"I hope we can fiercely support our Canadian playwrights and see to [writing, producing, directing and acting in] more productions that help us continue to find and define our collective voice.”
I saw ‘Kim’s Convenience’ when it was remounted at Soulpepper in 2012. At that time, Ins Choi did not play the central role of Appa, but this time, he does at London, Ontario’s Grand Theatre.
I’m most appreciative of his time to answer a few questions via email.
Ins studied acting at York University in the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) Program. He’s also quick to point out that his training was from not only one institution but many influences.
Skateboarding was one, although he acknowledges he wasn’t that good at it:
“I’d practice for days, weeks on a trick - an ollie kickflip, for example, and then “perform” it in front of people once I was comfortable landing it in private. I also kinda liked playing the part of a skater - the clothes, the shoes, the hair, the attitude, the jargon. It was like a role.”
Although he doesn’t consider himself an athlete, Ins played on his high school's volleyball, rugby, hockey and soccer teams. He never regretted this participation in sports because he recognized how they all added to the importance of collaboration and teamwork. Being kind to one’s teammates also figured prominently. To be kind, collaborative, and part of a team, he had to listen to others and find his part and voice.
Ins is very family-oriented. As a child, at family gatherings, he would watch his father and siblings tell stories and reminisce about the ‘old days’ while making each other laugh. Ins’ father was the Pastor of a Korean immigrant church in downtown Toronto. At home, the young lad would watch his father research, read, write, and practice his sermons first. Then, at the church's regular Sunday matinee ‘gigs,’ Ins’ father would frame ancient stories for a contemporary congregation with humour, craft, and passion. Ins’ mother put her boy in several violin, piano and voice music lessons. He also recalled singing in many choirs and ensembles, where he learned the importance of musicality and rhythm.
He credits his training as a writer with writing songs, poems, and short stories. The next bit of advice is something most of us have experienced at least once in our lives: ‘Failing at something but getting up and trying again.”
How does he feel about the current state of Canadian theatre and where the industry is headed over the next proverbial five-year plan?
“I think we’re still in a bit of a hangover from Covid, but I hope we can fiercely support our Canadian playwrights and see to [writing, producing, directing and acting in] more productions that help us continue to find and define our collective voice.”
I was taken with the family unit behind ‘Kim’s Convenience’ the first time I saw it at Soulpepper. The Kims are an immigrant family with flaws, striving to make ends meet and raise their children in a culture that’s a little foreign. The story deals with a small family convenience-run store and what to do when the next generation doesn’t want to take it over.
The family is not perfect, as none is. However, this family tries to express their love and care for each other despite language and cultural barriers. Feelings are hard for everyone around.
That’s precisely one of the messages Choi wants audiences to come away with after seeing ‘Kim’s Convenience.’ He also adds:
“I’d love for people to leave the theatre having fallen in love with a family that perhaps looks differently than theirs and for that to have had a positive effect in how to view and treat others in their day-to-day lives.”
There’s a little bit of Ins in each of the characters. He was single into his thirties and pursuing an artistic career like Janet. Much like Jung, he has felt like a failure many times in my life. Like Umma, he’s tried to please others.
The following statement made me laugh when I read it in his email:
“And like Appa, I now have two children who don’t listen to me. I’m joking.”
Ins has never considered continuing the story of the Kim’s in another script.
When I taught high school English, I always sought new material with strong Canadian content about bringing contemporary drama to students. I asked Ins to imagine that he had the opportunity to go to the Ontario Ministry of Education and defend why ‘Kim’s Convenience’ should be studied in high schools across the province.
Ins hated reading in high school. He states: “A pageful of words was intimidating.”
‘Kim’s Convenience,’ however, is an easy read for students. A page of the text can be flipped in ten seconds. The dialogue is quick and in contemporary speech with a variety of characters.
Choi is proud to state that young people in the Ontario school system can relate to the play even if their parents were born here. The play deals with immigration, racism, gentrification and racial profiling, and these issues are part of our Canadian world today.
The one crucial thing that will sell students to read the play.
What’s next for Ins once ‘Kim’s Convenience’ concludes its run at London’s Grand Theatre?
He’s returning to being a real Appa with his family and taking a break in November. He’s then off to London, England, to perform the role of Appa in the United Kingdom’s premiere production of the play at Park Theatre. Esther Jun will direct the production there.
Choi was also a tad coy in saying he’s also chipping away on a few projects in theatre and television but wouldn’t reveal what they are at this time.
‘Kim’s Convenience’ continues at London, Ontario’s Grand Theatre, 471 Richmond Street, until November 4. For tickets, visit www.grandtheatre.com or call the Box Office at (519) 672-8800.