Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Ins Choi knows a thing or two about the immigrant experience. He also knows theatre. As Natalie Dewan remarked in her SesayArts review “Visiting Soulpepper’s Christmas Shops,” his play Kim’s Convenience, about a Korean-Canadian family and its convenience store, is a Fringe-Festival success story. Initially born of his desire to “to tell a story, make people laugh, and write a part for himself,” it has since become a huge crowd favourite and a staple of the Soulpepper Family Festival. In fact, it resonates so deeply with audiences of all cultures that it has toured Canada and is being developed into a weekly TV series as part of CBC’s 2016-2017 lineup — co-produced by Soulpepper, marking another first for the venerable theatre company.
So who better than Mr Choi to curate Soulpepper’s inaugural Tiger Bamboo, a free festival celebrating Asian Heritage Month with theatrical presentations, readings, and cabarets?
As an actor-playwright of Korean descent, the significance of such a festival – especially one presented by an established, mainstream theatre company – is not lost on Mr Choi. “Take a look at any brochure from any of the top 10 theatre companies in Canada or even in Toronto,” he avers, “and you’ll see a disconnect between the stage and the streets of the most multicultural city in the world.” But he’s not complaining: “we’re working toward new solutions.”
The Tiger Bamboo Festival is a firm step toward reflecting the cultural diversity of Toronto – in particular, its sizable Asian diaspora. Given the range of cultures within the Asian subcontinent and its vast talent pool, Mr Choi’s curation duties were cut out for him. So for this first-time festival, he aimed for quality and variety: “Excellence came by way of the artists involved, and variety, by content, geography and audience,” he explains. “There’s something for children and adults….There’s comedy, tragedy, clown, verbatim theatre, food, and an evening cabaret.”
Known for consistently delivering a quality product, Soulpepper has put considerable resources behind the festival to make it audience-ready. That includes the entire Soulpepper staff, including “producing genius” Lisa Li and the generosity of donors Eleanor and Francis Shen. And did we mention that the festival is being presented entirely for free, with offerings that are both varied and abundant? So audiences can expect to be entertained. But how do we curate such plentiful choices? How do we decide what to sample?
His word to the young? They should not miss Tales for Folks: “Under the leadership of Esther Jun and Paula Wing, a group of professional theatre artists have created short family-friendly realizations of folktales from the countries of Laos, Pakistan, Nepal and Mongolia.” He suspects that the fun folktales will be new to both children and parents. “Plus, all these are world premieres created in a boot-camp-style creation week,” he smiles.
His word to the older? Though most of the playwrights are Asian, not all of their plays are set in Asia. For instance, Norman Yeung’s thriller, Theory, doesn’t have anything to do with Asia, whereas Chantria Tram’s humourous coming-of-age solo show, Someone Between, is her growth to womanhood, spanning her journey from Cambodia to Brantford. Of the up-and-coming artists being featured, Mr Choi is excited to present The Tashme Project, created and performed by Matt Miwa and Julie Tamiko Manning: “Tashme was created from over 70 hours of interviewing Japanese Canadians about their experiences in the Internment Camps during World War Two. Surprisingly, there are moments of humour and joy amidst this shameful chapter of Canadian history.” Communist ’Til Payday, created and performed by Anand Rajaram, also gets his enthusiastic endorsement: “What more can I say,” muses Mr Choi. “Anand Rajaram is hilarious.”
If that sounds like a lot, it is. And the Festival lasts just 2 days. (For this year, anyway.) “I hope for the day when when all people are represented equally, honoured and celebrated,” he admits. “…Then, there won’t be a need for culturally-specific themed festivals. But that’s not today.”
Perhaps next year, The Tiger Bamboo Festival will stretch to encompass much more of the month of May. If the success of Kim’s Convenience is any predictor, this festival can certainly grow.
For now, two jam-packed days of theatre, readings and cabaret to celebrate Asian Heritage Month is a promising and welcome start.
News You Can Use
What: Tiger Bamboo Festival
Who: Audiences of all ages
When: Saturday, May 28 and Sunday, May 29, 2016
Where: Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Distillery Historic District, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto, ON, M5A 3C4
For Information and FREE Ticket Reservations: Soulpepper.ca and 416.866.8666
© 2016 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya