Fil-Canadian family secrets and lies go on stage in 'Anak'

February 22, 2017

Isabel Kanaan (left) and Belinda Rona Corpuz
play daughter and mother in "Anak.
Photo by Bo Fajardo
TORONTO - Carlos Bulosan Theatre is staging "Anak," a play about a Filipino-Canadian family's hopes, dreams, secrets, and lies.

CBT artistic director Leon Aureus is directing. He describes the play as "a touching drama about a family facing unexpected challenges that uncover deep-seated resentment and tensions."

"Anak" is the Filipino gender-neutral word for "offspring/son/daughter." In the play, two sisters end up in different economic circumstances. One has a daughter who is facing a life detour and the other has a son with a secret that threatens to tear the family apart.

Written and to be performed by the CBT Collective, the group's resident pool of artists: Ann Paula Bautista, Belinda Corpuz, Isabel Kanaan, Richard Mojica, Alia Rasul, and Anthony Raymond Yu.

Personal stories

Anthony Raymond Yu (left) and Richard Mojica
play son and father.
Photo by Bo Fajardo
The play was crafted based on personal experiences of the actors who will perform the play.

CBT holds annual workshops as part of its artist development programming and this particular play has its roots in a workshop held two years ago.

"During our sessions, the participants shared stories of their own families and their lives growing up in the Philippines and in Canada," says Aureus, who guided the group into weaving their separate accounts into a cohesive whole.

When the workshop ended, the seeds for a new play and a new generation of the CBT Collective emerged. "They were committed to meeting regularly to workshop and develop this new play."


Leon Aureus directs.
Photo by Bo Fajardo
Their efforts resulted in a staged reading of the play last year. "It was incredibly received. The audiences connected instantly with characters that reminded them of their own family members or even themselves," he says.

"As soon as the reading was completed, people were already asking when the performance dates were for the full production."

Costume design is by Richard Mojica, set design by Jackie Chau, lighting design by John Cabanela, sound design by Belinda Corpuz, projection design by Kevin Feliciano.

Aureus says CBT is continually building an audience and community for Filipino-Canadian theater in Toronto, which is why this particular production will be staged in the Scarborough district, which has a large Filipino population.

"We're also offering a special sliding-scale pricing structure to encourage Filipinos who aren't typically used to going to theater to attend."

CBT has several projects lined up for the year though funding is a constant challenge. Support through volunteering (onstage, backstage or at their office) is always welcome as are tax-deductible donations or sponsorships.

"Anak" runs Mar. 3-12 at St. Paul's United Church, 200 McIntosh St., Scarborough, Ontario. Tickets: Details: or

READ previous coverage of Carlos Bulosan Theatre here.

'Forever' does not exist, only 'till death do us part'

Lhorvie Nuevo plays a woman whose lover tries to raise her from the dead in Tanghalang Pilipino's 'Eurydice'
February 18, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Marco Viaña and Lhorvie Nuevo
play Orfeo and Eurydice.
Photo by Jojo Mamangun
"I'm not really fond of rainy days. They bring an unexplainable gloomy atmosphere," says Lhorvie Nuevo.

"I don't like getting soaked in the rain and feeling cold. That's why I always make sure to bring an umbrella with me. Better be safe than sorry."

Rain and a sense of gloom are two of the hallmarks of "Eurydice," Sarah Ruhl's adaptation of the Greek myth of the nymph whose lover, Orpheus, attempts to bring her back from the dead.

Audiences will have to watch the play to find out whether Nuevo will get wet during the show.

Tanghalang Pilipino is staging Guelan Luarca's Filipino translation, with direction and set design by Loy Arcenas. Marco Viaña plays Orfeo.

Memory and lasting love
Lhorvie Nuevo
From Facebook
Nuevo, 23, a member of TP's Actors' Company, has been preparing for the role physically and mentally, grappling with concepts of memory and lasting love.

"For me, 'forever' (when it comes to love) does not exist, but I do believe in 'till death do us part,' which is more logical for me," she says.

"Because how can there be forever when there's also death? I believe that you become a new entity after death. You are no longer the person you were before.

Nuevo notes that Eurydice is described in the script as a young girl in her teens. "I started jogging to make sure that I lose the extra weight that I gained during the holidays. I also had to lessen my rice intake, which is totally hard!" she says, laughing. 

She has a bit of help digging into her character's psyche. "I've also been preparing rigorously with the help of director Loy Arcenas and the rest of the Actors' Company," she adds. "Everyone has been helping in building my role. I'm very fortunate because I'm surrounded by very supportive people."

She's thankful to guest actors Audie Gemora and Julienne Mendoza for giving her pointers. The two will alternate with TP artistic director Fernando Josef in the role of Eurydice's father.

College beginnings
Marco Viaña
From Facebook
Nuevo's objective is clear. "I have to make sure I understand her. That's the main challenge for me: how to make the role come alive on stage."

She actually had no inkling that she would be assigned the role. Fellow actor Jonathan Tadioan was even joking with her about it.

"When I was called to a meeting with the director, Jonathan teased me that I might get the role. As it turns out, he was right!"

As a child, Nuevo dreamed of performing with Ballet Philippines. During her college years at Cavite State University, she joined Student Artiste Society. "I was exposed to acting during my stay in the group and I enjoyed it immensely," she recalls.

She realized that she could pursue acting as a career and auditioned to get into TP. Since then, she's been in productions such as "Prinsipe Munti," "Mga Buhay na Apoy," "Melanie" and "Pangarap sa Isang Gabi ng Gitnang Tag-Araw."

Costume design by James Reyes, lighting design by Barbie Tan-Tiongco, sound design by Teresa Barrozo.

Tanghalang Pilipino's "Eurydice" runs until Mar. 5 at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, Cultural Center of the Philippines. Tickets: Details: link:


Fil-Am short film 'Mahal' wins Diamond Award, will screen at Belfast and NY

February 15, 2017

Jay Españo
CHICAGO - "Mahal," a short film written and directed by Jay Españo, has won the Diamond Award for Student Film Competition at the 2016 California Film Awards.

The film is "a bittersweet story of a retired musician's attempt to reconnect with his Alzheimer's disease-stricken wife Dorothy."

"This film is my baby and all throughout the process, I've been very protective of it, like a parent," says Españo.

"So much so that I don't feel comfortable having my baby/work judged. It felt good and I'm proud that it was recognized. It's a validation of not just my hard work but also of everyone who was involved in making this film."

At the heels of wining this award, "Mahal" has just been selected to screen at the 2017 Respect Human Rights Film Festival in Belfast in March and at the 2017 Blackbird Film Fest in Cortland, New York in April.

The cast features Filipino actresses Madeleine Nicolas as Dorothy and Olga Natividad as the daughter Carol. Score is by Manila-based composer Jesse Lucas.


Madeleine Nicolas
"Mahal" premiered at the Cayman International Film Festival last year and has been screened at film festivals in Los Angeles, Lyons (Colorado), Edinburg (Texas), Newark (New Jersey), among other states.

Internationally, it has screened in the Bahamas, Mexico, New Zealand and Puerto Rico.

"I just hope that with our exposure at these festivals, we can find a producer to help us make the full-length feature version of 'Mahal.'"

"Mahal" was produced last year for Españo's masters in film directing at Columbia College Chicago.

Españo is based in the Windy City and has acted for different theater groups in the region. He used to act with theater company Tanghalang Pilipino in Manila and did stints in Singapore, including a lead role in "Chang and Eng the Musical."

Affliction, affection

Olga Natividad
"'Mahal' wasn't my choice for my thesis film," says Españo. He'd originally wanted to write about his father's struggles and triumphs in coping with living in the US-though it's in the backburner for now. "I decided to reserve it for a feature film."

His screenplay was inspired by a classmate's anecdotes of his own family's experiences, specifically his grandparents, with Alzheimer's disease- a chronic condition where the brain degenerates, causing memory loss and disorientation, among other symptoms.

"Mahal" is a Filipino word that has multiple meanings, Españo points out. As a verb, it means "love."

He adds, "As a noun, it's a term of affection, akin to 'sweetheart' or 'love.' As an adjective, it means 'expensive.'" The last meaning of the word alludes to the costs of caring for an Alzheimer's patient.

Españo wanted to make the story more personal, so he incorporated Filipino characters into it.

"I wanted it to be a love story, albeit a bitter one at its core. 'Mahal' became my love letter to my mother who passed away in 2005. She was in Manila and I was studying in Singapore. Her death was such a surprise to me. Until now, I still wish I could've had the chance to tell her how I feel about her."

"This film is more than just my thesis. It's my way of honoring my mom, Estrella."

Españo found the process of making "Mahal" therapeutic. "As much as it helped me in exorcising the guilt I felt with my own loss, I hope the film becomes instrumental in having the audience examine their own relationships in their lives."


Aside from the two female leads and scorer, Españo had two other behind-the-scenes staff who are Filipino. "These women-one was an assistant director and the other was a lighting grip-both grew up in the US. We had a very diverse crew."

Actress Nicolas, who shuttles back and forth Manila and the US, observed that "there were a lot of women in our crew, something that would be unusual to see in the Philippines where you won't see women setting up lights and carrying equipment."

"On our last shoot day, we had Filipino food such as lumpia, pancit, adobo, etc., which none of the crew had ever had. The Filipinos on the set gave everyone a quick rundown of what was what. It was a fun day."

To screen "Mahal," contact +1-312-218-4258 or

READ about Olga Natividad's previous theater work in Los Angeles here.

Meet Rep's 'Agnes of God' and her 'two boyfriends'

19-year-old Rebecca Coates headlines the intriguing play of science vs faith, along with Pinky Amador and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo
February 10, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Rebecca Coates
From Facebook. Photo by Shutterheads.
Repertory Philippines' second production for its 50th anniversary is John Pielmeier's "Agnes of God."

A psychiatrist (played by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo) clashes with a mother superior (Pinky Amador) over novice nun Agnes--whether she gave birth by virgin conception or if she's mentally blocking the truth.

Rep first staged the play in 1983 with Pinky as Agnes and Rep co-founders Zeneida "Bibot" Amador as the mother superior and Baby Barredo as the psychiatrist.

This time, 19 year old Rebecca Coates has been cast as Agnes.

When she found out who she'd be acting with, "I came the closest thing there could be to a human explosion," said Coates. "I was so excited. But it's also very intimidating to work with your idols."

But, after meeting the two veteran actresses, Coates discovered that "their incredible talent and experience come with equal amounts of kindness. They're so accommodating and fun. I know I'll learn tons just being in the same room."

Pinky Amador and Zeneida Amador in 1983 staging.
Photo from Repertory Phils.

Shocking screams
Rebecca Coates as Agnes.
Photo from Repertory Phils.
Coates debuted professionally in Resorts World Manila's "The Sound of Music" and has been in Rep's "Alice in Wonderland," "Snow White" and "The Secret Garden."

Inquirer theater reviewer Vincen Yu praised her work as the alternate Dani in The Sandbox Collective's "Dani Girl" as "wondrous."

She shocked her mother when she auditioned for "Agnes." Coates had to send in an audition video as she was abroad at the time. "I chose the part where there's a lot of screaming and my mom rushed in freaking out!"

A freshman taking up Speech and Language Pathology at De La Salle Health Sciences Institute, Coates said her classes have helped her understand the mental health aspects of her character.

"I've written a paper dealing with the psychological factors. I needed a paper for a class, so I killed two birds with one stone."

"My path in college is all about research, research, research. As rehabilitation professionals, we're also required to observe the behavior of others to the point of understanding them fully. We're taught that it's important to be empathetic above anything else-a trait shared by actors."

Pinky Amador and Baby Barredo in 1983 staging.
Photo from Repertory Phils.

Two boyfriends
Pinky Amador, Rebecca Coates
and Menchu Lauchengo-Yulo.
Photo from Repertory Phils.
As for mining the character's faith, Coates needn't look too far. Her middle name is Faith, "which is a great reminder to always lift things up to God. 

"My faith keeps me up and running. I always say 'Jesus take the wheel' before I step on stage. It holds true offstage, throughout my life."

"Agnes is the deepest, most multilayered character I've yet encountered. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the incredible script. It's going to be a fun challenge landing on the truth of it all," she added.

Coates considers school and theater her "two boyfriends, always vying for my attention.

"One minute I'm applying makeup, performing and getting flowers. Next, I'm at an HIV seminar, or a truck of cadavers is blocking my way to class. I love the contrast. It keeps things really interesting."

Her extra time is spent with family and journaling. "It started when I was 12 as a way to pass the time but now I intend to continue for as long as possible. I'm not necessarily the best writer, but it's a great way to release and psychoanalyze myself."

And like any young adult, she also indulges in retail therapy. "I'm particular with the notebooks and pens I use but they don't have to be any particular brand. If you leave me at a bookstore long enough, I'll probably emerge with a handful of new things I definitely don't need! I love finding a good, smooth pen or notebook for cheap and I could talk about it all day."

Repertory Philippines' "Agnes of God" runs Feb. 17-March 12, Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1 Mall, Makati. Tickets: Details: link:


Fil-Am playwright stages work on WWII roundup of Japanese Americans

February 10, 2017

Jeffrey Lo
BERKELEY, California - Filipino American playwright and director Jeffrey Lo is busy these days.

He just finished directing a play. Another play he directed last year was just nominated for "Best Production" by San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He has also co-written a new play that's opening in a few weeks.

"I live in the South Bay Area and do most of my work along the peninsula. When I work in San Francisco, Berkeley or Oakland, there's a bit of driving, but I have good music and good podcasts to accompany me on the road," he says.

Lo is preparing to premiere a play he co-wrote with Adrienne Walters about the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II, when the US government summarily detained Japanese Americans in concentration camps on suspicion that they were supporters of imperial Japan.

"Beneath the Tall Tree" is about Tetsuo Fujikawa, who buries a family heirloom before being forced out of his Palo Alto home, and his granddaughter, Cass, who decides to unearth the item.

Lo became involved with this production last year when TheaterFirst artistic director Jon Tracy approached him with an idea for a play dealing with a Bay Area actress' family history with the internment camps.

"Although I'm not of Japanese American heritage, I've always felt a strong connection to this horrific tragedy and continue to be baffled by the how little the American people actually know about this event," he says.

"My pre-existing interest in the project and subject matter was magnified when I found out the local actress I would be collaborating with was my good friend Adrienne Walters."

This is Lo's first time to co-write a play. His recent play "Writing Fragments Home" was a finalist for the 2016 Bay Area Playwright's Conference and a semi-finalist for the 2016 O'Neill Playwright's Conference.

Lo found the process challenging since he's used to writing "being a very solitary act."

"When I'm writing by myself, in many ways, I only have to answer to myself. While working on 'Beneath the Tall Tree,' I had a partner who had more ownership of the project than I did. Being that this piece is loosely based on her family story, I wanted to work with great care to respect both Adrienne's vision for the project and the spirit that her family's history fills within the play."

The endeavor proved enlightening. "It was good for me. I learned new ways to communicate during the creative process."

Lo at rehearsals for "Uncle Vanya."
Prior to this production, Lo had just finished directing David Henry Hwang's "Yellow Face" for Los Altos Stage Company, a satire where a white actor is cast in an Asian role. Lo has said that Hwang's play explores "the messiness of race in America and the danger of approaching it with absolute rules."

A play he directed last year was recently nominated for Best Production by the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle: Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" with a new translation by Dave Sikula for The Pear Theatre in early 2016.

The 41st Annual Excellence in Theatre Awards for 2016 will be presented on March 27, 2017 at the Victoria Theatre.

"I try not to get too caught up in reviews and awards," he says. "It'd be a tough life for an artist to live and die by the recognition of others. But regardless of this, it's definitely nice to get the recognition. I'm humbled by it. I'm also proud that it was nominated for Best Production because that team, as a whole, put together a piece I was very proud of."

How does he slip in and out of his two roles as playwright and director? "I've been shifting between writing and directing from the very beginning of my theater career so it's become second nature to me," says this alumnus of the UC Irvine Drama Department.

"The writer part of my brain tends to inform my directing and vice versa. When I'm directing a play I always lead with the characters and the story. When I'm writing, I always have in the back of my mind how one can tangibly pull off what I'm writing. I can't turn it off - for better or for worse!"

"Beneath the Tall Tree" runs Feb. 27-Mar. 25 at Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA. Details: Visit

Read a previous interview with Jeffrey Lo here.

Heartache and 'kilig' in Bindlestiff Studio’s Feb. show

Feb. 1, 2017

Juan Berumen and Jonah Pavon
play boyfriends in
"IDWYT (I Don't Want You To)."
Photos by Paciano Triunfo
SAN FRANCISCO - Filipino American theater group Bindlestiff Studio will stage "The Love Edition" (TLE), a collection of original short plays about love, at its theater on 6th Street from Feb. 9 to 25.

The production will be mounted as a variety show mixing comedy and drama while aiming to capture the complexities of "love, heartache, and the weirdness in between."

Producers Melanie Elvena and Laura Priscilla Paule explain that this year's theme, "Time After Time," spotlights melodrama throughout the ages.

Both grew up watching the Filipino drama anthology "Maalaala Mo Kaya" with their grandmothers.
"It's a TV show that takes real-life stories and totally sensationalizes them," says Paule. "But they're so compelling and realize that life itself is also full of melodrama."

"Tales of the star-crossed and lovelorn have captivated generations of audiences across the world through soap operas, teleseryes, telenovelas and the like," says Elvena. "We're hoping that audiences will be just as captivated by the plays TLE will showcase, and reflect on their own experiences."

Manny Cabrera and Lauren Garcia
play best friends in "Love Is a Verb." 
Local Filipino American theater artists make up a majority of the acting and directing pool for the show.

Fil-Am playwrights wrote three out of the seven 10-minute plays chosen this year out of close to 200 submissions. (A call for submissions was announced late last year.)

"Love Is a Verb" by Marygrace Burns is about best friends Ika and Wesley lamting their respective ex-lovers, reminiscing about missed opportunities, and hoping for future love.

Marissa Martinez wrote "Be Your Own OTP." In the fanfiction world, a "One True Pairing" is one's favorite combination of fictional characters to pair together into the perfect couple. In the real world, for a fan like Kathy, it might mean something else entirely.

Conrad Panganiban wrote "Our Last Dance," a play about former lovers Harper and Noah in their first encounter since they broke up, with their new partners in-tow.

"Praying for Love" by Emmanuel Romero is about Mandy and Marty's realization of how much things will change after they get married.

The other plays are: "IDWYT (I Don't Want You To)" by George Smart; "The Cowboy and the Crow" by Alison Crane, and "The Beauty and Rodrigo" by Sonya Gray Redi.

Silly to cynical
Producers Melanie Elvena and Laura Paule.
Elvena and Paule have both been involved in previous installments of TLE, either backstage or onstage.

For this year's installment, Paule says, "We have a fantastic diversity of plays from silly ensemble comedies to cynical relationship dramas. We even have plays with a touch of magical realism. Each play will be differet from the last."

She adds that audiences will have their senses fully engaged. "The show will welcome them to the stage with a lovely visual installation created by Sarita Ocon that will float above the stage. There will be live music that will play through parts of the show.

Elvena says audiences can expect to have a charming and familiar experience, all the while "filled with that very emotional feeling of 'kilig.' "

As an additional prologue to the show, the lobby will feature an installation by artist Robin Birdd. "It recreates a moment in time when you're at grandma's house watching telenovelas. We invite audiences to experience how Birdd challenges the fictional aspects associated with soap opera culture," Elvena says.

READ about "The Love Edition 2016" here.

"The Love Edition 2017: Time After Time" runs Feb. 9-25, 2017 at Bindlestiff Studio, 185 6th St., cor. Howard St., San Francisco. Tickets: Details: or