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A Thousand Faces

10

Chapter 10

3

The rehearsal room was quiet. Junwoo sat on the floor, absorbed in re-reading the scripts he had already tackled.

“Planning to spend your whole life just staring at those?”

Before he knew it, Mansik was there, his arrival unnoticed until he spoke. He held a heavy paper bag in one hand.

Junwoo blinked. “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you all morning.”

Mansik turned the paper bag upside down, and books tumbled out in a steady stream.

That’s…

Junwoo’s eyes widened in surprise.

“I guess this is enough for now?” Mansik said, scratching his head, though he looked displeased.

Understanding Theater, Basic Theater Theory, Introduction to Theater, Glossary of Stage Direction, Directing Techniques, Playwriting Theory, Ancient Roman Theater and Comedy, not to mention classical books and scripts in their original languages.

There was only one bookstore in this rural area, and it was located in the city center. To have gone all the way there on such a hot day… It looked like he had purchased every theater-related text the tiny store had to offer.

Junwoo had wondered where the theater owner had disappeared to. The off-hand comment he had made yesterday must have stuck in Mansik’s mind. Unaware of that, Junwoo felt a bit embarrassed about just lying here reading scripts.

Mansik cleared his throat as Junwoo picked up one of the thick books.

“Even if it’s a boring read, it’ll still help. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been for you.”

As Mansik spoke, he wondered if suggesting all these theories was pointless. He wasn’t entirely convinced if Junwoo really needed them. He was afraid that trying to confine the kid’s natural genius within a structured framework might do more harm than good.

Was he doing the right thing? No matter how much he mulled it over, he couldn’t think of another way to help.

In the end, he selected only the works he deemed masterpieces, thinking that his unconventional teachings might be useless. He worried that explaining his point of view on theater and directing might narrow Junwoo’s mind, yet he also fretted that Junwoo, who was just starting to enjoy acting, might lose interest after looking through the pile of theoretical books before him.

It didn’t take even five minutes for Mansik to realize that his concerns were unnecessary.

“They’re not boring,” Junwoo said, his gaze fixed on a book. He spoke with a slow nod, his eyes shining.

“I guess it does help a bit, doesn’t it?”

“It’s my first time studying this stuff, but it’s surprisingly fun.”

Fun. Mansik felt like there was something odd in that statement.

“Have you really never acted before? How could someone who doesn’t know anything pull off what you did on stage?”

“Actors aren’t the only ones who can act.”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Watch out. Someone like you could get taken advantage of out there.”

“Someone like me? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re always so quick to jump into things. No fear, no hesitation.”

Mansik laughed in disbelief. “Oh, please. What would a runt like you know? When did I ever do that?”

“You’re doing it now—to me. You don’t even know me.”

Mansik pressed his lips tightly together.

Junwoo, who had suddenly closed the book he was reading and was staring intently at Mansik, asked, “Do you want me to become famous?”

“No, not necessarily.”

“Then?”

Mansik’s face became somewhat serious. It was a hesitant expression, uncertain of how Junwoo would take his next words. “I just hope you live doing what you really want. It took me a long time to figure that out.”

It wasn’t a lie. Anyone could tell just by looking at Mansik’s face that his feelings toward Junwoo were sincere.

“I suppose you might think I’m using you, but even if you messed up on stage, I would’ve still gone to the bookstore today.”

Mansik quickly avoided eye contact as soon as he said it. He gave an awkward cough. “…Probably,” he muttered.

Use him? If Junwoo had thought the theater owner was using him, he would’ve walked away a long time ago.

Seeing Mansik look embarrassed, Junwoo couldn’t help but chuckle. “I don’t think that. I’m grateful for these. I actually needed them.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

Junwoo scanned the books. I’ll pay you back later, he added silently.

***

“Hello, Mr. Joo. I heard you run this theater.”

They were in front of the theater. Mansik momentarily furrowed his brow at the unexpected visitor. However, once he confirmed the stranger’s identity, he couldn’t help but be surprised.

The person confidently bowing toward him was unmistakably Jaemin Choi, a top-level director at NK Entertainment.

What’s someone like him doing here?

NK Entertainment was renowned for producing some of South Korea’s top actors. Despite not being an actor himself, Jaemin Choi was a household name. He had gained attention for his excellent casting decisions for several major films and TV shows. Now, whenever his name was attached to a project, not only investors flocked but also journalists. There was a common saying among them: “If Jaemin Choi did the casting, it’s a must-see.” Any project he participated in carried a guarantee of box office success.

“I do,” Mansik replied. “What brings you here?”

Seeing that Jaemin even knew Mansik’s name, it didn’t seem like a casual visit. Jaemin extended his hand for a handshake.

In contrast to the excitement he had just shown toward Junwoo, there was a sense of caution in Mansik’s demeanor.

Jaemin Choi, maintaining his smile, lowered his hand. “I enjoyed the performance yesterday. Is that young man a member of this theater?”

Even without mentioning a name or any details, Mansik could tell who he was referring to—the kid.

“Yes, he is.”

He may not be officially part of the theater company, but… Well, he does work here, so it’s not a lie.

“I have a proposal for you. I apologize for dropping by without notice. I must admit, I don’t normally rush things like this. It’s just that… it’s been a long time since I had that feeling of discovering a gem.”

Things had been tough for Jaemin Choi lately due to contract renewal issues with NK Entertainment’s actors.

They all seemed to follow the same pattern, asserting their market value with unreasonable demands as if they had coordinated beforehand. In an attempt to cool his head, he had come down here and happened to see Junwoo’s play.

From the first line out of the kid’s mouth, one thought sprung up in Jaemin’s mind and wouldn’t leave him alone: He doesn’t belong here.

For a long time, Jaemin Choi had been surrounded by actors whose only priorities were their reputation and fame, more so than genuine acting. Coming upon this kid was like discovering a shining star.

However, the theater owner didn’t appear as open as Jaemin thought he would be. Indeed, if someone like that young man was affiliated, this couldn’t be an ordinary countryside theater.

“Are you thinking of casting him?” Mansik asked.

“Not just casting. We haven’t had much luck finding a child actor for an upcoming production. A kid who can portray intelligence beyond their years, who can embody a certain sophistication—it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. But that young man expressed the life of someone in their thirties without any awkwardness. In fact, it went beyond that. Who knew someone like that could be hiding here, of all places?”

The executive’s eyes sparkled as if mentally replaying yesterday’s performance. It was clear that he was eager to cast Junwoo in a project immediately.

If this entertainment company took on a project, success was guaranteed. It was on a different scale than yesterday’s stage performance. This went beyond anything Mansik could orchestrate on his own.

“I understand your eagerness to start shooting right away. The kid’s talent isn’t just outstanding; it’s exceptional. Do you have a specific plan for him?”

“Plan…?”

There was a firmness in Mansik’s tone, mingled with concern for Junwoo. He wondered if this executive might be rushing into it, blinded by Junwoo’s talent, without considering the bigger picture.

“I’m well aware of the scale of NK’s experts. I guess I’m asking about possibilities of basic training, participation in big domestic and international projects, opportunities for overseas education, attendance at major events, that kind of thing. Of course, all of this is under the condition that Junwoo agrees.”

“You mean, offer all that to an inexperienced rookie?”

“You watched the performance. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Because you saw his potential.”

Jaemin Choi was taken aback. Why was this theater owner so bold? He had expected a humble reaction, considering the extent of the offer.

“Hmm…”

Even so, he couldn’t bring himself to walk away. That was how much he wanted to sign this kid.

“I’ll do my best to work something out. It’s not something I can decide on my own, but…”

To Mansik, it was obvious that this executive was the one who should be grateful, not him. Judging by Jaemin’s hesitation, it seemed like he still hadn’t fully recognized the extent of Junwoo’s abilities.

You haven’t even seen the half of it.

If the NK director got to see more, Mansik was sure he would be pushing to work with Junwoo, conditions be damned.

But it wasn’t up to Mansik alone. From his interactions with Junwoo so far, he knew the kid wasn’t the type to just blindly follow along.

“We simply want to provide an environment where we can help a young talent like him. We hope you’ll make a decision that’s beneficial and expedient for the boy, as much as you care for him.”

The executive thrust a business card toward Mansik.

“Please take some time to think and contact us when you’re ready.”

***

Junwoo lay sprawled on the floor of the rehearsal room. Scripts and books that Mansik had bought were scattered messily around him.

After tirelessly reading through all the books for a while, Junwoo gazed at the lights hanging from the ceiling.

What should I do? It’s not like I have money right now.

He was thinking about Mansik. He realized that he had only been taking from him and hadn’t really done anything for him in return. To make things even more uncomfortable, Mansik wasn’t the type to care about money. No matter how hard Junwoo thought, he realized that the thing Mansik truly appreciated about him was… Junwoo himself.

Hmm…

From a distance, Mansik secretly watched Junwoo. A thought—totally different from what Junwoo was thinking—crossed his mind.

He’s already bored, huh?

Mansik furrowed his brows.

“Ahem!” he coughed, stepping forward. “I came to check on how you’re doing. Do you really not have a single question for an experienced theater director?”

Junwoo looked up at Mansik’s entrance.

Mansik glanced at the theory books spread out next to Junwoo.

Ah-ha. The kid who normally only scanned things once had drawn a question mark in the empty margin.

“Looks like you do have some questions.”

“Oh, that. I found the definition, but when I looked up the examples, it kind of had a different meaning.”

“Right. Even though I’ve been in this field for about five years, I’ve studied for ten. Let me take a look!”

Mansik felt his heart racing. Finally, he could be of some help.

Junwoo glanced at Mansik’s excited face and got up with a slightly awkward expression. “This part here…” he said, pointing to a specific section with his finger.

However…

“Huh…” mumbled Mansik.

What language was this exactly? Even though he had a deep understanding of classical texts, he had only ever studied their translations. The original sentences looked like alien scribbles. Mansik’s mouth went dry.

“Oh, this here is… Hm…” Despite not being able to recognize anything, Mansik squinted as if deep in thought. “My stomach’s feeling a bit funny today… Just keep at it for now.”

Mansik walked away, absentmindedly stroking his belly. This was way beyond his abilities. He couldn’t comprehend where the translated version ended and the original began.

Leaning against the door, Mansik looked up at the ceiling in a daze.

How many more surprises are there?

The kid was as outstanding as he had imagined. It was why Mansik had run to the construction site like that in the first place. However, now he was beginning to feel that he was in over his head.

It was scary how fast a young man who had only just started acting picked it up. Despite experiencing countless hurdles in life, this was the first time Mansik felt so unsure of himself. He wondered if he could properly guide this child.

The next day, Junwoo began asking questions.

“I don’t understand this part. Please explain.”

This time, while it was still challenging, it was within Mansik’s ability to answer. The topic the kid wanted to know about was Brecht’s Fourth Wall Theory.

“That there refers to the imaginary wall between the audience and the stage. In Brechtian theater, actors sometimes break the fourth wall, engaging directly with the audience. Theater isn’t just simple entertainment; it has life lessons that we…”

As Mansik continued his exuberant explanation, Junwoo nodded quietly, a subtle smile on his face.

“Got it. And what’s this about?”

Junwoo opened another book. Various parts were marked with a red pen. After having a lively discussion for about thirty minutes, Mansik, upon returning, sat down at his desk and unfolded the theory books he had set aside.

And to think I’d see this again at my age…

He hadn’t felt this passionate about the theater world since he had first jumped into it.

***

Over the course of the next week, Mansik’s concerns deepened as he watched Junwoo’s unbelievable progress.

The kid’s natural talent, combined with passion and dedication, had propelled his development at an unimaginable pace. There was no need for additional theory books now; the boy had already surpassed an expert level.

After the theater closed for the day, the kid set up the empty stage to his liking and flawlessly acted out the script. He didn’t just mimic the emotions and habits of the various characters; he also adjusted the lighting angles to suit each scene.

It was like watching art come alive.

Noticing Mansik lost in the breathtaking spectacle, Junwoo merely scratched his head and casually asked if he could rearrange a few things. He continued practicing by reworking the script, leaving only the characters’ emotions intact and discarding the rest of the lines.

It was more than just “practice.” It was the pure enjoyment of bringing his own creative vision to the stage. A radiance emanated from him that surpassed even the brilliance of the stage lights.

Absently watching the stage, Mansik subconsciously reached into his pocket and found the business card he hadn’t yet discarded.

I have to do it.

Fidgeting with his pocket, Mansik eventually pulled out the card. On it was the name ‘Jaemin Choi’ and a phone number embossed under it.

The signal beeped on the other end of the line.

“It’s Mansik Joo. Let’s meet up to talk.”

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