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May 28, 2013

Reflections on Kim’s Convenience – Kat Chin, Stage Manager

I’ve been a stage manager for this show since its beginning at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2010. As a stage manager, I do a lot of scheduling, I ensure that rehearsals happen and run smoothly, that everyone gets their breaks, that all blocking and script changes are notated. I communicate information to the props, set and costume departments, and then I call the show – the lighting and sound cues – bing bong! Sometimes I have to give notes to the actors (“you weren’t standing in your light”, “you forgot a line”, “your entrance was late”, etc.) and it’s my job to maintain the vision and integrity of the show throughout the run.

Kat Chin

The Reception on Tour

The story of Kim’s is pretty universal – the prodigal son, the generation gap, the always complicated dynamics of relationships between parents and children, the uncertainty of the future. The play is based in Toronto – characters mention Jane & St. Clair, Dufferin Mall, Parkdale – but that’s just icing on the cake. The story is about a man and his store (a store that could be on any street corner) and his complicated relationship with his children and his decisions about his future. It’s really nice that it happens to take place in Toronto, but it could be any city. We found the audiences in London just as receptive as the audiences in Toronto. The Toronto audiences just get the delight of being able to identify with the locations mentioned. I think it’s a bit like when you’re watching a movie and it’s supposed to be set in Chicago, and then you catch a glimpse of the CN Tower or a particular building that you KNOW is in Toronto. As an audience member, you experience a little bit of glee knowing that it’s your city.

There’s usually a LOT of weepy eyes after the show. It never fails, that last scene is quite the tear-jerker. We’ve done over 120 performances, and I can always count on the sniffles and wiping of eyes when the house lights come up. Both young and old audience members are quite affected by the emotions of the story, and there’s usually a lot of empathy from the Korean crowd. People tend to leave talking about the story itself, as opposed to the individual actors, which is really nice, although there is also always a lot of praise for Paul Sun-Hyung Lee’s performance. I don’t think we’ve had one show go by without the audience jumping to its feet when Paul comes out for his bow.

In Rehearsal

We have such a great cast, the awesome factor is always high. We always have these, what we call “documentary” moments – the stuff that we wish someone was recording so that it could go into the “special features” of a DVD. I’ve known Grace Lynn Kung for a long time, and she can be pretty wacky. There have been more than a handful of times in rehearsal when she’ll change something about her performance which will cause Paul to break down laughing, and then that just spreads. That’s something that’s really nice about having such a familial feeling – we can stop rehearsal just to laugh and not feel pressured to be “on” all the time. We generally have funny moments when Paul will say something unexpected in Mr. Kim’s voice, or Andre Sills says something different with Mike’s Jamaican accent.

Relating to the Characters

When we did one of our first runs of the play in rehearsal for Fringe, I was struck by how much I could relate to the character of Janet. The whole parent-child relationship is played out so simply and truthfully in this show, and I know that for a lot of Asian families, it really strikes a chord. I was actually very nervous when I invited my parents to come see the show because they don’t really understand theatre – much like Appa doesn’t understand Janet’s passion for photography – and they don’t see most of the shows I work on. However, at the end of the show they met Ins and told him it was a beautiful show, and then they told me they really loved it and that I had done a good job. That was really nice to hear. I imagine it’s how Janet feels when Appa tells her that he wants her to “live life best way you choosing.”

When we did the Fringe show, we were also a very collaborative group with Ins being our “leader.” Whoever wasn’t in the scene being rehearsed was encouraged to give feedback and even direction, including myself, which was really nice, because I don’t think a lot of stage managers get that opportunity. I count myself extremely fortunate to be a part of this family, and like Ins and Paul and the others, I love this show.

Photo: Nathan Kelly