This Marikina café serves up Buffalo wings, Yakult smoothies -- and theater productions

May 27, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

One drunken night, Jay Crisostomo IV shouted that he would build a café-cum-gallery-cum-theater.

He'd been working with several theater groups but faced high venue rental fees.

Jay Crisostomo IV, founding artistic director
of Ikarus Theatre Collaborative

"We wanted to perform, to share, to give what we learned. But it wasn't always so easy. The solution was daunting, yet simple. Build your own space," he says.

Crisostomo wanted "a space for artists, both new and old, experienced and learning, known and unknown."

The morning after, his girlfriend put him to task. "After three months, and the support of family and friends, Dito: Bahay ng Sining Café and Art Space opened."

At the second floor of a building along Molina Street in Marikina, the 40-seater café (50 if you count the al fresco seats) and 100-seater theater has hosted painting sessions, art bazaars and performances since then.


"I used to do everything from mopping the floors, to cooking, to groceries, to directing, marketing, casting, etc."

The café's been able to sustain itself, and Crisostomo has help these days.

Dito Bahay ng Sining Cafe

"It's not always easy to please the young art crowd but our Yakult smoothie and Buffalo wings seem to get the job done. Now I just handle the theater, events, promotions and the groceries sometimes."

When he was in grade school, Crisostomo's parents enrolled him and his sister in the summer performing workshops of Triumphant Peoples Evangelistic Theater Society (Trumpets).

Dito Bahay ng Sining Cafe's Buffalo wings and Yakult smoothie.

"My sister went to jazz and singing. I'm bereft of a single correct tone and cursed with two left feet, so I opted for the theater workshops because I didn't need to sing or dance well. Everyone could act, express. It was so democratic and I fell in love with it."

He went on to join Ateneo High School's Teatro Baguntao under Ron Capinding and Ateneo de Manila University's Tanghalang Ateneo. "That's where I met my mentor Ricky Abad. I shifted from Biology to a double major in Creative Writing and Directing."


Aside from directing occasionally for Tanghalang Ateneo and other groups like Theater House of Black, Crisostomo's been churning out new plays and directing them for his own group, Ikarus Theatre Collaborative, housed in Dito, of course.

Cast of "No Exit." Gry Gimena (Garcin), Paolo Dumalo (Valet),
Amihan Ruiz (Inez) and Moreen Guese (Estelle).

This year, Ikarus is scheduled to stage Jean-Paul Sartre's "No Exit" in June, Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" in August and a new work, "Bastion" by Crisostomo in November.

Three people forced to suffer each other's company for eternity; two tramps waiting in vain for someone; people overcome by famine: the season paints a bleak landscape, but it's intentional," says Crisostomo.

"The choosing of the plays is at the mercy of my biases as a reader. My favorite playwright is Beckett, my college thesis was one of his plays, 'Endgame.' I'm in love with existential theater.

"We need to face the void, the impossible, especially in these absurd times when anyone can be shot just because someone calls him a drug dealer.

"That's what the Theatre of the Absurd is for me. The facing of the void. The facing of something insurmountable. Although I won't do something too political with the plays this year, I want to hint at the fact that small things can fight the unbeatable, and, sometimes, somehow win."

"No Exit" runs June 23-July 1 at Dito: Bahay ng Sining Café and Art Space. Visit link:


Hortense Gerardo’s play in Boston, dance film in NY

May 24, 2017

BOSTON  Filipino American playwright Hortense Gerardo's new play "Virtuous Reality" will be staged in June at Boston Playwrights' Theatre.

Hortense Gerardo
Photo by Tom Epperson

In this short play, chat room friends Rhett and Scarlett finally meet in 3D and discover a brave, new, unmediated world. Jay Pension directs.

Gerardo also choreographed and dances in the film "Infinite Corridor," which will screen at New Dance Alliance's Performance Mix Festival in New York, also in June.

"Virtuous Reality" is part of the 45th Playwrights' Platform Festival of New Plays, where eight other plays will be staged. Playwrights' Platform is Boston's longest-running playwright-run cooperative focused on developing new works.

Gerardo has previously written a one-act play "On the Fabric of the Human Body" and short plays "The Engagement," "For the Love of Egon" and "Kith and Tell."

Her short play "Death in Venice Beach," about a May-December affair of an older woman and younger man, was staged during last year's festival.

Immigrant family

Earlier in April, a staged reading of Gerardo's work-in-progress full-length play "The Token Fallopians of Middleton Heights" was held, also at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre.

The play is a dark comedy that follows Meena and her Filipino family as they assimilate in a fictional suburb in Ohio.

The play had started out as a creative non-fiction memoir about Gerardo's childhood in Midwest suburbia.

Currently a professor of anthropology and performing arts at Lasell College, Gerardo was born in Nashville, Tennessee and raised in Cleveland to physician parents.

"It traces parallel events in the Philippines and in the US from the '70s to the present, refracted through the lens of the Asian American immigrant experience."


Gerardo appreciates the role that staged-readings fill in the process of developing a play. "I received useful, constructive feedback. It was great to hear the audience's response during the reading.

Staged reading of "The Token Fallopians of Middleton Heights" held in April 2017.

"They laughed at parts that were intentionally comedic, and were attentive at parts that were intentionally dramatic. That kind of feedback is gold for anyone writing for the stage, because you can feel on a visceral level whether or not you've hit your marks."

The play will be developed further. "While there are currently no set plans for a full production, the play is perhaps more relevant today than ever before because of the political climate."


"Infinite Corridor" is a meditation on the motions of walking on two feet, tracking its evolution from great apes to fashion models, and concluding with robots.

"The film was shot along an infamously long hallway at Massachusetts Institute of Technology from which the film derives its title. The creation of biomimetic robots began their peregrinations in close proximity to the walls of the Infinite Corridor."

Gerardo's dance training includes modern dance, African dance, flamenco training and butoh.
"Being an anthropologist informs my work as a writer and as a movement artist, and vice-versa."

45th Playwrights' Platform Festival of New Plays runs June 1-3 at Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. Visit

"Infinite Corridor" screens on June 11 at University Settlement House, 184 Eldridge St., New York. Visit


Bindlestiff’s new artistic director known for 'heart and talent'

May 17, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO  Aureen Almario had always considered herself a visual artist, until she took a workshop with Bindlestiff Studio and saw the possibilities of doing theater work.

Aureen Almario.
Photo by Robert Saguitan

Nearly two decades later, she has been appointed the new artistic director of the Filipino American theater company.

"Witnessing amazing artists and a creative community that looked like me completely changed my life," she says.

"For most of my life, performance art was something I would not have dared to do. But the Bindlestiff space and the people in it were inspiring and that empowered me to try it."


Almario has been a resident artist at Bindlestiff for more than a decade. Her acting credits for the group include productions of "A Pinoy Midsummer," an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream," A. Rey Pamatmat's "Thunder Above, Deeps Below;" and staged readings of "Monstress," adapted from a short story by Lysley Tenorio, and Jeannie Barroga's "Aurora."

She first heard about Bindlestiff Studio in college when her friend was part of a poetry reading that was staged there. After watching several of the studio's shows, she attended Stories High, its annual theater workshops.

"It's our page-to-stage program where we provide affordable theater workshops in the spring and summer,"Almario explains. It culminates with a show in the fall, showcasing the results of the participants' efforts.

Almario joined the writing and acting workshops, which resulted in her writing a play, "Forever and Ever" and encountering a dilemma.

They couldn't find an actress to perform the mother character. What's a girl to do? Recruit her own mom, of course.


Born in Davao and raised there and later on in Zamboanga and Manila ("My father was in the Philippine Army and my family moved around a lot."), Almario was ten years old when she moved to the United States, where her family settled in Hayward.

Almario knew that her mother, Rosita, had done a bit of acting in her youth, even doing a short stint with the Manila-based theater group, Philippine Educational Theater Association.

"She'd always tell us the story of how she received a full scholarship for theater arts at University of the Philippines in Davao; but she didn't accept it because her parents wanted her to be a doctor."

Mom auditioned and was cast; daughter debuted as a playwright.

Full of heart

Almario went on to co-found the all-women-of-color sketch comedy troupe Granny Cart Gangstas, where all members are alumni of Bindlestiff's different workshops. She also currently teaches Asian American studies at Laney College.

She has picked up lessons from these workshops that still influence the way she works today.
"From doing multiple productions, I learned the value of communication, organization and preparation."

"I became more accountable and committed to see things to the very end. Once I commit to something, I really approach it with serious intention."

Bindlestiff's board of directors agrees with her self-assessment. Outgoing artistic director Lorna Velasco says of their selection, "Aureen is a force, full of heart and talent, hardworking and bold. The 'Stiff is in capable hands. So proud of you, Aureen!"


In addition to programming Bindlestiff's productions, supporting fund development and overseeing youth programming, Almario plans to highlight the group's pool of writers/playwrights.

"They are talented. Our mainstage production this year in October will be Conrad Panganiban's play 'Welga.'"

"He's one of our homegrown artists. He started out attending the Stories High playwriting workshops and later on got a master's degree in playwriting."

She adds, "I strongly believe in our Stories High programming and we definitely want to continue with our progress this year."

Bindlestiff Studio's Stories High theater workshops this year includes writing (to be facilitated by Christina Ying), acting (Melvign Badiola and Jed Parsario) and directing (Li-Leng Au).

It will run from May 28 to July 9. The culminating showcase will be from Aug. 24 to Sept. 9.

READ previous coverage of Bindlestiff Studio here.

To apply to the Stories High workshops, email Visit or

'Macbeth' and a prelude to it, in a new Artist Playground venue

May 13, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

If you build it, they will come. Or in this case, it will expand.

Roeder Camañag and his cohorts established performing and arts group Artist Playground two years ago, providing Quezon City with at least one new professional theater group in addition to Philippine Educational Theater Association and Sipat Lawin Ensemble (not counting the campus theater groups).

Mailes Kanapi (left) and Catherine Co alternate as Lady Macbeth.
Photo by Jaynus Olaivar

They claimed the 30-seater 1701 The Little Room Upstairs off of Timog Avenue as their home theater and focused on one-act plays. Critics and theatergoers have praised their dexterity in staging productions within The Little Room's limited confines.

The group is now busy preparing to open a new, and bigger, playground. Taking over the penthouse of the West Venue Building along West Avenue, their additional theater has been christened Artist Playground II.

"We can now stage full-length productions with an intermission because now we have a lobby at AP II," says Camañag with a laugh.

Back to back

Debuting at this 120-seater venue is "M Episode," a twin bill of "Prelude to Macbeth," James Chalmer's imagined prequel to Shakespeare's "Macbeth," and a shortened version of the Bard's tale of how the Macbeth couple kills their way to the top.

Directing is Camañag who'd always wanted to stage both plays back to back within a single day. But he realized that having a matinee of "Prelude," then a two-hour gap before a full evening show of "Macbeth," might be too much for theatergoers.

"So that it's not too overwhelming, we came up with 'M Episode.' The 'Star Wars' movies inspired the title of our production. We wanted to make it sound like an event."

"Prelude" will run its complete 40 minutes while "Macbeth" will be cut down to a little more than an hour.


The famous speeches will be retained, of course, but other portions of the original five-act play will be reconfigured into movement to be choreographed by Myra Beltran.

"We're not leaving 1701 The Little Room Upstairs because it presents its own set of challenges," says Camañag. The company's offices are also in the same building.

"However, AP II excites us. We can explore doing bigger productions and there's more space to play with."

In addition to allowing actors to move around more, it has enough space to house a gallery for AP's visual arts division.

"However, we will retain AP's personality. Just like our first venue, this one will also be an alternative space where you wouldn't think there's a theater and gallery here."

Testing the waters

The group staged a run of "Prelude" earlier this year. "We were testing the waters with heightened language," he says.

Beyond stretching their acting muscles, Camañag says one of the reasons he's fascinated by the story of the homicidal Macbeth couple is because he finds it very relevant to current times.

"The same dynamics and greed that lead to the destruction of the Macbeths are seen in many of our current leaders--how they pursue their ambitions at the expense of the people and country."

Paul Jake Paule plays Macbeth, along with Lora Matunan and Mariella Laurel as Young Lady Macbeth, Mailes Kanapi and Catherine Go as Lady Macbeth, and Mitoy Sta. Ana and Andre Tiangco as Duncan.

Banaue Miclat-Janssen serves as speech and voice consultant, with music is by Jesse Lucas, set and costume design by Reynoso Mercado and lighting design by Anthony Salvador.

READ previous coverage of Artist Playground here

"M Episode" runs June 16 to July 1 at Artist Playground II, 4/F West Venue Bldg., West Ave., Quezon City. Call 09759193179 or visit link:


Filipino-American playwright Han Ong returns to SF with new play

May 10, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO  Filipino American playwright and MacArthur genius grant awardee Han Ong's new play "Grandeur" imagines a meeting between an ambitious young journalist and the late music artist Gilbert "Gil" Scott-Heron.

Han Ong (left). Carl Lumbly.

Ong's play on the soul and jazz poet, spoken-word artist and musician who explored blues and rap will premiere at Magic Theatre here in June.

The theater group's statement says the play's exploration of "questions of legacy, art, hope, and redemption drives this funny and gut-wrenching exchange."

Playing Scott-Heron is actor Carl Lumbly, known to TV viewers as Marcus Dixon on ABC's "Alias" and the voice of Martian Manhunter on the animated series "Justice League."

Magic's artistic director Loretta Greco helms the production. "'Grandeur' is a stunning and powerful ride; both wickedly funny and poignant in its social relevance, we are honored to be premiering it," she says.

"Han has doggedly trailed and lovingly reassembled another artist of color's rise and fall in order to evoke perspective on some of life's larger questions and to leave a more intricate and complicated tale which asks us to reconsider what constitutes a man's worth."

Ong's playwriting earned him the MacArthur Fellowship in 1997. The grant is awarded to individuals who've shown "extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction."

Ong made his professional debut at Magic Theatre in 1992 with "Reasons to Live."

"It's exciting, nervous-making," Ong says of his reunion with the Magic Theatre group. "In their season brochure, they called my production a 'homecoming' and that feels right."

Ong says that, like nearly all his plays, he wrote this one "on spec."

"Meaning I wrote it because I wanted to write it, not because there was an assured production at the tail end of the process."

He says something about Scott-Heron touched him deeply. "I believe he's become a forgotten man, despite his wizardry and his mastery as both writer and musician."

Page to stage

Scott-Heron had consumed years of Ong's thoughts. "I'd been thinking about him a lot in the year just before he died. This was because, as in my play `Grandeur,' he released a new album."

The song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," recorded in the 1970s, shot Scott-Heron into the spotlight. His "I'm New Here" was released in 2010.

"It was his first album in 16 years, which begged the question: where was he all these years?"

The singer died in 2011. "He passed away too young at 61. But then again, that body and that mind had a lot of mileage, including from drug addiction. [His death] made him a fixture in my thoughts and imagination."

Ong wrote the play in 2014 and the following year, playwright and novelist Jessica Hagedorn, whom Ong considers a great friend, asked to read it.

"She loved it so much she decided to pass it on to Loretta Greco, and Loretta, in turn, loved it. I think within one year, she had committed to producing it at the Magic."

Magic Theatre staged Jessica Hagedorn's "Dogeaters" last year and is slated to stage her "The Gangster of Love" in 2018. Both plays are adapted from her novels with the same titles.


Ong was born in the Philippines and moved to the US in his teens. He has written plays such as "Swoony Planet," "Airport Music" and "Play of Father and Junior."

His play "Middle Finger" was staged in Manila with a Filipino translation by theater group Tanghalang Ateneo in 2014.

He has also written novels Fixer Chao, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year, and The Disinherited.

In 2014, his first play in more than a decade, "Chairs and a Long Table," was staged by Ma-Yi Theater in New York.

"That was my first production after a long voluntary lay-off from the theater. I believe I was gone somewhere between 12 to 15 years."

Theatergoers who follow Ong's output may have more to look forward to. "With 'Grandeur' at the Magic, it feels like I'm 'back,' that it's not just a one-off deal," he says.

"Grandeur" set and video design by Hana Kim, costume design by Alex Jaeger, lighting design by Raymond Oppenheimer, sound design by Sara Huddleston.

There will be a salon with Ong and Greco after the June 4 matinee show.

READ about Magic Theatre's staging of "Dogeaters" here.

"Grandeur" previews start May 31, opens June 7 at Magic Theatre, 3rd floor, Bldg. D, Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, 2 Marina Blvd., San Franciso. Visit

George de Jesus’ 'Kung Paano Maghiwalay'–the play Aiza used to propose to Liza Diño–is back

May 6, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Playwright George de Jesus asks: "Where does love go when a relationship ends? Does it go away? Why does it linger? Can it be completely forgotten?"

Andrei Vegas and Andrea Tatad

He tackles the answers in his play "Kung Paano Maghiwalay," a collection of vignettes about disintegrating relationships, which will be staged by Egg Theater Company from May to June.

Almost a decade ago, he was discussing with friends the movie "Closer," specifically the scene where one character (played by Natalie Portman) can be seen falling out of love with her lover (played by Jude Law).

"That inspired me to write this play, drawing from the experiences of some of my closest friends' own break up stories," he says.

Hope and heartache

"KPM was first staged before the concept of 'hugot' became a full-blown trend in both plays and movies," he laughs.

The play debuted as a staged reading in the 2008 Virgin Labfest, followed by a limited run and several productions by college theater groups.

Hope and heartache seems to resonate well with theatergoers. Despite the limited showings over the past few years, the play has gained a following.

"It surprises me when I get to meet young people, students who are familiar with the play even to the point of knowing certain lines that affected them-very 'hugot,'" says De Jesus.

Inquirer Lifestyle's Theater Section editor Gibbs Cadiz gave it an honorable mention for best play (full-length) in his 2009 year-end round up.

Love and marriage

And, get this, in spite of the play's premise, it was actually used as a ploy for singer Aiza Seguerra to propose to actress/dancer Liza Diño in 2014.

"We staged that one-night show specifically for the proposal," he says. Seguerra had reached out to De Jesus asking if he had any plays where the surprise could be revealed.

"I suggested KPM and adjusted some scenes so that it ends with the proposal. Liza didn't have a clue the entire time. We claimed it was a 'fund-raiser' production just so that Liza would think it's a legit production."

Universal topic

"The play dramatizes the quest in finding and defining love, a universal topic placed within the context of the Filipino psyche."

De Jesus is striving to "develop new theater pieces that are reflective of the life of the contemporary Filipinos and the universal values and truth that affect their lives." In other words, plays that touch on the everyday concerns of the Filipino everyman (and woman), all while trying not to be preachy.

"We're bringing it back because I think it still resonates with a lot of people."

"Kung Paano Maghiwalay's" cast includes Renante Bustamante, Rachelle Gimpes, Mara Marasigan, Victor Medina, Juliene Mendoza, Stella Cañete-Mendoza, Sheena Ramos, Paul Jake Paule, Gabs Santos, Sarina Sasaki, Lian Silverio, Andrea Tatad, Floyd Tena, Affy Varona, Andrei Vegas and Teetin Villanueva.

Directed by De Jesus, it runs May 19-June 4 at Pineapple Lab, Makati City. Tickets: 09178040762. Details: link:


Playwright Lani Montreal's 'Nanay' in Chicago's 'Night of the Living Moms' fest

May 4, 2017

CHICAGO  Playwright Lani Montreal is curating a festival of stories about motherhood titled "Night of the Living Moms," a pun on the zombie-horror movie "Night of the Living Dead."

From left, Lani Montreal, Carlos Lopez, Heather Jencks
and Silvita Diaz, depicting the EDSA People Power revolution.
Photos by Giau Minh Truong.

"Parenting, joyful as it is, can be an exhausting, and at times, a zombifying enterprise," she says.

"It's going to be a garland of narratives told through poetry, dance and performance about what it's like to be a mother. It's vital for these stories to be told now and new creative work to be developed that validates our experiences as mothers."

Included in the festival is Montreal's new play "Nanay" (Filipino word for "mother"), about a young Filipina coming to terms with her mother's secret identity as a manananggal (a supernatural creature, usually disguised as a woman, that sprouts wings and flies off from the waist up and can reconnect with its lower torso).

"The play is set during the last few years of the Marcos dictatorship, transitioning into the Cory Aquino administration," she says.

New play

Montreal was still living in Manila during those years, writing for the Sunday Inquirer Magazine since it was conceived in 1986 until when she left for abroad.

Silvita Diaz and Alexa Bermudez as mother and daughter.

Montreal stayed in Toronto for a few years where she wrote her first major play, "My Grandmother and I," while working for a non-profit advocacy group.

"During the '90s, the Filipino Canadian community had the highest incidence of HIV and AIDS among immigrant communities. We decided to do a play to raise awareness among Pinoys, and also to create a safe and caring environment for the LGBTQ community."

Supernatural elements and matrilineal themes were already aspects that she worked with even back then. The plot of "My Grandmother and I" features a deceased AIDS patient who summons the spiritual guidance of his grandmother.

Runs in the family

"I imported my mother, Mely Tagasa, from Manila to play the lead. It was quite a successful production in that it brought people together to work towards a common goal."Tagasa is known to generations of Filipinos as the teacher Miss Tapia in the seminal TV sitcom "Iskul Bukol."

"My mother lulled me to sleep with the sound of her typewriter keys clickety-clacking in the night. She wrote scripts for radio soaps before getting into television acting.

"Later on, my sister, Gina Marissa Tagasa, followed in her footsteps and became an award-winning scriptwriter for radio, TV, and movies."

'Multispecies' family

Now based in Chicago, Montreal still writes scripts for the stage while teaching composition and creative writing full-time at Malcolm X College.

Lani Montreal (right) and her family 
(from left) Cameron, Luis, Alexa.

Her recent plays include "Sister Outlaw" and "Looking for Darna" (both staged by Filipino American theater group Circa Pintig) "Dead Dolls" and "Panther in the Sky," which had a staged reading last year.

Montreal is a mother herself and describes her own relations as a "multicultural, multispecies family."

"I am the adoptive mother of two wonderful kids, a 14-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl," she proudly says. "I am Pinay, my husband is Latino, my son is half-white, and my daughter is black! We also have a cat and a dog."

Montreal and her husband adopted their children through the foster care system. "It took six years before we could legally adopt them. It was painstaking, but it was worth it. We are still learning to be a family every day."

"Night of the Living Moms" is, on a personal level, for her daughter. "I want her to see the importance of forging her own identity amid society's unrealistic expectations and finding support for whatever her career path may be.

"On a political level, I believe these stories will create a more nuanced archetype of the nurturing, self-sacrificing mother, as well as to challenge communities to find ways to support mothers who are creating art and discourse in provocative ways."

READ previous coverage on Circa Pintig Theater Company here.

"Night of the Living Moms" runs May 18-27 at Free Street Theater, 1419 N. Blackhawk St., Chicago. Visit