BWW Interviews: Ins Choi talks KIM'S CONVENIENCE
Kim’s Convenience was a smash hit at last year’s Toronto Fringe Festival, winning the Best New Play Contest and receiving overwhelming positive reviews. Written by Ins Choi, the show began in 2006 as part of fu-Gen’s playwriting unit, and now it launches Soulpepper’s 2012 Season.
The show is loosely autobiographical, and tells the story of Mr. Kim, a Korean convenience store owner who is trying to decide whether he should retire and sell his store. The show also explores themes of gentrification, racial exploration, marriage, and family. Applauded last year for it’s realism and heartbreaking authenticity, Kim’s Convenience is a rare find – it is a show with a message that nearly everyone can relate to.
BWW is thrilled to be profiling writer and star Ins Choi, who talks to us about the journey to the Soulpepper stage, the use of Korean actors on Toronto stages, and what could come next for Kim’s Convenience:
Congratulations on Kim's Convenience! This show has had quite the journey so far, and has really been embraced by the city. Could you tell us a bit about what the experience has been like for you up to this point?
It has been exhilarating and very humbling. Last year at this time, I was performing a show I co-created while in the Soulpepper Academy called “(re)birth: ee cummings in song”. I had just heard that Kim’s Convenience won the Best New Play contest and got into the Fringe festival. That was one year ago. It’s crazy. Every step of the way the timing has been incredibly favourable. Likewise the media, the theatre community, the Korean community and the general public. Everything has gone so smoothly it’s as if someone had paved the way before me, opened all the right doors and invited me to walk forward.
When did you first find out that the show was going to be part of the 2012 Soulpepper season?
I was approached by a bunch of artistic directors and producers during the Fringe run and met with all of them. Soulpepper was one of them. After the Fringe was over, I went camping with my wife and kids and took some time to think about all the possibilities. I also got a lot of good advice from a number of people. Then, after another meeting with Soulpepper, I chose them. It was the best fit. I think it was around September-October of last year.
As someone who has been in the Soulpepper Academy for the past two years, I imagine it's quite the honour to have your work produced in their season. How do you handle the pressure associated with debuting your piece within the company? Have you made many changes since the Fringe run?
I am deeply honoured but I don’t really think about the pressure. A few Soulpepper founding members have said to me that they are the lucky ones to have the play here. They’re so great. I’m more focused on my performance and getting the Korean community (who often don’t go to see theatre) to come out and see it.
For the Fringe festival run I had to cut a few moments out of the play because of their strict time limit so I have since put them back in. The biggest change would be a monologue about the LA riots in 1992 and the tension between Korean store owners and the black community at that time. Weyni Mengesha, who’s been directing it for this run, has been an incredible help to me as a playwright. There has definitely been some scene “massaging” since the Fringe.
The show is loosely autobiographical - how long have you been working on it? Was it something that you thought you might want to do as a kid or teenager or did it only come to fruition in recent years?
It began as part of fu-GEN theatre company's playwriting unit in 2005. So, I've been working on it on and off since then.
As a kid I was actually thinking of becoming a visual artist, a pastor (like my Dad), or a professional ninja. I dabbled in song-writing and poetry before play writing. This play, although it took awhile and a lot of work, really kinda just happened. It was definitely helped along the way by writing grants I received from The Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Council for the Arts. I also had workshopping opportunities by Diaspora Dialogues, fu-Gen and Grace Toronto Church.
The show has been very warmly embraced in previous productions by Toronto's theatre community - what is it about the show that helps people of all backgrounds relate to it on an emotional level?
At its core it is a story about parents and children not getting along but wanting to. It’s also an immigrant story that is very funny and honest. That’s a great recipe. Also, everybody has a convenience store in their neighbourhood in Toronto and usually it is owned by Koreans. This is like a ‘behind the scenes’ show about your local store.
You have mentioned in previous interviews that growing up you didn't have the opportunity to see many Korean stage actors here in Canada, and now your play is creating an opportunity to not only showcase many talented Korean actors, but also give young people the chance to see more Korean actors together on stage as part of one of our largest theatre company's seasons. Have you had many young up and comers ask you for advice or want you to tell your story?
Not really. There was this one Korean acting student from York University who recently wanted some advice about life/career after graduation but that's about it. I did organize a monologue workshop for young actors of colour with help from cahoots theatre, native earth and fu-Gen which I really enjoyed . And within that context, they asked a lot of good questions regarding the profession, the 'whiteness' of the stages in southern Ontario and ways to change it. I hope to do more of that kind of thing.
Do you feel an added bit of pressure or responsibility knowing that you are likely regarded as a role model to members of the Korean/Asian community?
Pressure? Not really. I’ll just continue doing what I do.
But responsibility? For sure. I need to pass on what I know. I feel like I need to help those up and comers because there aren’t a lot of us out there. But it’s only recently that I’ve been comfortable with accepting compliments that I’m a good actor or a good writer. It might be an immigrant thing or a Canadian thing – but I’m not very good at that!
What would be the one reason you would give to encourage a younger audience to come out and see the production?
It's a great play performed by a great cast at a great theatre – and it’s only 90 minutes long.
Finally, what do you hope is next for Kim's after this year's Soulpepper run? Is this a show you would like to see continue and potentially travel to other cities and/or the United States?
My dream from the start was to tour this play to every North American city that has a Korean community. Ideally Vancouver, Calgary, LA, New York, Chicago and then even onto Seoul, Korea. I wish to honour the Korean communities in those cities with this play.
When and Where?
The Young Centre for the Performing Arts
Opening night is January 19th, 2012 and the show runs until February 11th, 2012
Tickets range from $22-$68 and can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-866-8666 or online at soulpepper.ca
$22 tickets are available for persons aged 21-30 through stageplay.ca. Stageplay is sponsored by TD Bank Financial Group
For more information please visit the show’s official website at http://kimsconvenience.tumblr.com