Stage Door News

Ottawa: Nina Lee Aquino has been appointed Artistic Director of NAC English Theatre

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Nina Lee Aquino has been appointed Artistic Director of NAC English Theatre, effective August 29, 2022.

Nina Lee Aquino is an award-winning Filipino-Canadian director, dramaturg and teacher who has tirelessly advocated for the representation and flourishing of IBPoC voices in Canadian theatre.

Previously in 2021, Nina Lee Aquino ended her transformative tenure as Artistic Director of Toronto’s Factory Theatre. Over the course of 10 seasons, she programmed bold and imaginative re-interpretations of classic Canadian plays and secured a reputation as a leader in developing new plays, and as a champion of writers. Nina Lee Aquino is also a highly sought-after mentor who has offered steadfast support for nurturing and training the next generation of theatre artists.

Nina Lee Aquino will take over from Jillian Keiley at the conclusion of her 10-year term as Artistic Director of English Theatre in August 2022. Jillian Keiley will program English Theatre’s 2022-2023 season in partnership with Black Theatre Workshop, which will be presented after her departure. Besides Jillian Keiley, Nina Lee Aquino’s predecessors include such renowned theatre artists as Peter Hinton-Davis, Marti Maraden, Gil Osborne, Andis Celms, John Wood and Jean Roberts.

Pushing the boundaries of Canadian theatre

“We’re delighted to welcome Nina Lee Aquino, a leading figure in Canadian theatre who has pushed its boundaries throughout her career,” said Christopher Deacon, President and CEO of the National Arts Centre.

“Nina is a leader in developing new plays, a champion of writers and a guiding light for emerging theatre talent. 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.”

“I am thrilled and deeply honoured to be named the new Artistic Director of NAC English Theatre,” said Nina Lee Aquino. “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. 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.”

More praise for Nina Lee Aquino

In a May 27, 2021, opinion article assessing Nina Lee Aquino’s tenure at Factory Theatre, Globe and Mail theatre critic Kelly Nestruck said: “It’s hard to think of an artistic director who has done more to shepherd Toronto theatre into the present than the no-nonsense Aquino, one of the city’s finest stage directors who, for a decade, simply rolled up her sleeves and worked hard to bring audiences and artists into Factory who hadn’t been there before. She’s never oversold this or been big on jargon: she’s just made sure the home of Canadian plays lived up to its mission for all kinds of Canadians.”

In a statement earlier this year, Factory Theatre highlighted Nina Lee Aquino’s role as an outstanding mentor whose steadfast support for nurturing and training the next generation of theatre artists is among her most important achievements. The company credits her for helping to launch the careers of more than 100 of Canada’s finest artists, transforming the landscape of Canadian theatre.

About Nina Lee Aquino

Nina Lee Aquino is an award-winning Filipino-Canadian director and dramaturg who has tirelessly advocated for the representation and flourishing of IBPoC voices in Canadian theatre. She was the Founding Artistic Director of fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company and former Artistic Director of Cahoots Theatre. She has directed world premieres and revivals at theatres across the country and has won a multitude of awards including the Ken McDougall Award, the Canada Council for the Arts John Hirsch Prize, the Margo Bindhart and Rita Davies Cultural Leadership Award, as well as a Toronto Theatre Critics Award and Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Direction for School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play (Obsidian Theatre), in addition to two Dora Mavor Moore Awards for Sultans of the Street (Young People’s Theatre) and paper SERIES (Cahoots Theatre). During her tenure, Factory cemented its reputation as a national leader for the development of new work and emerged as a leading training ground for the next generation of diverse Canadian theatre creators.

In addition to serving as the Founding Artistic Director of fu-GEN Asian Canadian theatre company, Nina Lee Aquino is credited with a string of firsts in Asian Canadian theatre: she organized the first Asian Canadian theatre conference; she edited the first (two-volume) Asian Canadian play anthology, and she co-edited the first (award-winning) book on Asian Canadian theatre.

Nina Lee Aquino is currently President of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres.

Over 10 seasons at Factory Theatre, Nina programmed world premiere and Toronto premiere productions from playwrights such as David Yee, Anusree Roy, Marjorie Chan, Yvette Nolan, Kat Sandler, and Jeff Ho, among others; programmed bold and imaginative re-interpretations of classic Canadian plays from Judith Thompson, Colleen Wagner, David French, Linda Griffiths, Daniel MacIvor, Anosh Irani, and Claudia Dey. She fostered relationships with some of the best theatre companies from across the country and brought their productions to Factory Theatre.

Following the March 2020 pandemic shutdown, Nina fully embraced the new digital theatre medium, commissioning and directing new digital and audio theatrical works at Factory and with post-secondary institutions and festivals. Notable digital works include House: The Isolation Version by Daniel MacIvor (Factory Theatre), acts of faith by David Yee (Factory Theatre), Defined by Bone by Mayumi Lashbrook (CanAsian Dance), rabbit hole by David Yee (Ryerson University), and You Can’t Get There From Here, an audio drama series (Factory Theatre).

Nina Lee Aquino co-wrote Miss Orient(ed) and her monologues have been published in Beyond the Pale (edited by Yvette Nolan) and She Speaks (edited by Judith Thompson).

Nina has taught and directed at educational institutions such as Humber College, University of Guelph, University of Toronto Mississauga-Sheridan College, Ryerson University, York University, and the National Theatre School. She is an honorary member of the Canadian Association for Theatre Research and was recently appointed Adjunct Professor at York University’s Department of Theatre. Her leadership has extended into mentoring theatre students and emerging artists. She was also the 2019 winner of the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Margo Bindhart.

By Carl Martin for

Photo: Nina Lee Aquino. © 2022 Dahlia Katz.