The National Arts Centre English Theatre has a new artistic director, one who’s very familiar to Toronto theatre audiences: Nina Lee Aquino.
Lee Aquino, who announced last May that she was stepping down as artistic director of Toronto’s Factory Theatre at the end of the 2021-22 season after 10 years, will take over the position from Jillian Keiley on August 29, 2022.
“I am thrilled and deeply honoured to be named the new Artistic Director of NAC English Theatre,” said Lee Aquino in a press release.
“I see my appointment as a continuation of the rich legacy of Artistic Directors who came before me and presented stories about the complexity of contemporary Canada. Theatre has been pivoting, shifting and adapting long before this current moment. The idea of this country – that is the Canadian experience, citizenship, identity – is continually evolving, perpetually being defined and re-defined through the lenses of our artistic work.
“The NAC that I dream of is a creative catalyst for change and transformation,” she continues. “It is the place where artists and audiences constantly interrogate and explore what Canada’s place is in the world and what the rest of the world’s place is in Canada. I’m looking forward to nurturing and serving a multitude of Canadian stories; embracing new, future-facing theatrical forms; harnessing the creative potential that new technology has to offer and remaining fearless in reimagining our classics and deconstructing our traditional ways of storytelling.”
During her tenure at Factory, Lee Aquino has programmed works – many of them world premieres – by playwrights like David Yee, Anusree Roy, Marjorie Chan, Yvette Nolan, Kat Sandler and Jeff Ho, among others. One of her boldest and most successful seasons was in 2015-16 when she and Factory presented its “Naked Season,” a stripped down reexamination of six classic Canadian plays, some of which went on to win awards.
Lee Aquino’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was swift, sensible and creative. She presented a live-streamed digital version of Daniel MacIvor’s House performed in actor Kevin Hanchard’s home; later on she presented a live-streamed version of David Yee’s Acts Of Faith performed in the Factory’s rehearsal space. And Factory’s collection of audio dramas, You Can’t Get There From Here, was so successful the company has commissioned a new series to air this year.
Outside of Factory, Lee Aquino – a well-known dramaturg and teacher – has also directed award-winning productions like School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play.
She is the founding artistic director of fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company, and is current president of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres.
The NAC is a bilingual, multi-disciplinary home for the performing arts. Previous artistic directors of the NAC English theatre include Peter Hinton-Davis and Marti Maraden.
“Nina is a leader in developing new plays a champion of writers and a guiding light for emerging theatre talent,” said Christopher Deacon, President and CEO of the National Arts Centre.
“As one of the country’s finest directors, Nina has directed countless memorable productions and used her platform to create space for diverse voices on Canadian stages. The NAC is fortunate to be able to welcome this extraordinary artist and inspirer at the peak of her powers.”
Once live programming starts back up at the NAC, many Toronto theatre lovers will likely be looking up train schedules to Ottawa. And here’s hoping Lee Aquino has some spare time to direct productions here.