The Breakouts are presented in partnership with Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
The question is a pretty good barometer of how much one loves their community: “If you won the lottery, would you move?”
As a long-time resident of East Van, playwright and actor Christine Quintana doesn’t have to think about her answer for more than a heartbeat, which is also the time it takes her to put a clever twist on things.
“If we win the lottery, we might be able to stay in the neighbourhood,” she says with a laugh.
Born in Los Angeles, the theatre artist moved to Vancouver in the early ’90s as a small kid, landing in the Commercial Drive area.
“I’ve lived almost my whole life in East Van—right now I live two blocks from the first house we rented when we moved here, and a block from the elementary school that I went to,” Quintana says. “I love being part of a community that is actually diverse, even though gentrification is closing in. You’ll walk down the Drive any day, and you’ll see all varieties of human beings enjoying the neighbourhood in their own way. I feel like you don’t get that in other neighbourhoods, and it’s really special.”
This past holiday, Quintana won across-the-board raves for cowriting—along with her real-life partner Jiv Parasram—the 2023 edition of the East Van Panto. Beauty and the Beast was East Van to its hilarious core—a love letter to all that makes the neighbourhood fanstastically weird and unique, from the mysterious Mr. Mattress to Japanese food mini-empire Fujiya to the ’hood’s ever-present skunks.
Quintana wrote her first play at 14, entering it in a Cultch contest in the hopes she’d be using money from a win to pay for dance lessons. By the time she graduated from theatre school, she was all in, working in arts administration, manning the box office, and acting, writing and producing shows as the cofounder of a small company.
In the years that have followed, Quintana has been nothing if not prolific. As an actor, she’s appeared in past editions of the Panto (playing Dorothy in 2018’s riff on the The Wizard of Oz) as well as productions like rice & beans theatre’s Made In Canada and Ruby Slippers’ Marine Life. On the writing front, she’s created award-winning works (Espejos: Clean, Selfie, Stationary: A Recession-Era Musical, the 2023 Arts Club hit Someone Like You) that tend to shoot for comedic laughs, but have serious messages behind them.
In the months ahead, watch for the new relationship-themed works El Terremoto (set to premiere this year with Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre) and As Above (debuting at Victoria’s Belfry Theatre).
“This is a crazy season for me—I have four premieres, which is basically not a thing that happens often,” she says. “If you told me that when I was graduating from theatre school, I just fully wouldn’t have believed it.”
Finding a connecting thread for much of her work these days is, Quintana suggests, easy. “This year a real through-line of all my plays has been: they are all inspired by my community, and especially East Van,” she says. “It’s a constant source of inspiration.”