10 Questions for Nina Lee Aquino

Nina Lee Aquino is in demand, as director, dramaturge and playwright.  She was a founding member of fu-Gen Asian Canadian Theatre, where she just finished directing their production of Lauren Yee’s Ching Chong Chinaman (review).  Aquino has recently been the Artistic Director of Cahoots Theatre Company and is currently co-Artistic Director of Factory Theatre.

Tarragon Theatre is her next stop, for a play called carried away on the crest of a wave, a new play from David Yee that begins previews April 16th, a play described this way on Tarragon’s site:

A singular, cataclysmic event–the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami–illustrates the interconnectedness of all things. From an escort in Thailand to a Catholic priest in India to a housewife in Utah, this play asks, “what happens when the events that tie us together are the same that tear us apart?”

I ask Nina Lee Aquino ten questions: five about her, and five about her next project, carried away on the crest of a wave.

1) Are you more like your father or your mother?

Nina and DadMy father.  I think I’m more like my father.

He seems to have a never ending patience with people.  Especially with difficult people.

He is quick to trust.

He has an uncanny ability to creatively troubleshoot problems.

He has one of the strongest senses of loyalty I know.

He has a swagger with the things that he’s so confident with.

He has the gift of being able to navigate through things…and people.

When he gets hurt, it’s a deep-cut kind of pain…one you don’t feel right way until you recognize it and it’s too late. And once you hurt him, he’s not going to allow himself to go through that again.

He is incredibly stubborn yet easily adaptable to whatever environment you throw him in.

He is quite generous.  To a fault even.

He doesn’t get angry much but when he does, it’s almost bottomless.  Same as when he is grieving.  So it takes a while for him to get out of these things.

Calculated ambition.  His drive and determination is always rooted in something.  He doesn’t go about things blindly.

He is quiet  but when you get him at the right moment, at the right time, he has a lot to say.  And so you know he’s been listening intently.

He has an impeccable memory but he can also be blurry on the details.  I don’t know if he does this on purpose.

He can be selfless and selfish at the same time.

He is one of those people that you can get to know in one day…and not know at all even though you’ve known him all his life.

Looking at this list…yeah…I think I am my father’s daughter.

2) What is the best thing / worst thing about being a theatre artist?

Best thing:
I get to change the world in my own way, on my own terms.

Theatre, I think, represents the best of who I am…so being a theatre artist feels like I get to be most myself.

I am part of a unique creative process that encourages discovery, exploration, risk, openness, generosity, failure and action.

Worst thing:
It can be very lonely at times.

3) Who do you like to listen to or watch?

I don’t have any particular favourite bands or singers but can be obsessed with specific songs that I’ll listen to over and over and over again.

And the songs that I like span from cheesy, mind-numbing pop music to ooga booga new age stuff.  Really, my ears are not ashamed.  I’ll like whatever evokes an emotion or memory in me.  I think that’s what makes my ears perk up to begin with.

But certain movie soundtracks are a “must have” for me when I am in a thinking mode of sorts. As I try (my best) to finish this questionnaire, the following music has already played over and over again on my Iphone:  the soundtracks to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Searching for Bobby Fisher, The Art of Getting By, Lars and the Real Girl and The Mission.

And right now, I am determined to finish watching the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation series on Netflix.  Don’t ask me why I need to do this right now but that’s all I want to watch on TV before I go to bed.  Like a ritual almost.  I am currently in season 4.  Captain Picard is my current hero.  So weird.

4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?

Math skills.  I would trade anything in the universe to be able to understand numbers.  And work with them.  And play with them.

I love numbers.  I love the magic and power they hold.  And all the secrets of the universe.  Sadly,  numbers don’t love me.  I suck at math.  So much.  Except trigonometry.

5) When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?

Nowadays, I don’t really have any time to myself.  But when I do, I often find myself clothes and shoe shopping online.  Mind you, I don’t necessarily buy everything I put on my virtual shopping cart but I get immense joy in choosing whatever the hell I want to buy…even if it’s just pretend-buy!

And you can never ever have enough shoes.


Five more about directing carried away on the crest of a wave

1) What are the challenges you face directing carried away on the crest of a wave?

The challenges so far:

The play is epic in scope and it’s set in many different places all over the world.

We have a cast of 7 playing over 15 characters.

The production uses real water.

It’s a world premiere, written by a living, breathing playwright who also happens to be one of my dearest friends in the whole universe.

2) What do you love about  the play ?

Everything about it.  It’s a David Yee play so it’s everything.  He’s my most favourite playwright of all time and will always be my number one collaborator.

Some time ago, someone asked me how I know if I am the right director for a piece.

If I can hear the music in the words…if the notes are so clear in the text — then I know that the script and I belong together.

When I read a David Yee play, I can almost immediately hear the music…even before anything is read out loud.

3) Do you have a favourite moment in the play?

The transitions. Those will always be the most favourite parts of any play that I am working on.

And transitions are always something I look out for when I go see a play.

I don’t know why or what is it about the idea of transitions that fascinate me.  But it does and it’s important to me.

It’s like…how a piano player turns the pages of the music sheet without having to stop playing the piano.

I want my scenes to never stop moving.  And I revel in figuring those moments out.

4) How do you feel about activist drama as a modern artist of the theatre?

I see theatre as a transformative thing.  It’s the kind of theatre I like.  It’s the kind theatre I am attracted to.  It’s the kind of theatre that I do and say yes to.

My kind of theatre has the ability to




fuck up expectations, turn preconceived notions on its side; quash assumptions

destroy and build;

heal or open wounds (in order to heal);

engage and alienate at the same time;

illuminate, enlighten;


and strengthen.

5) Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?

Ric Knowles

Ric Knowles.  Everything about directing, I’ve learned from him…in his tiny little class that lasted for half a semester at the University of Guelph.

I feel like I’ve winged everything after that and learned through trial and error.  But the foundation of my directorial process was definitely built in his class.

And mind you, I almost barely passed it…because I didn’t do too well with the essay assignments he gave us and I barely said a word during class but it was the final assignment – which was to direct a scene from a play of our choice – that I realized what I was capable of doing as a director.  I didn’t know how much of what he was sharing with us in his class  — from his methods on working with actors, his philosophy on collaborating with designers and his unrelenting, incessant encouragement to fearlessly use our imagination –  really stuck with me until I started directing my first scene.

So I guess I was really listening to him after all.   Like really listening.


carried away on the crest of a wave begins previews April 16th at Tarragon Theatre.  CLICK for more information.

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1 Response to 10 Questions for Nina Lee Aquino

  1. Pingback: (Q + A) x 300: questions and conversations | barczablog

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