a bamboo rod. The puppeteer holds a pair of bamboo rods in his both hands, making the movements of the puppet’s arms. The arm movements of the sightseer puppet are all controlled by these bamboo rods, called palttegi (disparaging term for “arms”), which began to be used when Lee Dongan restored the baltal performance tradition. Park Chunjae (朴春載, 1883-1950) began to use his own hands to make the movements of the puppets’ arms. Lee Dongan also tried the same method but found it cumbersome and resumed the use of bamboo rods.

Baltalkkun manipulate puppets with every fiber of their bodies. The two hands are used to move the puppet’s two arms and the feet to control its face. According to those who have seen baltal performances in person, it seems that Baltalkkun were unlikely to have used just a single method of moving the puppets. In general, there seems to have been seven types of puppet manipulation techniques in use: ① movements of the puppets’ arms made through straps connected to the shoulders of a puppet; ② double movement of the puppet’s arm using controlling straps attached to both the elbows and shoulders; ③ double movement of the puppet’s arms using controlling straps attached to the elbows and wrists; ④ arm movements made by using long sleeve extensions worn by the Baltalkkun; ⑤ strings are tied to the ends of both arms then raised up and attached to a pair of bamboo sticks, which the Baltalkkun uses to make the puppet’s arm movements; ⑥ a mask is worn on the feet, musical instruments are played by hand, and sound is made with the mouth; ⑦ a bamboo rod is attached to both the puppet’s arms. These seven techniques are categorized according to the way the puppets’ arms are controlled, as the the head movements are uniformly made by the puppeteer’s feet, which are covered with the puppet’s face mask. Those seven techniques can be recategorized as follows according to the puppeteering methods currently in use: combination of hand and string puppet manipulation methods (①, ②, ③, and ⑤); hand puppet manipulation method (④, ⑥); and combination of hand puppet and rod puppet manipulation methods (⑦).

The head movements of puppets featured in baltal performances are made by the puppeteer moving his or her feet. Baltalkkun move the feet wearing a mask, which in turn makes the puppet’s head move. This manipulation method is similar to that used for hand puppets, which are made to move by the puppeteers’ hands inside the body or head of the puppet. The unusual manipulation technique employed in baltal performances, where a puppeteer’s feet movements are used, is similar to the hand puppet manipulation method. However, in hand puppet shows, it is possible for puppets to make very subtle and exaggerated movements while this is not the case in baltal performances. This is because the puppets are controlled by the feet not by hands, which can move much more freely than the feet. Head movements of puppets that are produced by the movements of the puppeteer’s feet include leaning forward, sticking the head out by separating it from the body, separating the head from the body for a second and then returning to its original position, nodding, shaking, moving left to right, moving back and forth, swiftly moving, shaking in place, and quivering. Such movements are mostly generated by the Baltalkkun using the ankles. These head movements are rough and crude but are very similar to the way poeple move their heads in diverse situations of daily life. However, there are some exceptions. A case in point is the movement called mongnori, literally meaning “neck play, ” in which the puppet’s neck is separated from the body and stuck out far. This is a unique performance technique derived from the inherent characteristics of puppets and cannot be done by human actors wearing masks. Mongnori in the baltal performance is one of the unique acting techniques performed only by puppets.

The head movements done by Yuramgaek have certain implications. When a certain feeling or movement in given circumstances needs to be expressed, a corresponding movement is generated.

The movements of both arms of the wanderer puppet appearing in the baltal performance is the result of the Baltalkkun controlling the puppet’s arms connected to a bamboo rod. This technique is called the rod manipulation technique. The movements generated by rods are more flexible and fluid compared to movements generated by the puppeteer’s feet. Emotional changes in Yuramgaek are expressed by the arms, controlled by a bamboo rod attached to the puppet’s arms. As such, the arm movements are of great importance in representing the Yuramgaek character. The arm movements of Yuramgaek created by the Baltalkkun include shaking with both arms wide open, covering the face with both hands, covering the face with one hand, flinging out one of the arms, moving the arms back and forth alternately, keeping both arms dangling, shaking both arms from left to right, raising one arm and swaying the other, spreading out both arms, putting both arms together in an X shape and then spreading out both arms over the head, raising and shaking both hands, and putting up both hands for a little while and bringing them back to the original position. These movements are created to represent given circumstances such as when emotional changes occur in the wanderer or the wanderer is dancing.

The performance carried out by the puppets in baltal is not solely restricted to movements. In addition to the diverse movements introduced above, the puppet actors also speak and even sing. Of course, the remarks and song of the puppet actors all come from the Baltalkkun, who is behind the covered stage. Through voice acting, the Baltalkkun produces the speech and singing of the puppet. The puppeteer is behind the scenes and therefore not visible to the audience, which makes the puppet actors appear to speak and sing on their own. Baltalkkun thus move the puppet’s arms and head, while providing the voice for puppet actors, trying to make the puppets appear to speak on their own. The puppet’s remarks and song are much more natural and diverse than their body movements as the voice is not restricted, unlike their body movements resulting from their inherent characteristics as puppets. In addition to casual everyday speech, the voice ranges over diverse styles including witty repartee, chanting narrative songs of traditional Korean poems (sijo), and singing vulgar songs (japga), folk songs (minyo), short lyrical songs (danga) of pansori, and shamanic songs (muga). Baltal performances are characterized by their improvised and flexible repertoires, which include local folk songs and vulgar songs depending on the area or circumstances where performances are held, or narrative songs of traditional Korean poems or short lyrical songs that are designed to boost the audience’s viewing experience. Therefore, the Baltalkkun responsible for providing the voice of the puppet actors must be skilled in various genres, including folk songs, vulgar songs, sijo, danga and shamanic songs.

Baltal performances feature a half-body puppet that plays the part of Yuramgaek, making remarks, dancing and singing throughout the performance. The speech and movements are produced by the human performer called Baltalkkun behind a walled-stage. The human performer in baltal performances controls the puppet actor in an extraordinary manner. A mask is worn on one of the Baltalkkun’s two feet, which are stuck out through the cloth covering the stage behind which the puppeteer is sitting; a long bamboo rod that functions to move the arms is held in the left and right hands, respectively. By moving the feet and both arms, the Baltalkkun can move the head and both arms of the half-body puppet, that is, of Yuramgaek. Indeed, the entire body of the Baltalkkun is used to manipulate puppet actors. This technique of using the feet for manipulation is unique, not found in any other form of puppet show. Puppet shows performed by Baltalkkun are called baltal, baljangnan (foot play), joktal (foot mask) or jokgamyeon (foot mask), names derived from the unique way the puppet play is performed.

The head movements of the puppet in a baltal performance result from the feet movements made by the Baltalkkun. The puppeteer moves the feet, on which a mask is placed, which in turn makes the puppet’s head move. This method is similar to the manipulation method used for hand puppets, where the puppeteers’ hands are placed inside the body or head of the puppet. It can be said that baltal performances currently performed use a combination of the hand puppet and rod puppet manipulation techniques. Manipulating the foot puppet requires multiple handling skills, which is a unique feature to baltal. Among the numerous puppet actors that appear in Kkokdugaksinoreum performed by namsadangpae or Seosan Parkcheomji noreum, this combination of techniques is not required. The foot movements made by the Baltalkkun behind the stage are manifested as the head and arm movements of the puppet. The control of puppets by a puppeteer behind the confined boundaries of a covered stage is a common feature of the traditional puppet shows Kkokdugaksinoreum and Seosan Parkcheomji noreum. However, the use of both the hands and feet, employing the hand puppet and rod puppet manipulation techniques, is unique to baltal performances.