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A Thousand Faces

18

Chapter 18

1

The pre-screening of Actor Kingdom.

The spacious hall spread below a high ceiling, right in front of the broadcast studio. Behind a pair of securely shut doors, the judging process was in full swing. The air within the hall buzzed with activity.

The waiting contestants sat on the floor, running lines and practicing movements. From children to the middle-aged, all wore expressions of tension and fear mixed with anticipation.

The door creaked open.

“Next. Number 176,” a staff member called out to the crowd mechanically.

The exiting contestants’ faces were gloomy, their shoulders slumped in defeat. They exchanged subtle glances with those waiting as they passed.

The tension escalated.

Then, from down the corridor—heavy footsteps.

A confident stride, growing closer.

Junwoo, curiosity lighting up his eyes, moved through the crowd, capturing everything in a single sweep. His late arrival didn’t go unnoticed. The others’ eyes flew to him, involuntarily fixed on the newcomer as he passed.

Whispers fluttered around him.

“Don’t I know him from somewhere?”

“That’s him. That guy with Junho Gil…”

Those who recognized Junwoo spoke in hushed tones. As the name “Junho Gil” spread, one by one, ears perked up.

As silence settled over the hall, Junwoo came to a halt at a certain spot. He didn’t begin practicing, nor did he sit on the floor like the others.

Instead, he stood with one hand in his pocket, drawing attention to himself. A few people thought he was trying to get a reaction from them on purpose.

“Don’t you think it’s obnoxious? Acting oblivious while clearly noticing everything.”

“He’s damn good-looking, though. You jealous?”

“Whatever.”

As the people behind the whispers made eye contact with Junwoo, they quickly lowered their heads.

Junwoo, however, was focused elsewhere. He had instinctively stopped walking when he heard something coming from the studio through the crack in the window.

Someone was sobbing.

“Hey, you hear that? Someone’s crying in there. It must be a crying performance.”

“Ugh, I’m not sure I can do that. I’m so nervous, my tears are all dried up.”

Then, amidst the speculations and nervous chatter—

“Someone failed.”

Only Junwoo, who had sensed the nuances of the sounds, knew it wasn’t an act.

The wait was longer than expected. This was his first experience with anything like this, so he had no idea it would take so long. Not that he had any plans.

He glanced around. I’m the only one who didn’t bring anything.

Junwoo was empty-handed—no script, no notes, nothing. Everyone else was busily looking down at their laps, figuring out their lines, while he stood twiddling his thumbs.

Just as he was starting to feel bored, something caught his eye.

A script lay abandoned in a corner of the hall, a pen next to it. Junwoo took a quick glance at the cover.

Starmaker Acting Academy: Actor Kingdom Preliminary Audition Improv Practice.

At the bottom was the name “Yoojin Kim.”

The script, filled with meticulously noted characters and scenes, showed signs of careful preparation. Even the texture of the paper was unusual.

It certainly wasn’t his, so he left it where it was. But…

I wonder if it’s just scrap paper now.

He looked around again. Thirty minutes passed, and still no one came to claim it. His curiosity grew.

There were scripts everywhere. He wondered if the owner had failed and thrown it on the floor in a fit of anger.

Glancing around one more time, Junwoo picked up the script and flipped it open. The pages were organized by emotions, each scene crafted for impromptu acting.

Flip. Flip.

As he thumbed through the pages, Junwoo realized something. The owner hadn’t abandoned it; they had just given up. The margins were filled with scribbles. The corners were crumpled as if they had been squeezed in anger. There were tear stains everywhere, and rage-filled comments.

Looks like they lost their voice.

It was evident in the attempts to revise and condense lines, favoring scenes that didn’t demand loud delivery. However, it seemed this compromise impacted the overall quality.

It could be that the contestant had caught a bad cold. Clearly, they couldn’t even speak a single line properly. They had likely given up and gone home, realizing that acting wasn’t possible in their current state.

Junwoo’s sympathy was short-lived.

I’ve never thought of doing this before.

His face lit up as if he’d discovered something amusing. He had been getting bored anyway.

With a rough idea of the paragraphs and structure of the script, Junwoo picked up the pen next to him. After twenty minutes of scribbling, a voice sounded above his head.

“What’s the matter with you?”

Junwoo froze.

The hoarse voice had come from behind him.

His pen hovered on the page, a twinge of regret running through him. I guess the owner didn’t leave.

Turning his head slightly, Junwoo saw a girl with puffy eyes as if she had been crying her heart out.

Her name was Yoojin Kim. She wore a school uniform, her hair in a bob. She seemed about Junwoo’s age.

“That’s mine. Who are you?” Yoojin asked, her face sullen. She glared at Junwoo and sniffled.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you’d thrown it away.”

This was awkward.

Junwoo handed over the script, and Yoojin immediately snatched it away.

“Are you rehearsing with my script? Don’t you know where this is from? My academy costs a fortune, but you think you can just swing in and use it for free?”

Starmaker Acting Academy.

An establishment nestled in the upscale streets of Gangnam, renowned for its exclusivity. It only accepted the most talented children of wealthy families, requiring multiple auditions before they could even enroll.

Junwoo didn’t know any of this.

He also wasn’t aware that the script, which had been specially produced for the preliminary audition, was one of only ten copies in existence.

Yoojin was convinced that it would be a deep injustice if Junwoo, a newcomer practicing with her script, managed to pass the audition when she hadn’t.

“I wasn’t rehearsing with it.”

“Liar.”

“Oh, but I did write in it a bit… Sorry,” Junwoo said, scratching his head.

Yoojin’s face turned red with anger.

Was this thing that expensive? Junwoo stood up with a troubled look on his face.

“I’m really sorry. How much is it? I’ll pay for it.”

“Do you have any idea how much this is worth? It’s irreplaceable!”

“Oh. Then, should I rewrite the original for you somewhere…?”

“What’re you talking about? Just get lost! And stay out of my way!” Yoojin yelled and gestured for him to leave.

That’s probably for the best, Junwoo thought. He had already done enough damage. He turned around helplessly.

But then, he hesitated as if he had something to say.

“But…”

“What?!” Yoojin shouted hoarsely.

Junwoo looked at the script, seemingly wanting to explain something, before he simply said, “Nothing. Good luck.”

He began to walk away without another word. Yoojin glared at Junwoo’s receding back.

“Oh, yeah. And what’s up with the vandalism?!” she called out after him. She angrily flipped through the script. “Oh my god. You wrote all over this! What’d you do?!”

Her rapid flipping soon slowed, then stopped.

“Huh? Wait a minute…”

Something in the margins caught her eye, prompting her to start over and examine Junwoo’s scribbles properly.

“What’s this?”

Yoojin’s eyes widened. The handwriting scrawled across the pages wasn’t mere vandalism. As Yoojin read through, the intention of the scribbles became clear. They were thoughtful, intentional edits that perfectly fit the scene from beginning to end.

How did he do this in such a short time? How’d he come up with this answer when I couldn’t even figure it out after worrying about it all night?

Every line of dialogue in the scene had been changed to a note. It was now played out without a single word, only body language and facial expressions. The parts that were lacking were made up with the use of common props.

All this had been done with a single pen.

Tick, tick—the repetitive bouncing of tapping fingernails.

Thud—the rolling of feet.

Swallowing saliva. The slam of a palm against a desk.

The scene used sounds to express emotions, replacing the need for a voice. Quick changes in the eyes, heightened intensity of movements, finger tapping, and pursed lips. All were outlined with precise timings.

Yoojin could almost hear the scene being played out.

Once she had finished reading over Junwoo’s scrawls, she covered her mouth in disbelief. This new direction was even better at conveying emotions than the lines that had been carefully crafted by the academy.

Even combinations that could express various emotions were detailed. Occasionally, there were physical reactions that couldn’t be conveyed through acting or words, but those weren’t important to her. This was enough.

Stunned, Yoojin suddenly had one question on her mind.

Why did he go to the trouble? It’s not like he lost his voice too.

Yoojin shook her head, trying to come up with an answer.

No way. It can’t be just for fun. At a time like this? While everyone’s freaking out under the pressure, trying to practice their lines one more time? Surely not…

Yoojin craned her neck, giraffe-like, only to find that Junwoo had disappeared into the crowd.

Meanwhile, Junwoo had returned to a corner of the hall with a bored expression on his face.

Should’ve warned me about how long this wait would be, old man.

Now more hesitant about carelessly touching other people’s property, he resigned himself to sitting quietly.

“Hey! Mr. Doodle!”

Someone rapidly approached from a distance.

It’s the voiceless girl. She must be super pissed to chase me all the way here.

Junwoo, unsure how to handle the situation, shook his head in bewilderment. Mending friendships, especially when anger was involved, puzzled him. However, the approaching female student showed no signs of anger.

“Tell me!”

The script was thrust in front of him.

“How did you do this?” she demanded. “Why did you do this? No, I mean…”

She blinked, her words dying out as she averted her gaze.

“So, like, can you…” she mumbled.

“What are you saying?”

Glancing between the script and Junwoo’s face, Yoojin cautiously said, “Can I… use this? For the evaluation.”

The anxiety in her voice was clear. She had invested countless hours into preparing for this moment. Yet, no matter how desperate she was, she couldn’t just steal another person’s work.

Still, she knew there was no way she could get through without it.

Junwoo watched her intently, his brows furrowing. “Is this why you chased me down?”

“Oh. Is that… a no?”

“Why are you asking me? It’s your script, isn’t it?”

“Huh?”

Junwoo genuinely looked indifferent, as if he couldn’t comprehend what she was saying. He had never thought of it as his work.

Yoojin, accustomed to a world where her classmates would spend a fortune or squabble over a tip, couldn’t get her head around his reaction.

“Really?” she said incredulously. “Then, I can use this all I want?”

“Yeah, sure.”

All of a sudden, this boy appeared to her like an angel dropped from the sky. Her face lit up with a brilliant smile.

So fate hasn’t abandoned me. The effort was all worth it.

Meanwhile, the only thought in Junwoo’s head was, Thank goodness.

He silently sighed in relief.

I thought she was coming to shriek at me and demand I pay her back. We would’ve been the center of attention.

***

Yoojin Kim wiped her tears away and focused on the newly changed script. She entered the studio a short while later.

I forgot to ask his name.

As she took a deep breath, she thought of the boy.

Thank you, Mr. Doodle! This might be my last shot, but I hope you make it to the finals.

Yoojin bowed to the judges and introduced herself.

“I’m contestant number 234, Yoojin Kim. Thank you for having me.”

One of the judges briefly scanned her resume. “Oh, you’re from Starmaker? I have high hopes.”

But there wasn’t an ounce of hope in his face as he spoke. The judges could already tell that she would be eliminated just from her brief introduction.

Her voice was completely gone. How could she act in such a condition? And doing improv, at that.

The judge clicked his tongue in disapproval and slipped the resume into the pile of already eliminated contestants.

“I’m going to show you a performance that’s a little different from the others today. I’ll do my best!”

“Good luck. Here are your keywords.”

Two words flashed onto the screen at the front of the room.

I suppose she’s trying her best. She’s not bad-looking. What a shame.

Everyone in the studio watched in anticipation. Yoojin straightened up, radiating a newfound confidence.

***

A little while later.

Sangjun, clutching something in his hand, hurried toward the conference room.

“Come in,” a voice called from inside at his knock.

Jungil sat alone in the room.

Sangjun nodded slightly before placing something on the table in front of him—a worn-out script.

Starmaker Acting Academy.

Jungil glanced at the name, confusion crossing his face.

“Who’s Yoojin Kim?”

“That’s not important. I’m here about… the kid.”

“Junwoo Han?” Jungil said immediately.

He had instructed Sangjun to keep an eye on Junwoo throughout the audition process. Jungil sat straighter in his chair.

Sangjun turned the page of the script. “I think you should see this.”

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