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A Thousand Faces


Chapter 8


“W-What the hell’s all this?” Mansik sputtered in disbelief.

Junwoo scratched his head as if to say he couldn’t believe it either. “Ah, this made a mess when it fell…”

He gestured toward the fallen shelf on the floor.

Only then did the chaos begin to make sense. The shelf had given way during the cleanup, sending scripts flying everywhere. Faced with the resulting mess, the kid had lost it completely, and understandably so. Putting the scripts back in place was an impossible task for someone who had only been here a week.

Mansik had been observing the kid since he started and couldn’t help but think of a fish experiencing water for the first time. His eyes sparkled as he explored every nook and cranny of the theater.

Right now, the kid clutched a script in one hand. The rest were piled into a mountain to one side.

The entire rehearsal room was a mess. Clocks, chairs, tables, instruments, potted plants, and various stage props were scattered around as if they had been pulled out of storage. It seemed like the kid had an interest in directing, after all.

The shock aside, Mansik couldn’t help but become increasingly curious. “Why are you doing this?”

The kid looked embarrassed, almost apologetic, as if he hadn’t anticipated the extent of the mess. “I just wanted to read one, I’m sorry. I’ll clean this up right away.”

“Read a script?”


“Were you putting on a one-man show in here?”

“No, I just… read it. With my eyes.”

“And how did you manage to do all this just from reading?”

As if finding it difficult to explain, the kid cleared his throat and suddenly shifted gears. Mansik noticed he was holding a classic play—in Russian.

“You know Russian, too?”

“No. I had that,” Junwoo said, pointing to the side. Among the pile of scripts lay a Russian dictionary.

“Why go to the trouble? We have plenty of Korean scripts,” Mansik said.

“I’ve already read all of them.”

Sure enough, there was another pile of scripts, this time ones that Mansik recognized. It seemed like the kid really had read everything and was now delving into the classics.

Scattered around the pile were classical masterpieces of drama, once stored in the recesses of the rehearsal room. They were all in their original languages.

“So, you were setting up the scene without even knowing what you were saying? How?”

“I didn’t understand all of it, but I got the gist by looking up a few words.”

Got the gist with a few words? How was that even possible?

Mansik recalled studying that particular script several years ago. The page the kid had open featured a monologue delivered in a surge of anger. Before the speech, the character was supposed to throw and overturn objects in the room in a violent outburst of emotion.

That explained the scattered props. The current state of the rehearsal room floor faithfully reproduced the emotions of the scene described.

Reflecting on the past week, Mansik saw Junwoo in a new light. The kid’s dedication to theater was more profound than he had first assumed. Sure, he had his youthful moments, but on stage, his gaze transformed. More than once, Mansik had caught him utterly absorbed, almost like a child fixating on something.

Now, here he was, crafting a stage in this cramped space. Holding a classic play, wrestling with foreign terms he barely understood, Junwoo’s commitment was undeniable.

This went beyond talent.

Even though he had never said it outright, it was clear the kid had a passion for the stage.

All this time, Mansik had been waiting. He hoped that Junwoo would say it—that eventually, he would express a desire to arrange the sets himself. That was the reason Mansik had brought him on board, even though the theater didn’t really need another part-timer, as he had claimed.

But after seeing this, Mansik couldn’t hold back his curiosity any longer.

“What do you want to be, kid?”

Junwoo, reaching out to tidy up the props, abruptly turned around.

“Why do you stay quiet when you’ve got someone like me right there?” Mansik continued. “What’s your dream, huh? Stage director? Director? Come on, let me in on it.”

“My dream is living just as I am now.”

“Just as you are?”

“Yes. Living an ordinary life.”

Junwoo’s voice was incredibly calm.

Was he embarrassed to say something like that out loud? But he didn’t seem to be lying, either.

“Then what’s all this?” Mansik said, scanning the rehearsal room.

Scripts lay scattered around the fallen shelf.

All of a sudden, he understood. For Junwoo, the process was instinctive; grasp the essence and examine the stage, all before the real work of acting out the scene began.

The performance hadn’t started yet.

“I was setting the stage before starting,” Junwoo said.

“You want to start acting now?”

Junwoo didn’t reply.

“Well, that’s not a no.”

So, the kid had an interest in acting as well. Why hadn’t he mentioned it? And here Mansik was thinking he was only interested in stage direction.

“In my opinion, you should focus on directing rather than acting,” Mansik advised. “Is all this necessary just for a scene?”

“I didn’t lay this out for no reason. It’s all for a purpose.”

“Excuses. Veteran actors can grasp emotions wherever they are, you know.”

“I’m not talking about that. Theater is different. It’s about the stage.”

“What does the stage have to do with acting?”

“Each element on there needs to harmonize. The actors, the props, everything.”

Mansik squinted slightly. “Are you saying that harmony on stage is more important than acting skills?”

“That’s part of it, but it’s even better if the stage itself is perfect, too.”

This kid had only just entered the theater world, yet here he was, lecturing Mansik about the stage. Mansik had to admit his pride was a little wounded. But even if the boy was green, he seemed to have a prodigious talent in directing, so Mansik figured there had to be something behind his words.

Junwoo looked at Manisk’s puzzled expression. It seemed unlikely that he would understand even if with further explanation. And, knowing the theater owner, he wouldn’t budge until he understood fully.

“I’ll just show you,” Junwoo said.

He tossed the script he had been holding to the side. It wasn’t like he could read Russian anyway.

With a brief bow of his head, Junwoo took a moment. Then, looking up again, he swept his hair aside. Mansik’s skeptical expression fell.

It was clear now—the kid wasn’t all talk.

Amidst the clutter of props, Junwoo embodied a character who had hit rock bottom. He had nothing more to lose, nowhere else to go.

Mansik looked into Junwoo’s eyes.

How did he do that?

The whites of his eyes were red, the blood vessels enlarged. It was a physical reaction that couldn’t be achieved through acting alone.

Those were the eyes of someone consumed by hot rage, the kind that rushes to your head.

Is it possible to be that immersed so quickly?

Suddenly, a yell echoed through the rehearsal room.

“What’s the point?!”

A new voice erupted from the kid.

While Mansik was lost in thought, the scene continued. And a little later…

Junwoo staggered back. One step. Two.

Then, glancing at the scattered items that his character had thrown around, Junwoo stepped onto a clock. In one swift motion, he fell backward.

Was it a mistake?

Mansik shuddered. It wasn’t. Junwoo’s movements as he grabbed the chair while falling continued seamlessly.

He landed in a heap, all the muscles in his body relaxed. Surrounded by props, the kid wore a helpless expression, as if he had no energy left to get up. Each and every detail formed a perfect harmony.

The scene ended.

Junwoo, returning to himself, lifted his head.

There was only one line of dialogue. A scene lasting less than a minute.

He was right; there wasn’t a single flaw in any aspect of the stage or acting. Even each prop within view added to the emotional weight of the scene.

Had he calculated the distance to the clock and exactly where he would fall? All while maintaining an accurate emotional arc?

How is that even possible?

Where did the meticulous planning end and the deep delve into character begin? It was beyond Mansik’s comprehension. How could the kid create such an impactful scene with no lighting, using only the most basic props?

Mansik felt like he had just been transported to a different time and place.

A brief, tranquil silence filled the room.

To be honest, he hadn’t expected much in terms of Junwoo’s acting. Emotions came from experience. No matter how talented a person might be, he doubted a seventeen-year-old whose only experience was a rural construction site would have much to offer in terms of acting skills.

Such thoughts now seemed embarrassingly shortsighted.

Mansik had been under the impression that a sharp mind and raw artistic talent couldn’t coexist. Clearly, he was wrong. All of Junwoo’s remarkable abilities turned out to be nothing more than a solid foundation for phenomenal acting.

Without thinking, Mansik blurted, “You need to be on stage. Not here—a real stage.”

Excitement coursed through him. His heart was beating out of his chest.

The kid, however, remained calm. Despite having performed such an incredible feat, he casually began tidying up the props.

“I hadn’t even thought about that,” Junwoo finally said.

“That’s because you don’t realize how talented you are. Just trust me and follow my lead. Do that, and you’ll make it big!”

“I’m okay. I like things the way they are. By the way, are these all the scripts you have?”

The kid seemed genuinely uninterested in being on stage. Why was that? From what he had shown, it was clear that he belonged there. It couldn’t be explained any other way; he was born to act.

The kid’s indifferent response was frustrating to the point of being annoying. Mansik had to somehow convince him.

“If it goes well, you could even go to Seoul. Haven’t you ever thought about going to the city?”

“Not really. I like the quiet here.”

“Do you really have no desire to act? I mean, with that talent, why not?”

“I don’t want to be famous.”


His response left Mansik speechless. However, if one thing was clear, it was that Junwoo was very much aware of his talent. Why else would he be scared of fame?

Mansik didn’t have an answer to that. With that amount of skill, fame was inevitable—maybe even not enough.

But was this it, then?

No. He couldn’t just give up.

“Listen, you may be a nobody with a mysterious past, but what have you really achieved at your age? I didn’t have an easy path here, either. Let me take care of everything, so do what you want to do. Follow your dreams. Do you really want to rot away here forever?”

Take care of everything? After only a month of knowing him? Junwoo was surprised.

He chuckled and asked, “What? Are you saying you’d commit murder for me?”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll murder any scumbag you want! So, what do you say?”

Junwoo’s expression shifted slightly. It was just a comment thrown out without much thought. Why was the man so adamant? It didn’t feel like he was casually saying it just to persuade a kid. Junwoo felt a strange mix of emotions.

Mansik had been a huge help. Thanks to him, Junwoo had secured a job and had access to tons of scripts.

Junwoo wasn’t clueless about Mansik’s intentions; he had only pretended not to know. He knew that the theater owner hated to see wasted talent and had made up a job to allow Junwoo to comfortably watch plays.

And now, he was even saying he would take responsibility for Junwoo.

It was impossible to refuse any longer.

“You need to be on stage. Not here—a real stage.”

Or maybe he didn’t want to refuse.


I really am on stage.

Junwoo glanced through the curtain at the audience. Around twenty people sat dotted around the auditorium. By now, they would have all heard that the lead actor hadn’t shown up.

For Junwoo, this was a surreal moment—the first time he’d ever stand on a stage, acting before an audience with the intention of being seen.

Can I really do this?

Junwoo gulped. There was no point in worrying further. It was right before curtain, when all the lights went out.

The play had begun.

Behind the stage, more excited than the actors, Mansik was engaged in a conversation with the theater staff.

“Is he the one you were talking about?” an employee asked.

“Yeah, that’s him. Brace yourself—he’s special, that one.”

“Really? Where did you find a kid like that?”

“At a construction site.”

“Oh. But the lead backed out five days ago. Does that mean he’s only had five days to prepare? It’s almost all monologue. He does have theater experience, right? Ah, it’s kind of a gamble, boss.”

Five days. It was an unreasonable amount of time, especially for a seventeen-year-old who hadn’t even studied the basics of theater.

Listening to the employee’s words, Mansik chuckled quietly. “Not five days. Twelve hours.”


“I gave him the script twelve hours ago.”

“Are you serious?”

Both Mansik and the staff turned their attention back to the stage.

Under the spotlight, Junwoo’s monologue was beginning.

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