In Conversation with Nina Lee Aquino on Directing “acquiesce” & 15 Years of Collaborating with Playwright/Actor David Yee
Interview by Bailey Green
acquiesce, directed by Nina Lee Aquino and written by David Yee, kicked off Factory Theatre’s 2016/17 season “Beyond the Great White North”. The play marks Yee and Aquino’s 15 year anniversary of collaboration. Yee wrote acquiesce 15 years ago as part of the playwrights lab at Factory. Aquino was invited to a private reading of the play with dramaturge Brian Quirt. “In our hearts of hearts we knew we would come back [to acquiesce],” Aquino says. “But other works were getting first in line. Looking back there was a good reason for that, I don’t think David could have finished it before and I don’t think I could have directed it, being the director I was then.” acquiesce was rediscovered when dramaturge Iris Turcott found a draft tucked behind a filing cabinet at Factory. Turcott called Yee, gave him two notes and told him it was time to work on the play again. “It has always been one of my favourite unfinished plays of David’s,” Aquino says.
acquiesce tells the story of Sin Hwang, a novelist who receives news that his father has died. As per his father’s instructions, he embarks on a journey to bury his father. “He discovers secrets about himself, about his father and family history that have been brewing underneath,” Aquino says. “He gets to confront that grief and rage and not get to forgiveness but an acceptance of knowing one can correct the cycle of violence and let go of that baggage.”
Aquino and Yee’s shared values have been a core element to their artistic partnership. Aquino has been director and dramaturge for all of Yee’s plays. “We’re here to fight, to say something, to give hope,” Aquino says. “We are despairing of the world at times but through theatre we feel like we’re doing something about it. The kinds of plays I tackle as a director reflect that.”
Aquino speaks of how individual growth as artists has brought herself and Yee to the right time and place to tackle acquiesce. “The more personal David gets with his work, the more personal I get with mine,” Aquino says. “It makes it more harrowing. Now being a mom and AD of this company is very different and I bring that experience to the table.” In 2015, Yee won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama with his play carried away on the crest of a wave (directed and dramaturged by Aquino). Aquino was the Founding Artistic Director of fu-gen theatre in 2002 (Yee is the current Artistic Director) and Artistic Director of Cahoots Theatre in 2009. In June 2012, Aquino became co-artistic director of Factory Theatre with Nigel Shawn Williams, and in the Fall of 2014, Aquino was appointed sole Artistic Director of Factory Theatre.
When asked about how working on acquiesce compares to working on Yee’s other plays, Aquino says that acquiesce has been a very personal process. “An Aquino/Yee work has a social justice to it, an activist voice in it, a revolutionary,” Aquino says. “But [with acquiesce] the social justice is subtle, the angle is different. It’s in a very personal container, which is family, where the heart of an activist is born. It is the hardest Yee work that I have tackled because it is quite personal. acquiesce comes in whispers, the complexity comes in quiet ways.”
The mutual respect and admiration that Aquino and Yee share is evident, as Aquino calls Yee her “most favourite playwright in the universe.” Aquino says working with Yee always challenges her as a director to grow and discover how to bring the play to life. “I never take his work for granted,” Aquino says. “He challenges me through his work, so what world do I build around the world he has built and how will that coalesce. David writes plays that are yummy for a director, if you’re the kind of director that thrives on imagination. David is magic, so how do you put the magic on stage?”
Yee takes the stage in acquiesce to play the role of Sin Hwang. Yee hasn’t acted in his own work since Paper SERIES at Summerworks in 2012. “This is the first time he’s accepted to play a role in his own play,” Aquino says. “I’ve depended on him for so much as a playwright in the past. During tech he’s a second eye, so this year will be a bit lonely! On opening who is the one person who will sit beside me? I won’t be able to crush his hand, because he’ll be onstage! There are things about it that I miss, but I don’t see anyone else playing that role.”
by David Yee
Written by David Yee
Directed by Nina Lee Aquino
Co-produced with fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company
For full cast & creative team, visit the Factory Theatre website.
Plagued by the success of his first book and haunted by his past, Sin Hwang arrives in Hong Kong with some unusual cargo and a lot of emotional baggage. Featuring a surreal cast of characters, from a foul-mouthed Paddington Bear to a wisecracking Buddhist monk, this sharply comedic and heartbreakingly poignant tale of self, familial and spiritual discovery reflects the cycles from which we must all break free as we find our way.
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street
November 3-27, 2016