'Emma the Musical' debuts in Edmonton

June 27, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

EDMONTON, Alberta  A musical based on a real Filipino elementary school teacher's struggles during World War II will be performed at the Myer Horowitz Theatre on July 7.

Danielle Yu (left) as Emma and Julius Ylagan as Pruding in "Emma the Musical."

"Emma the Musical" was only supposed to be a mini-presentation for composer Erica Cawagas' great grandmother Emma Floresca's 95th birthday. Unfortunately, Floresca passed away in 2015, before her birthday.

To honor their matriarch, Cawagas and her aunt, the musical's playwright Chie Floresca, pushed the presentation further and developed it into a full-length production.

Set in a rural town near Baguio City during the Japanese occupation, the musical follows Emma's difficult choice of going into hiding or risking her safety to protect her community members; of struggling between the love of her devoted husband and the protective advances of a Japanese official.

The musical will be presented by the Filipino-Canadian Saranay Association of Alberta.


An Edmonton native, Cawagas was raised in a musically inclined family-her mother is a piano and rondalla teacher.

Composer Erica Cawagas. 

After graduating from Grant MacEwan University where she took up music composition, Cawagas briefly worked in Manila with organizations such as UNICEF and Knowledge Channel Foundation.

Chie Floresca is a writer for television station ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Credits include drama program

"Ipaglaban Mo" "Pasion de Amor," "A Beautiful Affair" and "Engkwentro." In 2004, she wrote and directed the musical "Dula at Kwerdas" staged at the Citadel in Edmonton.

Shepherding the production along, Cawagas was able to win a Cultural Diversity in the Arts project grant from the Edmonton Arts Council last year to fund the logistics for the show.


While Cawagas will handle music direction for the show, she has approached Ida Beltran to direct and her spouse Jojo Lucila to choreograph.

Cast rehearsing for "Emma the Musical."

Beltran was a Ballet Philippines principal dancer and associate artistic director of Philippine Ballet Theater (PBT) while Lucila has choreographed for PBT and Hong Kong Ballet.

In Manila, both were cofounders of the Chameleon Dance Company and Teatro Silencio, a dance company of hearing impaired dancers.

After they moved to Canada in 2005, they created Chameleon Dance Edmonton, a dance group, and both currently head The Lucila Project, their performing arts organization.

Beltran also founded and is the executive director of the Philippine Arts Council, which handles the Edmonton Filipino Fiesta, among other programs.

Earlier this year, she was one of the ten recipients of the Edmonton Arts Council's 2017 Edmonton Artists Trust Fund.


"While the lyrics and dialogue are in English, the musical features music and conversation reflecting Filipino values and influences," says Beltran. "The creators also emphasize the universality of the themes of complex human and social relationships even to present times and in other places."

From left: Erica Cawagas, Ida Beltran-Lucila and Jojo Lucila.

"The cast is a mixture of seasoned performers, emerging artists and newbies. They were all very open, hard workers, and mature. In the end, it was such a joy to work with all of them."

Danielle Yu plays Emma. The rest of the cast includes Hannah Adamson, Jo-Ann Aguilar, Cassandra Baltazar, Simonette Brigola, Jimmy Buena, Marjorie Galido, Veronica Knodel, Mark Laraya, Catherine Lelis, Lauren Lizada, Micah Macatangay, Jeanine Naboye, Gerald Penaco, Raphael Tolentino, Riana Torrejon, Julius Ylagan and Joshua Zoleta.

"Emma the Musical" runs on July 7 at Myer Horowitz Theatre, 8900 114 St. NW, Edmonton. Visit Fb.com/mimayemma.

Ray Tagavilla: Private eye, cowboy, playboy in Seattle

June 21, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

SEATTLE  Ray Tagavilla gets to play cowboys and playboys on stage. All because he had to repay a favor to a friend back in high school.

Ray Tagavilla in plays a stranger who arrives in town in "Smoked!"

When his friend collected on the favor, Tagavilla was asked to audition-though he had never acted before-for a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The experience led him to eventually take up drama at University of Washington.

He has since worked with Seattle theater companies such as Northwest Asian American Theatre, Seattle Shakespeare Company, Sound Theater Company and A Contemporary Theater, among others.

Café Nordo

Tagavilla is currently in Café Nordo's "Smoked!," a spin on Spaghetti Westerns where he plays "an enigmatic stranger who comes to the town of Sauget to stir up some tumbleweeds."

Tagavilla (seated) in "Persimmon Nights" with Filipino American actors
Mara Elissa Palma (second from left) and Sara Porkalob (second from right).

Founded in 2009, Café Nordo began as a hybrid of pop-up restaurant and underground theater, staging productions and serving meals in venues in different parts of Seattle. It opened its permanent space, Culinarium, in Pioneer Square in 2015.

Tagavilla was an early collaborator of the group, becoming involved in 2010. "My first show with Cafe Nordo was `Sauced.' It was a noir show where I played a bartender who is secretly a private eye. Every show with Nordo has been an absolute blast, they work hard, they play hard."

It helps that the work environment-the actors perform in the dining area-allows for some occasional fun (and funny) surprises. In `Smoked,' there is a scene where his character asks the Sheriff if there's a barber in town.

"A lady that was seated near me shot her hand out and gave me a business card detailing her son's barber shop. She whispered, `You might want to try this.' I took her card, continued the scene with my co-actor and thanked the lady as I continued towards the bar for the next scene!"

Against type

"Smoked!" runs until July 1. Immediately after, he will be part of the cast of Café Nordo's next production, "Persimmon Nights," which runs July 12 to 29.

Written by Seayoung Yim, the play is a sultry tale about the rise and fall of a young, brash, handsome, reckless Korean immigrant who owns The Persimmon Grove, a lurid nightclub in the '60s and '70s, as he balances two lovers and many debts.

Playing private eyes, cowboys and playboys that are not simply negative stereotypes or inconsequential extras-but fully realized lead or support characters-are opportunities that are not taken for granted by Tagavilla.

"Playing against type has always been something I relish, especially as a Filipino American," he says. Born in the Philippines, Tagavilla moved to the US with his family when he was seven years old.


He recalls the early years of his career in the city. "When I started here, I didn't see a lot of other Asian actors. Especially Filipinos, the only other person I would see often was actor Jojo Abaoag."

Ray Tagavilla relishes playing roles that are against type.

"While I had and still do have a lot to learn, I soon had it in my head to show folks that Asians could play anywhere and not always be relegated to what people would call `Asian-centric' or `ethnic' shows."

"I've been incredibly lucky here in Seattle in that I've had many opportunities to play roles that aren't necessarily geared towards people who look like me."

For "Persimmon Nights" at least, he can enjoy the company of other Asian actors, including two Filipino Americans: Mara Elissa Palma and Sara Porkalob (who is also directing the show).

"The amount of actors-of-color I see nowadays compared to 2001 is absolutely mind blowing and it makes me want to cry, I'm so happy," he says.

Solo shows, new musicals

Sara Porkalob is also currently performing "Dragon Mama," a one-person show (which she also wrote) about her mother's "queer love in a barren land (Alaska) with a dope '90s R&B soundtrack."

In Café Nordo's "Smoked!" Tagavilla (left) plays a stranger,
seen here in an encounter with the sheriff.

This show is the second of her "Dragon Cycle" trilogy. The first installment was "Dragon Lady," about her gangster Filipino grandmother who immigrated to the US. The show runs at art venue 18th & Union until June 24.

She is also involved with "The Lamplighter," a musical she is co-creating with Kirsten Helland and Fil-Am composer Justin Huertas about "mothers, daughters, the painful truths of fairy- tales in an ever frightening world, and what would happen if the fate of the world rested in the hands of a little girl."

The developmental work will be performed as a concert and staged reading at 18th & Union from June 28 to July 1.

"Dragon Mama" runs until June 24. "The Lamplighter" runs June 28-July 1. 18th & Union, 1406 18th Ave., Seattle. Visit 18thandunion.org.

"Smoked!" runs until July 1. "Persimmon Nights" runs July 12-29. Café Nordo, 109 S. Main St., Seattle. Visit Cafenordo.com.

Ryan Cayabyab’s 'Noli Me Tangere' goes onstage in Honolulu

June 12, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

HONOLULU  Ryan Cayabyab's musical adaptation of "Noli Me Tangere" will be staged as a concert at the New Life Theater from June 14 to 16.

Cast of Honolulu staging of musical adaptation of "Noli Me Tangere."

The show will be sung in Tagalog but will include English narration and supertitles. Its title is Latin for "touch me not" and its plot is based on the novel by Jose Rizal of the same title.

The story is set in Spanish-colonial era Philippines and involves the lovers Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara and the dark secrets and corruption that threaten their relationship.

The musical's libretto is by National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera. Cayabyab also composed the music for the musical "Ang Larawan," an adaptation of Nick Joaquin's "A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino" which was recently made into a film directed by former Broadway set designer Loy Arcenas.


Monique Wilson played Maria Clara in the original cast at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in the 1990s. This musical version of "Noli Me Tangere" was most recently staged in Los Angeles in 2014, directed by Olga Natividad.

Mark Bautista played Crisostomo Ibarra in a 2011 staging in Manila. He was most recently seen onstage in the US in the Seattle run of "Here Lies Love," a musical about the life of Imelda Marcos.

In this Honolulu staging, Kristian Lei will essay the role of Maria Clara and Evan D'Angeles will play Crisostomo Ibarra.

Other cast members include Anna Davide as Sisa, Jay Flores as Padre Damaso and Julius Mina as Padre Salvi.


Aside from performing in the show, Lei is also the director and a coproducer. She was approached by Lorna Imperial-Seidel, president of Mid-Atlantic Foundation For Asian Artists (MAFFAA), to mount the production. MAFFAA had previously presented stagings of an opera version of "Noli" in Washington, DC; Richmond, Virginia; and Boston.

From left: MAFFAA vice president Ramon Sumibcay and president Lorna Imperial-Seidel
at Tanghalang Pilipino (TP) office to acquire permissionto stage "Noli Me Tangere."
With TP officers Carmela Manuel and artistic director Fernando "Nanding" Josef.

Imperial-Seidel acquired the rights to stage the Cayabyab-Lumbera musical from Tanghalang Pilipino, resident theater company at the CCP (not to be confused with Washington, DC-based performing arts group Tanghalang Pilipino ng DC).

Imperial-Seidel says, "`Noli Me Tangere' is a unique way to showcase Filipinos' rich cultural heritage through the arts."

MAFFAA vice president Ramon Sumibcay will play Maria Clara's father Kapitan Tiago.


Evan D'Angeles was most recently in Mosaic Theater Company of DC's staging of "Paper Dolls," a musical about Filipino caregivers working in Israel.

He has performed on Broadway ("Miss Saigon" and "Pacific Overtures"), in national tours ("Rent," "Cats," and "The 25th Annual Spelling Bee"), and regional theaters ("Hunchback of Notre Dame" and others).

Kristian Lei was born in Cebu and moved to Hawaii with her family when she was still a baby.

After high school, she joined the cast of "Miss Saigon" in Germany. Other theater credits include Ti Moune in "Once on This Island" in Manila, Princess Nala in "Festival of The Lion King" in Hong Kong Disneyland, and Tuptim in "The King and I" in Honolulu.

Aside from her acting career, Lei also teaches voice in Oahu and Hilo.

She is also the founder of Honolulu Broadway Babies and the Joshua Earl Tanjuakio Hegwood Continuing Education and Performing Arts School, a production company that provides performing arts education and programs for developmentally and intellectually disabled members.

Lei says, "The music and voices will touch the hearts of all who experience this concert."

"Noli Me Tangere" runs June 14-16 at New Life Theater, 1190 Nuuanu Ave., Honolulu. Discounted tickets available for students, veterans and seniors. Call 808-223-6075 or 808-489-7148.

READ about the 2014 staging of Cayabyab's "Noli Me Tangere" in Los Angeles here.

READ about screening of "Ang Larawan" in San Francisco here.

READ about Evan D'Angeles in "Paper Dolls" here.

READ about Mark Bautista in "Here Lies Love" here.

Ma-Yi wins Obie Award for innovative theater

June 6, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

NEW YORK  Ma-Yi Theater Company has won the Ross Wetzsteon Award from the 63rd annual Obie Awards.

Ma-Yi Theater artistic director Ralph Peña accepts the Ross Wetzsteon Award at the 2018 Obie Awards.

The group was recognized at a ceremony held at Terminal 5, a music venue in Hell's Kitchen, along with this year's other winners for excellence in Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theater work.

Ma-Yi's artistic director and co-founder, Filipino American director, playwright and actor Ralph Peña, accepted the award.

The Wetzsteon Award is given to a theater company that demonstrates exceptional enterprise in its approach to classics or nurtures innovative new work. The award comes with a grant, with this year's amount at $3,000. The award is named after the Village Voice's former theater editor who helped create the Obies.

Costume designer William Ivey Long presented the award, noting that the Obie judges chose Ma-Yi because of its "mission to open up the theater to new forms and new voices. It has produced plays and musicals in every shape and form, many emerging from its Writers Lab, which claims to be `the largest resident company of Asian American playwrights ever assembled'" and that the Obies "salute this company's daring and spirit of enterprise."


Peña thanked Fil-Am Jorge Ortoll, previously Ma-Yi's executive director and currently a board member. Peña also personally dedicated the award to his departed life partner and best friend Damien Bona.

"The Romance of Magno Rubio" earned Special Citations 
from the Obie Awards for Ma-Yi in 2003.

He later wrote in a Facebook post, "Thank you for all the well wishes . the honor belongs to all the artists, friends, and loved ones who subsidized our work over the years by working for little or no money, donating their hard-earned cash, and giving up precious time with family to help us make theater. And to our funding partners who continue to believe in our mission."

Ma-Yi was founded in 1989 and began as a Filipino American theater group before broadening its focus into Asian American theater.

This is not the first recognition for Ma-Yi from the Obies.

In 2003, for its production of "The Romance of Magno Rubio," Ma-Yi received Special Citations for Lonnie Carter (playwright), Loy Arcenas (director), and the entire cast, which consisted of Arthur Acuña, Ramon de Ocampo, Ron Domingo, Jojo Gonzalez, Orlando Pabotoy, and Peña.

The play, based on a short story by Carlos Bulosan, went on to be staged across the US and in Manila.

KPOP wins

Ma-Yi's Obie win comes at the heels of the sold-out 2017 run of the musical "KPOP," which it coproduced.

The musical "KPOP," coproduced by Ma-Yi, has won a slew of awards.

Produced by Ars Nova in association with Ma-Yi and Woodshed Collective, the musical has won a slew of awards: the Lucille Lortel Awards for Best Musical, Outstanding Lead Actress and Outstanding Featured Actor; the Off Broadway Alliance Award for Best Unique Theatrical Experience; and the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater.

Conceived by Woodshed Collective theater company and Ma-Yi Writers Lab member Jason Kim, the musical is about K-pop performers attempting to break into the American music industry.

Audiences are divided into groups and given a "backstage tour" of the K-pop singers' "training studios" in different rooms (across two floors in the show's 2017 venue). Each audience group follows the story of either a K-pop girl group or boy band (i.e., several storylines are performed simultaneously for different sets of audiences). The audience members are reunited when the storylines of the characters converge in a final concert.

Ma-Yi had been involved with the development of "KPOP" as early as 2012-in its earliest stages of inception. Fil-Am actress Julia Abueva was part of the cast.

Previous Obie winners

Ching Valdes-Aran, who won an Obie for Performance in 1996 for her work in Ma-Yi's "Flipzoids," was part of the judges panel this year.

Previous Fil-Am Obie winners in the Performance category include Ernest Abuba in 1983 for his work in Pan Asian Repertory Theatre's "Yellow Fever" and Mia Katigbak in 2016 for National Asian American Theatre Company's (NAATCO) "Awake and Sing!"

Katigbak is artistic director and cofounder of NAATCO, which won the Ross Wetzsteon Award in 2015.

Obies for Sustained Excellence have been awarded to Loy Arcenas for Set Design in 1993 and Clint Ramos for Costume Design in 2013.


Ma-Yi's next production is "Teenage Dick" (June to July), a reimagining of Shakespeare's "Richard III" set in a high school. Filipino Americans involved in the production include actress Tiffany Villarin and sound designer Fabian Obispo.

Later in the year, Ralph Peña will direct "The Chinese Lady" at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Centerin Pittsfield, Massachusetts for Ma-yi's coproduction with Barrington Stage Company. Scheduled to run July to August, the play is about Afong Moy, the "Chinese Lady" brought to the US in 1834 and put on display to the public for 45 years.

Visit Ma-yitheatre.org.

Plays, poetry, food, comedy at Seattle’s June Pagdiriwang fest

May 31, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

SEATTLE  In addition to food, children's games, martial arts, music, and dance performances, there will be theater and poetry at this year's Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival.

Mara Elissa Palma will perform at this year's Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival.

On the first of the two-day festival, there will be staged readings of Robert Francis Flor's play "The FAYTS (Filipino American Young Turks)" and Filipino playwright Juan Miguel Severo's comedy "Hintayan ng Langit" ("Heaven's Waiting Room").

There will also be a performance by Mara Elissa Palma of her one-person show "The F Word: Filipinx."

Filipino American poets will conduct a literary reading of their works during "Ang Aming Mga Boses" ("Our Voices").

For PH Independence

The Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival is organized annually by Filipino Cultural Heritage Society of Washington to commemorate the anniversary of the declaration of Philippine independence. It has been held at the Seattle Center since 1987.

The festival aims to be an "ideal setting for presenting art, craft, song, dance, music, history, literature, and culture to promote better understanding of the Filipino cultural heritage."

Exhibits include booths featuring ethnic and native Philippine fabrics, outfits and wares; tribal tattoos; baybayin (the Philippines' pre-colonial writing system); Filipino American history by the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS); and film and photography.

There will also be a blood donation drive and health fair.

Political monsters

"'The FAYTS' explores the ambitions of a group of young, Seattle-area Filipinos, seeking to empower and raise the stature of Filipino Americans through the political process in the early 1970s," says playwright Robert Francis Flor, whose recent credits include "Mabuhay Majesty" last year.

In the play, community activist Ben Adama runs for public office, backed by a group of loyal friends known as the Filipino American Young Turks, as he deals with ostensibly well-meaning supporters Sitan Helel, Aswang Iblis and Mara Hukluban.

"The play was inspired by an actual political campaign," says Flors. "It explores questions of good and evil, loyalty and the price of ambition though mythology and folklore, primarily Filipino in origin. Characters shape-shift between the real and mythic worlds, pitting personal ambition and power against ideals, trust, friends and family."

"Some characters, such as aswangs, duwendes are drawn from Filipino beliefs. I did not restrict myself to the Philippines and drew on other icons and images of other cultures. These are, for example, experienced in the form of devils who exist in most religions."

Comedy and identity

"Hintayan ng Langit" reunites Lisa and Manolo, former lovers who've not seen and heard from each other in years, in an otherworldly location. The staged reading will feature Nina Ignacio, Roger Rigor and Eloisa Cardona, directed by Lorna Velasco.

"Hintayan" had a staged reading in Seattle earlier this year and was previously staged in San Francisco by Bindlestiff Studio in 2016.

"The F Word: Filipinx" is actor Mara Elissa Palma's second in a series of solo performances that she initiated last year. The first installment was "The F Word: Family," where she tackled her relationships with her kin.

"This show is about my exploration of my own Filipino-American identity, particularly after I left my family and moved to Seattle," she says.


Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts (where Flor is co-chair) is one of the co-sponsors of "Ang Aming Mga Boses."

Poets who will perform include Barbara Jane Reyes, Emily Lawsin, Jeric Smith and Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua.

The poetry reading has received support from the United Filipino Club of Seattle University as well as funding from 4Culture, a cultural funding agency that serves King County, Washington.

Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival is part of Seattle Center Festal, a series of cultural programs sponsored by the City of Seattle.

Theater and poetry performances of Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival 2018 will be on June 2 at Armory Loft 1B, Seattle Center, 305 Harrison St., Seattle. Visit Festalpagdiriwang.com.

READ about Robert Francis Flor's "Mabuhay Majesty" here.

READ about the 2016 staging of "Hintayan ng Langit" in San Francisco here.

READ about Mara Elissa Palma's previous theater work here.

Roger Mason writes a whole new 'Peter Pan' musical

May 26, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

ATLANTA — A new musical version of "Peter Pan," written by Filipino American Roger Mason, will open on May 31 at Mado Hideaway in the Serenbe district.

From left: Tinkerbell, Captain Hook and Peter Pan in a new outdoor-theater
musical version of "Peter Pan" written by Roger Mason to be staged by Serenbe Playhouse.
Photo by Breeanne Clowdus.

To be staged by Serenbe Playhouse, the musical will run until August.

Serenbe Playhouse stages all of its productions outdoors. Its 2016 staging of "Miss Saigon" featured a real working helicopter that landed and took off in every show. The cast included Fil-Am actors Niki Badua and Eymard Cabling as Kim and the Engineer, respectively.

Based on the characters and works created by JM Barrie, Mason's version of "Peter Pan" will provide theatergoers a slightly different take on the well-known story of the boy from Neverland "who wouldn't grow up."

"In this piece, which is outside the Peter and Wendy tale that everyone knows, Peter is separated from his Lost Boys by a spell which renders him alone," says Mason.

"He must learn to become an empathetic community leader rather than a dogmatic dictator of their experiences."


Mason became involved with the production upon the invitation of the musical's director Michael Alvarez.

Roger Mason.

Based in Los Angeles, Mason has been working remotely with the musical's lyricist and composer Ella Grace, who is based in Scotland.

Mason was born in Santa Monica, California to a father who is black and Irish and a mother who is Filipino.

An affinity for words and storytelling was nurtured in him from a young age by his paternal grandmother. "She encouraged me to memorize and recite poetry by famous American writers. I'd give little recitals for my family in our kitchen. Embodying language through performance became a powerful and transformative tool of self-expression."

By grade school, Mason was competing in poetry and speech competitions (often winning), performing in plays and musicals, dancing and studying classical piano.

It's no surprise then that he started writing plays in college. "I was 21 when I officially wrote my first play. The piece was inspired by some gender-policing and sexuality-shaming experiences I'd had as a non-heteronormative child.

"To this day, I still explore the lives of characters who live outside of societal norms and carve cultural space for themselves in a world that's not always ready for their presence."

History and fantasias

Mason went on to complete a master's degree in writing for screen and stage from Northwestern University.

His recent plays include "The White Dress," about how Jonathan likes to wear dresses and kiss girls, and "The Wind People," about a white grandmother and her mixed-heritage grandson.

His earlier plays such as "Onion Creek" and "Orange Woman, A Ballad for a Moor," are self-proclaimed historical fantasias.

"A lot of my early works were inspired by history because there's so much to be learned from the past, particularly how we regard people who are different from ourselves.

"I was curious about what I call 'forgotten moments in remembered times'-stories from history that the status quo had silenced or set aside, figures who were shunned for being contrary to the norm."

Through his works, he aims to challenge audiences to think about the prejudices and preconceptions they may "hold as empirical truth" and hopes that they gain "a fuller, deeper understanding of their past and present realities."

New worlds

For his current endeavor, Mason studied JM Barrie's original works.

"First the play and then the novel. Barrie was fascinated by Peter Pan and the mythology he created around this boy who would never grow up. He revisited it through various forms, e.g. the book, the play, etc., throughout his lifetime," explains Mason.

He purposefully did not watch other adaptations of "Peter Pan." Recent adaptations and variations of which include the Disney animated Tinker Bell videos; the films "Pan" starring Hugh Jackman and "Hook" starring Robin Williams; as well as the play "Peter and the Starcatcher."

"I knew I was creating a tale involving Peter that was wholly of my and my collaborators' design. We used the spirit of Barrie's texts to inform our decisions so we would be true to the source material.

"However, we made up our own myth. That's the beauty of what we do in the theater: we have the power to build new worlds if the old ones don't suit our needs."

"Peter Pan" runs May 31-Aug 26 at Mado Hideaway at Serenbe, Palmetto, Georgia. Visit Serenbeplayhouse.com.

Fil-Am Nathan Ramos’ prize-winning dramedy on millennials of color opens in LA

May 24, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

LOS ANGELES  Nathan Ramos' dramedy about the struggles of millennials of color, "As We Babble On," will have its world premiere by East West Players (EWP).

Playwright Nathan Ramos.
Photo by Sthanlee Mirador.

The play won first place in EWP's "2042: See Change" national playwriting competition in 2015.

Other Filipino Americans involved in the production include director Alison De La Cruz and actress Jiavani Linayao.

In the play, awkward graphic novelist Benji's career is stalling while those of his half-sister Laura and their friend Sheila (played by Linayao) are blossoming. They all soon grapple with the moral implications of their actions.

The play "explores the pursuit of success and its costs-and whether boxed wine and soda is an appropriate sangria recipe after the age of 24."

"It is sharp, funny, and asks thought-provoking questions about identity, artistry, and culture in our current economic climate," says EWP artistic director Snehal Desai.

"It's a world premiere of a bold, new voice that explores all facets of identity, from race, sexual orientation to class. It stood out as the winner of our playwriting competition."

All Asian characters

The "2042: See Change" playwriting competition formed part of EWP's ongoing efforts to build support mechanisms for equity, diversity and inclusion in American theater in preparation for 2042. That's the year, according to the US Census, when people of color are projected to become the majority of the population.

From left: Actors Sachin Bhatt, Jaime Schwarz and Will Choi,
who are in the cast of "As We Babble On,"
with Nathan Ramos and the dramedy's director Alison De La Cruz
during EWP's 2018 Visionary Award ceremony.
Photo by Sthanlee Mirador.

Since winning the competition, "As We Babble On" has gone through a developmental workshop at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and staged readings in Los Angeles by Artists at Play (with dramaturgy by Fil-Am playwright Michael Golamco) and at the Renberg Theatre through the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

"The play has really had quite a transformation since its first inception," says Ramos. "It now features an all-Asian cast, looking at the full diaspora of Asian peoples-Asian, South Asian, and hapa, in this case, half white, half black."

"Sitting in the East West Players house and seeing all the stories and voices that came before me, I really wanted to nurture the play into speaking what it meant to be an Asian American millennial. I really am excited to see that reflected on stage."

Unlocking inspiration

Ramos was born in Cleveland, Ohio to a Korean mother and a Filipino father.

He had studied acting at Ohio University and has performed in New York and regionally. His frustrations with limited and inconsequential or negative-stereotype acting roles-in addition to the many other issues that life throws in one's way-spurred him to write "As We Babble On."

At auditions or casting calls, he would receive inane comments like "You're too Asian" or "You're not Asian enough," which began to affect his self-worth.

He then recalled Filipino Canadian musician and composer Romeo Candido's advice to him to not wait around for somone else to write the roles he wanted. Ramos had been an actor in Candido's musical "Prison Dancer" (inspired by the viral videos of the dancing inmates of a maximum-security prison in Cebu) which ran in New York in 2012.

So then, Ramos channeled his angst into crafting the play.

Learning from each other

Interestingly enough, writing the play and winning EWP's competition created a shift in Ramos' artistic trajectory. New opportunities soon came to him and he now also writes for the video (television and online) and film industries, including as a script doctor for Hollywood films that he cannot divulge the titles of.

Filipino American Jiavani Linayao is in the cast of "As We Babble On."

He was most recently head writer, music director and a creative producer for the first season of Disney's "Club Mickey Mouse" and its 2017 holiday special episode. "It's a reboot of the `Mickey Mouse Club.' It actually has many Filipino American Mouseketeers," he says. (Namely Jenna Alvarez, Gabe de Guzman, and Leanne Tessa Langston.)

For now, he is relishing his time working with the team of "As We Babble On" to bring his story to life on the stage.

He appreciates the diversity of the cast's individual backgrounds and experiences. "Comedians, improvisers, TV and film actors, and stage actors all coming together and learning from each other's processes."

"It's been really great. Sitting in with actors speaking the words I have written has really been a special experience."

"As We Babble On" closes EWP's 52nd season and is presented in partnership with the Los Angeles LGBT Center and with support from the S. Mark Taper Foundation.

"As We Babble On," previews begin May 31, runs June 6-24 at David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles. Visit Eastwestplayers.org.

Broadway Barkada to hold concert in Los Angeles, May 28

May 19, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

LOS ANGELES  Performance and artist-support group Broadway Barkada will stage "Balikbayan: An LA Homecoming Concert" on May 28 at Rockwell Table and Stage.

From left: Liz Casasola, Broadway Barkada (BB) cofounder and the concert's director;
Billy Busamante, BB cofounder and cast member of "Soft Power;"
Jaygee Macapugay, BB member and cast member of "Soft Power."

The show will feature Filipino American cast members of the musical "Soft Power" as well as other Broadway Barkada (BB) members who have performed on Broadway and Off-Broadway.

"The show will feature a mix of musical theater, pop, R&B, soul, jazz and boogie-woogie," says director Liz Casasola. Musical direction and arrangements will be by Mark Abulencia.

Part of the proceeds from the concert will be donated to the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project.

Line up

BB members in the cast of "Soft Power" (starring Conrad Ricamora and currently playing at Ahmanson Theater) confirmed to join the concert include Billy Bustamante, Jaygee Macapugay, Maria Christina Oliveras and Geena Quintos.

According to Casasola, also performing in the concert are BB members who are based in Los Angeles, such as Melody Butiu, Chris Chatman, Debralee Daco, Deedee Magno Hall, Anthea Neri, Isabelle Van Vleet and Allen Lucky Weaver.

"Many of these artists who worked in New York have moved to Los Angeles for various reasons, such as pursuing television, film or music work or to raise families," she says.

These artists' geographic trajectories are part of reason why the concert is titled "Balikbayan"-to celebrate a homecoming and reunion of these colleagues and barkada-mates.

Other performers joining the concert include Emily Borromeo, Bryan Geli, Joanne Javien, Glen Llanes, Anthea Neri, Jennifer Paz, and Nicole Santiago.


For Casasola, there's a personal connection to the concert title. "Los Angeles is my hometown! It's also my homecoming," she says.

BB cofounder Billy Bustamante (left) moderating post-show talkback session
with Lea Salonga during Pinoy Night at "Once on This Island."

Aside from working as an actor in New York (including Jessica Hagedorn's "Dogeaters" at The Public Theater), she has also coproduced concerts that topbilled the likes of Lea Salonga.

She cofounded Broadway Barkada with actors Billy Bustamante and Brian Jose in 2009.

All three were in the cast of Pan Asian Repertory Theater's staging of "Imelda: A New Musical." Two typhoons adversely affected several areas in the Philippines that year and the trio gathered the show's all-Filipino American cast to perform in a benefit concert to raise funds to send back to the survivors.

The group has since continued to grow and has become a collective of professional artists whose mission is "to provide a community for the Filipino artist, that cultivates our talents, educates our audiences, and elevates our global impact."

Filipino Veterans and Education Project aims to obtain national recognition and raise awareness of Filipino and Filipino-American World War II soldiers through academic research and public information.

Other events

In February, Broadway Barkada hosted a "Pinoy Night" at one of the performances of the Broadway musical "Once on This Island," which includes Lea Salonga in the cast. The group facilitated a post-show talkback session with Salonga moderated by Bustamante.

From left: BB members JP Moraga, Allen Lucky Weaver and Jon Viktor Corpuz
were part of the cast of the staged reading of Boni Alvarez's play "Fixed."

Last month, BB members JP Moraga, Allen Lucky Weaver and Jon Viktor Corpuz were part of the cast of a staged reading of Fil-Am playwright Boni Alvarez's "Fixed" at New Dramatists, a developmental laboratory for professional playwrights, in New York.

Alvarez was named as one of New Dramatists' eight new resident playwrights last year. He was chosen out of 415 applicants by a seven-person committee (composed of New Dramatists residents, alumni, and outside theater professionals) in a nine-month evaluation process.

The reading of Alvarez's play kicked off his residency, which will last until 2024. His play "Fixed" was most recently staged by Echo Theater Company in Los Angeles last year, directed by Rodney To.

An adaptation of Spanish writer Pedro Calderon's "The Physician of His Own Honor," the play is about the love between Miracles Malacañang, a Filipino ladyboy masseuse, and Mariano Fernandez.


Back in New York, Broadway Barkada will perform at "Time Is Now," a networking and mentoring event featuring Filipino industry leaders, at the Harvard Club of New York in June.

The group will also hold its annual "Lumipad Dance Concert" at Alvin Ailey Theater later in the year.

"Balikbayan: An LA Homecoming Concert" is on May 28 at Rockwell Table and Stage, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. Tickets at BarkadaLA.eventbrite.com.

READ about the Filipino American cast of "Soft Power" here.

READ about the 2017 Los Angeles staging of Boni Alvarez's "Fixed" here.

Filipino American Tasi Alabastro named 'Emerging Artist Laureate' in Silicon Valley

May 17, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

SAN FRANCISCO — Filipino American theater artist Tasi Alabastro has been named Silicon Valley Creates' Emerging Artist Laureate for 2018.

Tasi Alabastro has been named Silicon Valley Creates'
2018 Emerging Artist Laureate

Silicon Valley Creates (SVCreates), an arts-support organization, will hold an award ceremony for Alabastro and its other laureates on June 21 at Mexican Heritage Plaza in San Jose, California.

SVCreates' SVArts Awards, which has been given out since 1991, recognizes "exceptional achievement in the arts and contributions to the cultural life of Silicon Valley." Recipients receive cash awards to celebrate and encourage their artistic work.

The program will be emceed by Filipino American Michael Isip, executive vice president and chief operating officer of news and media organization KQED.

In its Facebook account, SVCreates posted, "Congratulations, Tasi Alabastro! [He] will be honored . for his work and his commitment to enriching our community through the arts. Tasi is an actor, online content creator and photographer whose work focuses on reflecting his community and culture."

Previous Fil-Am SVCreates Emerging Artist Laureates include Jeffrey Lo for theater in 2012 and Robertino Ragazza for photography in 2013.

Relief and elation

Alabastro was in the middle of doing a livestream video broadcast when he received the phone call to inform him of his award.

Since he was unable to answer his phone, he glanced at the email alert instead. "My heart flew! It was a mixture of relief, elation, and welling pride," he says.

Relief because he almost did not apply for consideration.

On the last day of the application period, he had been through an exhausting week and had limited internet access. "All of [those memories] came rushing back to me and I thought, 'Thank goodness I finished my application!'"


"One of the rad aspects of what SVCreates has developed through this laureate is the sense that you've got a milestone to clock," he says.

He contrasts the career of an artist to that of, say, an office-based professional. "Oftentimes, as an artist, you aren't moved through your career the way it would be in many positions in a company, i.e. promotion to manager, CEO, etc."

"One of the things I share with artists who are just starting out is to learn to identify what you think your milestones are. If you can't look back and see how much you've been growing, you'll have a challenging time navigating what's ahead."


It was heartbreak that brought Alabastro into theater work.

Born and raised in American Samoa ("I'm quite fond of where I grew up!"), he moved to San Francisco after from graduating high school to pursue a degree in microbiology.

A failed relationship prompted a respite in Hawaii. "It was there that I decided to take an acting class and the rest, as they say, is history."

Alabastro (left) and Katie O'Bryon Champlin
are in the cast of "Three Days of Rain."
Photo by James Kasyan

It's fortunate for SF Bay Area theatergoers that Alabastro returned and has since established a profession on the stage and in film.

He's worked with theater groups such as Bindlestiff Studio, 06 Ensemble, Santa Clara Players, and City Lights Theatre Company, among others.

He also works with inmates in state prisons as part of Arts-in-Corrections, a program that re-engage participants with their creativity and imagination.


Alabastro is currently rehearsing for Dragon Theatre's staging of Richard Greenberg's "Three Days of Rain."

He will play a prodigal son who returns home to join his sibling to discuss their late father's will. Both soon discover a series of family secrets.

"I remember the day I finished reading the script. I thought, 'Damn, that's one hell of a story.' It took me another read-through to finally digest some of the more complex ideas and themes. The writing is so rich and there's so much for an actor to wrangle and play with."

"Dragon Theatre is a place I've worked in several times in as an actor and a few other times as a graphic designer."

He previously played lead character Orestes in the group's production of a modernized take of the Greek tragedy "The Libation Bearers" and was part of the cast of mystery thriller "The Woman in Black."

"I'm excited to help bring this story to life with director Meredith Hagedorn and this team. This play is Meredith's swan song. It's her last play before she retires as the artistic director."

"Rehearsals have been an immensely engaging experience. Some of my initial reactions have persisted through rehearsal, the sense of wonderment at the script and how much there is to comb through, the elation that I'm being challenged as an actor, and the determination to make sure I help tell the story to its fullest potential."

"Three Days of Rain" runs May 25-June 17 at Dragon Theatre, 2120 Broadway, Redwood City. Visit Dragonproductions.net.

Alan Asuncion celebrates 10th year of stomping around

May 11, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

NEW YORK  It's a profession that requires banging around with broomsticks, hub caps, trash cans, lighters, and other objects that may occasionally be considered trash. There's also a lot of heavy stomping in boots.

Alan Asuncion has been with "STOMP" for more than 10 years.

But you can't just do it however you like, you have to be in sync with a group of other people. And you have to produce rhythm and music. And you do it in front of hundreds of theatergoers.

Seen another way, you're part of an orchestra that plays unconventional musical instruments, but you also have to dance and act (and be funny).

Alan Asuncion has been in a job like this for more than a decade now, creating performances that are an amalgamation of music, dance, and theater.

He's in the cast of "STOMP" in New York."Celebrating 10 years in any job is a great milestone and achievement!" he says of his 10th anniversary with the show last year.

Still learning

"Getting along with all the people you work with makes the time really fly by," he adds.  "This has always been a dream gig for me," he says of the show created by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas.

Asuncion also plays piano and drums.

The performers "make a rhythm out of anything we can get our hands on that makes a sound," explains Cresswell. "STOMP" also has ongoing North American and European tours and will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year.

Asuncion says it feels "surreal" that he's considered a veteran of the show even though he is "still learning and evolving."


Asuncion was born in Far Rockaway, Queens-the youngest of five kids. "My mother is from Cadiz and my father is from Hinigaran, Negros Occidental."

He began his music career playing the piano and drums and eventually began teaching lessons on how to play these two instruments.

At 14 years old, he started playing in various bands in the wedding circuit, which allowed him to perform with many Broadway and notable jazz artists. Prior to joining "STOMP," he had been in the cast of the aerial show "De La Guarda."


"Most of the rhythms and music of the show were fairly easy for me to learn, coming from a music and drumming background."

One of the characters Alan Asuncion plays in "STOMP" is "Mozzie."
Photo by Steve McNicholas

Though photographs of Asuncion in performance may not seem like it (usually with him flying in the air), what proved a little more difficult for him in the beginning was the physical demands of the show.

"Getting used to the movement and physicality of the prop, or making it look easy, was always the most awkward for me. Plus, I'm not a dancer, so my movement skills were lame."

"The most challenging prop to learn for me were the poles. It wasn't necessarily because of the physicality of the prop, but because the music and choreography for the poles are probably the most dynamically and rhythmically complex pieces in the show."

It would seem Asuncion has learned a thing or two. After all, one of the characters he's been assigned to play is Mozzie, who is described as "acrobatic.


Ten years in, he has developed a pre-show routine.

"About an hour and a half before the show, we have a rehearsal and a 20-minute body warm-up."  Afterwards, there is a block of time allotted for the cast to mentally prepare for the show.

Asuncion in a scene from "STOMP," a show that produces
"rhythm out of anything . that makes a sound."

"That's when I usually go out to get an espresso. I go when I don't even need it. Just to go out and be outside for a little bit.That, and I play `Words with Friends.'"

Since Asuncion makes music daily for theatergoers, what kinds of music does he himself listen to? "I haven't really purchased any music recently, but while driving or cooking, I have a few Pandora rock and jazz stations that I have my phases with.

He listens to artists or groups such as John Mayer, The Police, Snarky Puppy, Robert Glasper, Haitus Kayote, Esperanza Spalding, Knower, Mister Barrington, Edit Bunker. "Too many!" he says.

"I've also been listening to drumming and comedian podcasts. I'm a big fan of stand-up comedy. Guys like Joe Rogan, Bill Burr, Modern Drummer, Drummer's Resource, etc."

"STOMP" plays Tuesdays to Sundays at Orpheum Theatre, 126 2nd Ave., New York. Visit Stomponline.com.

Filipino Americans win at 42nd SF Bay Area Critics Circle Awards

May 8, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

SAN FRANCISCO  Rinabeth Apostol and Tiffany Villarin both won Best Actress in a Playfor playing twinsat the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle's 42nd Annual Excellence in Theatre Awards.

Villarin (left) and Apostol (far right) played twins in "peerless."
Photo by Kevin Berne

Robert Brill won Best Set Design for his work on Berkeley Repertory Theatre's production of the musical "Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations."

The awards-for productions staged in 2017-were announced and presented to the recipients at the Victoria Theatre.

Brill won for his work in the Best Set Design-in a House with more than 300 Seats category. Written by Dominique Morisseau, "Ain't Too Proud" was staged August to November last year, directed by Des McAnuff.


Apostol and Villarin were nomiated as a duo and won for their roles as twins L and M, respectively, in Marin Theatre Company's staging of "peerless," in the Best Actress in a Play-in a House with 100 to 300 Seats category.

Staged in March of 2017, Jiehae Park's dark comedy was directed by Margot Bordelon.

WATCH: Trailer of Marin Theatre Company's "peerless"

Loosely based on Shakespeare's "Macbeth," the sisters delve into diabolical means when one of them loses a slot to a prestigious university.

Recent credits

Apostol's credits include Jessica Hagedorn's "Dogeaters" staged by Magic Theatre in San Francisco in 2016 as well as stints with San Jose Repertory and East West Players, among others.

From left: Tiffany Villarin, Rinabeth Apostol and Robert Brill.

Villarin's credits include Goodman Theatre and Silk Road Rising in Chicago and Ensemble Studio Theatre and Diverse City Theater in New York, among others.

Both actors recently concluded acting stints at Actors Theatre of Louisville's 42nd Humana Festival of New American Plays in Kentucky.

Villarin (left) and Apostol in "peerless."

Apostol was part of the cast of Susan Soon He Stanton's "we, the invisibles" and Villarin was part of the cast of Mara Nelson-Greenberg's "Do You Feel Anger?"

Villarin will be in Ma-yi Theater's production of "Teenage Dick" in New York from June to July. (She was previously in Ma-yi's "House Rules," a comedy about Filipino American familes.)

"Teenage Dick" is Mike Lew's reimagining of Shakespeare's "Richard III" set in a high school. It will be staged at Public Theater. Sound design will be by Fil-Am Fabian Obispo.


Brill has also designed the sets for "Frozen: Live at the Hyperion" at Disney California Adventure Park (where costumes were designed by Tony Award winner Fil-Am Clint Ramos) and the Broadway production "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical."

Robert Brill designed the sets (shown in this screenshot from the trailer)
for Berkeley Repertory Theatre's "Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations."

A recipient of the Michael Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration, Brill is a founding member of Sledgehammer Theatre and a professor of scenic design at University of California-San Diego.

"Ain't Too Proud" will be staged in Washington, DC at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts from June to July and in Los Angeles at Ahmanson Theater from August to September.

READ about Rinabeth Apostol preparing for her role in Jessica Hagedorn's "Dogeaters" here.

READ about Ma-yi Theater's staging of "House Rules" here.

Play takes a 'StanD' for mental health awareness

May 4, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

LOS ANGELES  If Christopher Aguilar can help it, no person with bipolar disorder or any other kind of mental health condition should ever have to be hospitalized due to the severity of their illness.

Scene from a previous performance of "StanD," a play that promotes
awareness of mental health illnesses in the Filipino American community.

One way they are (Aguilar identifies with the they-them-their pronouns) addressing the problem is to raise awarenessof what possible signs and symptoms are, of what life is like for a person with a mental health condition, and of the fact that asking for help should be and is perfectly fine.

Their play, "StanD," and will be staged in May-Mental Health Awareness Month-at two Filipino American organization venues: Filipino American Service Group Inc. Bayanihan Center (May 12) and Pilipino Workers Center (May 19).

The shows are free admission to the public and a post-show discussion about mental illness will follow each performance.


To be performed by a Filipino American cast, the play is about a Filipino American man living with bipolar disorder.

"This play explores the consequences of adolescent acting-out behaviors, parents' stance on psychiatric medications, the responsibility of taking medications and the repercussions of stopping medications all at once," says Aguilar.

"The plays asks 'What happens when a man has to reconfigure his life after a hospitalization and how does the family learn to adapt to manic-depressive behaviors and recovery?'"

"In the end, we see the possibility of a bipolar lifestyle, the true identity of this man and the effects of what it takes to be completely human."

Breaking stigmas

Born in Newport Beach, California, Aguilar took up a master's in music theater at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

Actor, dancer, playwright and mental health advocate Christopher Aguilar.

Recent choreography credits include San Diego Repertory's "Old Boy" and East West Players' "La Cage Aux Folles."

"I wrote 'StanD' to help break the stigma of mental illness," they say.

Aguilar's advocacy is borne out of his personal experiences, having been hospitalized at 16 years old and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

"As I grew up, I began to believe that sharing my own experiences living with bipolar disorder can help break the stigma, especially within the Filipino American community."

Aguilar was hospitalized again later on as an adult after an extreme manic episode

"It was then that I wanted to find a way to help others from being hospitalized themselves. That's when I started writing the play."

Positive feedback

Aguilar developed their play at East West Players' David Henry Hwang Writer's Institute.

Developmental versions and excerpts of the play have been staged at high schools and wellness conferences and have received positive feedback.

"There was a Filipino American girl that was warned that she may encounter a few triggers from watching the play and that she was allowed to leave if necessary.

"I am glad she stayed, because she talked during the post-show discussion about how she was hospitalized herself and how this play really helps her feel that she's not alone."

At another previous staging, one audience member started crying during the post-show discussion.

"She didn't realize people like Stan's character existed and that Stan's character [reminded her of someone she knew]. The fact that she was crying, the play seemed to be effective.

"Toward the end of our discussion, a woman pointed out how there is hope revolving around mental health simply because there is a group of Filipinos who has the time and effort to put on a play, simply to help people. That made us feel good."

Seeking advice

Signs and symptoms for mental illnesses vary from individual to individual and from condition to condition.

Aside from approaching medical or health professionals for advice, Aguilar recommends researching information from the websites of National Alliance on Mental Illness (Nami.org/Learn-More/Know-the-Warning-Signs) and Each Mind Matters (Eachmindmatters.org).

Aguilar is certified as a Peer Health Educator from APAIT Special Service Group.  "I have some training on how to conduct discussions revolving around health of any kind, but especially prevention from diseases. I believe my training translates into the mental health sector and I am so honored and glad to be given the opportunity to conduct the 'StanD' discussions."

Aguilar is eager to spread more awareness about mental health through theater and welcomes inquiries from organizations, schools and groups interested in having the play performed at their locations.

"StanD," free admission, runs in Los Angeles on May 12 at Filipino American Service Group Inc. Bayanihan Center, 135 N. Park View St., and on May 19 at Pilipino Workers Center, 153 Glendale Blvd. Contact chrisbelen.aguilar@gmail.com.