Kim’s Convenience – Theatre Review

The play takes place during one day in Kim’s Convenience Store, located in the Regent Park section of Toronto, which is being developed. The store was opened many years ago by Mr. Kim, who left his teaching job in Korea and immigrated to Canada with his wife.  One day, a former customer visits and offers Mr Kim a large sum of money (we don’t know how much) for his store, telling Mr. Kim that this could insure his future, as Walmart is thinking of moving in, which would devastate Mr. Kim’s business. 

Mr. Kim refuses the offer, and the customer’s parting question to him – “What is your exit plan?” – spurs the action of the play, as Mr. Kim now has to confront the existential dilemma of his legacy; not only his store’s future, but also his relationship with his children:  Janet, a 30 year-old photographer who is still single, and Jung, his 32 year old son who left home at 16 and hasn’t been back since.

Even though the play is centered around an immigrant family, its themes are universal, touching on our relationships with the people around us – neighbors, customers, friends as well as family members, and questions such as, How do we pass on life’s lessons to the next generation?  How do we let go?

The play illustrates the ways in which we do or don’t communicate our expectations of one another to each other, and like many in the audience, including me, you may find a tear running down your cheek at some point… There’s an especially moving scene when Janet uses the adding machine to calculate the dollar value of the “free labor” she’s put in at the store over the years, and her father parries back with the cost of school, piano lessons, camp….

The play runs for 85 minutes – a perfect length – and alternates between the comedic and the dramatic, keeping the piece from getting maudlin, and moving it along nicely.  The playwright, Ins Choi, has a good ear for the way people really talk (he’s also an excellent actor) , and the cast of five is very strong, keeping you engaged all the way through.

The play closes on July 15th;  see it before it leaves.  

More information on Soulpepper’s website

Soulpepper in the Big Apple

On July 9th, I attended a performance of the fabulous play Kim’s Convenience Store (review in separate article), which is part of a month-long theatre festival by the Canadian theatre company Soulpepper  at the Signature Theatre on 42nd Street.  Afterwards, a few audience members had an informal, free-ranging discussion with Albert Schultz, Artistic Director and one of the company founders.  Below is an excerpt.

How did you decide to come to New York?

Albert:    I had the idea since 2014, so we’ve been planning for a long time.  This is the first month of our twentieth year.  Because our 20th anniversary lined up with the 150th of the country, it seemed a kind of poetic confluence.  This is the largest collection of Canadian artists outside of  Canadian soil – we got a lot of support from back home; …then Come From Away the musical from Canada comes … And everyone was talking about that in May and June, and through the award season, and we ended up riding on the Canadian coat tails of that. 

Irene Sankoff, Robert McQueen, David Hein, Albert Schultz (l-r) in the Signature Theatre

At this point  Irene Sankoff and David Hein, writers of Come From Away, and Canadian theatre director Robert McQueen, who were coincidentally in the theatre, stopped by to chat with Albert for a few minutes. (Editor’s note:  you can find my review of Come From Away here)

Why didn’t Soulpepper come to New York earlier?

Albert:  We’re a repertory company. So if you saw Of Human Bondage, and then you saw Spoon River in the space of one day, you’d see twelve members of the company who are doing this beautiful, deeply dramatic play, [then later they] would then be acting sort of silly, playing trombones and trumpets and all sorts of stuff; our company is all diverse in what they can do.  That’s the kind of company we develop, so if we need a band, they’re in the company.  Because of that, our work at home is very interwoven. 

Of Human Bondage is a 4-year old production, Spoon River is a 4-year old production, Kim’s Convenience is a 5-year old production, we toured it all over,  everywhere else, but we couldn’t get things out because everyone’s in another show at home.  The Kim’s Convenience run is only two weeks long because we’ve made a national television series out of that play – it’s a huge hit and it got picked up last year on our national broadcast, the CBC.  We produced it, so Soulpepper was able to keep quality control;  the playwright is the head writer and producer with us. It’s been a huge artistic and commercial success at home, and hopefully will be here, but it means that the actors are busy shooting all the time, so we had to put the series on hiatus, but we couldn’t do more than two weeks because you’d loose the crew, that’s why that run is short.  It’s a very complex organization in that way, any individual artist is involved in so many things.  What we had to do was to plan to bring not a show – we had to bring the company to New York.  We have 65 artists here and 10 support staff.  It was a major military operation. 

We found this space, which is grander than our space – we have a central lobby which is about 70% the size of this body;  but outside of this it is very similar, we have little portals just like this, we have four spaces off of ours, so when we walked in here we went, “This is just like home.”  This is the only place we could bring our company because we needed several spaces, we needed public space where we could do conversations like this because that’s what we do at home.  Last night we had 60 youth from a program called Epic Theatre Ensemble, out of Harlem [and we also] set up partnerships with the 52nd Street Partnership. Because we do youth programs at home, we wanted to do one here. 

Tell us about Soulpepper…

Soulpepper came out of the gates in 1998.  There were twelve artists who founded the company, myself and eleven others – five of those 12 are here.  Twenty years later, 9 or 10 of them are still actively involved in the company.  In our first season we had a massive splash.  Everything came together right.  We’ve grown the company exponentially, so we’re now by far the largest employer of theatre artists in Toronto, which is our main city.   

And [Soulpepper] has been very progressive in the way we’ve welcomed new audiences and new voices, Kim’s Convenience being an example of that.

We started a school 10 years ago, the Soulpepper Academy.  We train directors,  playwrights, designers,  performers and now producers.  Our very first class had 10 artists.  We took in one director, Weyni Mengesha, who’s an Ethiopian-Canadian.  Lorenzo Savoini was the designer in that Academy – he did the lights for [Kim’s Convenience], Weyni directed that show.  Our second class had Ins Choi, who wrote the play and is in the play, and Ken Mackenzie who designed the set and costumes.  Of Human Bondage was designed by an Academy grad; Spoon River is composed by an Academy grad, and designed by an Academy grad…

How did you find this theatre – did you know people here?

Albert:  We hired a general manager to help us with all the New York connections: how do we get a production team?  who do we use as a press agent?  marketing?  This is all very new to us so we hired someone based here, and she took us on a tour of four spaces, and she very craftily had this one be the last.  We walked up the stairs here, and Leslie, my life partner and Executive Director walked in and said, “I want the whole building.”  That was the first thing she said.

Well you have three things going at once here…

Albert:  We have a show happening in the [Irene Diamond stage], we have a show that just came down in the  [Alice Griffin Theatre], we have a show going in the [Alice Griffin Theatre] at 8:00pm, we’ll have a cabaret happening in this space [Signature Cafe & Bar].  Some days we’ll have 4 spaces running, we have the fourth theatre behind us where we have 3 shows in rep – so we have 12 productions here, plus a different cabaret every single night.

Tell us about the cabaret…

Albert:  The cabaret is from our company – there’s so much musical talent – sometimes it’s poetry, but mostly it’s music  of all styles.  We have in the company for example, Jackie Richardson, and Jackie is someone who could exist only in a country like Canada.  Because we don’t have a real star system in Canada, there are a handful of people in our country who attain a level of dominant excellence, so Jackie Richardson is the best gospel singer in the country, the best jazz singer in the country, the best blues singer in the country, the best reggae singer in the country.  She’s 70 years old – because she’s been doing it for 55 years, she’s the first call for every gig.  On opening night here – we had 500 people in this lobby, and all I did was get up and thank people, then introduce Jackie [who sang] Bridge Over Troubled Water, and she ripped the roof off this place. She sings it in our New York Melting Pot program, which we’re doing the 21st and 22nd.  She will be appearing in the cabarets next week, and in fact, at the end of next week, there’s a concert called First Ladies with Alana Bridgewater – she’s in her 40’s, she’s the next generation; Sophie Milman, an extraordinary jazz singer and leader in her generation – she’s in her 40’s – between them and Jackie is Mollie Johnson, who’s around 60 and a legend in Canada.  We have maybe the best jazz musicians in Canada who are coming here to be the band to support those four ladies.  You can’t go wrong seeing it – it’s the 14th and 15th.  And then the Friday and Saturday matinee of the following week we have a show called The Melting Pot which I host and wrote, with several singers.  My thesis at the top is that three refugee cultures, the Jews, the Irish, the African-Americans, all refugee cultures – and I wrote this before Trump –  those three cultures in one neighborhood on the Lower East Side created the soundtrack of the 20th Century, whether it be Broadway, or music from the Brill Building, so much of it came from those cultures listening to each other and learning from each other.  That’s on the 21st and 22nd. 

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee who played the father [in Kim’s Convenience] was wonderful, I thought.

Albert:  Wasn’t he!  And he’s done almost exclusively this since 2012.  He’s done over 600 performances of the play.

And he still manages to keep it fresh.

Albert:  And he keeps it completely fresh.

Jean who plays the mother, was a pioneer in the Asian Toronto theatre scene at a time when there were no Asians on the stages.  Immigrant parents didn’t arrive here saying [to their children], “Now make yourself an actor and a playwright,” – it’s only right now in this generation that immigrant families are allowing their children to even think about the arts.  And why this play has been so huge – and the series is even bigger – is [because] for the first time ever, Canadians, particularly immigrant Canadians, are watching a national broadcast television series in their living rooms and saying “I can be that girl.”

And I can see it happening in front of my face in Canada.  Our production of Kim’s Convenience has been on the stages of the nation since 2012 and now the series … When we cast the series after five years of doing the play, it was a different thing than when we cast the play five years before.  We had choices to make in every single part, which five years before we didn’t have. So it’s happening at home and it’s exciting, and I hope it’s gonna happen more.

Will you come back?

Albert :  The challenge with coming back, and its a huge challenge – it’s big, it’s expensive and it’s complicated.  But, a week in, both critically and in terms of audience and feedback it’s been an unmitigated success.  And we did not know that – you go and you have no idea what it’s going to be.  So that’s already shifted my brain – I’m sure that everyone back home is saying “Oh dear, it’s going well,”  because I’m now actually thinking we should do this semi-regularly, maybe every two to three years we should do something like this. 

Soulpepper  will be at the Signature Theatre  through July 29th.  You can find the complete schedule on Soulpepper’s calendar.

Spotlight on Canada

Photograph taken by Jared Grove (Phobophile) with a Nicon Coolpix 3200. (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

July 1st marks the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation as “one Dominion under the Name of Canada” – whereby the colonies – Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada (later to become Ontario and Québec) – were unified per the British North America Act of 1867.

The sesquicentennial got off to a great start earlier this year when Canada was named The Best Place to Visit in 2017 by The New York Times.   On a personal note, one of my favorite vacations was a 2001 cross-country trip where I returned to NYC via Canada, going from Vancouver to Toronto via train.  The Canadian Rockies were absolutely magnificent (photo below), as were the skies over Alberta.

Canadian Rockies August 2001, photo by ER Daly

The good news kept coming this spring when the critically acclaimed musical Come From Away  went on to win a tony for Best Direction.  It’s still playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre – if you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to – you can find my review here.

The evening of July 1st, the Empire State Building will be lit in red and white to mark Canada Day, and other festivities include:

Canada Day Cookout  at Dirt Candy, 86 Allen Street from 5:30pm to 11:59pm

Joe’s Pub will host the 15th Annual New York Rocks the Great Canadian Songbook,    once again produced and emcee’d by Jeff Breithaupt and featuring an all-star line-up of singers backed by Don Breithaupt and the WORKIN’ FOR THE WEEKEND HOOSE BAND, no Canadian hit song will be safe from (northern) exposure. This year’s all-star line-up includes: Marissa Mulder, Ophira Eisenberg, J’Sun, Carolyn Leonhart, Jamie Leonhart, Jeremy Kushnier, Christina Bianco, Alyson Palmer, Tyley Ross, Greg Naughton, Shelley McPherson, Michael Halling, PJ Griffith, Victoria Lecta Cave, Amy Cervini and The Breithaupt Brothers.  7:00pm, Joe’s Pub at the Public Theatre, 425 Lafayette Street.

The festivities aren’t limited to just one day.  During the entire month of July, you’ll be able to see a diverse collection of Canada’s finest theatre, literary and musical artists, when the Soulpepper Theatre of Toronto will be in the Big Apple with a full company of artists to present a month-long festival  at The Pershing Square Signature Center on 42nd Street, performing their adaptations of classics such as On Human Bondage and Spoon River, as well as ensemble creations such as Cage and Alligator Pie, no to mention a concert series and forums on innovations in the performing arts.  Every evening there will be a free cabaret performance in the Signature Cafe and Bar (check the schedule for show times;  most start between 8:30pm and 9:30pm).

If you’re looking for more information on Canadian events in NYC, check out the Canadian Association of NY (CANY)  a member-run organization that has been the focal point for the Canadian community in the NYC area since 1864.  CANY hosts social, cultural and business events throughout the year;  on their website you can fin a list of Canada Day 150 events. 

You can find more information on Canada, and Canada in NYC on the Consulate General’s Facebook page  and their Twitter feed .

This year also marks Montréal’s 375th birthday – Fort Ville-Marie was founded in 1642.  You’ll find more information about Québec and Québec in NYC on the Facebook page of the Québec Government Office in New York  and also on their Twitter feed .

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CANADA!!

Come From Away – Canada Puts Its Best Foot Forward

Last week, the Canadian Consulate began celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Federation of Canada by inviting some 600 guests (including your intrepid blogger) to see Come From Away, the new musical that opened at the Gerald Shoenfeld Theatre. 

If you’ve read any of the reviews about this work, you’ve probably seen it described as big hearted, heart warming, feel good… which it is – all without being treacly or sentimental.   The plot revolves around  true story of the almost 7,000 passengers from around the world who found themselves stranded in Gander, Newfoundland and surrounding towns on September 11, 2001.  The opening scenes convey the sense of chaos that prevailed on that day (and many of the following) not only in Gander, but around the world, as US airspace was closed, and every person and aircraft that would be traversing it was treated as a potential weapon.  A small town with a huge airfield (until the advent of long-haul aircraft, flights to Europe would refuel in Gander) has to figure out how to cope with the sudden influx of people from around the world who need food, shelter and information. Plus a pregnant chimpanzee and other animals.

Then there are the passengers on 38 planes who find themselves far from their final destinations, with no information as to why or how long they would be stuck on the planes or in Gander.   

Through the stories of a few characters, the play gives us a window into the wider events on the ground: the Mayor of Gander, who has to scramble to create accommodations for the newcomers;  the American Airlines pilot whose pride in her profession has been profoundly shaken by the weaponizing of airplanes;  a master chef from Egypt who is ostracized and treated as a potential terrorist; and the mother from New York City trying desperately to contact her son, an NYC firefighter.  But there is also a more comforting, joyful side to this tale, as the locals volunteer at the makeshift shelters to cook for these strangers, and even invite them into their homes.  There’s an especially fun scene where the newcomers become honorary New Foundlanders (alcohol and cod kissing are involved).   After a few days, the strangers board their planes to their ultimate destinations, but the bonds created with the townspeople remain strong, despite time and distance – a reunion was held in 2011.  (The play is based on interviews the playwrights held in Gander on the 10th Anniversary commemoration)

The cast of 16 does yeoman’s work, each taking on several roles as both passengers and townspeople.  I liked the use of the revolving stage to move from one scene to another.  And the score, inspired by Cletic-based Newfoundland music, is played by an outstanding 8 piece ensemble.

Don’t come expecting  high drama or show stopping tunes – this is the story of common human decency and generosity in extraordinary circumstances, and the book and score are in that vein, with characters rendered in broad strokes.  I was very glad that the play isn’t sentimental, although every now and then it dances close to the edge.  But you’ll leave this charming musical – with book and music by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, and a first rate cast – feeling uplifted, but also with a sense of the loss that is never far from our happiness. 

So get over to the Schoenfeld Theatre and see Come From Away as soon as you can!

Spotlight on Canada!

Photograph taken by Jared Grove (Phobophile) with a Nicon Coolpix 3200. (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photograph taken by Jared Grove (Phobophile) with a Nicon Coolpix 3200. (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

July 1st is Canada’s national day, or Canada Day, celebrating the anniversary of the enactment of the Constitution Act of 1867, which created the Dominion of Canada, a federation of four provinces:  Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Québec, within the British Empire.   Canada is the US’s largest trading partner, accounting for over 15% of our trade with the world.  In addition to the numerous Canadian businesses that have established branches here, there’s also a very cool Canadian tech accelerator (CTA)  in New York City.  Our neighbor to the North has been the birthplace of many artists we think of as quintessentially American:  Mary Pickford, William Shatner, Lorne Greene, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Shaina Twain (to name a very, very, few).  Additional Canadian contributions to our cultural landscape include South Park, Cirque du Soleil and hockey – the list goes on….

To keep up with what’s happening in Canada, or to find out about Canadian artists in New York, take a look at:

Canadian Consulate’s Facebook page:  

Quebec Government in New York’s Facebook page  

Canadian Association of New York’s website  lists social and cultural events, but also business luncheons with Canadian ministers

Interview with Photogapher Dale M. Reid

Last week I saw Dale M. Reid’s fabulous photos of oyster mushrooms (review in a separate post below) at the National Association of Women Artists gallery. The photographer, who was in town for a few days from her home base in Toronto, graciously sat with me for an interview about her work. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

Could you talk about how you got into photography? You mentioned you had been a banker for 25 years – that’s an interesting shift.

Dale M. Reid (photo courtesy of Dale M. Reid)

Dale M. Reid (photo courtesy of Dale M. Reid)

I’m an accountant by training – accountants have to be precise, and I have to be precise when I print, so there are some common elements in these two professions. Also, I think my business background brings a lot of depth and understanding to the art world and how to approach it. The art business can be more business than art.

I have always enjoyed photography – I would shoot when traveling to the Canadian East Coast. However, I think it became more of an outlet after my partner was diagnosed with MS. Then in 1999, I started looking at photography differently, more as an art form. When it’s a hobby, you don’t think about that, you’re out having fun. I took Introductory Photography at Ryerson University (Toronto), and people said I had the eye for it. The class gave me presentation skills, and I got into the darkroom. For the next five years, I started putting an exit plan in place, working on my eye, and developing my skills. In downtown Toronto there was a darkroom that you could rent, so I started stealing time for photography; a couple of nights a week I’d come home from work, have dinner, and turn around, go back downtown, and use the dark room for three hours.

My exit strategy looked at financing as well as developing my photography, so it wasn’t until after I hit my “magic number” that I left banking.

That was in 2004. I rented a gallery for the month of May for the Toronto photography festival. I had about 20 pictures in the show. I had never printed in a wet darkroom before – the space I had previously rented only used processors – but the framer I was working with knew a photographer who had a darkroom, and he coached me. When he backed out of the scene, I rented time and space with another photographer, who later got kicked out of that building when it was sold. Then I came across this spot not too far from where I live. They were charging $1/sq. ft., and I found one open space on the 2nd floor, with no walls, so I could design what I wanted from the floor up. I’ve been there eight years now.

Have you always done black and white photography?

Elegance Calla Lys Mélange de Couleurs 1 by Dale M. Reid (courtesy of Dale M.Reid)

Elegance Calla Lys Mélange de Couleurs 1 by Dale M. Reid (courtesy of Dale M.Reid)

When it was a hobby, I did color, but when I started looking at photography as an art form, I switched to black and white. I like it. Often people will ask me, especially with my floral photos, “Why don’t you shoot in color?” I say, “Why?” With black and white you see so much more. Color’s a distraction.   A photographer friend used to say: “With color, you are moved by the color; with black and white, it’s spiritual.”   When developing black and white, you’ve got to be dead on – you can’t be close.

What has been your favorite subject to shoot?

It’s hard to say – initially I was doing a lot of maritime themes, and landscapes, because we were visiting the East Coast. In 2006 I got into a group show called Urban Optics at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. I had no idea what I was going to come up with, but Toronto is known for its tree cover, so I went out and started shooting trees from the beginning of January until the end of March. We had very little snow in Toronto that year, which is why you don’t see any snow in the pictures. I did most of the shooting in High Park in Toronto, which is similar to Central Park but not as big. I would go out at random; some days I’d go out and get nothing; some days I’d get more.

The trees were like models – without the leaves you see the structure, the character, and that’s what I was focusing on. I saw a tree stripped down to stubs – and wanted to get that picture. The cloud cover was facing west; I walked on the other side, and the sky was crystal blue.   So within half an hour I got two pictures of the same subject, each looking totally different.

Now I’m doing primarily studio work with mushrooms, pears and floral studies.

I think with photography, patience is important.

Yes, patience and a bit of luck at the same time.

Do you know before you go into the darkroom what you want your image to look like?

Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. For example, in the florist’s shop one day, there was a bunch of deep dark purple flowers just sitting in a cooler, and it immediately struck me that I could do something with them. Because the stems were very fluid, I called the picture Purple Tango – it’s as if there was a dance going on with the flowers. I shot the picture the day I got the flowers, and I shot it again about a week later – then I had to throw them out – I really pushed it ‘til the end.

Jiving in the Rain by Dale M. Reid (courtesy of Dale M. Reid)

Jiving in the Rain by Dale M. Reid (courtesy of Dale M. Reid)

It’s funny you should talk about movement, because in all of these photographs of oyster mushrooms, there’s a lot of movement. Before we talk about your current exhibit, could you tell us about the series of photographs of pears that you made?

I’ve done two series of pears dancing in the rain; one was Jiving in the Rain – it took me about a month and five shoots to get the right images.   Up until the fourth shoot, I was getting glare, because I had the water coming straight down on the pears. On the fifth shoot, I came up with the idea of doing a double exposure: on the first shot, I had the water going behind the pears, and on the second one it was in front of them. The pears stayed still, but this technique created so much life, and eliminated much of the glare.

Cuddle Time, by Dale M. Reid (courtesy of Dale M. Reid)

Cuddle Time, by Dale M. Reid (courtesy of Dale M. Reid)

Last year I had some zebra-print material with a lot of texture, so I set up two pears on it; one, of two pears hugging I called Cuddle Time. If you look at my logo, it is based on one of my first still life images taken in 2004, two hugging pears. The other picture had three pears – two together and one off to the side a bit, and I called it Can I Join You? My pear images tend to have a whimsical feel to them.

 

Let’s talk about your current exhibition here at NAWA of these mushroom oysters.  You started the series in 2011. How did the idea come to you?

A friend mentioned seeing oyster mushrooms at a farmers’ market. So when I went to the one near me, I started looking at them. They caught my attention, with their shapes, forms and textures. Working with film, I can bring all those things out.

There’s a certain energy in your work, but what really struck me was the depth and especially the composition, which is not so easy; it’s almost like you’ve shot portraits of each of them.

Last year, I submitted to a competition that provided me with a critique – which is very unusual. They also brought out the strength of the composition. In addition with my images with two mushrooms, they found it a distraction. Because of that comment, when I decided which images to bring for this exhibit, I left out the ones with two mushrooms. But it worked out, because I still had enough images (27) for this show.

Do you ever shoot people or animals?

I haven’t done those. Although, for one of my first shows, after leaving the bank, I did what I call my Mystery Girl Series in which the shots are all below the neck, and it was me – I was the Mystery Girl. I guess it was a way for me to come out without anyone knowing. A year or two later there was a show with a mermaid theme, and I did Queen of the Sea/Queen of the Deck (like a deck of cards) – I was the mermaid and it was all self-shot.   I’ve been thinking I want to do something figuratively, but I don’t know yet what I want to do.

Do you know what your next series will be?

I’m not sure; I will continue with my floral studies and I’m going to play with the mushrooms more; a reviewer suggested I put some oil on parts of the mushroom, so I’ll try that and see what happens.