Ins Choi, the playwright behind Kim’s Convenience seen in Vancouver earlier this year, brings his one-man show Subway Stations of the Cross to Pacific Theatre.
A mash-up of songs, stories, and poetry told through the eyes of a homeless man that Choi encountered in 2002, Subway Stations of the Cross has grown from its origins as a poem performed at his church’s Easter service. Each year since, Choi has added on a poem or song, until it has morphed into the show that has now toured across Canada.
We caught up with Choi prior to his arrival in Vancouver to learn more.
1. The inspiration for Subway Stations came from a real-life experience, can you tell us about it?
Subway Stations of the Cross began in 2002, when I encountered a homeless man on a park bench in downtown Toronto. For the next hour, the man spoke about the Hebrew alphabet, European flags, Greek and Norse mythology, biblical UFOs, Nimrod, giants, fallen angels, the new world order and the return of Christ. Initially dismissing him as a crazy man, I soon realized that he was an angel or a prophet of God. I never saw him again but that experience stuck with me, inspiring my writing.
2. What changed your mind part way through the encounter?
I began believing what he was talking about to be true. Things started to click and make sense. Kinda like at the end of the movie The Usual Suspects when you’re catching up with the turn in the plot.
3. What was his message?
Don’t know. I don’t think a message could be siphoned down to a line after an experience like that. It’s like trying to figure out the message or the meaning of an image. It affects us. What’s the meaning of green? In different contexts, it means different things. With each ear that hears, the “message” splinters. But maybe the message has something to do with seeing, seeing past me, seeing past seeing, past receiving, past what’s perceived as believing, i.e. relieved to just be living rather than justly living (a bit of lyrics from the show) .
4. You’ve said that you thought if Jesus was alive today he would be a homeless person like the man you encountered. Why do you believe that?
During Jesus’ ministry, it’s written that he had nowhere to lay his head. No home, no residence. He wasn’t working towards retirement. He was homeless. On a mission, but homeless. Also there’s this statue carving of a homeless Jesus by Timothy Shmalz in Toronto outside of Regis College on Harbord St. I like that one a lot. It resonates a lot with me.
5. The show took shape over a number of years. Is it complete now, or do you still tinker with it?
Essentially it’s complete but every new venue presents unique challenges and opportunities. In Ottawa at St. Albans church there were all these candles in the back. So, I asked if we could light them for the show and they said yes. The lighting of the candles made it’s way into the performance. Pacific Theatre is an intimate alleyway configured theatre space. Can’t wait to be in it to see how it’ll affect the show.
6. Where did you come up with the title and what is its meaning?
Subways stations are modern, urban, dirty, practical. The Stations of the Cross are ancient images in cathedrals that tells the story from Jesus’ death sentence to his death bed. It’s based on the real life places ‘stations’ along the Via Dolorosa, the actual road in Jerusalem where Christ walked that journey 2,000 years ago. Over the centuries, Christ followers would make a pilgrimage there and pause and reflect on the life of Christ and their own. So, it’s the layering of those two images, stories, colours.
7. I can’t imagine anything more different from Kim’s Convenience. Were you looking for something that different to write about?
I was performing this show in some form even before Kim’s Convenience was at the Toronto Fringe in 2011. Kim’s just took off and I had to put this on hold a bit. I’m not that conscious about my writing. I don’t plan ahead.
8. You’ve described the show as “you meditating”. What’s in it for an audience?
I think the show used to have more of a meditative tone. But over the years, it’s gotten more jagged and entertaining. What’s in it for an audience? Wow. anything I say won’t be enough to attract or it’ll be too much and repel. Come and see and smell and hear and let me know what you got out of it, if anything.
9. Is there a message in the show for the non-religious?
The show has religious elements in it, but it’s for the general public, the non religious. If I had a designated audience, it’d be the non-religious. I prefer the non religious audience. You’re more welcome to me than the religious audience. Both religious audiences and non-religious audiences have been offended by portions of the show. As well, both have loved it, obviously, for different reasons.
Subway Stations of the Cross plays Pacific Theatre (1440 West 12th Ave, Vancouver) November 19-23. Proceeds from Nov 20 performance will be donated to the Union Gospel Mission. Visit http://pacifictheatre.org for tickets and information.