Headshot depicting Koo Park in a white shirt with black tie against a green background.

Koo Park: A Seattle-Based Korean Actor Who Is Just Like You

by Jasmine M. Pulido

As he nervously runs his fingers through his hair, Korean actor Koo Park pauses as the jarring sound of coffee grinding fills the spaces between his thoughts in fitful bursts. Sitting atop the stool within the white planked walls of a noisy coffee shop, Park contemplates how he felt when he first started acting in Korea to how he feels today, 15 years later.

When Park first pursued acting back in Seoul, Korea, he was attracted to the general idea of becoming an actor — Fame. Success. Spotlight. He liked the way it looked from the outside looking in. He didn’t think about the arduous rehearsals or all the rejections he would get from everywhere. In his younger mind, he saw only binaries — success or failure. Becoming a famous actor would make him good enough because, back then, at age 19, he felt he was not enough. “I needed to be incredible. Better than somebody,” Park said. “I was torturing myself to be special.”

It was this not-enoughness that fueled him, that pushed him to further develop his craft. As painful as it was to anchor into this type of energy, it motivated him to join an award-winning theater group, Georipae, to learn traditional Korean performing arts for a year after graduating from college. Georipae lived together in a village and did everything as a group. They ate, slept, and created together before taking the show they designed on a national tour. He still feels guilt reflecting on that time after he left when news broke that the artistic director had been accused of sexual misconduct by an actress in the company. Her action, prompted by the #MeToo movement, opened the gate for a succession of people to come forward with similar claims. “I was at the company but I didn’t know,” Park said. “He’s the biggest person influencing me, still influencing me, and I’m fighting that. He’s in jail. Literally in jail.” The theater group has since been disbanded. Meanwhile, those who were part of the group longer or more recently than Park are having a hard time finding work.

Park decided he would take his “last chance” at becoming an actor by applying for his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) at the University of Washington. Despite acceptance into the program, Park’s feelings of inadequacy never faded. Slowly, however, his reason for acting shifted to the joy of being part of a community. At that point, in his mid-20s, he enjoyed the togetherness. “In that certain time frame, in that two-month time frame from the first day of rehearsals to closing night, you’re always with people making something together,” Park said.

At UW, Park was challenged and mentored by teachers like Amy Thone and Jane Nichols. He was introduced to concepts like solo shows, clowning, and devising theater. Park embraced these new ideas about acting and contrasted them with the old ideas he learned in Korea.

Photo depicting Koo Park in historical dress acting out a scene.
Koo Park in a UW production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.” (Photo: Warren Woo)

After graduation, Park performed in the Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth as well as Taproot Theatre Company’s A Woman of No Importance. He went on to self-produce a solo show which ran from March 11 to 12 at Taproot Theater, Let Me Hamlet, a monologue about a middle-aged actor who yearns to play the lead after a decade of playing supporting roles. In exploring his struggle as an actor on both a fictional and real level, in offering his rhetorical questions of whether he would ever reach fame, he found himself loving something else, something fresh, about being an actor — the audience. “It heals me to share myself,” Park said. The sharing, the letting people into his experience, as an actor and as a human being, became his new drive to continue acting. According to Park, giving someone the experience of having fun or being sad for at least two hours, that was a valuable job for a person to hold. “It’s a blessing to me, and I hope it’s a blessing for them too. That’s what I like about theater now.” He no longer strives to prove he’s important by achieving, but instead sees himself like everyone else, except he also happens to be an actor.

Now 34, Park is married with a master’s degree and a 5-month-old baby. While his wife tells him he’s different now because he has a master’s degree and is doing more than he could ever imagine in Korea, he feels differently. “I don’t feel like enough. It’s the same. What I felt in Korea and what I feel now,” Park said, “it didn’t really change.”

But what has changed is that Park no longer hides how he feels about it. What has changed is that he considers the meaning in the struggle, has found he’s attracted to the beauty in the pedestrian, when before he had set his sights on achieving “special” status as an actor. He no longer sees his not-enoughness as fuel, but as a bridge to the humanity that exists between him and any other person whose path he crosses. 

Photo depicting Koo Park acting out a scene at a dinner table.
Koo Park’s approach to acting has changed over the years. Most recently, his aspirations are less about achievements and more about the audience. (Photo: Alley Rutzel)

Considering the binary of failure and success now, Park says that he lives in an area that is somewhere in-between, somewhere most other people live too. “Now I’m happy to share this not-enough story of mine to the people because I know they are feeling the same,” Park said. 

And maybe that’s enough.

As Koo Park continues his acting career in Seattle, you can find him online at his website.

This article is published under a Seattle Human Services Department grant, “Resilience Amidst Hate,” in response to anti-Asian violence.

Editors’ Note: This article was updated to correct the theater companies Koo Park performed with.

Jasmine M. Pulido is a Filipina American writer-activist, small business owner, and mother. Her written work has been featured in the International Examiner, The Postscript, and Give Grief a Voice. Her work has been performed through Velasco Arts and Bindlestiff Studio. She recently wrote her first play, “The Master’s Tool” exploring the struggles of BIPOC folks in Equity, Diversity, Inclusion work in white-dominated nonprofit workplaces. Jasmine is pursuing her Master of Arts in Social Change at Starr King School for the Ministry. She writes a bi-weekly substack called “Liberation Library” and is currently working on her first novel.

📸 Featured Image: Actor Koo Park. (Photo: Adam Fontana)

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