Deedee Magno Hall and Isa Briones star in 'Next to Normal' in LA

April 27, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- Actors Deedee Magno-Hall and Isa Camille Briones will play mother and daughter, respectively, in East West Players' staging of the musical "Next to Normal."

Deedee Magno Hall (left) and Isa Briones

With music by Tom Kitt and libretto by Brian Yorkey, this Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning musical is about how Diana's mental health conditions affect her spouse Dan and daughter Natalie.

Magno-Hall takes the role of Diana and will act alongside her real-life husband Clifton (who is of partial Filipino descent), who plays Dan. Both just recently concluded the national tour of another Kitt-Yorkey musical, "If/Then," starring Idina Menzel.

Other Filipino Americans in the production include actors Anthea Neri (Diana understudy) and Randy Guiaya (Doctor Fine/Madden/Anesthesiologist); and musical director Marc Macalintal.

Runs in the family

Isa Briones is making her East West Players (EWP) debut with the role of Natalie. Her surname may sound familiar to theater aficionados. Her father, Jon Jon, is currently playing in a little musical on Broadway titled "Miss Saigon" as the Engineer.

Cast of "Next to Normal" at East West Players' 2017 Visionary Awards, 
from left (back row) Deedee Magno Hall, Clifton Hall, Isa Briones, Anthea Neri; 
(front row) Justin Yu, Scott Takeda, and Randy Guiaya.

He says, "I'm very proud of my daughter and have always been. She's a wonderful, insanely talented, kind-hearted person and I'm very excited that she's making her EWP debut. They do great work."

Jon Jon played Georges in EWP's "La Cage Aux Folles" last year opposite Gedde Watanabe as Albin.

"I know it's important to her that she connects with her Asian roots and be recognized in the Asian theater community," he adds.

Unfortunately, he won't be able to catch his daughter's show due to schedule conflicts. "But I'll be cheering her on, as well as my other friends in the show, from here in New York City. If it's extended there may be a possibility of my going."

Artistic journey

When she first found out about the auditions, Isa signed up right away even if she'd just previously played the same role for Pico Playhouse Theatre.

"It's my absolute favorite musical," she says.

While she was excited to land the role, Briones got even more "ecstatic when I realized that Deedee and Clifton would be playing Diana and Dan!"

Deedee Magno Hall (left) and Isa Briones 
wearing Alexis Monsanto gowns
at East West Players' 2017 Visionary Awards.

"I've known them since I was little, and I consider them my auntie and uncle so getting to work with them for the first time is a dream come true."

Briones, whose mother Megan and brother Teo are also actors, says it's surreal to work with her "auntie" for the first time.

"We've only just started rehearsals but so far it's been really amazing. We've been doing some intense work so far, really digging deep into the play itself and the characters."

"Diana and Natalie's relationship is so beautiful despite the pain and the hardships. It's really just about a daughter needing her mother.

"I can't wait to explore those basic yet powerful emotions with Deedee. She's such a talented and inspiring woman. Getting to play opposite her in such an emotional and intimate piece is going to be a great artistic journey."

Mental health

Magno-Hall, who played Nessarose in the first national tour of "Wicked" and currently voices Pearl in Cartoon Network's "Steven Universe," says, "We've only just begun rehearsals, but I've seen Isa play the part of Natalie and she's perfect!

"I've known Isa since she was about two years old, and I've watched her grow into an intelligent, talented and beautiful young woman, inside and out. I'm such a proud auntie, and I am thrilled to be playing her mother in this show!"

She's excited to play Diana. "I live for roles that are complex and far from (or close to) my reality. There is so much to play with and dive into as an actor. It's part of the love of playing pretend.

"Our wonderful director, Nancy Keystone, has provided us with plenty of research about the medical condition of Diana's character."

She's also done her own research, interviewing friends and family that have dealt with mental illness and memory loss.

"That has been helpful in trying to understand in some ways, but of course not completely, the severity of the disease. All I can do is try my best to use what I know and hopefully bring some truth to the character."

Any family

Both Magno-Hall and Briones point out the universality of the musical's characters and their circumstances. "It can be the story about any family, anywhere in the world, regardless of race," says Magno-Hall.

"I'm so happy that EWP exists, giving many actors and artists of color an opportunity to play roles they would not usually be considered for. I do hope the entertainment industry in general continues to take more chances with colorblind casting. My friend, Pearl Sun, an actor of Asian descent, played the role of Diana on the national tour, which I thought was pretty cool."

Briones says that EWP allows audiences to gain "a different perspective and understanding from an Asian American point of view."

"Talking about mental illness specifically in the Asian American community is extremely important, too, as it is not talked about enough on a social level and in the home. It is often prevalent in the Asian culture that such things be kept behind closed doors which may prevent people from getting the help they need."

Directed by Nancy Keystone, set design by Hana Sooyeon, lighting design by Karyn Lawrence, costume design by Lena Sands, sound design by Cricket Meyers. EWP's artistic director is Snehal Desai.

"Next to Normal," previews start May 12, runs May 17-June 11 at David Henry Hwang Theater, Union Center of the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles. Tickets and details at

Filipino-American film on love, loss and a dog makes it to Cannes

April 25, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- Filipino American Danny Bernardo's film "Jerky" has been selected to screen at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

"Jerky," played by Padfoot, a film written by Danny Bernardo.

Scheduled for screening on May 25 under the festival's Short Film Corner (Cannes Court Metrage), the film is one of 30 entries chosen out of more than 200 submissions for the Creative Minds program block.

Founded in 1946, the festival is held annually at the Palais des Festivals et des Congres. This year's festival is scheduled for May 17 to 28.

Bernardo wrote and stars in the film directed by Tim J. Lim. Cinematography and editing are also by Lim.

"Jerky" follows Gordon (Bernardo) as he struggles to pick up the pieces of his life after the death of his husband Martin (Edwin Martinez). The biggest obstacle for Gordon is Martin's dog Jerky, whom Gordon never wanted and is allergic to.

"It's a stark and intimate portrait of the grieving process. `Jerky' deals with love, loss, and those left behind," says Bernardo.

Love, loss and pets

Bernardo's own relationships and experiences inspired the film's premise. A few years earlier, he was grieving the deaths of several members of the Chicago theater community, where he'd worked as a theater artist (writer, director, actor) for many years.

JERKY - Official Trailer from Tim J. Lim on Vimeo.

"One of those was my good friend Matthew Gunnels. He'd been diagnosed with cancer years before and he'd adopted a dog named Beef.

"We were really devastated. In all of the things we were doing after we lost Matt, we took for granted what was happening to Beef and his own grieving process."

Bernardo says the film explores "the everyday 'mundane-ness' of what it's like when a loved one dies and the things that we have to do that aren't so romantic and glamorous."

It also explores the creatures or living beings that mourn the most-pets who can't talk. "What must they be going through? Grieving and unable to communicate it."

West Coast to Midwest and back

Bernardo was born in West Covina, California, to parents who left the Philippines with his older siblings to escape martial law.

Danny Bernardo (left). Tim J. Lim.

He recently relocated back to the West Coast, where he's currently artistic director of Grey Ensemble Theatre.

He's written plays such as "Mahal," "Tomas," and "F*ck My Life" and has acted or done production work for Chicago theater groups such as Goodman, About Face, Victory Gardens, Lifeline, Silk Road Rising, American Theater Company, and Porchlight Music Theatre (where he's Artistic Associate emeritus), among others.

Canine debut

Completing the cast are Dani Woodson and, making his film debut as the titular character, half German Shepherd and half Straffordshire Terrier, Padfoot.

Bernardo (left) and Edwin Martinez

"Padfoot is the sweetest dog who tries to hug and kiss every person he meets."

Padfoot's mother had belonged to a homeless man who bred her in an attempt to sell her puppies. "They were rescued by the amazing Dogzhaus Rescue. Padfoot was the last one to be adopted, and I'm thankful I saw his adoption page when I did. He and I have a very special relationship."

Bernardo had tried to find a dog trained for film work, but scheduling conflicts gave Padfoot a paw in the door. "It gave us pause at first because I'd only had him for a couple of months when we shot the film."

"I made sure that everything in the script that Jerky had to do was stuff that Padfoot could do on cue. In the end, the natural chemistry we have as dog and owner really shone through because Tim was able to capture and edit some amazing moments."

Labor of love

Shooting took three days in Bernardo's home in the Echo Park neighborhood in Los Angeles, with a budget of under $1,000.

Screencap from "Jerky." Gordon (played by Danny Bernardo)
with his husband Martin (played by Edwin Martinez). 

The film is produced by Bernardo's production company Twelve 3 Productions in association with Fluster Pictures.

Twelve 3 is committed to diversity and inclusion, he says. "The principal cast is made up of non-white actors of different backgrounds and the production team consists of primarily women and people of color."

"It was a labor of love for all of us," Bernardo says. "We hope that this film presents a time in life that many of us are sadly familiar with, in a way that is truthful, cathartic, and uplifting."

Bernardo and Lim have opened an online crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for their airfare to and accommodations at the festival.

"Because we aren't competing in the main festival, travel and accommodations won't be provided for us," he says.

If they can make it to the festival, the pair plan to take the opportunity to network with industry professionals there.

As for Beef back in Chicago, "He's doing very well! He's living happily with Matt's friend and roommate."


How seeing her mother Winnie get directed by Behn Cervantes in UP lured Tami Monsod into theater

April 22, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Tami Monsod is playing Vivian Bearing in Twin Bill Theater's ongoing production of Margaret Edson's "Wit," a play about a university professor's assessment of her relationships, or lack thereof, as she faces imminent death.

Tami Monsod
Photo by Cres Yulo

Previously adapted into a made-for-TV movie starring Emma Thompson, the one-act play won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999. Twin Bill's production is directed by Steven Conde, who also helmed "My Name is Asher Lev" and "Once Upon a Mattress" this year.

Similar to her character, Monsod also teaches (theater to high school students at International School Manila) and has a master's degree.

But unlike Vivian, Monsod fosters meaningful connections with other people. "In the past and present, I've had many beautiful relationships," she says.

Starved for stories

The lure of theater came from "wanting to see stories happen in real time," she says. "I love stories.

"As an adolescent, I was first drawn to 'story staging' while watching the eccentric Behn Cervantes direct my mother at the University of the Philippines."

Her mother is noted economist and Inquirer columnist Solita Monsod, also known by her TV nickname, Mareng Winnie.

But way before that, as a child, she'd refuse to eat dinner unless her maternal grandmother came up with a story on the spot. "Due to her improv skills, I didn't starve."

"I also learned from my father who used marvelous, merciless mimicry in his dinner jokes. He could tell a story about a cockroach and make it so tragic we'd cry."

Though she took an acting class in college after avoiding acting in high school, she went on to work as an Economics and Spanish teacher.

But theater kept inserting itself back into her life; she was recruited to direct theater artists Joonee Gamboa and Roy Alvarez ("I saw them take badly written text that they edited as they acted, massaging it this way and that, until the wonderful story underneath pulsed to life") and spent years of writing and staging shows for her parish church "as a hobby."

Stumbled into acting

Her teaching colleagues noticed her bent, and encouraged her to teach theater.

"Realizing I was in it for the long haul, I took a master's at UP for formal grounding," she says. "At UP, I saw a notice for auditions and stumbled into acting."

It wasn't easy in the beginning. She recalls rehearsing a Shakespeare play, and "our director, the brilliant Jonas Sebastian, was exasperated at my imprecise use of the iambic pentameter. I was slow at getting it. He said to me, in front of the cast, that a co-actor who was my former student was 'much better' at it than I was.

"I could hear my ego cracking in the ensuing quiet."

She resolved to work harder. "I learned very fast after that. When the play opened, Jonas singled me out in his Director's Notes in the souvenir program, praising me. I was floored.

"That relationship was an unforgettable lesson and an honor. He passed away recently. Now I wish I had praised him, too."

Monsod is a 2014 Philstage Gawad Buhay recipient for her work in Repertory Philippines' "August: Osage County."

And while she's acted for groups such as Dulaang UP, Actor's Actors Inc. and New Voice Company, teaching theater has always been constant.

"I've taught theater ever since. I've had many, many students I now count as dear friends. My students are my inspiration."

In "Wit," she is joined by Sheila Francisco ("Rabbit Hole," "August: Osage County"), Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante ("Fun Home"), Raymund Concepcion, Jillian Ita-as, Francis Matheu and Bibo Reyes.

Set design by Kayla Teodoro, lighting design by Joseph Matheu, sound design by Vince Lim. 

"Wit" runs until May 3 at Mandell Hall Auditorium, Trinity University of Asia, E. Rodriguez Sr. Ave., Quezon City. Tickets: Details: link:


Staged readings of play on immigrant Filipino boy and his wrestling fantasies in LA libraries

April 20, 2017

LOS ANGELES - A play about a young Filipino immigrant and his wrestling fantasies will have free staged readings in different Los Angeles libraries in May.

Victor Maog (left) and Randy Reyes from the 2016 world premiere
by Mu Performing Arts in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.

Victor Maog's "Tot: The Untold, Yet Spectacular Story of (a Filipino) Hulk Hogan" follows Tot as he leaves Martial Law-era Philippines and reunites with his parents in San Francisco after a decade of separation. He copes with loneliness in his new surroundings by imagining wrestling scenarios.

The play will be presented by theater group Artists at Play (AAP) at Los Angeles Public Library branches Mar Vista (May 8), West Los Angeles (May 13), and Malabar (May 18).

The staged-readings of "Tot" are part of the library's "LA Made" program, a cultural series featuring free music, dance, theater, and discussions with local entertainers at libraries throughout the city.

Director is Rodney To, who's worked with AAP on "Ching Chong Chinaman" (choreographer) and "Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them" (actor).

His recent directing credits include "Mutt: Let's All Talk About Race!" for East West Players and the "Pun Plip Pridays" series under "Kababayan Today with G Tongi" on cable channel LA18. TV acting credits include "Parks and Recreation," "Rosewood," "Wilfred" and the forthcoming "Redliners" on NBC.

Reuben Uy plays Tot. The rest of the cast includes Brendan Bradley, Ramon De Ocampo, Golda Inquito, Reuben Uy, Anne Yatco and Sandy Yu.

Deep emotion

In addition to Maog and To, AAP cofounding artistic leader Marie-Reine Velez and producer Nicholas Pilapil are also Filipino Americans. (Pilapil's play "Before and After" had a staged-reading at The Fountain Theatre in early April.)

From left, top: Brendan Bradley, Ramon De Ocampo, Golda Inquito.
Bottom: Reuben Uy, Anne Yatco and Sandy Yu. Far right: Rodney To.

Velez says, "I was struck by how the play's funny without being a parody, showcases deep emotion without being melodramatic, and all sprinkled with fun theatrical and meta-theatrical elements."

"I was delighted when I read the play because it gives us a fully human story of immigration through a child's perspective, a child who doesn't fully understand the reality of the 'American Dream,' as well as the circumstances and hardships of moving from one country and culture to another."

AAP has previously staged full productions or staged readings of works by Fil-Am playwrights such as A. Rey Pamatmat ("Edith Can Shoot ."), Michael Golamco ("Cowboy Versus Samurai"), Nathan Ramos ("As We Babble On"), and Boni Alvarez ("Marabella").


Maog says, "Stories that humanize immigrants and the complexity of the USA are more needed now the ever. Some of them need a new lease on life, whiles others are escaping certain death."

Cast at first table read.

Born in the Philippines and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Maog is currently artistic director of Second Generation (2g) Productions, an Asian American theater company in New York, and a show director for Walt Disney Company.

"Tot" was commissioned and had its world premiere last year by Mu Performing Arts, an Asian American theater group in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was directed by Mu's artistic director Randy Reyes (who also played the lead role).

Local reviews of that staging noted that the play's "themes ... resonate deeply as America's presidential election becomes a referendum on the demonization of immigrants" (City Pages); and that it is "emotionally striking" (Aisle Say Twin Cities) and "emotionally rewarding" (

"The world premiere in Minneapolis last year was an extraordinary opportunity. While it was a very positive experience, I've taken time to digest some of the audience reactions and feedback and will continue to fine-tune, clarify, and deepen this little-big play," Maog says.

"I'm always hesitant to jump back into the ring with the play because it takes so much out of me, but I'm wearing a helmet and other protective gear and hope no bones break."


Velez and fellow AAP co-founding artistic leader Julia Cho first met Maog at the 2014 Consortium of Asian American Theatres and Artists.

Artists at Play cofounding artistic leader
Marie-Reine Velez (left), and member Nicholas Pilapil

"We all immediately hit it off," Velez says. "We shared our experiences working in theater and the different challenges for Asian American theater in New York and Los Angeles."

Maog had informed Velez of his plans of refining his play. This spurred Velez to include the "Tot" in AAP's staged readings series, which includes play development and workshopping for playwrights.

"The readings offer us opportunities to work and collaborate with writers, directors, and actors in a more casual setting than our mainstage productions, and this setting felt like the right fit to have our first collaboration with Victor.

"We are very much looking forward to diving deep into this play and sharing it with audiences around Los Angeles," she says.

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Exhibition to launch first directory of Filipino-American artists

April 19, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC - A directory of Filipino-American visual artists will be launched on May 13 at Was Gallery with a month-long exhibition.

"Meta Mapa (Chicken Coop)," lightjet print by Yumi Roth.

The Fil/Am Artist Directory features 22 artists from across the United States and Canada and includes artwork, artist biographical information and interviews.

Artist Janna Añonuevo Langholz conceived the project in 2015. "I started the directory because I was surprised by the absence of Filipino artists in the art history canon and in contemporary art news," she says.

Janna Anoñuevo Langholz

She'd been taking a master's degree in photography at Southern Methodist University in Texas that year. "In graduate school, I had difficulty finding information about other Filipino and Fil-Am artists."

Langholz, whose mother hails from Laguna, also wanted to provide a way for Fil-Am artists to connect with each other. "As well as a resource for students, educators, and curators to find information about the diaspora of Filipino artists in the United States."

Promote and support

The directory is available in print and ebook editions and was completely funded from an online crowdfunding campaign that Langholz opened last year.

Proceeds from this edition will fund future issues and related exhibitions and activities.

Filipino American Artist Directory, 2017 issue

Langholz intends to "promote and support Fil/Am visual artists across the United States, especially those in underrepresented regions including the Midwest and South."

Born, raised and based in St. Louis, Missouri, Langholz received her bachelor in fine arts from Truman State University. Her recent exhibits include "Resistance" in San Francisco, "Into the Wilderness" in Portland, and "Burnt Rice" in Hilo, Hawaii.

"They Will Seek Peace," 
acrylic on canvas board by Ulysses Duterte.

In addition to Langholz herself, featured artists include Adrian Alarilla, Kimberley Acebo Arteche, Katrina Bella, Joella Cabalu, Isabel Cuenca, Rea Lynn de Guzman, Ulysses Duterte, Jana Ercilla, Alvin Pagdanganan Gregorio, Isabel Manalo, Matt Manalo, Cyril Maza, Lorna Maza, Maryrose Cobarrubias Mendoza, Ged Merino, Kim Miranda, Kimo Nelson, Carlo Ricafort, Yumi Janairo Roth, Jean Vengua, and Pamela Ybanez.

Meaningful exhibition

Langholz also set up to "serve as a living archive for the directory as it grows and changes on a day-to-day basis."

To craft the directory's content, she worked with artist/arts writer Isabel Manalo and poet/writer Eileen Tabios. "They're both fantastic, respected artists and writers, and have provided a lot of support for the project."

Isabel Manalo (left) and Eileen Tabios.

Both are still involved with the directory's related activities. Tabios is the editor of the website's written-works section while Manalo proposed the launch exhibition and is co-curating it with Langholz.

Titled "De(Centered)," the exhibition features works by most of the artists included in the directory. Three artists featured in the exhibition will be included in the next issue of the directory: Daniel Ballesteros, Maia Cruz Palileo and Melanie Gritzka del Villar.

"Still Life with Banana Catsup," 
oil on canvas over panel by Maia Cruz Palileo.

"The title comes from the idea of redefining 'center' when many of us immigrated from or still have strong ties to the Philippines. The artists included in the exhibition are located throughout the United States, on both coasts and in the Midwest. I think these artists all show a connection to both the Philippines and the US in their work and the attempt to remain centered in both places."

The location of the exhibition is also part of its context. "As the US capital, Washington, DC is undoubtedly a meaningful and charged place to host an event.

"Our history as Filipino Americans is often forgotten, and bringing our work to the center of US government will be a reminder of our presence and relationship with this country," says Langholz.

"Fil/Am Artist Directory" book launch is 6pm, May 13. "De(Centered)" exhibition runs May 13-June 16. Both at Was Gallery, Westwood Center II, 5110 Ridgefield Rd., Bethesda, Maryland. Visit

Filipino food and mythological creatures in Toronto kids’ play ‘Kaldero’

April 13, 2017

TORONTO, Ontario -- "Kaldero," a unique children's play will go on tour starting April 26 and throughout May to celebrate Asian Heritage Month.

Isabel Kanaan (left) and Richard Mojica in "Kaldero."

Staged by Carlos Bulosan Theatre, "It's a fun, fast moving show that celebrates the richness of Filipino culture through music, dance and shadow play. It's relatable and accessible to everyone!" says the group's artistic director Leon Aureus.

This play was specifically developed for young audiences "to celebrate culture and family, to encourage youth to honor their roots and to find their inner strength."

Land of Mahiwaga

In the play, Caleb refuses to eat Filipino food because he's afraid the kids at school will make fun of him.

His hunger triggers a magic kaldero (cooking pot) to pull him into the mysterious land of Mahiwaga, home of fantastic creatures like the trickster tree ogre Kapre and its band of duwende (elf goblins).

Caleb's sister Cassandra and their grandmother search for him, facing the flying sea serpent Bakunawa and other hurdles.

Written and directed by Aureus, the production features music using Filipino instruments such as kulintang (knobbed gongs) and uses shadow projections designed by Paul Limgenco, Aaron Ong and Joy San.

Isabel Kanaan and Richard Mojica play Cassandra and Caleb, respectively. Belinda Rona Corpuz and Alia Rasul round out the cast.

Aversion to affection

Similar to his character, Mojica grew up avoiding certain Filipino dishes. "The list is almost endless: okra; pusit adobo (squid adobo); papaitan (beef offal and bile soup)," he says.

"All foods that were iffy to me as a child but now are very much a part of my diet. The one that comes to mind the most would be dinuguan (pork blood stew), which is now my favorite to eat and cook."

Having been born and raised in Toronto's Thornhill suburb, Mojica didn't have much access to Filipino mythology growing up. But working on this play has given him a newfound appreciation for it.

"I love it. For me, as a storyteller, there is universality to our myths. Creation stories, horrible monsters and the playful pranks of tricksters are motifs that repeat across cultures and centuries."

Mythic monsters

Born and raised in Manila, Kanaan was scared of the Filipino monster tiyanak when she was a child. "The juxtaposition of having an innocent baby and it being an evil demon terrifies me," she says.

Now, Kanaan loves how Filipino supernatural characters are being introduced to Canadian audiences by the play.

"I think the supernatural is trending nowadays, so it's good to show people that it's not all just vampires and werewolves, but also creatures from different cultures.

"I think this allows the characters to be more three dimensional and even relatable at times," she says.

Laughter, pride

The play runs approximately 45 minutes and usually includes a talk-back session after the show. CBT can also provide a study guide to support further learning.

The play premiered last year to appreciative audiences. Mojica notes that children "respond instantly because they understand the elements of the story on a subconscious level. It's rewarding and fun."

Kanaan adds, "It's great hearing them laugh and relate to specifically Filipino references in the play like adobo.

"After the show, we'd hear children speak in Tagalog and they'd teach the words to their classmates. The play gives them a sense of Filipino pride and that's one of CBT's goals.

"No matter where we are in the world, we should be proud of who we are and where we came from. I'm glad this play inspires children to embrace who they are and show off their roots," she says.

Shows are scheduled for Holy Spirit School (April 26), St. Isaac Jogues Catholic School (April 27), St. Antoine Daniel Separate School (May 12), Dante Alighieri Academy-Beatrice Campus (May 13), St. Rene Goupil Separate School (May 15) and St. Maria Goretti Catholic School (May 16).

The production is available for touring and can be booked for schools and other special events.

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READ about Carlos Bulosan Theatre's other works here.

UP College of Music’s 'Putri Anak' reimagines the 'komedya'

April 8, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

University of the Philippines College of Music is staging "Putri Anak," a new komedya about a celestial maiden who, while attempting to reunite with her sisters, helps two arrogant warriors battle the sun-eating sea serpent Bakunawa.

Ela Lisondra (right) plays Putri Anak.

The production is part of the college's centennial celebration dubbed "Sandaang Taon ng Himig at Tinig: Pagpupugay ng UP Kolehiyo ng Musika," and is coproduced by the UP Center for International Studies.

Directed by Jina Umali, the play has a libretto by Enrique Villasis and Christian "Juan Ekis" Vallez.

The story is based on the Celestial/Sky/Star Maiden tales found across Asia and the Philippines, where the main maiden's wings are hidden from her by a man. Variations include Luzon's Gaygayoma, Kamdali/Kadmali and Taraw versions; the Visayas' Makaya version; and Mindanao's Maiden of the Buhong Sky, Putli Intan (Princess Diamond), and Putri Anak (Princess Child).

Playing Putri Anak is Ela Lisondra, who was in the 2014-2016 West End revival of "Miss Saigon" and 9 Works Theatrical's "A Christmas Carol" and "American Idiot."

Alex Dagalea plays Rajah Sulaymon, Jude Servilla plays Sultan Magnaye, and the UP Dance Company rounds out the cast. (Servilla is Eat Bulaga's Birit Baby 2009 Grand Champion.)

Evolving the komedya

The music is by Verne dela Peña, chair of the college's musicology department. Academic and artistic exploration spurred the college's decision to produce this new komedya, partly to explore ways of evolving the genre.

Alex Dagalea (left) as Rajah Sulaymon and Jude Servilla as Magnaye.

Komedya, derived from the Spanish word comedia (drama), is commonly known as moro-moro from its use by Spanish colonizers as an evangelizing tool, where Christians were portrayed overcoming villainized Muslim Moors (moro).

This adaptation uses indigenous lore for its setting, omits the religious bigotry and  "celebrates Asian culture, heritage and artistic expression."

Some elements of the "classic" komedya are retained such as the sing-song delivery (diccio or dicho) of lines written in verse, and the story having romance and battle dances (batalya).

One innovation is the inclusion of singing, with music direction by Mary Katherine Trangco. "It's absent in the traditional form. We're also blending Southeast Asian theater practices, dances and musical styles," says Dela Peña.

The fight choreography by Jeremy dela Cruz incorporates arnis, sagayan (Maguindanao and Maranao war dance), pencak silat-a martial art common to Southeast Asia-and Javanese court dance.

Hybrid music

Dela Peña builds on the komedya's European-Asian hybridity. "The music is grounded on this hybrid nature but shifts the weight more toward the Southeast Asian sound.

"The music borrows heavily from Maguindanao and Kalinga rhythms layered under Southeast
Asian modal tonalities and framed in punctuative and cyclic structures typical in the region."

"My goal is to approach a pan-Southeast Asian popular, folk singing and melodic style."

To this end, he has assembled a gong and drum ensemble typical of Southeast Asian practice, such as Indonesia's gamelan, Brunei's gulingtangan, Thailand's piphat, etc. Music will be performed by UP Tugtugang Musika Asyatika.

"However, I've retained traces of the traditional komedya brass band sonority by including woodwinds (flute, clarinet, saxophone) and military drums (snare and bass drum). I've also added a bandurria (plucked lute) to reference lowland folk traditions." Music will be performed by UP Tugtugang Musika Asyatika.

Completing the ensemble is a chorus of celestial maidens led by the seer Kadunong. "The use of the chorus as the celestials and the conductor as diviner may be seen as a statement on the spiritual role of music in society," says Dela Peña.

"Putri Anak" has choreography by Angela Baguilat and Jeremy dela Cruz, set design by Mark Legaspi, costume design by Darwin Desoacido and lighting design by Shax Siasoco.

"Putri Anak" runs 3 p.m., and 8 p.m., April 9, Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, Cultural Center of the Philippines. Tickets: Details: link:


'Ulam (Main Dish)' film on Filipino-American chefs to screen at LA Times Food Bowl

April 8, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- "Ulam (Main Dish)," a documentary featuring Filipino American chefs and restaurateurs by filmmaker Alexandra Cuerdo, will have its first preview screening on May 20 at Million Dollar Theatre.

The screening is part of the Los Angeles Times' Food Bowl, a month-long food festival "celebrating LA's dynamic and influential food scene while promoting awareness about food waste and hunger."

The documentary follows the rise of the Filipino food movement via the chefs crossing over to the center of the American table, said Cuerdo in a statement.

The film includes interviews with Los Angeles' Alvin Cailan (Egglsut, Unit 120, Amboy); spouses Johneric Concordia and Christine Araquel-Concordia (The Park's Finest); Andre Guerrero (The Oinkster, Maximiliano, The Little Bear, Ramen Room); Charles Olalia (Rice Bar); siblings Chase and Chad Valencia (Lasa); New York's Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad (Maharlika, Jeepney); and spouses Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa (Purple Yam).

They discuss their personal stories of getting into cooking, opening their own restaurants and the historical and current contexts of Filipino cuisine in the United States.

"All these chefs are incredible," says Cuerdo, who was born and raised in Orange County, California. "I'm their number one, biggest fan. It's been such a pleasure to tell their stories and taste their food-which is absolutely amazing.

"I wish I'd been able to go to restaurants like theirs growing up, which didn't exist when I was a kid. I'm excited that a new generation of kids will be able to eat at these places," Cuerdo adds.

Army of two

Cuerdo wrote and directed the documentary while John Floresca handled cinematography. Both served as producers as well.

Alexandra Cuerdo

"We are an army of two," she says. "From the beginning to the end, this has been an entirely independent project. The crew is often just us two.

"In the documentary world and the indie world, you're often faced with situations that challenge you to be more creative. You can't ever just throw money at the problem, because you don't have any money! You have to think smarter.

"That said, we've had help from dozens of talented filmmakers who've donated equipment, time, love and energy."

Runs in the family

Cuerdo grew up with film and Filipino cuisine in her veins.

"I would watch my mom, my lola and my ninang cook. All these incredible, strong women in my life made incredible, strong food."

Poster for documentary film "Ulam (Main Dish)"

So it's no surprise when Cuerdo confesses to an obsession with cooking, which she does every day. "I like making Filipino food, American food, California food. It's really relaxing for me to cook. It's a small creative act. For me, it's better than therapy."

Her father, Rey, is "a huge film buff. He used to watch movies growing up on a pineapple farm in the Philippines with the kids of American G.I.s. I continued that tradition and watched a lot of movies growing up."

Rey Cuerdo is the third producer of "Ulam." He'd worked as a film studio executive and began film producing in the early 2000s. His most recent film credit is Ramona Diaz's documentary "Motherland," about Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, a maternity hospital in Manila. Other credits include "Small Voices," "Crying Ladies" and "Zombadings."

"Ulam" was sparked by conversations between daughter and father. "He and his friend Paul Puzon had been meaning to do a Filipino food documentary but, for various reasons, it never got off the ground.

Do it

The idea stuck with her. "I've always wanted to tell stories that reflect my identity, and being Filipino American is a huge part of that."

A love for food, film, storytelling and her Filipino American identity: the ingredients for her documentary were just waiting to for her to get cooking.

"Get off your ass and do it!" were the marching orders from one of her film school heroes, Fil-Am cinematographer Matty Libatique ("Iron Man," "Iron Man 2," "Black Swan").

While working on a project together, Libatique asked if she'd ever had Filipino food in New York. Cuerdo, who took up film at UCLA, said no but mentioned she'd been interested in documenting Filipino food.

"He said, 'Well, then go!' I met with John Floresca to pitch the idea. That's where it started, in a Filipino restaurant in New York."

Favorite ulam

The ulam that Cuerdo remembers fondly from her childhood-in no particular order, she stresses-includes her grandmother's kare-kare (stewed meat with peanut sauce).

"I'd use my spoon and fork to make perfect little bites. I'd put eggplant at the bottom, then nestle string beans and rice into a little pile on the spoon with a dab of bagoong (fermented shrimp paste).

"My mom would accuse me of playing with my food. And I was! But it was because I wanted to make it last longer."

Another favorite is Mom's sinigang (soured soup). "She prefers salmon in it now, because it's healthier."

"My ninang Ama makes the best desserts and pastries. I've always wanted to learn to make pan de sal (bread rolls) with her."

"Every Christmas we have lechon (roasted whole pig). Then, for months after, we'd have lechon paksiw (sour-stewed leftover lechon), which I love even if my whole family would get sick of it."

The premiere of "Ulam" is presented by Amboy restaurant and Grand Central Market. The screening includes a panel discussion with Cuerdo and chefs from the film. Filipino food pop-ups (one-time dining events) will follow at Grand Central Market.

"Ulam" preview screening on May 20 at Million Dollar Theatre, 307 S Broadway, Los Angeles. Trailer and tickets for the preview screening at

Parangal Dance to perform in SF, Hawaii, Italy

April 4, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco-based Parangal Dance Company will perform in San Francisco, Hawaii and Italy this year, the Filipino folk dance group announced.

Scene from "Pahampangon."
Photo by William Lee

In April it will perform in Hawaii during the Merrie Monarch Festival at the Edith Kanaka'ole Tennis Stadium (April 19). It will then have performances at Hilo Daijingu Hall (April 20) and at Kalani Resort (April 22).

In addition to performing its current repertoire of dance pieces, the group will premiere several new works.

"Binanog," a courtship dance featuring choreography that mimics the movements of the Philippine eagle, and "Pahampangon," a healing ritual, are from the Panay Bukidnon people from the Visayas region in the Philippines.

The new works will be performed again in June at the annual San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival; final dates and venues will be announced later in the year.

Then it's off to Italy from July 25 to Aug. 7, where the group will dance repertoire favorites at the Latium World Folkloric Festival.

Parangal is Tagalog for "tribute," and the group pays tribute to Filipino dance heritage by helping to preserve and promote it.

Founding artistic director Eric Solano says, "Our mission is to create global awareness of the indigenous practices of ethnic groups in different parts of the Philippine archipelago."

Direct from the masters

The company's ethos is to research and learn their choreography directly from masters or experts from different ethnic groups across different regions in the Philippines.

Eric Solano (right) and dancers
from Parangal Dance Company
during field research with Caballero family.

For the new Panay Bukidnon pieces, Solano and nine of his dancers traveled to the Philippines last year to learn the choreography from the Caballero family, whose members include Rosita, a binukot or women who master their people's traditions such as oral poetry, music, embroidery, etc.

"It's important to immerse and learn from them. Not many traditions and dances from Panay are showcased in many, if not most, dance groups. We need to learn, preserve and educate."

Plight of lumad

At the group's Hawaii performances, Solano will premiere a new piece, "Padayon," which he choreographed and was spurred by the ongoing problems faced by several indigenous groups in Mindanao.

Scene from "Binanog."
Photo by William Lee

"It's to showcase the plight of indigenous peoples in Mindanao, also known as lumad, such as the Ata Manobo, the Talaingod, the Mandaya.

"They have been displaced due to harassment, ancestral domain claims and attacks or killings of their leaders and elders due to resistance to environmental plunder."

"Padayon" will be performed again in San Francisco in June.


Parangal's current repertoire includes choreography and pieces from the Gaddang (also spelled Ga'dang) and Kalinga groups in Luzon; the Tagbanua in Palawan; and the Maguindanao, Maranao, Subanen, T'boli, Talaandig, Tausug (also spelled Ta'u Sug) and Yakan from Mindanao.

Parangal Dance Company.
Photo by William Lee

The dancers' different attires are likewise made by the ethnic groups and acquired by Parangal as part of its support for the communities it learns from.

While the full company numbers around 50 dancers, a more streamlined contingent will be traveling to the performances abroad.

Touring with the dancers are dance director Ritchel Tan and dance masters Marlon Dumlao, Rachel Perey and Major Julian, who also doubles as music director.

The group usually performs to chants, songs and music made by instruments indigenous to the Southeast Asian region such as kulintang (horizontally laid knobbed gongs), gandingan and agong (hanging gongs), sarunay and gangsa (metal xylophones), and tongatong (percussion bamboo poles).

For details on upcoming shows or on how to book the group for performances, visit or