The tagline for the upcoming world premiere of Ins Choi’s new play, Bad Parent, is “parenthood is messy, especially in front of an audience”. And it certainly rings true for Vancouver-born and -raised actor Josette Jorge, who plays the mother, Norah, as well as the nanny, Nora, in this comedy at the Cultch Historic Theatre about childrearing.
After all, Jorge is herself the mother of a three-year-old and a nine-month-old, whom she is raising with her husband, Fane, in Toronto.
“I find that ‘audience’, for me, can be different things,” Jorge tells the Straight by phone just before going into rehearsal. “It can be how I compare myself to other moms, to friends. The audience could be family.”
When she won the part in the play, which is directed by Meg Roe, Jorge and her husband had to make some tough decisions. Should they come to Vancouver for two months as a family and pull the older one out of daycare? Or should one or more of them remain in Toronto? In the end, Jorge and the little one came; Fane and the older one joined them a month later. Fortunately, both of their parents live in Vancouver, which ensured someone was there to look after the toddler when Jorge went to rehearsals.
She feels that others in her situation will be able to identify with how Choi’s play presents the challenges of raising children while feeling like they’re being watched.
“We have our parents here who have their opinions on how a nine-month-old should dress or eat, so I find that those things really speak to me in the play,” Jorge says. “What does it feel like to have an audience as you go through this pretty tough, vulnerable, rough time in your life? How does that affect you and how does it affect your partnership with your spouse—you know, the other parent—too?”
It’s been more than eight years since Jorge has performed in a play in Vancouver. Her theatre credits include Play With Monsters (Solo Collective), Sisters (Gateway Theatre), Except in the Unlikely Event of War (Pi Theatre), and Proof (Mnemonic Theatre), in addition to being a cast member in The Stanley Dynamic and appearing in “The Job Interview” episode of Schitt’s Creek. Jorge played Analise in the feature film Attic Trunk, which was directed by her costar in Bad Parent, Raugi Yu.
Bad Parent is a coproduction with Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg, Soulpepper Theatre Company in Toronto, and Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (vAct).
It was through vAct that Jorge met her husband. She fondly recalls how the founder, the recently deceased Joyce Lam, transformed her life with her first lead role and first directing opportunity. Jorge describes Lam as a "champion to Asian artists" and a "don't-mess-with-me lady yet the kindest most loving soul".
"I went to theatre school because of her," Jorge relates. "I believed I could be an artist because she believed I could."
But it wasn’t a slam dunk for her to pursue the role in Bad Parent after she received an email inviting her to audition.
First of all, it was to be performed in Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Toronto, which would make it very difficult for Jorge and her husband to juggle this with parenting. But after she read the script by Choi, who is best known for creating Kim’s Convenience, Jorge was hooked.
“I went, ‘Okay, I have to do this show. I have to. I have to,’ ” she recalls with a laugh. “There’s something in this play that is making me say, ‘Yeah, I think it’s time to get back on-stage.’ Not only because I’m a new parent myself—and I’m pretty much in the thick of it—but it also spoke to me on a level of ‘Oh, I get this.’ ”
Jorge isn’t shy about sharing thoughts on parenting. She posts photos of her kids on Instagram. She follows posts on parenting. But in Choi’s play, there are aspects of parenting that she wouldn’t dare talk about in public.
“The conversations in this play that my character has with her partner are quite vulnerable and quite deep and quite honest—to the point when I was reading it, I went, ‘Ho, ho, that is something that I am definitely going through, but I’m not sure if I would want to explore it, especially in front of an audience,’ ” Jorge says.
She’s hoping that she’ll spot couples in the audience occasionally nudge each other when they hear dialogue that speaks directly to their experiences parenting a young child. Or, alternatively, she wonders if they might do the opposite, feeling awkward as the play raises issues that they are not keen to discuss at home.
Jorge lives in the same Toronto neighbourhood as Choi, which made it easy for them to meet for coffee to discuss parenting. Even though Choi’s kids are much older, they had similar experiences, which deepens her connection to Bad Parent.
“I feel like it’s a play that I can really sink my teeth into,” Jorge says. “It’s very me right now.”