༺ Expression of Neutrality ༻
Seated at the very back of the audience, Cheol-joo grimaced every time Yoomyeong appeared on stage.
After failing to regulate the duration against Jun-han’s advice and despite his numerous hints on emphasizing balance, Yoomyeong seemed determined to sweep the stage.
Thinking that he should tell Yoomyeong to restrain himself during the remaining two performances, Cheol-joo rushed out of the auditorium as soon as the performance ended.
Clap, clap, clap—
Applause seeped out from the cracks in the door.
There were quite a few spectators, and neither the actors nor the staff made any fatal mistakes. Thinking that this might be one of the best yet, Cheol-joo wore a proud smile.
That’s when it happened.
Someone pushed the door open even though the lights in the auditorium weren’t turned on yet.
He bowed to his senior with a bright smile.
“Oh, oh? Yes, Cheol-joo. I enjoyed the show.”
The senior seemed unusually excited.
Was the performance that good? Restraining his shoulders from lifting slightly, Cheol-joo tried to maintain a humble expression as much as possible.
“By the way, Cheol-joo. I want to ask you something.”
“Yes. Ask me anything, senior.”
‘Is this finally a scouting offer?’
Vowing not to nod too quickly, Cheol-joo respectfully fixed his gaze on Lee-shin.
Sweat clung to his hands.
“The actor who played the role of President Nam, what department and year is he? Does he have any acting experience? He’s serious about acting, right? There’s no way acting of that level could be just a hobby. He’s aiming to go professional, right?”
Cheol-joo’s expression hardened.
Without even realizing Cheol-joo’s changing expression, Lee-shin continued to bombard him with questions. With each new question, Cheol-joo’s face darkened further.
“He’s from the business department, year ‘00. This is his first acting role. Seeing that we haven’t had a specific discussion about his career path, it might just be a hobby. He’s quite good though, isn’t he?”
“It’s his first time acting? Wow… so he’s not affiliated with an agency or anything like that? And, quite good? It’s more than that. Cheol-joo, seriously… he should have been the lead role—”
Lee-shin finally noticed Cheol-joo’s reaction and the visibly awkward expression on the other person’s face. He made a mistake.
As a director, he might have influence over that actor.
“Ah, right. Changcheon, that’s it. Yes, seeing that you even gave a role of that level to a first-time actor, you sure have an eye for talent, Cheol-joo. I’m planning to invite that guy to join. If he hesitates, please put in a good word for me. I’m counting on you!”
“Ah, yes, senior. I have an urgent matter to attend to, so I’ll be leaving first.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
Cheol-joo, finding it harder to maintain his composure, hastily excused himself.
Lee-shin ran backstage.
“Hello, Yoomyeong. I’m Baek Lee-shin from Changcheon, class of ’90. Nice to meet you!”
While waiting, Lee-shin was able to regain some of his composure and greeted him calmly.
‘Why is this senior…?’
Yoomyeong bowed his head with a slightly bewildered look on his face.
He knew Baek Lee-shin as well. He’d seen him in the club. In his past life, there was a time when he sat in the same seat at a drinking party with his seniors. Of course, Baek Lee-shin would have forgotten him the next day.
He remembered him as someone with a keen eye and a bit of a difficult personality. But who was this smooth, friendly guy with a nice smile who was casually calling him by his name?
“Hello, senior. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“I enjoyed the performance. You seem to be quite talented. Are you considering a career in acting? Have you ever heard of July?”
‘He is quite talented—’
Lee-shin tried to pick his words carefully to avoid sounding too eager, but his ambition clung stickily in between the sentences, impossible to hide.
“Yes, of course. Any aspiring actor would know July. It’s a great theater troupe.”
“Ah, are you interested? Do you want to give the audition a try?”
Lee-shin’s true intentions eventually came out.
Yoomyeong was a bit taken aback.
July. It was a theater troupe with Seo Ryu Shin as its headliner. It was a good place. It was one of the top three theater troupes in Daehak-ro and one of the few groups that could sustain itself with just their regular performances.
However, in this life, Yoomyeong had no intention of joining a specific theater troupe.
In his past life, he had been tied to a theater troupe for 15 years and had already learned everything he needed to learn from a group.
What Yoomyeong wanted was more freedom to choose the projects that he wanted to do regardless of whether they were plays or films and to act to his heart’s content.
“Senior, I am really grateful that you thought well of me. However, I don’t intend to join a theater troupe right now.”
“Why? If you want to build a solid foundation in acting, joining a theater troupe is…”
“I’ve thought it over and made my decision. If I ever feel like joining a theater troupe later, I’ll definitely look for you first.”
A firm refusal without a detailed explanation.
He seemed to have a rather straightforward personality.
Lee-shin, who was planning to somehow coax him and take him to July even if he refused, was at a loss for words.
Why did the phrase ‘thought it over’ from a 23-year-old kid feel so heavy?
‘If I push him too hard now, the promise he’s attached at the end might become null and void.’
Lee-shin was a man with a good sense of intuition.
Those who were going to quit acting will quit, and those who were going to leave for the film industry will leave. If he comes to the stage, giving him an opportunity first would be a significant possibility. The stage had a different, addictive charm compared to the screen.
“Okay. Here’s my business card. Don’t forget our promise. But…”
After glancing around and confirming that there were no people from Changcheon around them, Lee-shin continued.
“If you’re going to keep acting, I wish it wouldn’t be with Changcheon. Your good aspects as an actor will be constantly leveled down if you’re in Changcheon.”
Yoomyeong looked back at Lee-shin upon hearing his candid words.
‘He’s a sharp observer.’
And he was giving sincere advice with Yoomyeong’s best interests in mind.
“Thank you for your concern. This will be my last time participating in Changcheon’s activities.”
“It seems like you already knew. I was worried for nothing.”
Lee-shin chuckled softly.
An actor who stood out beyond Changcheon’s permissible range. He must have already been disciplined numerous times.
Yet, to still be able to give such a performance on the main stage meant that he was not an ordinary character.
“I’m curious about something. How did you practice the president’s expression?”
Yoomyeong produced the expression. His risorius muscles, which created the vile impression, contracted and he formed the exact expression that Lee-shin had seen.
A vile smiling expression. A vile expression of anger.
And finally, the vile neutral expression.
Lee-shin gulped as he watched Yoomyeong’s expressions change freely in front of him.
“I created an expression of neutrality and I put the other expressions on top of that.”
“You maintained a base expression stably throughout the entire time you were on stage? Is that even possible?”
“Well, it worked.”
Yoomyeong awkwardly smiled as he unintentionally gave a cheeky response.
Before the last performance on Saturday.
Cheol-joo finally exploded.
“Shin Yoomyeong. Do you think my direction is bullshit?”
Cheol-joo had been particularly sensitive yesterday and the day before. After Lee-shin gave him a big uppercut and left, the words that were always attached after the greetings from his acquaintances saying that they enjoyed the performance hit him hard.
— There was a noticeable kid, you know~
— The kid who played President Nam was good.
— Wasn’t the main character too ordinary? Is it because it’s an ordinary commoner character?
Afterward, he warned Yoomyeong not to stand out again, but the situation remained unchanged in the second performance.
“I told you not to stand out on your own, didn’t I? Can’t you understand what I’m saying?”
Yoomyeong kept his gaze on the floor and absorbed Cheol-joo’s scolding without responding.
He never intended to stand out intentionally. His acting was neither more nor less than the right extent to portray the character of ‘President Nam’. He had no intention of compromising on that.
It was like a professional vocalist joining an amateur choir.
Even if he didn’t use any techniques, his voice had a unique resonance, pitch, and emotional depth compared to those around him.
Eventually, the assistant director intervened and took Cheol-joo out, and Seon-Ho was left pacing anxiously in the tense atmosphere.
The conductor asked him to adjust to the surrounding level.
It was possible to not add any more technique, but was it reasonable to lower his natural volume or intentionally distort his pitch and rhythm to adjust to the others?
Jun-han returned after a while and apologized to Yoomyeong.
“Are you okay? Cheol-joo has been a bit sensitive these days.”
“I’m sorry. I should have calmed him down earlier.”
“…The directors’ opinions are supposed to be unified so it’s not fair to say this, but I think that your portrayal of President Nam is good. Don’t get discouraged.”
At Jun-han’s consolation, Yoomyeong gave a small smile.
“The director can’t come up on stage during the performance.”
“So, I’m really fine.”
As Yoomyeong walked away, Jun-han stared at his back in disbelief.
‘I shouldn’t be convinced by such words as a director… but he’s right. That’s some incredible mental fortitude.’
Cheol-joo sighed and strutted off the stage.
‘That cheeky bastard! Should I expel him from Changcheon?’
Cheol-joo had always lived a life in the spotlight.
In relationships where he was certain of his superiority, he could be generous to any extent. In fact, Cheol-joo had a reputation among his seniors and juniors for being considerate and humble, and he had a taste for such a reputation.
However, he had no immunity to situations where he was not receiving attention.
‘I guess I’m a born actor, after all. Directing isn’t for me.’
In denial of the emergence of a talent that greatly surpassed his own, Cheol-joo made excuses.
The excuse that, unlike actors, directors exist below the stage and therefore do not receive attention.
Underneath his subconscious, he forcefully suppressed the uneasy thought that he might lose even if he competed with that guy in acting.
‘July is a theater troupe that has always been second, and it has always been like that. The elite one is, after all, Comet.’
He spent the past two days mobilizing his greatest self-defense mechanism to rationalize.
He belittled July, saying that it was always mediocre, and shifted his ambition to ‘Comet’. It was the theater troupe at the undisputed number one spot, which he had been avoiding because he was nervous about the formidable actors that were stationed there.
In making that self-justification, ‘that’ scenery also played a part.
Seo Ryu Shin.
He was once again waiting in the front row.
This being the final performance, he held a bouquet of flowers in one hand.
‘That bastard… What’s with the flowers between men? It does suit him because he’s pretty, though.’
Seo Ryu Shin was in that spot yesterday as well. In other words, he had watched all the performances directed by Cheol-joo.
He was aware that Seo Ryu Shin saw him as a rival, but he didn’t think that it was to that extent…
Cheol-joo let out a sour smile.
‘It seems like the audience size will be similar to that of Oedipus… this will indeed be a legendary production.’
A large group of students flocked from afar. Cheol-joo watched the scene with satisfaction.
He thought that he could wrap up the show in a not-so-bad mood if only Shin Yoomyeong would not act out in the final performance.
That group of students was the juniors of Yoomyeong’s Business Administration department.
“I saw the first performance on Thursday, and senior Yoomyeong’s charisma was totally crazy!”
“Right. He was so different from usual that I checked the program several times, thinking that it was someone else.”
The two female students at the front were openly dropping spoilers. Around 40 students quickly filled the front of the theater. They were a group.
“Oh, so this is a theater. It’s my first time here.”
“Be quiet. The lights are off.”
The bustling conversations were buried in the darkness, and the final performance began.
A few people flipped through the program they had been given as if they couldn’t believe it.
During the intermissions, they turned their heads to meet each other’s wide-eyed stares.
Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap—
The Betty Hall resonated with a standing ovation at the end of the final performance.
Watching the actors’ curtain calls and the staff and director’s greetings that only existed at the last performance, the audience sent their generous applause.
Today, the curtain didn’t close even when the performance was over. It was a day when the audience could come on stage, greet the Changcheon members directly, and take pictures.
Congratulatory greetings, bouquets, and flashes were flying everywhere. Ryu Shin walked slowly among them, holding a bouquet of flowers in one hand.
Despite receiving greetings from here and there, Cheol-joo was aware of his movements.
Finally, Seo Ryu Shin approached him…
…and passed him by.
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