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Posts tagged ‘Nina Lee Aquino’

“Loyalty, Musicality, Family and Leaving Home” In Conversation with Jeff Ho, creator and performer of “trace” at Factory Theatre

Interview by Bailey Green.

We spoke with Jeff Ho about his play trace, opening at Factory Theatre on November 16th (in association with b current performing arts). trace follows Ho’s own bloodline and lineage, from his great-grandmother, to his mother, to himself. The audience travels along with the journeys his family chose, or were forced to choose, over the course of their lifetimes. This two piano, one man chamber play spans decades and continents. Ho is the composer, writer and performer of the play. We spoke with Ho about loyalty, musicality, family and leaving home.

(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Bailey Green: Can you tell me what sparked the desire to create trace?

Jeff Ho: I started writing trace when I was still at school at the National Theatre School. During second year, we have a component where we write our own solo show. I worked with Yael Farber, and she often says “What do your ancestors demand you speak?” and in my family we have this secret: My great grandma, she had my grandpa but she also had another son, and during World War 2 she had to make, well essentially, a “Sophie’s Choice” and she had to leave a son, my great-uncle, behind. From that deep guilt and shame, she never spoke of him. I did a lot of archaeological digging, looking at when she had run to Hong Kong after the Japanese invaded and set up internment camps. There was so much unspoken, like Unit 731 and essentially a Chinese holocaust. So I wrote a long form poem, trying to speak out for all of the atrocities and how she [my great-grandmother] ran most likely because of them. And Yael said that these stories end with me now, so I began working on all of this to trace and acknowledge and try to unearth my own history.

BG: Did you interview your mother or other family members? What did you learn through this process and did it change how you saw your family?

JH: It was super cool as a way to connect to my own mom. In a lot of ways, I paralleled the lost son in my family. I ran away from home to Montreal and it was a second rift trying to not disappear in my own family. So talking to her was this way of hearing all of these childhood stories, which was so important to me. My great grandmother… she was a lioness. She was a modern women, she smoked and she never married again. “I’m happy with my one son. I’m happy to live here now. I’m good.” And that’s what she was like. I would often bring my partner over during the interviews and so my mother spoke these stories in English. She would say, “Your uncle, he swam and swam and swam and he got there,” and found the most basic ways to communicate these epic stories. I got to see a picture of my mom when she came to Canada — a woman without any English, without my father, with two sons — and also who she is now.

BG: You have gone through multiple phases of development with the script. What are you learning so far in rehearsal?

JH: I’m learning about how to give all of myself. Composing the music and playing piano, that was director Nina [Lee Aquino]’s idea. Piano is something I have grown up with since I was 5. It’s another way to give myself through music. 

Jeff Ho in trace. Photo Credit: Marko Kovacevic

BG: Can you tell me more about your relationship to the piano, both as a musician and as a composer?

JH: I started in Hong Kong at 5, it was seen as a good skill set for me to have. I totally went into it adverse, but knew I had to appease my parents. I found my love for performance, though I never got along with any of my piano teachers. But I loved the applause! How I write and how I act stems through musicality, the mood of something. And any other language is just music and that really bridged the gap for me when my english was far worse [then it is now].

BG: The music of language is in the show, as well. Canto is such a musical language.

JH: Canto is always there for me. There are things that I just don’t know how to articulate in English. [Cantonese is] so succinct, it takes four words to say what it takes a paragraph to say in English. With Great Grandma and how she dealt with her kids and how she spoke her stories, it was important to include. We hear text from the women and the men speak through music. I didn’t want the men to speak, I wanted to hear the women and what they wanted to say, and we get the intention and feeling from the men from the piano.

BG: Tell me about working with Nina Lee Aquino.

JH: It’s a new relationship. I have known her as mentor, as teacher, as dramaturge, but I have never worked with her as director. We have a shorthand, but she loves using pop culture references and as an immigrant, sometimes I get lost! It’s a fluid and natural evolution. There’s a frankness to it. She will never let me off the hook, I can never hide in my words or anything, she will challenge me to get there and not to be precious.

BG: trace is so personal. What has been the greatest challenge creating it?

JH: In giving back and acknowledging my family, I have always dealt with the guilt of leaving my home. As a teenager I felt theatre was a greater calling but I was truly breaking my mother’s heart. There was a lot of ‘you’re a terrible son, you don’t honour our family’, and I can’t [honour them] in the way they want me to. I’m nomadic and mobile and artistic. But I can honour them in the way that I know, through everything I love.

BG: Have they seen it in any form?

JH: My mom has read snippets of it. I’ll transcribe things she’s said and show them to her. I’m excited and nervous for sure. Memory is fiction, and so I want to honour and reveal truths about our family.

BG: What are some of your inspirations right now?

JH: Yael Farber. When I get down on myself or I don’t know what I want to do, I read interviews with Yael Farber. She is the most articulate, does not settle for anything less than the painful truth, and she wants to shed light on what we’re capable of. I pull out my guts and get back to work. I’ve been wrapped up in Chopin, Rachmaninoff, the more turbulent composers. And Bijork’s song Black Lake, it’s about a pain and trauma in her family, and it’s 10 minutes long.

trace

Who:
Written by and starring Jeff Ho
A Factory production in association with b current performing arts
Directed by Nina Lee Aquino

What:
trace follows three generations of mother and son from the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong to Canada in the 21st century. Combining virtuosic original piano compositions with an incredible performance and lyrical text, this exquisite and stimulating one man chamber play offers a new look into the lasting implications of sacrifice across generations.

Where:
Factory Theatre Studio Theatre
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto

When:
November 11-December 3

Tickets:
factorytheatre.ca

Connect:
@kjeffho

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.

Photo of David Yee by Dahlia Katz

Photo of David Yee by Dahlia Katz

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.”

Photo of David Yee by Dahlia Katz

Photo of David Yee by Dahlia Katz

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.”

Photo of David Yee by Dahlia Katz

Photo of David Yee by Dahlia Katz

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.”

Photo of John Ng & David Yee by Dahlia Katz

Photo of John Ng & David Yee by Dahlia Katz

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?”

Photo of Rosie Simon & David Yee by Dahlia Katz

Photo of Rosie Simon & David Yee by Dahlia Katz

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.”

acquiesce

by David Yee

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Who:
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.

What:
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.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street

When:
November 3-27, 2016

Tickets:
factorytheatre.ca

Connect:
w: factorytheatre.ca
fb: /FactoryTheatreTO
t: @factorytoronto