Filipino American Regina Aquino wins 2019 Helen Hayes Best Actress award

By WALTER ANG
May 30, 2019
Inquirer.net
https://usa.inquirer.net/30802/fil-am-regina-aquino-wins-19-helen-hayes-best-actress-award

WASHINGTON, D.C.  Filipino American actor Regina Aquino has won the 2019 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play for her work in Theater Alliance's production of "The Events."

Regina Aquino with her 2019 Helen Hayes Best Actress Award.
Photo by Shannon Finney

The ceremony was held at The Anthem performance venue. Now in its 35th year, the awards are given out by the TheatreWashington organization and recognizes outstanding achievement in more than 90 professional theaters across the Washington metropolitan area. It is named for the Washington native and actor Helen Hayes.

When Aquino ascended the stage to accept her award, she immediately greeted her family with "Mommy! Mommy, mahal kita. Mahal kita, mommy. Mahal kita Riana, Malcolm, my children."

In her acceptance speech, Aquino said, "To win this during Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, as a Filipino American . I am so proud to be from DC!"

Love

Aquino played the character Claire in the play written by David Greig. The lone survivor of a mass shooting, Claire yearns to find the compassion, understanding and peace that she needs to overcome her trauma, but thoughts and visions of the shooter haunt her every step.

Staged during fall last year and directed by Colin Hovde, Aquino acted opposite Josh Adams for 80 minutes without intermission in each performance.

"The role of Claire wasn't written as an Asian," she continued. "But it was enriched by my ethnicity. Colin cast me as an American in a play that examines white supremacy, toxic masculinity and the plague of mass shootings.

"I hope that this play was a call to action-as it was for me-for all who witnessed it."

"We must end gun violence," she said, to cheers and applause from the audience. "We must combat toxic masculinity with love. We must dismantle white supremacy. And it begins here in the theater. We can all do it! Salamat, salamat."

Celebrate

To celebrate, Aquino says she danced at the awards party. "Then we went to an after party at our favorite theater bar. We got pretty hungry, so we went to a diner.

Aquino in a scene from "The Events" staged by Theater Alliance. 

"I spent the entire night with Colin, Josh and Kat, my Theater Alliance family, and it was so amazing to be with them."

It was business-as-usual the following day. "I was out very late, went home to sleep for a few hours, then went in to rehearsal at noon."

Great adventure

Aquino became involved in "The Events" when she and Hovde, whom she considers a good friend and longtime collaborator, were working together in a show at the Lincoln Center in New York.

"It began like all the greatest adventures, at 2 a.m. in a dive bar in Hell's Kitchen. We were trying to come up with the next project to collaborate on, knowing it was going to be his last season as Artistic Director at Theater Alliance.

"He told me about `The Events' and I told him I didn't care about the details, I was in."

Preparations

Aquino recounts the preparations the entire team undertook for the production. "There was a lot of dramaturgy on trauma survivors, mass shooting survivors and how they process grief and loss.

"We also had a shooting survivor in our choir, so there was firsthand knowledge on the terror experienced in a mass shooting." 

 She adds that the rehearsal process had been "very sobering, very painful, but it led to a very truthful and necessary performance. We wanted to ensure that the play was visceral for those witnessing it."

"While the subject matter was very somber, we all cared so deeply about the play and how it forces the audience to confront the tragedies we seem to be experiencing in America every day."

Despite the serious subject matter, they also always tried to fill their work with hope. "Our choir rehearsals were such fun, the choir had fantastic voices and one of the songs they sung was Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy.'"

"Rehearsing that was such a joy. I really loved every minute of working with this team."

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Titas, poems, trans cousins, hypnosis to spice up Seattle's Pagdiriwang 2019

By WALTER ANG
May 28, 2019
Inquirer.net
https://usa.inquirer.net/30616/titas-poems-trans-cousins-hypnosis-to-spice-up-seattles-pagdiriwang-19

SEATTLE  Poetry and performances will be part of this year's Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival at the Seattle Center on June 1 to 2.

Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival is organized by the Filipino Cultural Heritage Society of Washington.

Now on its 33rd year, the festival will also have food, children's games, martial arts, film showings, a photography exhibit, music, and dance performances.

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

Organized by Filipino Cultural Heritage Society of Washington, the annual celebration 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."

Poets, musical

Filipino American poets will hold a literary reading of their works at the "Ang Aming Mga Salita" program on the first day of the festival.

Matt Dela Cruz (left) and his mother, Ester. 

Included in the line-up are educator Third Andresen, playwright Robert Francis Flor (Alaskero Memories), journalist Jen Soriano (Making the Tongue Dry and published in Pleiades, Waxwing, TAYO), editor Dujie Tahat (published in Sugar House Review, Bennington Review, Poetry Northwest, Asian American Literary Review) and librarian Gerie Ventura.

Meanwhile, the "Teatro Pilipino" segment includes two one-person shows, a musical, a magician-master hypnotist, and a staged reading of a film script.

Composer and musician Rheanna Atendido and actor Mara Elissa Palma will perform a work-in-progress version of the musical they are developing.

Titled "Tides of Fortune," the musical is about Reyna, a Filipina drag king (women who dress up as men) performer on a cruise ship on her way to starting a new life in the United States. When her dream is threatened, she has to make a choice between doing what's right or doing whatever it takes.

Reyna's best friend and chef, Miguel, will try to cook something up to help her. To complicate things, Nova, a half-Filipina, half-American security officer on-board stands in Reyna's way but sparks fly when they realize they have more in common than they thought.

Performances are scheduled for both days.

Magic, stand-up

Magician and master hypnotist Maritess Zurbano will perform on both days as well with "Mentalism: The Supreme Magic of the Mind."

Maritess Zurbano and her hypnotized volunteers from the audience. 

Zurbano has performed in New York and Las Vegas. Internationally, she has performed in Berlin and Japan.

Matt Dela Cruz will perform his autobiographical one-person shows "Tita Ester" on the first day and "Mr. DC" on the second day.

Subtitled "Motherly reminders from a Filipina mom," "Tita Ester" showcases Dela Cruz's tribute to the wit, wisdom, and loving acceptance of his Ilocana mother, the titular Ester.

"Mr. DC" chronicles Dela Cruz's journey from hopeful young artist struggling in New York to his current endeavors as an educator in Seattle.

Dela Cruz's credits include cabaret shows as well as musicals with theater companies such as Village Theatre, Tacoma Musical Playhouse, Centerstage Theatre and Seattle Musical Theatre.

On the second day, there will be a staged reading of "Kultura," a script for a film by Sean Dagiwa about an artist and his transgender cousin who both attend a wedding and rediscover the traumas that have shaped and bonded them. 

Line-up and schedules subject to change. Contact organizers to confirm.

The festival has been held at the Seattle Center since 1987 and is part of Seattle Center Festal, a series of cultural programs sponsored by the City of Seattle.

Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival 2019 is June 1 to 2 at Seattle Center, 305 Harrison St., Seattle. Visit Festalpagdiriwang.com.

RELATED STORY:

Plays, poetry, food, comedy at Seattle's June Pagdiriwang fest 2018

Filipino American set and costume designer Clint Ramos wins '19 Obie

By WALTER ANG
May 24, 2019
Inquirer.net
https://usa.inquirer.net/30359/fil-am-set-and-costume-designer-clint-ramos-wins-19-obie

NEW YORK  Filipino American costume and set designer Clint Ramos has won the 2019 Obie Award for Set Design for his work on The Public Theater's production of "Wild Goose Dreams."

Filipino American Clint Ramos won the 2019 Obie Award for Set Design. 

Presented by the American Theater Wing and the Village Voice, the 64th Annual Obie Awards were given out at Terminal 5, a music venue in Hell's Kitchen. The award recognizes excellence in Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theater work.

In his acceptance speech, Ramos thanked director Leigh Silverman and playwright Hansol Jung. "And to The Public for putting this work up," he added.

"The Public has been a home to me ... for supporting me all of these years. I've never been so respected in the theater like at The Public ... so thank you for that."

Ramos's most recent collaboration with The Public was designing the set of its production of "White Noise," starring Daveed Diggs ("Hamilton"), which closed earlier this month.

He concluded by thanking his husband Jason Moff. "He's the handsome guy in the back," Ramos said as he pointed to Moff in the audience. "Thank you for being the light at the end of this very dark tunnel."

Fil-Am Alan Asuncion was part of the contingent from "STOMP"-he's been with the show for more than a decade-that performed at the ceremony to celebrate the show's silver anniversary in New York.

Vivid

Critics described Ramos' set as "looks terrific, convey(s) . tumult" (Hollywood Reporter), "transports the audience, immersive" (OffOffOnline.com) and "all-encompassing, riotous, vivid, hopes this staging can be conserved ... as an artwork, brilliant." (Daily Beast).

Clint Ramos' set design for "Wild Goose Dreams."
Photo by Joan Marcus

The play is about Minsung, a "goose father," a South Korean man whose wife and daughter have moved to America for a better life while he works in Seoul to support them. He connects with Nanhee, a young defector forced to leave her family behind in North Korea.

Fil-Am actor Jaygee Macapugay played Minsung's wife during the production's run from October to December last year.

Ramos' current Off-Broadway credits include set design for Jesse Eisenberg's play "Happy Talk," starring Susan Sarandon. The cast includes Filipino American actors Nico Santos ("Crazy Rich Asians").

Costume design

Ramos previously received an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Costume Design in 2013.

He won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Costume Design of a Play for his work on Danai Gurira's "Eclipsed." He is a nominee this year in the same category for his work on Harvey Fierstein's "Torch Song."

Ramos' current Broadway credits include costume design for the play "Burn This," starring Adam Driver ("Star Wars") and Keri Russell ("Felicity," "The Americans").

Previous Fil-Am winners

Previous Fil-Am Obie winners in the Performance category includes Ernest Abuba in 1983 for Pan Asian Repertory Theatre's "Yellow Fever," Ching Valdes-Aran in 1996 for Ma-yi Theater Company's "Flipzoids," and Mia Katigbak in 2016 for National Asian American Theatre Company's (NAATCO) "Awake and Sing!"

The Obie's Wetzsteon Award has been previously given to two theater companies cofounded by Fil-Am theatermakers. The award is given for exceptional enterprise in approach to classics or in nurturing innovative new work.

NAATCO, cofounded by Mia Katigbak, received it in 2015 and Ma-Yi received it last year.

Ma-Yi Theater's 2003 production of "The Romance of Magno Rubio" received Special Citations for director Loy Arcenas and the entire cast. Arcenas received an Obie for Sustained Excellence of Set Design in 1993. 

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Lake Sebu myth to be told with T’boli music at San Francisco art festival

By WALTER ANG
May 23, 2019
Inquirer.net
https://usa.inquirer.net/30159/lake-sebu-myth-to-be-told-with-tboli-music-at-sf-art-festival

SAN FRANCISCO  Filipino American musician Florante Aguilar has created a new musical work inspired by the music of the T'boli people.

From left: Nick Galang, Caroline Cabading, Florante Aguilar,
Greg Kehret and Sage Baggott will perform "Utom."

The 50-minute piece, titled "Utom," musically narrates the legend of Lake Sebu's formation and the conflicts of the mythical characters surrounding it, such as the demigod Lemugot and the first T'boli woman Boi Henwu.

Utom is a T'boli musical concept where instruments are used to depict the sounds of nature or to describe an event.

The piece will be staged by arts organization Kularts, which commissioned Aguilar to compose the work using a grant award from the Gerbode Foundation.

Sophisticated

"T'boli music, I think, stands apart by its level of sophistication when it comes to compositions that represent an idea and the sound of nature, the supernatural and the divine," says Aguilar.

"The hegelung, I'd say, is the most representative of T'boli music. It's a two-stringed boat lute used in utom a lot. Women also play this instrument while dancing.

"Another distinct T'boli instrument is the smaggi, an array of bass gongs.

"There is also the t'nonggong, a small skin drum played sitting on the floor while you hold the drum between your feet. I haven't seen any other drum played this way, it's quite unique."

Powerful

Aguilar's previous collaborations with Kularts include "Lalawigan," "Aswang," "Maseg Typhoon," "She Who Can See" and "Ba-e Makiling."

With the belief that everything in the universe is a manifestation of the divine, the T'boli consider art and music the "voice" of the divine. As such, music is a powerful expression when it comes to narrating T'boli mythologies.

Taking two years to compose the work, Aguilar's inspiration and research came from a book given to him by Kularts artistic director Alleluia Panis.

"It's called Myths, Mimesis and Magic in the Music of the T'boli by Manolete Mora. It delves deeply into the concept of utom.

"I think it's one of the best scholarly written books about Philippine indigenous music since the works by the pioneering Jose Maceda, whom I consider a mentor during my college years."

Excited

"I'm very excited to present 'Utom,' because it focuses on music as composition. It'll be purely the musician's medium," says Aguilar.

"We're using music to tell a story. In Western classical music, they call this `programme music,' where the audience is invited to imagine a character or an event rendered entirely through music.

"Typically, audience would rely on printed 'programme' notes to guide them in the story. In `Utom,' we'll supplement the concert with short film footage on select tracks where emphasis and clarity are needed."

Composition

"Utom" will be performed on June 1 during the San Francisco International Arts Festival at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture and on June 9 at Brava Theater.

Master T'boli musician Joel Ganlal

"I'm excited to have master T'boli musician Joel Ganlal join us in the concert. He is sure to dazzle us with his t'nonggong playing," adds Aguilar.

Ganlal will also play the hegelung lute and s'loli flute.

Two members from Aguilar's band, the Fandangueros, will be part of the production. Sage Baggott will play percussion, kulintang, hang drum (convex steel drum), while Greg Kehret will play bass and percussion.

"We added Caroline Cabading for her kulintang expertise and Nick Galang who has a master's degree in World Percussion Music." Galang will play agung, kulintang and percussion.

Cabading heads traditional kulintang ensemble Kultura Kapwa and kulintang-jazz ensemble The Autonomous Region.

Aguilar will play the hang drum, which represents Boi Henwu, and the hegelung which represents Lemugot.

Visit Kularts-sf.org.

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Family-friendly play in Baltimore probes Filipino American myths, masks

By WALTER ANG
May 17, 2019
Inquirer.net
https://usa.inquirer.net/29625/family-friendly-play-in-baltimore-probes-fil-am-myths-masks

BALTIMORE, Maryland  In the family-friendly play "Tornkid," written by Filipino American Katelynn Kenney, when the titular child is torn between worlds, the power of Southeast Asian (including Filipino) and Pacific Islander folklore provides solace, guidance and healing.

Actors rehearse for children's play "Tornkid"
written by Filipino American Katelynn Kenney
with masks designed by Fil-Am Tara Cariaso. 

"'Tornkid just wants to belong: at school, at home. Pizza or Spam. Important, not important. American, immigrant. So, what does Tornkid do? Torn in two, one half becomes voiceless and the other half runs away to a mythical land," the play is described in a statement by the two groups staging it.

It will be brought to life by theater groups Baltimore Asian Pasifika Arts Collective (Bapac), of which Fil-Am Cori Dioquino is cofounding co-executive director, and Cohesion Theatre.

The staging will use masks designed by Fil-Am Tara Cariaso, director of Waking Moon Masks, who was inspired by sculpture and matriarchal figures from the Philippines.

Directed by Cara Hinh, the show will also feature puppets designed by Jess Rasp.

Creating

Kenney collaborated with the resident artists of both theater companies to craft the play's script.

Playwright Katelynn Kenney. 

"I was invited to a devising session, where a group of artists gathered to share stories and ideas of their own experiences as Asian American Pacific Islander folks in America," she says.

"What stories were we told? What stories did we tell ourselves that then shaped our identities? Not feeling enough of either culture was a common thread.

"The artists then discussed ideas with their voices and their bodies, via tableaux and image creation. We also did a few writing prompts and staged some stories and myths.

"I then took the ideas and images that stayed with me and created the play 'Tornkid.'"

Writing, not waiting

Born in California, raised in Air Force bases across the US and overseas, and then eventually spending her high school and college years in South Dakota, Kenney initially wanted to be an actor.

Kenney says her mother, who is Filipino, has a story where "when I was two or so, I stood on the kitchen counter holding my arms up like Rafiki in the 'The Lion King.'"

While she'd written some skits in middle school ("One was about Frankenstein being a smoker and his monster trying to get him to quit."), Kenney mostly acted in high school and went on to study theatre, English and journalism at Augustana University.

"My love for playwriting came later, after I decided to pursue acting in New York and went about it all wrong. I was sitting in audition rooms waiting for hours.

"Then I started writing while I was waiting. Then I started writing and not waiting."

Process

Now based in New York, in addition to her acting and directing work, Kenney's playwriting credits include "Wendell and Pan," "Void," "Aswang," and "Goblin Girls," among others.

Theater mask designer Tara Cariaso. 

Kenney describes her current writing process as "binge-writing."

"I end up getting locked into a play for a weekend, trying to get out 40 to 60 pages. I have a love-hate relationship with first drafts. They take a very long time to appear on the page for me unless I have these binge sessions," she says.

"I'm glad Bapac reached out to me about this project and took the leap with me. They've been a home away from home, and I feel like I've found a whole new community where I can embrace and explore my identity as an artist and a biracial Filipino American."

"Tornkid" runs May 23-June 9 at 923 S. East Ave., Baltimore. Visit Baltimoreapac.org.

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Kids’ book on Filipino American labor hero Larry Itliong launches in NY and DC

By WALTER ANG
May 14, 2019
Inquirer.net
https://usa.inquirer.net/29370/kids-book-on-fil-am-labor-hero-larry-itliong-launches-in-ny-and-dc

NEW YORK  The first children's book on Filipino American historical figure Larry Itliong will have upcoming book tour stops in New York and Washington, DC.

Journey to Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong is
(from left) illustrated by Andre Sibayan  and
cowritten by Gayle Romasanta and the late historian Dawn Mabalon. 

Journey to Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong is cowritten by the late historian Dawn Mabalon and Gayle Romasanta with illustrations by Andre Sibayan and published by Bridge and Delta Publishing.

The publication is making its third stop in its national book tour in New York at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on May 18 Saturday, followed by Washington, DC on May 20 Monday at Busboy and Poets bookstore's Brookland branch.

Itliong moved to the US in 1929 and worked as a farmer and led the Grape Strike in Delano, California in 1965. He cofounded the United Farm Workers Union and convinced the Mexican American farmers, led by Cesar Chavez, to join the strike. The strike lasted for five years and led to a breakthrough in labor rights in the US.

The book tackles a component of American and Filipino American history by showing how Itliong helped create the largest farm labor movement in the history of the United States.

Family-friendly

Both the New York and Washington, DC family-friendly events will feature an overview of the free teacher's guide created by Pin@y Educational Partnerships, a Q&A and book signing with co-author and publisher Romasanta, and a tribute to Mabalon, who died last year before the book was published.

Children's book Journey to Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong
is published by Bridge and Delta Publishing. 

The book tours will also feature performances by Filipino artists and students as well as speeches from community leaders like Kevin Nadal in New York, who is a Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) national trustee and psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice; and Ben de Guzman in Washington, DC, who is the Acting Director of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs at the Mayor's Office.

"As one of the largest immigrant groups in the country, we want our history to be recognized and our stories to be told, says Nadal. "We're happy to honor the legacies of both Larry Itliong and Dr. Dawn Mabalon here on the East Coast with the New York City community."

Aim

The 15-city national book tour-which kicked off earlier this year and with stops already completed in Delano, California and Seattle, Washington-aims to create a movement with Filipino and Asian Pacific Islander nonprofit organizations throughout the country to bring the history of Larry Itliong to their communities.

A page from children's book Journey to Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong

While the book celebrates Itliong, it also highlights Mabalon's life work as cofounder of Little Manila Rising (formerly Little Manila Foundation), FANHS scholar and trustee, San Francisco State University professor, and author of multiple books, including Little Manila Is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipina/o American Community in Stockton, California.

Through Journey to Justice, the first of a planned series about Filipino American historical figures for students ages 10 and up, Romasanta aims to further Mabalon's work to spread Filipino American history.

Romasanta says, "Dawn saved the remaining Filipino neighborhood Little Manila buildings in her hometown of Stockton and named the area Historic Little Manila, she traveled the country speaking and connecting with the community and spreading her wealth of knowledge about American history, Filipino American food history, and more.

"Dr. Mabalon was the leading Filipino American historian before her untimely passing. She made history accessible and was a revered community activist. She not only was a scholar, but her work touched the Filipino American community on a national scale."

Visit Bridgedelta.com.

RELATED STORY:

Play inspired by labor leader Larry Itliong to premiere in SF

Pop-up art exhibit marks release of Filipino American Artist Directory '19 edition

By WALTER ANG
May 10, 2019
Inquirer.net
https://usa.inquirer.net/29094/pop-up-art-exhibit-marks-release-of-fil-am-artist-directory-19-edition

ST. LOUIS, Missouri  A pop-up exhibition will launch this year's edition of the Filipino American Artist Directory featuring the works of several of the artists listed in it.

Filipino American Artist Directory
published by Janna Añonuevo Langholz,
2019 edition with cover art by Lordy Rogriguez.
Beneath it are the 2018 and 2017 editions. 

This year's directory features 92 Fil-Am artists across the United States, representing 20 states and 41 cities. When the directory's first edition was published in 2016, it listed 25 artists; last year's edition had 60.

Conceived and published by artist Janna Añonuevo Langholz, the directory aims to connect the broad community of Fil-Am visual artists. It also serves a more functional purpose for gallery owners, art buyers and collectors, as well as students and educators.

While previous incarnations of the directory had been limited editions, this year's installment will be printed on demand as long as order are received.

Cover

This year's directory features original cover artwork titled "Provinces" by San Francisco-based artist Lordy Rodriguez.

Mishel Valenton's "Jungle Mouthing," oil on panel, 2018. 

"He used the shapes of the Philippine provinces to create a map, using the names of the 92 artists listed in the directory as city names," explains Langholz.

The metaphorical act of inserting Filipino American names on to the map reflects Langholz's overarching mission.

Langholz points out that St. Louis, where she was born, raised and works, is where the 1904 World's Fair was held-where more than a thousand indigenous Filipinos were exhibited across 47 acres through nine months to an estimated 19 million paying attendees.

She wants to turn this piece of history on its head and instead, in the here and now, highlight artists actively exhibiting their work around the U.S. as well as exhibit Filipino Americans' artworks in St. Louis.

Important

"Producing the directory every year is a challenge in itself, a six-month process from November to May that involves compiling submissions from the open call, fundraising, designing the book, and mailing out hundreds of copies," says Langholz.

Mikey Yates' "Hoop Dreams," oil on canvas, 2019. 

This process has also included creating giveaway items such as stickers, postcards, posters and tote bags for fundraising backers who donate to the online crowdfunding campaigns that precede each edition's production.

Not to mention, Langholz. also maintains the directory's website.

While doing the bulk of the work herself allows the directory to be produced on a relatively small budget, "it's also a big time commitment on my part."

"However, I believe this is important work that needs to be done, and it's a cause I'm extremely committed to.

"Since I started this project not knowing any other Filipino American artists, it's always a reward for me to be able to connect with other artists, especially in person.

"When those connections are made between artists, and between artists and the broader community, I feel like the directory is doing its job."

Risa Recio's "Goode Tidings (II),"
rope, blown glass, lucky cat, concrete and aluminum, 2018. 

The exhibition will feature the works of Filipino American artists Crystal Z Campbell (from Tulsa, Oklahoma), Ben Iluzada (Philadelphia), Risa Recio (Chicago), Lordy Rodriguez (San Francisco), Yumi Janairo Roth (Boulder, Colorado), Benedict Scheuer and Gloria Shows (Columbus, Ohio), Jeffrey Augustine Songco (Grand Rapids, Michigan), Mishel Valenton (Centreville, Virginia) and Mikey Yates (Boulder, Colorado).

Filipino American Artist Directory Book Launch and Pop-Up Exhibition is on May 11 at Flood Plain Gallery, 3151 Cherokee St., St. Louis. Visit Filamartistdirectory.com.

Joan Almedilla leads Filipino American actors in 'Mamma Mia!' in LA

By WALTER ANG
May 7, 2019
Inquirer.net
https://usa.inquirer.net/28869/joan-almedilla-leads-fil-am-actors-in-mamma-mia-in-la

LOS ANGELES  Joan Almedilla leads a bevy of Filipino American actors in East West Players' production of the musical "Mamma Mia!" this May.

Joan Almedilla at East West Players' recent gala.
Photo by Sthanlee Mirador

The jukebox musical features the music of Swedish group Abba and includes songs such as "Take a Chance on Me" and "Money, Money, Money," among others.

The story involves Sophie, who is about to be married to Sky. She secretly invites three men (Sam, Bill and Harry) to find out which among them is her father-which, of course, upsets her mother Donna.

Almedilla will play Donna. She will be joined by Anthea Neri (Tanya, one of Donna's friends), Alan Ariano (Sam), Danny Bernardo (Harry) and Michael Palma (Bill).

Other Fil-Ams in the cast include Steven Agdeppa. Jules Aurora, Edelyn Okano, Kevin Perdido, AJ Rafael, Nicole Santiago and Ala Tiatia.

Marc Macalintal is musical director.

Dream come true  

Joan Almedilla recently concluded her run as Lady Thiang in the national tour of the "The King And I" opposite Jose Llana who played the King of Siam.

"The tour was great," she says. "My son, CJ Uy, was also in the show with me as one of the royal children. It was an amazing experience on and off stage for both of us. It was a dream come true to do a classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical."

Her other credits include Broadway productions and national tours of "Miss Saigon" as Kim and "Les Miserables" as Fantine.

Love and fun

For East West Players, Almedilla has performed in "Chess," "Krunk Fu Battle Battle" and "Tea, with Music."

Joan Almedilla (center) plays Donna in "Mamma Mia!"
Other Filipino Americans in the cast include
(from left) Kevin Perdido, Nicole Santiago, Anthea Neri;
Jules Aurora (second from right) and AJ Rafael (right).
Photo by Steven Lam

She was recently in Fil-Am playwright Giovanni Ortega's "Criers for Hire."

"It's like I never left," Almedilla says of returning to East West Players for another production. "I love coming back here and I will keep coming back whether I'm part of a show or be in the audience. I also would love to do something on the creative side one day. I love the community here."

"I can't believe I get to play Donna!" she says. The seasoned actress says two of her favorite ABBA songs are "Thank You For The Music" and "Dancing Queen."

"ABBA music just makes you happy," she adds.

The happiness extends to rehearsals for the show. "There's too much fun going on. On our second week, we were all in '80s outfits. That was our first dress up theme of many."

If it sounds like Almedilla and her colleagues don't take themselves too seriously, they certainly take their work as storytellers seriously.

She says that her favorite moments are collaborating with director Snehal Desai, choreographer Preston Mui and musical director Marc Macalintal in action. 

"I love watching them going through that artistic exploration on the spot, when they're thinking and they say, 'Give it a try,' and if something doesn't read well or sound right, they suggest trying a different approach."

"You make choices and explore during the rehearsal process and you grow. You discover more about the character you play, your fellow actors' character and it gets even more fun."

After "Mamma Mia!" Almedilla will be in "Supportive White Parents," a musical with book and lyrics by Fil-Am Joy Regullano, in June.

"Mamma Mia!" runs May 9-June9 at David Henry Hwang Theater, Union Center of the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles. Visit Eastwestplayers.org.

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Filipino American Jennifer Chang wins LA Drama Critics Circle best director award

By WALTER ANG
May 4, 2019
Inquirer.net
https://usa.inquirer.net/28738/fil-am-jennifer-chang-wins-drama-critics-circle-best-director-award

LOS ANGELES  Filipino American Jennifer Chang has won the 2018 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) Award for Best Direction of a Play for her work on East West Players' (EWP) production of "Vietgone" last year.

Jennifer Chang

The award's 50th annual ceremony was held at Pasadena Playhouse.

"I am so thrilled that the members of the LADCC came out to see 'Vietgone' and felt compelled to mention so many folks on my team in the nominations," she says.

"I think it's great that EWP is getting attention for the work and it's truly an honor to be recognized by the LA community amongst such a talented cohort."

"I feel encouraged to keep working . it is so nice to hear a 'keep doing what you are doing.' Art is so subjective, but the sensation of having what you need to say being heard is absolutely validating."

Labor of love

Chang describes directing Qui Nguyen's "Vietgone," about two Vietnam War refugees who fall in love at a relocation camp in Arkansas, as a labor of love. "The work was extremely challenging but the entire cast and crew were absolutely devoted.

"There were technical issues that we continued to work out throughout the preview performances, but the fact that everyone would stay late and or come early to rehearse on their own and that designers would borrow and beg for equipment to augment the needs of the play because everyone believed in the project-it was so moving.

"I am always feeling like I am falling short but I had the belief of my cast and crew. That is such a beautiful gift. The experience has bonded us deeply to each other."

Stepping up

Chang did not set out to be a director. "I kept getting nudged because there just wasn't anyone else," she reveals.

A San Francisco-native, Chang studied drama and psychology at New York University before taking up a master's in acting at University of California-San Diego-where she is currently head of its undergraduate acting department.

"In grad school, my class of directors, designers, playwrights and actors all had to take a dramaturgy class with Shirley Fishman. We ran out of directors for scenes we were studying."

Chang volunteered to direct and the experience encouraged her to join directing classes. "I then had the opportunity to assist Darko Tresnjak, who continues to be a dear mentor, because there was only one other apprentice director and, again, no one else asked!"

In 2008, Chang cofounded Chalk Repertory Theatre and served as its artistic director until 2016.

With the group, she helmed shows because "we only had one person who was a trained director and we didn't trust anyone else to have the vision for the work we were trying to do, so I stepped up."

Representation

"I was pursuing acting throughout this period with a curiosity about directing and then the work was getting noticed and directing took on a life of its own."

Nevertheless, her acting background proves useful. "I love acting and actors. I geek out over the process. Directing lets me explore all the roles in collaboration with the actors and how they all fit together in the visual container of all the design elements."

"I tell people that this is the reason why representation is so important. If it had ever been modeled to me that someone who looked like me was directing, it might have occurred to me sooner that this career could be for me."

She gives one additional reason on how she got into directing. "I also have to credit my children. My husband and I got pregnant only four months after we got married and I thought my artistic life was over. I found myself to be still voraciously wanting to create and so while I couldn't act, I kept saying yes to directing, and now here we are!"

Process

Chang believes that it's a director's job is to advocate for the audience. "And to attempt to understand what the audience's experience of the play would be."

"While I think an audience should be challenged, they shouldn't be confused. Confusion can lead to rejection and disengagement. I don't need an audience to agree but I need them to stay on the ride."

Her process involves establishing clarity in storytelling. "Basically, what does an audience need to understand the story?"

"I read the play over and over again, taking notes especially when I `see' a possibility or discover what I intuit to be the playwrights' intentions are for their play, what they want to say to the audience."

She then collaborates with designers, choreographers, music directors, production managers and such.

"Ultimately I think of a play as being a complex puzzle with lots of things to solve and go through the solving step by step."

RELATED STORY:

Fil-Am director helms 'Vietgone' for East West Players

Three Filipino Americans nominated for 2019 Tony Awards

By WALTER ANG
May 1, 2019
Inquirer.net
https://usa.inquirer.net/28585/three-fil-ams-nominated-for-2019-tony-awards

NEW YORK  Three Filipino Americans have been nominated for the 2019 Tony Awards: set designer Robert Brill; actress Eva Noblezada and costume designer Clint Ramos.

Eva Noblezada (left). Right photo shows her in a scene from "Hadestown."

Brill is nominated for Best Scenic Design of a Musical for his work on "Ain't Too Proud to Beg: The Life and Times of the Temptations."

Noblezada is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for playing the character Eurydice in "Hadestown."

Ramos is nominated for Best Costume Design of a Play for his work on "Torch Song."

Ramos

Ramos won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Costume Design-Play for "Eclipsed," which featured Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o ("12 Years a Slave," "Star Wars," "The Jungle Book"), written by Danai Gurira (Okoye in "Black Panther").

Clint Ramos (left) and his costume designs for "Torch Song" (right)

Last year, he was nominated for Best Costume Design-Musical for his work on "Once on This Island," which featured Lea Salonga in the cast.

Born in the Philippines, Ramos moved to the U.S. to take up a master's in Design for Stage and Film at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts on a full scholarship. He designs costumes and sets in New York, across the U.S. and internationally.

Noblezada

Noblezada was previously nominated for Best Actress for her work in the 2017-18 Broadway revival of "Miss Saigon" where she played the titular character Kim. She had played the same role in the 2014-16 West End revival.

Noblezada, whose father is Filipino and mother is Mexican, was born in San Diego and grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. Other credits include playing Eponine in "Les Miserables."

Brill

Brill was previously nominated in 2004 for Best Scenic Design-Play or Musical for "Assassins" and 2009 for Best Scenic Design-Musical for "Guys and Dolls."

Robert Bill (left) and a set piece from "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." 

Brill is a native of Salinas, California. He took up theater at University of California-San Diego (where he now teaches) and cofounded Sledgehammer Theatre while he was a student there.

In addition to theater, Brill also designs for opera productions.

Previous

Previous Filipino American Tony Award winners include Lea Salonga, 1991 Best Actress in a Musical, "Miss Saigon;" composer Robert Lopez, 2004 Best Score, "Avenue Q" and 2011 Best Book and Best Score, "Book of Mormon;" and Celina "Lena Hall" Carvajal, 2014 Best Featured Actress in a Musical, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."

Investors in Broadway productions can acquire awards along with lead producers if productions win Best Play or Musical. Jhett Tolentino, an investing producer with business partner Joan Raffe, earned Tonys for Best Revival of a Play ("A Raisin in the Sun") and Best Musical ("A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder"), both 2014, and Best Play ("Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike"), 2013.

Ceremony

The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre honors theater professionals for distinguished achievement on Broadway. It was founded by the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, after whose cofounder the award is named after.

The 73rd annual ceremony will be held on June 9 at Radio City Music Hall. Actor and TV personality James Corden will host.

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Rising Filipino American actor Christian Quinto stars in suspense drama on gun violence

By WALTER ANG
April 30, 2019
Inquirer.net
https://usa.inquirer.net/28500/rising-fil-am-actor-stars-in-suspense-drama-on-gun-violence

SEATTLE  In the play "Office Hour," Christian Quinto plays a troubled college student who has been submitting grisly writing assignments to his alarmed professor.

Christian Quinto (left) in ArtsWest's staging of "Office Hour."
Photo by John McLellan

Staged by theater group ArtsWest, Julia Cho's play shows student and professor exploring gun violence, mental health, race, immigration and the breakdown of communication across society.

ArtsWest artistic director Mathew Wright directs. This is Quinto's second production with the group. He was previously in "Jane Eyre: The Musical."

Recent 

Quinto's recent credits include "The Odyssey" (Seattle Repertory Theatre), "Rosie the Riveter" (5th Avenue Theatre), "Pageant" (A Sensible Theatre Company) and "Filipino Folktales." (Honolulu Theatre for Youth), among others.

Christian Quinto plays a troubled college student in Julia Cho's "Office Hour." 

He also just completed a run playing Sky (the young male romantic lead) in Seattle Musical Theatre's production of "Mamma Mia!"

"My mom is the biggest ABBA fan I know and I grew up listening to their music. Performing in the musical meant so much to me because I dedicated my performance to my mom," he says.

"The music brought back many happy memories when I still lived in the Philippines." Quinto moved from the Philippines to Honolulu when he was 14 years old.

"I was introduced to the magic of theater when I auditioned for `Grease' at Kaimuki High School and was cast as Jock Number 2."

He studied Musical Theatre at Cornish College of the Arts and made his Seattle theater debut in Seattle Repertory Theatre and Public Works Seattle's coproduction of "The Odyssey."

Representation

During his run in "Mamma Mia!" he was even able to wear a barong Tagalog in the show. "I got to proudly represent my Filipino culture onstage," he says.

"Director Hattie Claire Andres and costume designer Michael Nostestine had previously seen me wearing my barong when I was in A Sensible Theatre Company's cabaret last March, singing `Bakit Ngayon Ka Lang' with Fil-Am actress Rheanna Atendido.

"They said I should wear it for the wedding scene in the show. I told them that in Filipino weddings, the groom and the groomsmen usually wear barong Tagalog. It was perfect!"

Adjusting

He was still performing in "Mamma Mia!" when rehearsals began for "Office Hour." Sometimes, rehearsals for the play would fall on the same day as performances for the musical.

Quinto (left) as Sky in in Seattle Musical Theatre's "Mamma Mia!" 

"To go from a fantastical world of disco balls, sparkly costumes and feel-good music to the realistic, dark and complex world that Julia Cho has written was an absolute shift."

He would take advantage of his one hour and 30-minute bus ride from Magnuson Park to West Seattle to decompress from the musical while calibrating his mindset for the play's rehearsals.

"I had to really be mindful about my emotional and mental state before rehearsals because diving head first to the subject material in `Office Hour' is very dangerous."

"I consider myself a lucky actor to be able to portray characters like Sky and Dennis in one day!"

Conversations, opportunities  

Quinto remembers his initial reactions to the play when he first read the script. "I was scared but also very ecstatic. Julia Cho has written a dynamite play with juicy characters. It's an actor's dream! The fear is helpful for me, it keeps me on my toes at all times," he says.

He's using his instincts to drive his performance. "I never get comfortable during rehearsals. I believe that this show calls for an actor who is always making new choices and discoveries at the moment."

He hopes that the play will provide audiences a jumping off point for discussions. "Gun culture and gun violence are important issues right now, especially here in the US. After they watch it, I hope that 'Office Hour' will spark a conversation among our audiences."

He reiterates that the show tackles other issues as well. "This show is so much deeper than just gun culture. Themes like immigration, Western views on Asian males, us versus them, white fragility and privilege, and so much more.

"Julia Cho has written complex and beautiful poetry that at its core, it's about two human beings aching to connect."

He hopes that theatergoers will appreciate "how incredible it is to see two Asian actors on stage go through a spectrum of emotions and the power of representation and visibility that it holds."

"Office Hour" runs May 2-26, ArtsWest Playhouse and Gallery, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle. Visit Artswest.org

New musical captures Filipino immigrant experience in U.S.

By WALTER ANG
April 26, 2019
Inquirer.net
https://usa.inquirer.net/28294/new-musical-captures-filipino-immigrant-experience-in-u-s

NEW YORK  Composer and lyricist Paulo Tirol's musical "On This Side of the World" has characters that are selfless workers, young lovers, gossipy church ladies, aspiring actors and carefree millennials-all of whom are Filipino immigrants in the US.

Paulo Tirol is the composer and lyricist of "On This Side of the World." 

Without connecting dialogue between songs, each song is a self-contained vignette. The anthology is described as a "a mosaic of love and loss, humor and heartache, yearning and faith."

Filipino Americans in the cast include Albert Guerzon, Joanne Javien, Jaygee Macapugay, Diane Phelan and Michael Protacio.

Superfan

Tirol knows of where he creates. He himself moved from the Philippines to Boston in 2012 to study at Berklee College of Music. He then moved to New York to take up a master's in Musical Theatre Writing at New York University's (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts on a full tuition scholarship.

Cast of "On This Side of the World" rehearsing choreography.

As a musical director, his credits include "Reefer Madness," "Drowsy Chaperone" and "The Wedding Singer."

Tirol grew up listening to "my dad playing LPs and cassettes of Ella and Louis singing the songs of George and Ira Gershwin, 'West Side Story,' 'My Fair Lady,' 'Camelot' and pretty much everything by Rodgers and Hammerstein. I would also ask my parents to rent `Annie,' `The Sound of Music' and Disney movieson Betamax!over and over again."

"But it wasn't until the late '80s that I actually learned what a 'musical' is. I got the double-cassette of the cast recording of `Miss Saigon.' It was huge in the Philippines because of the many Filipinos in the cast and it was many Filipinos' entry point to musical theater.

"I was obsessed with how the music, with all its lushness and expressiveness, was in the service of character, moment, and storytelling."

Though Tirol could not play the piano or read music, he asked an aunt in the U.S. to send him sheet music for 'Miss Saigon.' Soon he acquired the sheet music for other musicals and taught himself to read them and play the piano.

He eventually wrote, composed and arranged music for groups and clients as well as scored films.

Development

"On This Side of the World" began as a project for his school work at NYU. Tasked to choose a community to create a song cycle on, Tirol chose Filipino immigrants.

"It's a community I'm part of and familiar with . also it was something unique to me, something only I could write," he says.

The community grew along the way. "When I started, the Filipino immigrant community I was a part of was comprised of grad students, medical professionals and artists.

"Over the years, my community has expanded dramatically. I lead music every Sunday for a predominantly Filipino parish in Jersey City, which includes Filipinos of all backgrounds, professions, ages, who speak different Filipino languages and come from all parts of the Philippines.

"My husband, a high school science teacher, has Filipino colleagues and lots of first-generation Filipino American students."

Mission   

"As my community of Filipino immigrants has expanded, so has the array of stories and characters that have gripped, intrigued and inspired me," says Tirol.

Cast rehearsing songs from "On This Side of the World."

"The Filipino immigrant story is one of courage, sacrifice, searching for identity, struggling to belong, and ultimately, redefining home."

For a long time, Tirol was reluctant to have his songs performed, assuming that "these were stories no one was really interested in hearing." 

"But my collaborator, director Noam Shapiro, who is not Filipino, believes in it so much and has pushed me to finish it and helped me present it."

A staged reading was held earlier this year to test the material's developments. "People's responses to it-Filipinos, Asians, non-Asians, immigrants, children of immigrants and people whose families have been here for generations, artists and non-artists alike-have convinced me that this is a piece worth sharing," says Tirol.

In addition, "the theater community has welcomed this piece with an excitement that I honestly didn't expect. Fil-Am actors are excited to share their own culture and heritage, to tell their communities' own stories, to play characters from their own lives."

"For the Filipino American community at large, my mission is to share the community's stories with pride, honesty and love. I'm happy to be telling it."

"On This Side of the World" runs May 2-12 at Access Theater, 380 Broadway, New York. Visit Onthissideoftheworld.com

Filipino American artists Kimberly Arteche and Wilfred Galila explore immigration, survival, adaptation

By WALTER ANG
April 23, 2019
Inquirer.net
https://usa.inquirer.net/28137/fil-am-artists-explore-immigration-survival-adaptation

SAN FRANCISCO  A group exhibition focusing on ways Filipinos have "coped, survived and adapted to diasporic life" will be presented by Kularts performing arts group this May.

Kimberly Arteche (left) and Wilfred Galila.

"PostColonial Survival Kit" will feature soil paintings, sculptures, installations and video/media art as well as scheduled panel discussions and performances.

Through the artists' works, the exhibition explores "challenges of racism, marginalization and the ways that colonization has affected interpersonal, familial and intra-communal relationships."

Filipino American artists joining the exhibition are Kimberley Arteche and Wilfred Galila.

Other included artists are Filipino Australian Caroline Garcia and Filipino artists Salima Agra-an, Marcelino Necosia Jr. and Rodelio Saway-all three of whom are Talaandig, an indigenous group in Bukidnon province.

Dreams and journeys

Kimberley Arteche's work for the exhibition, "Kulambo Dreams," is a soft sculpture installation using mosquito netting and Sto. Niño figurines. The work characterizes her "inherited intergenerational colonial dreams" and touches on her family's history.

Kimberly Arteche's sketch plans for her "Kulambo Dreams" installation.

Arteche works in photography, installation and performance. Recent credits include Kearny Street Workshop's APAture Festival and residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Growlery. She has shown at East Tennessee State University and at Wailoa Arts and Cultural Center in Hilo, Hawaii.

Kularts resident artist Wilfred Galila's work "Ang Paagi sang Panglakaton kag Pamaagi Pakadto sa Pakiguli sang Kaugalingon (The Way of Journey and Process Towards the Integration of Self)" is a multimedia installation with choreography and performance by Jonathan Mercado.

The work is his "exploration of an ongoing journey of decolonization and survival in a postcolonial world and the process of piecing together fragments of a Filipino identity."

Galila's recent video work for performances include "She, Who Can See" (and its film adaptation), "Incarcerated 6x9" and "In the Belly of the Eagle: Man@ng is Deity." His films have been screened at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

Garcia will present a digital video work featuring field recordings that have been turned into compositions by Fil-Am musician Josh Icban. Necosia Jr. and Agra-an will present soil paintings.

Performances

The exhibition will have an opening reception on May 3 featuring musical performances from the Talaandig artists.

In the "Komiks as Survival Kit" program on May 17, there will staged reading of Isugid Pinoy!, a comic book by illustrators Don Ellis Aguillo and Rafael Salazar. The performance will be done by Fil-Am theater group by Bindlestiff Studio.

In the "Hip Hop as Survival Kit" program on May 24, Joy Ng will moderate performances by Sammay Dizon and Rocky G.

Discussions

A panel discussion on May 11 will feature artists from the exhibition. This will be the fourth installment of what has become Kularts' series of panel discussions titled "Dialogue on Arts and Culture in the Pilipinx Diaspora."

Sculpture by Wilfred Galila. 

Focusing on "pressing issues and share successful models of impactful art-making," the series convenes Filipino American and international Filipino artists, funders and administrators.

This year's topics include Creative Survival Tactics; Folkloric/Indigenous Diasporic Expressions; and Intersection of Arts, Civic Engagement, and Funding.

That same day, there will be a Kamayan Kabaret in the evening. The traditional communal meal eaten without utensils will feature entertainment by comic Joe Cascasan and others.

There will be a closing reception on May 31.

"Postcolonial Survival Kit" runs May 3-31 at The Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market St., San Francisco. Visit Kularts-sf.org.

Filipino American George Salazar's bestie bathroom anthem now on Broadway

By WALTER ANG
April 9, 2019
Inquirer.net
https://usa.inquirer.net/27020/fil-ams-bestie-bathroom-anthem-now-on-broadway

NEW YORK  If you don't know who George Salazar is, it means you are not a teenager (or you are not a parent of one).

George Salazar (right) originated the role of Michael Mell
in the musical "Be More Chill."
Photo by Maria Baranova

He's a theater actor who currently plays a character who sings in a bathroom in a science fiction musical on Broadway.

The musical's title is "Be More Chill" and it's based on Ned Vizzini's 2004 young-adult novel about high school junior Jeremy who swallows a supercomputer (in pill form) that instructs him how to be cool.

Salazar plays Jeremy's best friend Michael Mell. A song that he sings in the showtitled, well, "Michael in the Bathroom"is what has made him very popular with the teenage demographic.

The pop-rock musical adaptation has music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and book by Joe Tracz.

Onstage, online

Salazar has been with the show since its first incarnation in 2015. After its world premiere by Two River Theater in New Jersey, a cast album was produced.

Filipino American theater actor George Salazar.
Photo by Billy Bustamante

With no advertising or promotions, by 2017, the album had been streamed over a 100 million times by teenage fans worldwide.

The fandom spawned fan art and fan fiction on Tumblr and Reddit as well as fan-animated (called "fanimatics"), fan-lip synced and fan-interpretations of the show's songs on YouTube.

The online fanbase's numbers and enthusiasm prompted the show's creators to produce an Off-Broadway run last year. It sold out with ticket-buyers from all 50 states and all five continents.

The successful turnout paved the way for the show's transfer to Broadway.

Resonate

Throughout the years, Salazar's embodiment of the Michael Mell character has resonated with fans, online and otherwise.

To wit: he now has more than 36,000 followers on Twitter and 150,000 followers on Instagram. A video of his rendition of "Michael in the Bathroom" posted (back in 2017) on YouTube has garnered 3 million views.

"It is a truly overwhelming feeling to know that the art that I created with friends in a theater in New Jersey back in 2015 has become this beacon of love, acceptance, visibility, and hope for so many young people," he says.

"I make it a point to look each of those young people in the eye after the show at the stage door because somewhere in the crowd is a person who has been told they're too weird. In the next few years, they'll better understand their full potential and grow up to be someone who makes an impact.

"It's an honor to be a part of something like this. And to feel their energy, excitement, and exuberance night after night."

Background and credits

Salazar's interest in acting began in high school because of a friend's prodding.

"During my junior year, I was a bit of a class clown. I would rewrite lyrics to pop songs to make my classmates laugh. Some were appropriate, most were not."

One of his songs caught the ear of his friend Donald Rupe. "He came up to me and asked me to audition for the school musical 'Little Shop of Horrors.' I went and was cast as Seymour. I never looked back from then." 

He went on to study musical theatre at University of Florida. His credits include "Here Lies Love" (a musical about Imelda Marcos), "Godspell," "tick, tick.BOOM!," "The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical."

Salazar was born in Orlando, Florida to a Filipino mother and Ecuadorian father.

"Growing up as a first generation American, I was being groomed to go into medicine. My dream was to be a neurosurgeon, but life has a funny way of throwing curveballs that make you reassess.

"I now know that I found my calling, my purpose as an entertainer and I am so grateful I did."

Representation, encouragement 

The awkwardness of high school may be a universal experience, but Salazar imbues Michael Mell with an added layer for theatergoers to relate to.

Salazar in a scene from "Be More Chill."
Photo by Maria Baranova

"In the novel by Ned Vizzini, Michael is a white kid with a red `fro," he explains. "I am so grateful to the creative team for taking such a risk by casting me.

"It feels like a tremendous responsibility, one that I cherish and care immensely about, to represent not just Asian and Latin heritage, but also represent what it means to be mixed race in America."

He recalls that growing up was a "tricky time" for him. "I didn't feel like I fully fit in with either sides of my heritage and I was also coming to the realization that I was gay." 

"I experienced an identity crisis that stunted me a bit, but I've learned to embrace my differences. These things make me unique, special and like no one else.

"And so it's become my mission to use this moment as a bit of a platform to encourage brown kids, gay kids, trans kids, kids who feel left out, who feel a little weird-to own their weirdness and trust themselves."

For parents, too

Salazar isn't just taking advantage of the show's popularity to encourage the youth, he's also welcoming parents to use it as a way to connect with their children.

Salazar (left, 2nd row from top) with cast and crew of "Here Lies Love."
Photo from Instagram

"One of the things I've loved the most ... is watching this show bring parents and their kids closer together," he says. "I've met hundreds of parents who talk about how the show has opened up a dialogue with their kids."

"Teenagers are, by nature, incredibly angsty and volatile. Hormonal changes make them crazy! But this show has become something that parents and their kids can enjoy together.

"This musical is not just for teenagers. We've all been there, we've all experienced the nightmare of high school; it's universally relatable. High school is hard. It was hard when I went through it and it's hard for young people now.

"It's so easy to feel like those years are the only thing that matters, but I like to think our show disproves that. And that it shows everyone that what's most important is staying true to themselves.

"Parents experiencing that with their kids, I think, can help strengthen that bond in a really beautiful way."

"Be More Chill" runs at Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th St., New York. Visit Bemorechillmusical.com.