A Beloved Comedy! But let’s talk about Audience…
What do we owe our parents? And what do theatres owe their audiences?
Kim’s Convenience by Ins Choi is a play loved by many in the greater Toronto area, and after the success of the TV adaptation on CBC, it has gained national attention. The story is an endearing family comedy following a day in the life of Mr. Kim: a convenience store owner who immigrated from Korea to start a life in Toronto, Canada.
The piece tackles some heavy and complex issues in a humorous way, with some of them being resolved and others mentioned but not being addressed after the fact. The play ends with audiences wanting more, which is probably why there was a five season long show created.
Okay, before I get into the meat: The production is great. Go see it!! The set is lovely and the acting is energetic – But I’ve got bigger questions than production value. The plot surrounds Mr. Kim’s relationship with his family: his daughter Janet (Kelly Seo), his wife Umma (Jane Luk), and his first born Jung (Frank Chung).
Throughout the show there are some slightly racist remarks from Mr. Kim (James Yi). These are all done in jest and the comedy of the text works well. I laughed because of the very specific combinations of people; skin colour, plus hair type, plus body weight, plus clothing item, even sometimes the other person that walked in with them. Mr. Kim had very particular descriptions of people and I found it funny because of its absurdism, as I’m sure others have and will. But as one of the only racialized people in the theatre, being surrounded by white people laughing at racist remarks was uncanny.
Throughout the piece I was hyper-aware of the audience that shared the space with me. One lady would repeat what Mr. Kim said to her friend – Mr. Kim spoke in a heavy Korean accent. It is fair for the lady to want her friend to understand what Mr. Kim was saying, but that was a comedic tactic as even sometimes his daughter could not tell what he was saying. The lady’s act of repetition is not necessarily malicious, but there are always undertones and learned behaviours that may have negative impacts.
I think Kim’s Convenience was written for immigrant communities, intended for a culturally diverse, possibly prominently Korean Torontonian audience. Now, with critical acclaim what does it mean when the work has a wider reach? I believe all people should be exposed to as many cultures as possible, it is a way to stop biases and racist assumptions. Kim’s Convenience lets non-Korean people into the culture and history in a way that is not prejudiced. It is a good show to program, but in this instance, it feels like when minorities are brought on simply as diversity hires: there are no systems in place to support them.
I think if a city like Gannanoque was to program something like say, Kim’s Convenience, there should be an active invitation to Korean communities in the area. Shows like this should be seen by people who can also relate to the work, it should not sit as a spectacle within the programming. The question then is one of how to have genuine cultural exchanges. For some, it is the name drop that gets them into the seats.
Not here to answer, only here to make ya think folks.
Kim’s Convenience is running from August 26 – September 18 at the Thousand Islands Playhouse; more information can be found here.