Ins Choi wrote the play Kim’s Convenience to tell the story of a Korean family in Toronto going through the trials and tribulations of not just store management, but everyday life.
It turns out, Choi wrote a story that happens to be about a Korean family, but could just as easily be about any ethnic household, whether they own a convenience store or not.
“It isn’t literally biographical, but it is a lot of people I know, a lot of stories I have heard and lived that has filtered in. I am in there,” Choi said. “Someone said, write what you know. And that’s what I did.”
Following in the footsteps of a sold out 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival premier, and lengthy runs under the Soulpepper Theatre banner in 2012, Kim’s Convenience is running at the Grand Theatre from Jan. 15 to Feb. 2.
It took him some six years to complete his first play, but Choi said he is pleased to have ended up with a comedic, and often heart-warming, tale of one particular Korean family in Regent Park, in Toronto. Choi said the play is about that place, that family, but it is ultimately about family, about how they love each other, and the struggles they have communicating that love to each other.
“It is about a family struggling to face the future amidst the bitter memories of their past,” Choi said. “All of that comes out in the play.”
Choi recalls sitting the play’s 2011 Toronto Fringe premier, looking out at an audience that was half Korean, half non-Korean, and being struck by how both groups really seemed to respond positively to the story.
Kim’s Convenience was then picked up by Soulpepper in 2012 and played before mostly a non-Korean audience. However, Choi said that didn’t stop people from coming up to him after the show and saying how they were personally motivated by the story — no matter their personal background.
“I still had people coming up to me saying that was their family. And they were of Scottish heritage or from Russian decent. Change the accent, change the time or situation, and that was their struggle,” Choi said. “They remember saying the same lines. It wasn’t a surprise to me that it could be relatable to so many people regardless of race, regardless of age.”
Choi said he “couldn’t be happier” about how the play has been received. Starting with the Toronto Fringe, through Soulpepper and now onto the main stage at the Grand. Bringing the play to London is part of Choi’s ambition to have Kim’s Convenience play across the country — and not necessarily just because he wants to entertain people.
“I don’t know when it happened, but the Canadian face is changing. The face of Canada is changing and our stages — and TV shows — need to reflect that changes,” Choi said. “This play is about a Korean family, but for me it is a new Canadian. That is why I want to go across Canada, play in the big houses, I feel I can help affect that change. I feel it is very timely now.”
While it wasn’t the sole reason for bringing Kim’s Convenience to London, Susan Ferley, artistic director at the Grand, agrees with Choi’s perception of how things are changing. However, the main reason remains the story.
“It is a story that will speak to our audience no matter their racial or ethnic background. There are issues that are universal, that affect all of us,” Ferley said. “And it is lovely we are reflecting a different face on our stage we don’t see as much as we could or might.
When Ferley watched Kim’s Convenience in Toronto she “fell in love” with a story that was so “simply and honestly told.” As Choi had done himself the year before, Ferley looked around and saw an audience that was a mix of ethnicity, but who were all enjoying the story that was being told.
That story resonated with Ferley, herself a second generation Canadian, and allowed her to reflect on the challenges faced by her own grandparents. And she certainly didn’t have to be Korean to feel the connection.
“It speaks about parents and children and we all know that territory,” Ferley said “And then there were the insights into a specific culture, which is always lovely to learn whoever we are, and that is part of the richness of theatre.”
Choi said he is excited to be part of helping to change that Canadian face, but he is also thrilled that Kim’s Convenience has reached such a level of success. With a great deal of laughter and even some tears, Choi said the story can connect with anyone and that is what he is most proud of.
“As artists, that is what we all crave. Whether you are a sculpture, an actor, a painter or writer, you want to connect with a larger audience,” Choi said. “We all go through these things and when people say yes, we know we aren’t alone in this experience called life.”
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