The Current

Nina Lee Aquino wants to solve the world's problems through theatre in new position

The newly appointed artistic director of the National Arts Centre English Theatre in Ottawa is hoping to use her position to change the world through theatre.

Filipino Canadian Nina Lee Aquino has been appointed artistic director of NAC English Theatre

Filipino Canadian theatremaker Nina Lee Aquino has been tapped to bring a bold new vision to the National Arts Centre as the next artistic director of the NAC English Theatre. (Dahlia Katz Photography)

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The newly appointed artistic director of the National Arts Centre English Theatre in Ottawa is hoping to use her position to change the world through theatre. 

"It can transform. It can change. And so the hope always is when audiences go into the theatre, they come out different, better human beings," said Nina Lee Aquino.

Aquino, a Filipino Canadian, will be stepping into the new role after 10 seasons as artistic director of Toronto's Factory Theatre.

Aquino is an award-winning director and teacher. She will start her new gig on Aug. 29. In the new position, Aquino said she hopes to grow as an artistic leader and and tell more stories.

"The bigger the platform, the more voices I can amplify, the more stories I can nurture, right? So I think that I wanted to test that out. I wanted to push my own artistic boundaries," said Aquino. 

Diverse voices

During her time with Toronto's Factory Theatre, Aquino has made it a point to add more diverse voices and broaden representation.

But she said it's not just about having that representation on stage. 

"I think it's also important that the people that are in control of the narrative, that the people creating the narrative, the stories are also coming from all walks of life," said Aquino. 

WATCH | Theatremaker Nina Lee Aquino recounts the advice that changed her life

Director Nina Lee Aquino recounts the advice that changed her life.

7 years ago
Duration 2:02
In this edition of Storytellers, theatre director and writer, Nina Lee Aquino, remembers how a big rejection turned into a positive when she received some very important advice from a mentor.

She says doing this, both on the stage and behind it, helps create empathy in the audience. It's something she hopes to continue at the NAC English Theatre.

"We then start thinking collectively regardless of the differences, and we get to appreciate each other's differences and celebrate that and use that to start solving the world's problems," said Aquino. 

The COVID-19 threat

Aquino said that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a number of challenges for theatre and the people involved, but the theatre industry will survive. 

"Am I worried? Is this frustrating? Is this making me sad and keeping me up at night? Absolutely. But I do have to say, it's a resilient art form for a reason," said Aquino. 

Aquino said the creative solutions that have come out of dealing with the pandemic — such as live virtual theatre — will also benefit theatre going forward.

Aquino previously worked as the artistic director of Factory Theatre in Toronto. (Cesar Ghisilieri Photography)

"I'm all for pushing virtual theatre, and even when we do get control of this pandemic, because it has given us accessibility in so many ways," said Aquino. 

Aquino also said she believes that, as the pandemic continues and people continue to face difficult times, the theatre provides an important window into a better time.

"What I want to see on the stage more is what the world can be and not just the reflection of today, but showing the possibilities of the future," said Aquino. 


Written by Philip Drost. Produced by Ines Colabrese.

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