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?

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Kelly Cameron Kelly Cameron's love affair with the theatre began when she was just five years old, on an outing to see the Original Canadian Cast of Les Miserables at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto. She instantly fell in love, and is honoured to be representing the Toronto contingent of BroadwayWorld as Senior Editor overseeing the GTA region.

Her writing career started almost by accident, though it has always been in her blood as her Mom was an English teacher who firmly believed in the importance of being able to turn a phrase. She also loved sharing her love of theatre with her students (and her children), and was a staunch supporter of the arts in Toronto.

When not at the theatre, you can usually find Kelly with a Starbucks in one hand and her BlackBerry in the other, tweeting, reading or doing something quirky and clumsy for the sake of getting that next big story.

She's incredibly grateful to the amazing Toronto theatre community who have embraced her with open arms, giving her the greatest gift a little redheaded theatre geek could ever ask for - getting to be a part of this vibrant arts and culture scene. She may have never had the skills to be on the stage, but is thankful every day she gets to write about the inspiring people who do.

Headshot photo by Racheal McCaig

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