Banana Boys original team members reflect on their journeys in theatre
Factory Theatre's Nina Lee Aquino helms new production of ground-breaking play
Writer/director Nina Lee Aquino is the artistic director of Toronto's Factory Theatre, one of the most acclaimed theatres in Canada. In this Storytellers segment from Exhibitionists, she recounts a pivotal moment in her journey from acting student to masterful director.
To mark the occasion of Aquino's Banana Boys' remount at Factory this year, Exhibitionists senior producer Romeo Candido recalls his own involvement early in the show's run, and the artistic community he and Aquino came up in.
On Nov. 6 I was lucky enough to be at the opening in Toronto of Banana Boys, part of Factory Theatre's 2015 Naked Season, where classic Canadian plays are being restaged sans the luxury of sound, light and production design.
It was in the same 100-seat Studio Space where 11 years ago, I was the sound designer / composer, part of the original team who first staged the play. This production had the same director, Nina Lee Aquino, and the same script (mostly) by Leon Aureus, adapted from the novel by Terry Woo.
Eleven years ago Banana Boys was not yet considered a classic, and in the face of some really crappy reviews, our team bravely stood our ground with the lofty dream of changing the face of Canadian theatre with our Asian swagger. None of us had mortgages, cars or children. We hadn't yet amassed Dora Awards, sold-out houses, Governor General awards and critical acclaim.
Fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company, the group behind the first show, was a baby theatre company mounting its first real production in a time when plays about Asian Canadian identity were rare. To watch a bromantic drama of Asian Canadian men talking about love, sex and drugs was to some critics and audience members "challenging," and not in a good way. So, when the lights came up on the latest version of the show, I found myself swept up in the uproarious ovation that was directed at actors Darrel Gamotin, Matthew Gin, Oliver Koomsatira, Simu Liu and Philip Nozuka, who brought fresh energy, and their own experience, to the decade-old play.
Going into the show, I was wondering if it was going to hold up after all these years. I'm happy to say it does, and without all the design that we clothed it with at its premiere. And as I stood there, stomping my feet and yelling in a high falsetto, I felt I was also applauding the original cast — that included a young Ins Choi, David Yee, Dale Yim, Derek Kwan and Richard Lee — who have all gone on to become successful theatre artists, and adults.
I found myself also applauding the 11 years of Asian Canadian theatre that has since expanded, contracted, and circled back around again to this modest studio space where we all began. Lastly, I found myself applauding the incomparable Nina Lee Aquino, who has been a tenacious force in bringing the Asian Canadian experience to the stage, first as the artistic director of fu-GEN, then as the Artistic Director of Cahoots Theatre Company, and now as the Artistic Director of the Factory Theatre, guiding what I believe could be their boldest season yet.
Even though I had nothing to do with the latest version of this show, I still felt like I was still a part of it, and that my story was still being told, and judging by the reaction of the other "original crew" of Banana Boys who were there, they did too.
Banana Boys. Starring Darrel Gamotin, Matthew Gin, Oliver Koomsatira, Simu Liu, Philip Nozuka. Written by Leon Aureus, from the novel by Terry Woo. Directed by Nina Lee Aquino. FACTORY, 125 Bathurst, Toronto. To Nov 22. $35. Tue-Sat 8pm; Sun 2pm.