CrossCurrents at Factory Theatre

by Megan Mooney

One of the many great things about theatre in Toronto is that come spring there are festivals everywhere. For example, the CrossCurrents festival May 2 – 11, 2008 at Factory Theatre.

CrossCurrents brings forward works of ‘artists of colour’ from across Canada. Artists from visible-minorities are under represented in the theatre world in Canada. Things have improved in the last few years, but there is no denying that the Toronto theatre scene is not a representation of Toronto as a whole. Unlike the theatre scene, Canada and Toronto are filled with a variety of colours, hues and ethnicities. As the artistic producer of the CrossCurrents festival said “The inside of a TTC bus is what Canada is”.

When did it start?
CrossCurrents began 7 years ago to showcase Canadian playwrights of colour. Since then the festival has grown and become an established part of the Factory Theatre season with dedicated staff and is now a 10 day festival, instead of a 4 night festival.

How are the plays chosen?
A call for submissions goes out across Canada for new works in the fall. The submissions are reviewed by a selection committee made up of visible-minorities from the artistic community such as producers, directors, designers, writers and so on.

I asked the Artistic Producer Nina Lee Aquino what attracted her to certain shows, what the committee looks for. She said she wanted shows that were “unapologetic”, shows that have ordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances. Shows that help shed some light on the question “what is it like to be a hyphenated-Canadian?”

How does it all work?
Once a show is chosen, as the Artistic Producer, Nina works to find someone who would be an appropriate director and dramaturge for each script. The director and playwright connect at the beginning of the year and have the opportunity to discuss and refine the script in an informal way.

Each show gets 24 hours of development, 16 hours for the director to do with what they they will, and 8 hours for tech. The scripts continue to change all though this process, developing through work with everyone involved.

Artistic Producer Nina Lee Aquino
I’ve mentioned Nina already, and you may wonder, what is it that she does as the Artistic Producer of this festival. The bottom line is that she drives this festival, she shapes it, she maps out what it will look like year to year. She has the final say on everything. It’s a lot of responsibility, but she handles it well. She joined the festival around 5 years ago as an assistant producer, so she knows her way around it and has the benefit of knowing the history, seeing what has worked and what hasn’t. She also knows the importance of multiple voices and opinions, so, although she has the final say, she uses the advice of the selection committee in choosing plays.

I asked her is she could tell people one thing, what would it be. She said she’d tell people that “Difference is a good thing.” She is passionate about the belief that things do not have to be universal, that we spend too much time looking for similarities, instead of celebrating differences. As an audience member you don’t need to ‘relate’ to the person on stage in order to get something from the piece. Nina urges audiences that if they can’t relate then they should use the opportunity to listen. She loves the idea of someone coming to a show and walking out thinking “oh, I never thought of that.”

This festival acts as a feeder ground for the rest of the Toronto theatre scene, so check out the shows, see an up-and-coming actor, or the first iteration of a show that you’ll notice in the upcoming season of another theatre.

All shows are PWYC, it’s a perfect way to spend an evening with friends, so get out there and check it out. Showtimes are mostly at 8pm, although there are some exceptions, so check out the details on the CrossCurrents webpage.