2014/2015 Season

Inside The Unplugging: Nina Lee Aquino

The first production in our 2014-2015 Season, sees Native Earth partnering up with Factory to bring audiences the Toronto debut of The Unplugging by Yvette Nolan (March 14 – April 5, 2015). Over the next few weeks, we will introduce readers to key players in this production and partnership.

Today we focus on the woman making her Factory mainspace directorial debut: director Nina Lee Aquino.  Award-winning director,1 playwright,2 and anthology editor,3  Aquino is also Factory’s current Artistic Director.

Nina Lee Aquino (center) consults with Graphic Designer Suzy Malik (left) and Photographer Bronwen Sharp (right) on shots during The Unplugging photo shoot.

Aquino’s enthusiasm to direct The Unplugging – a play about two aging Indigenous women, exiled from their community and starting over – stems from her admiration for playwright Yvette Nolan. “It’s an award-winning play by one of Canada’s most brilliant Aboriginal playwrights (since Tomson Highway).

“Yvette was my first ever “boss” – I worked under her while she was the Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts and I was the Marketing and Development Coordinator (for three years). She gave me my first real paying theatre job.” In this way, a partnership between Factory and Native Earth is a return to Aquino’s theatre roots.

And her ties to Native Earth don’t end there. “Isaac Thomas, who is now Native Earth’s Managing Director, was my first Stage Manager on Banana Boys, which premiered at the Factory Studio Theatre.”

“…this production is a whole lot of full circles and homecomings for me as an artist.”

Thomas and Aquino are not the only artists from that notable production working together again; Set Designer Camellia Koo, Lighting Designer Michelle Ramsay and Sound Designer Romeo Candido were all there, too.

L-R: Stage Manager AJ Laflamme, Movement Director Clare Preuss, Director Nina Lee Aquino, Actor Diana Belshaw

“The creative team of The Unplugging was also my very first creative team as a director and fu-GEN’s debut into the theatre community,” says Aquino. “This is the first time we are together again as a team in years — fitting as it’s my directorial debut at Factory. So all in all, this production is a whole lot of full circles and homecomings for me as an artist.”

When preparing for projects Aquino finds great influence in movies. “Movies are my biggest source of artistic inspiration,” says Aquino. “I watch a lot of them before and during my rehearsals.” Which certainly explains her favourite place to be: Cineplex VIP Cinemas.

Up next for Aquino is the Banff Playwrights Colony in April, where she will work with Jeff Ho on his newest play trace.


Getting Unplugged with Nina

What advice would you give to someone
who wants to do what you do?
Luck favours the prepared.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Embrace the impermanence of it all.

Who inspires you?
David Yee, Cameliia Koo and Ric Knowles
are often my sources of inspiration.

What was your first job in theatre?
Actor in musical theatre.

What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?
How to convince people that theatre is an important part of everybody’s lives.

What ability would you like to steal from another artist?
The ability to figure out harmonies (music) on the spot.

What are you reading right now?
No time to read.

What’s your favorite line from a movie?
From one of my favourite movies, Pride and Prejudice.
Don’t ask me why but it just is.

Mr. Darcy:
How are you this evening, my dear?
Elizabeth Bennet:
Very well… although I wish you would not call me “my dear.”
Mr. Darcy:
[chuckles] Why?
Elizabeth Bennet:
Because it’s what my father always calls my mother
when he’s cross about something.
Mr. Darcy:
What endearments am I allowed?
Elizabeth Bennet:
Well let me think…”Lizzy” for every day, “My Pearl” for Sundays, and…”Goddess Divine”… but only on *very* special occasions.
Mr. Darcy:
And… what should I call you when I am cross? Mrs. Darcy…?
Elizabeth Bennet: No! No. You may only call me “Mrs. Darcy”… when you are completely, and perfectly,
and incandescently happy.
Mr. Darcy:
[he snickers]
Then how are you this evening… Mrs. Darcy?
[kisses her on the forehead]
Mrs. Darcy…
[kisses her on the right cheek]
Mrs. Darcy…
[kisses her on the nose]
Mrs. Darcy…
[kisses her on the left cheek]
Mrs. Darcy…
[finally kisses her on the mouth]

What is one of your pet peeves?
Body odor.

Who is one of your heroes?
Ninoy Aquino. Because knowing his life,
finally made my life make sense.

The one word your best friend would use to describe you?
According to Camellia Koo, my bff — “mighty”

What’s your favourite dessert?
Strawberry cupcakes.

If you were a breakfast cereal which would you be?
Count Chocula (google it).

Favorite childhood toy?
Fashion plates (google it).

Who would you most like to have dinner with?
Benedict Cumberbatch.
If not him, then a combo of Jann Arden and Sam Smith.

How would you title your memoir?
RBF. The Life and Times of Nina Lee Aquino.

Follow Nina on Twitter at @nininsky

 Awards for directing: the Ken McDougall Award 2004, the Canada Council John Hirsch Prize 2008, two Dora Mavor Moore Awards for Outstanding Direction (Sultans of the Street, Young People’s Theatre; paper SERIES, Cahoots Theatre Company); and 4 consecutive Dora Mavor Moore Award nominations.

2 Plays include Miss Orient(ed) (World Premiere, Carlos Bulosan Theatre 2003), and Every Letter Counts (World Premiere, Factory Theatre 2013).

3 Editor of Canada’s first Asian-Canadian 2-volume drama anthology love + relasianships (Playwrights Canada Press) and the co-editor of the award-winning New Essays on Canadian Theatre Volume One: Asian Canadian Theatre (Playwrights Canada Press).