New artistic director at National Arts Theater in Ottawa is Filipino-Canadian


Nina Lee Aquino

Meet an outstanding Filipino-Canadian, who has been appointed to take over as artistic director of the English Theater of the National Arts Theater in Ottawa, Canada!

She is Nina Lee Aquino, in her mid-forties, Filipino-born, to parents Amelita Aquino, a retired diplomat, and Cecilio Aquino Jr., a businessman from Tarlac. She clinched the prestigious appointment after 10 seasons of impressive leadership skills as artistic director of Toronto’s Factory Theater.

From her official bio, we learned that Nina is an award-winning Filipino-Canadian director and dramaturg, who has tirelessly advocated for the representation and flourishing of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of color) voices in Canadian theater.

She was the founding artistic director of fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theater Company, former artistic director of Cahoots Theater, and is currently in her final season as artistic director of Factory Theater, which, with her at the helm, emerged as a leading training ground for the next generation of diverse Canadian theater creators.

She has directed world premieres and revivals across Canada and won a multitude of awards, including the Ken McDougall Award and the John Hirsch Prize.

Nina is also credited with a string of firsts in Asian Canadian theater. She organized the first Asian Canadian theater conference, edited the first (two-volume) Asian Canadian play anthology, and co-edited the first (award-winning) book on Asian Canadian theater.

Over 10 seasons at Factory Theater, Nina programmed world premiere and Toronto premiere productions from many distinguished playwrights like David Yee, Anusree Roy, and Marjorie Chan, programmed bold and imaginative re-interpretations of classic Canadian plays from Judith Thompson, Colleen Wagner, Anosh Irani, and more. She fostered relationships with some of the best theater companies from across the country and brought their productions to Factory Theater.

Following the March 2020 pandemic shutdown, Nina fully embraced the new digital theater medium, commissioning and directing new digital and audio theatrical works at Factory and with post-secondary institutions. Notable digital works include House: The Isolation Version by Daniel MacIvor, acts of faith and rabbit hole by David Yee (Ryerson University), and You Can’t Get There From Here, a brand new audio drama series.

Nina also co-wrote Miss Orient(ed) and her monologues have been published in Beyond the Pale and She Speaks.

Nina has taught and directed at educational institutions such as Humber College, University of Guelph, University of Toronto Mississauga-Sheridan College, Ryerson University, York University, and the National Theatre School. An honorary member of the Canadian Association for Theater Research, she was recently appointed adjunct professor at York University’s Department of Theatre. Her leadership has extended into mentoring emerging artists. She has been involved with many events, from the Paprika Festival and the Toronto Fringe TENT Program to Clutch (Kapisanan Philippine Center for Arts and Culture).

Nina was also the winner of the 2019 Toronto Arts Foundation’s Margo Bindhart and Rita Davies Cultural Leadership Award. In 2018, she had the honor of delivering Canada’s World Theater Day message in 2018. She is currently the president of the Professional Association of Canadian Theater.

“My husband’s is Richard Lee, an award-winning actor, fight director, sound designer, and theater producer,” Nina proudly told us. “He and Nina have been married for 18 years now. They have an only daughter, Eponine, 15 years old, who has inherited all the artistic genes of both parents, now also a professional theater and film actor. She started when she was five, in a play her mother directed at Tarragon Theater.

“That was the one and only time we ever worked together!” gushed Nina. “Since then she has gone on to other theater and film gigs, being directed by amazing directors and working for other theaer companies and film productions. Her last gig was playing Juliet in R+J at the Stratford Festival this past summer.” A singer-songwriter and a basketball player, Eponine also plays the guitar.

Nina started singing as a child, always singing, in all the choirs at school.

Margaret Tipton (now Siytangco), a high school classmate at Miriam College, fondly remembers Nina as a smart student, who stood out for her American accent. They both attended voice lessons at the school’s music center,  where Nina cites a teacher, Miss Aguilar, as instrumental in her artistic career, calling, her first ever mentor.

Back then, Nina would join the PETA and Trumpets summer acting workshops. She was about to go to UP-Diliman for Theater Arts, when her mom got an assignment to Canada, where she still pursued theater in Toronto, involving herself in various youth theater programs and taking drama courses. She formally pursued theater in university, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Theater Studies at the University of Guelph and her Master of Arts in Drama, Theater and Performance.

Proud of you Nina!