BGSU doctoral student gets Fulbright to study Korean performing art

J.L. Murdoch was introduced to Talchum when she was teaching at an international school in Seoul about 10 years ago, but she didn’t really know what it was.

J.L. Murdoch

The Ph.D. student at BGSU still has seen only pictures of the form of Korean folk theatre, but that will finally be changing. She will spend at least part of the 2008-09 academic year in South Korea studying Talchum for her doctoral dissertation, supported by a Fulbright Fellowship for Research.

While Murdoch is the fifth BGSU student to receive a Fulbright award, hers is the first fully funded research grant from the organization to a Bowling Green student, said Diane Regan, Fulbright program advisor in the Center for International Programs.

The subject of Murdoch’s research is a form of drama that uses music, masks, dancing and stock characters, she said. She has seen extremely limited scholarly writing in English about Talchum—a void she hopes to fill eventually—but has read on Web sites that it serves as a kind of community therapy, with audiences invited on stage to participate. And the Bowling Green resident is interested in the use of theatre as therapy and for building community, which is also a factor that brought her back to BGSU and its doctoral program in theatre.

She earned a master’s degree in teaching theatre from the University in 2006, then taught it to middle school and high school students in San Diego for one year. However, she said, “my preference is definitely the university classroom,” so she went looking for a place to pursue her Ph.D.

Murdoch said she considered theatre departments more focused on Asian theatre—at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, for instance—but decided she didn’t want to be strictly an Asian theatre scholar and found BGSU’s Department of Theatre and Film to be “more flexible” in its approach.

The word talchum means a form of play or dance (chum) performed while wearing masks (tal). Because one’s identity is concealed behind a mask, it is also a way of releasing pent-up frustrations, so the dramas developed as entertainment expressing the thoughts of the general populace.

Murdoch was given some masks when she lived in South Korea and learned what they signify but didn’t study Talchum until a couple years ago. At that time, her assignment for a final project in a BGSU graduate theatre class, to find an Asian tradition, led her to the Web and stoked her interest.

Based in Seoul but traveling throughout the country, she will be in South Korea either from August through next May or from January-October 2009. August-May is the normal 10-month schedule for Fulbright programs, but she has requested the January-October time frame because that’s when the festivals that feature Talchum are held.

Murdoch is also in line for a grant to study the Korean language as part of the federal government’s National Security Language Initiative. She will receive support to learn Korean—among the critical languages identified by the State Department, which sponsors the Fulbright program—before beginning her research in South Korea, Regan said.

Calling student Fulbright recipients “junior diplomats,” Regan added that the State Department is supporting Murdoch’s research because it believes her work can be beneficial in the spirit of the Fulbright program. Established in 1946 under legislation sponsored by Sen. J. William Fulbright, the program aims to increase mutual understanding between people of the United States and other countries through cultural exchanges.

Murdoch also holds a master’s degree in theatre from Regent University in Virginia Beach, as well as a bachelor’s degree in theology and secondary English education from Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit, Pa.

June 2, 2008