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The Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards

2019 Nominee Spotlight: Khan Lee

GVPTA's Communications & Special Events Assistant, Rick Chung, spent some time getting to know some of this year's nominees. 

South Korean-born artist Khan Lee works in performance, media, sculpture, drawing, and is nominated for set design in Camera Obscura (hungry ghosts) for The Frank Theatre and Queer Arts Festival at the 37th annual Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards taking place July 15th at Bard on the Beach’s BMO Mainstage in Vanier Park. 

Lee studied architecture at Hong-Ik University before immigrating to Canada to study fine arts at Emily Carr. His work involves experimentation with form and process in order to express inherent relationships between material and immaterial content. He is a founding member of the Vancouver-based Intermission art collective and also a member of Instant Coffee. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. 

Interview conducted by Rick Chung on behalf of GVPTA.

GVPTA: Hi Khan. Congratulations on your nomination. How does it feel to be recognized for your work and nominated for artistic awards?

KL: I have been practicing visual art and this is the very first attempt to create a theatre set. I am still in shock yet honoured to be nominated for the award.

GVPTA: Are there any kinds of themes or ideas you tend to gravitate to as an artist?

KL: As a visual artist, I seek to visualize relationships between matters that is not clearly visible. I guess this set design also reflects this approach somehow.  

GVPTA: You are nominated for set design in Camera Obscura about an artist revisiting his creative past with themes of racialized minorities and colonialism. Can you describe your approach and how you prepare to design a set for a production?

KL: My approach was to make an environment that focuses on the relationship between each actors’ actions. I wanted the set to be as invisible as possible and simply suggest a circulation pattern where events happens by the interaction of talents.

GVPTA: Camera Obscura is nominated for many technical awards in addition to outstanding play, direction, and original script. Can you discuss any technical challenges and working with so many different moving parts in a live production?

KL: Lack of experience as a set designer was challenging, but I was very lucky to be surrounded with a great team of professionals who have been producing amazing works. 

I wasn’t sure of the integration between the projection, lighting and the set which was a key to heighten such minimal set design but it all worked out beautifully. 

GVPTA: Do you have plans to do more set design work in the futures?

KL: Since Camera Obscura, I have designed a set for a dance company [Orchard Ensemble's Crossing Mountains & Seas] that will premiere at Vancouver Playhouse on July 20th.

This set is a modular concept where it can infinitely be transformed to accommodate each scene using exactly the same elements.  

GVPTA: Did your work in art and media inform your contributions and collaboration in theatre?

KL: I think collaboration is inhabitable in any kind of production. This part felt pretty natural to me. 

GVPTA: Vancouver has such a diverse and talented arts and culture community. How do you feel about the local theatre industry and state of performing arts today?

KL: I was not too familiar with the theatre community. However, I feel creative individuals in the arts and culture community have much in common.

There are so many new ways to present our cultural needs these days but I feel we need all different way to share our vision to create even stronger cultural diversity. 

GVPTA: How did you feel about your contribution in the overall production?

KL: My set design was not meant to stand by itself. When other components were coming in to make it shine, it felt quite magical. 

GVPTA: Did growing up in Korea and the east in general give you any different perspectives on storytelling and arts culture here?

KL: Funny you are mentioning my background. I had a few opportunities to attend artist residencies in the east in recent years. I found strong ties to performing arts, especially from artists from developing countries where material based practice is just not accessible.

I think there is a lot to learn from performing arts practices in the east which I was not too aware of when I was growing up in Korea.

GVPTA: Do you have any random jobs or gigs you can share from over the years you had to take to keep yourself producing art?

KL: A long time ago in my brief university education in Korea, I designed a stage set as a part of a school band performance and it failed miserably. A cityscape made from corrugated cardboard just could not stand up, so i crumbled it all to make a large ball of cardboard, and hung it on the centre of the stage.

It was not meant to be artwork, but this event gave me a hint that I might be interested in conceptual art. It’s very interesting that I am sort of getting back to set design nowadays.

GVPTA: Do you have any advice for young professional artists trying to create, produce art, and make a living?

KL: As you know, making a living as an artist may seem impossible these days. I was timid, chose to keep a job on a side to finance my artistic needs, and spent many long evenings to produce them.

I am happy to say that my art practice is finally independent from my job income and my studio sustains itself financially. However, I still can’t say I’m making a living as an artist only. Hang in there! 

GVPTA: What keeps you creating art and media?

KL: Curiosity?

GVPTA: Thank you for your time, insight, and good luck at the Jessies!


This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


Khan Lee. Photo credit Grady Mitchell

Hearts & Arrows, Centre A

The Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards

The Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards show will be held at the beautiful Bard on the Beach BMO Mainstage tent at Vanier Park on Monday July 15, 2019. 

VIP tickets (front and centre) - $50
Regular tickets - $35
Nominee tickets (limited quantity) - $20​

Call the Bard on the Beach box office at 604.739.0559 to purchase, or get your tickets here




The Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance (GVPTA) strives to strengthen the local theatre industry. We do this through providing services, promotion of member news and community events, opportunities to connect and network, and our annual theatre conference. Together with our members we are raising the profile of local theatre and building community.

At GVPTA, we acknowledge that our organization is located on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

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