With a second summit between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, scheduled for the end of this month in Vietnam, the timing for John Feffer’s latest show couldn’t be better. An acknowledged expert on North Korea, Feffer returns to his gifts as solo storyteller to bring us inside that shuttered country. This is a story of forced compromises and personal conflict and an important backgrounder to the upcoming meeting.
An occasional contributor to DC Theatre Scene, John Feffer tells us about Next Stop: North Korea.
You can’t visit North Korea, not as a tourist, not since the State Department instituted a travel ban in September 2017. Even when the U.S. government didn’t stand in your way, it wasn’t easy to go the isolated Asian country. It took a long time to fly to Pyongyang, with a stop in Beijing, and the visa was difficult to obtain. The plane tickets were expensive, and the guided one-week tour was even more costly.
But now you can go to North Korea for as little as $20. And it requires only a short trip to Adams Morgan.
My new one-man show, Next Stop: North Korea, debuts March 1 at the DC Arts Center. It brings you as close to North Korea as you can get without a visa. It introduces you to four North Koreans and assorted people working in North Korea. It also tells the story of my own work in the country.
And it asks the big question: how much would you compromise your principles in order to help desperate people?
Beginning in 1998, I took three trips to North Korea as a representative of an international organization. My job was to help set up U.S.-North Korean exchanges. It was not an easy job.
I’d lived and worked in Communist countries: the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary. But I’d never been to Asia before. I didn’t speak Korean when I started out. I was completely unprepared for the difficulty of working inside North Korea. I was not prepared for the sheer drama of the country.
You’ve probably heard a story or two about life inside North Korea. It’s a tightly controlled country led by a dynastic ruler. There was a war between the two halves of the Korean peninsula from 1950-1953, with the United States backing the South. North Korea suffered a famine in the 1990s. The country has poured a good portion of its limited resources into building a nuclear weapons program, and the government commits terrible human rights violations. Yet, the current leader, Kim Jong Un, has managed to charm the president of the United States into holding two summits, the second one scheduled to take place at the end of this month in Vietnam.
But how much do you really know about the country?
Next Stop: North Korea brings you inside the country: the sights, the sounds, even the tastes. You’ll meet a tour guide, a driver, and a defector. You’ll go inside the mausoleum of the Great Leader. You’ll go to a store, to a farm, to the top of the Juche Tower. In fact, you’ll probably see a lot more than if you went on an actual tour in North Korea.
But most of all, you’ll be thrown into the middle of an intriguing story.
Next Stop, North Korea
March 1 – 24, 2019
Details and tickets
When I went to North Korea for the first time, it was still in the middle of a famine that killed hundreds of thousands of people, possibly millions. The country desperately needed outside help. But it didn’t make it easy to provide that help. Foreigners had to make any number of compromises to work in the country.
Some people and organizations refused to make those compromises. When I was there, I had to make that hard decision myself: should I stay or should I go?
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Next Stop: North Korea is a story of a young man in a difficult moral bind. Those trips to North Korea changed my life.
The play, directed by Angela Kay Pirko, runs for 75 minutes, and there will be a talkback after each show. Talkback guests will include: Seung-Hee Nah (Korean American Sharing Movement), Immanuel Kim (George Washington University), Jenny Town (38North), Dan Jasper (American Friends Service Committee), and Dan Wertz (National Committee on North Korea).