Nina Lee Aquino and Nigel Shawn Williams, Factory Theatre’s new artistic directors, struggle to save the season amid boycotts, petitions and social media snark
Nina Lee Aquino and Nigel Shawn Williams, recently named as the interim artistic directors for the indie stage company Factory Theatre, could not have taken over at a worse time. Last June, Ken Gass, the company’s founder and long-time artistic director, was dumped by the board of directors in a dispute over plans to renovate their century-old theatre near Bathurst and Queen. In the ensuing hue and cry, three playwrights closely associated with Gass pulled their work from the upcoming season, a petition was circulated, and a group of artistic notables—including Atom Egoyan, Gordon Pinsent, Fiona Reid and R. H. Thomson—declared they would boycott the theatre until Gass was reinstated.
The hiring of Aquino and Williams, both highly respected actor-writer-directors who have been active with the Factory for more than a decade, quelled some of the storm, though not all of it— a comment about their decision to accept the job, written by the author and playwright Allan Stratton, appeared on the company’s Facebook page: “I suppose that’s one way to ascend the throne.” (Theatre people are nothing if not dramatic.)
Aquino and Williams have opted to ignore the sniping and focus on saving the season, and maybe even the company itself. “The danger of this institution—which belongs to all of us—closing or being damaged was paramount,” Williams says. “I’m not asking people, ‘Were you on that boycott list? Do you still think I’m an asshole?’ That’s counterproductive.” They were fully prepared to have to rebuild the theatre’s subscriber base, but they claim subscription levels hardly dropped at all.
More pressing was the issue of the lost productions, which they had exactly two weeks to replace. It helped that there was at least one show they didn’t need to worry about losing: Every Letter Counts, the new season opener, is about the exiled Filipino politician and activist Benigno Aquino (to whom Nina is closely related), who was assassinated in 1983. The play was written by Nina and is directed by Nigel. The run was planned before the Gass firing, though both playwright and director see the timing as serendipitous. “Let it be us,” Aquino says of the possibility that the first post-Gass production will be the target of slings and arrows from still-disgruntled corners of the city’s theatre world. “We can take it.”
Every Letter Counts
By Nina Lee Aquino
Directed by Nigel Shawn Williams
The Factory Theatre
Jan. 26 to Feb. 24