Art Theatre Manila debuts with 'Mahabharata' excerpt-adaptation 'Sakuntala'

Sept. 23, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Joey Ting wants to stage Asian stories for Filipino theatergoers through his new theater group Art Theatre Manila (ATM).

"I want to share what Asian theater can do to change perspectives on global issues like religion, politics, race, gender, ethnicity and art," he says. "A lot of these issues are tackled in the classic texts and, yet, are still relevant in our current times."

"Sakuntala at ang Singsing ng Kapalaran,"
Art Theatre Manila's inaugural production

As founding artistic director, he intends for the group to make classical Asian theater stories accessible using the "vocabularies and symbols of this generation."

"Art Theatre Manila wants to offer a Filipino sensibility in interpreting different Asian plays," he says.

Love and justice

The group's inaugural production is "Sakuntala at ang Singsing ng Kapalaran," a Filipino adaptation by Alan Palileo from the Shakuntala episode of the Sanskrit epic "Mahabharata," using various sources such as Kalidasa's play "On Recognizing Shakuntala."

The play deals with Sakuntala (who will eventually give birth to Emperor Bharata), the man who falls in love with her, and an ill-tempered sage who gets in their way. Matel Patayon and Alex Reyes alternate as the title character.

ATM's staging will set the action in the Philippines in the 2030s, after nuclear weapons have caused a global plague. "Sakuntala is part of a surviving tribe where spirituality is at the center of their core," Ting says.

The material is close to Ting's heart as one of the topics of his research work for both his college and master's degrees in theater at the University of the Philippines.

"I'm amazed at how this material is so applicable to the contemporary world. The play is about love and justice, issues that should be thoroughly discussed in our present times."


Ting speaks fondly of his time at UP learning from such mentors as Tony Mabesa, Alex Cortez and Ami Bonifacio-Ramolete.

Theater director Joey Ting.

And just as how he was inspired and guided by his teachers, Ting has become one himself. While also working in TV and film, he's been teaching theater in colleges, most recently at UP Los BaƱos, and directing students in various productions. Last year, he mounted "Coro de los Diablos," an adaptation of "Lord of the Flies," at UPLB.

"I really try to reach students who're very enthusiastic to be in the realm of theater arts and the performing arts," he says. He's also a regular go-to director for student theses productions of UP's theater majors.

In fact, the stimulus to establish his own theater group came from his students.

"Many of my anak-anakans in the theater, current students and graduates, have been constantly encouraging me to put up my own professional theater company."

Ting's zodiac sign is Taurus, and he's channeled the bull's traits of patience, perseverance and preparation to the task of launching his own company.

"My reinforcements have come in the form of theater artists who've agreed to help me build my vision. And now, Art Theatre Manila is opening its first production."

Also on the drawing board are planned stagings of "Ramayana" from India, "The Injustice Done to Ngo Tou" from China and, from Japan, a stage adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's film "Dreams."

A production of Aurelio Tolentino's "Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas" is also in the pipeline. "Yes, after all, Philippine theater is part of Asian theater! We also plan on tweaking western texts with Asian interpretations."

"Sakuntala" runs Sept. 27-Oct. 21 at Studio 72, Kalayaan Ave., Quezon City. Visit link:


Play inspired by labor leader Larry Itliong to premiere in SF

Sept. 22, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

SAN FRANCISCO  A Filipino American teenager living in San Francisco who'd rather play music than go to school is inspired by a union leader to fight for his mother's rights and their home.

Adisorn Wannajirov (left) and Lorenz Gonzales are part of the cast of "Welga."
Photo by Rob Suguitan.

This is the theme of Conrad Panganiban's 90-minute play "Welga," Tagalog for "Strike," which will be premiered by Bindlestiff Studio in October, to be directed by its artistic director Aureen Almario.

The labor organizer featured in the play is Larry Itliong, who immigrated in 1929, one of many Filipinos that did so from the 1920-30s, to work in salmon canneries in Alaska and in farms in Washington, Oregon and California.

History-haters may remain calm. The play is set in the present, to give theatergoers a current connection to this particular slice of the past.

Panganiban had always wanted to write a play about the manongs. "Manong" is an Ilocano honorific for men, somewhat similar to "uncle," used as an affectionate umbrella term for the Filipino immigrant laborers.

Discovering the manongs

"Through Ethnic Studies classes taken at Sacramento State in the early '90s, I knew about the manongs through having to read the novel America is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan," he says.

Itliong initiated the 1965 Grape Strike in Delano, California after an earlier successful one in Coachella Valley. Though accounts of the incident have usually focused on union leader Cesar Chavez and the Mexican laborers' side of the story, Itliong was responsible for convincing the Mexicans to join the strike instead of replacing the slots vacated by the Filipino workers.

Panganiban discovered Itliong's story through the Destination Delano project, which had sessions taught by Itliong's son Johnny. "When I found out about Manong Larry and his contributions, I knew I had to do something to remember him."

Community theater

Born in Monterey, California, Panganiban was inspired to become a playwright after hearing the audience's reaction to a script he wrote for the Pilipino Culture Night program of the Filipino Club of California State University at Sacramento in 1995.

Playwright Conrad Panganiban has a new play about
Fil-Am union leader Larry Itliong.
Photo by Rick Garcia.

"The show was called 'Hangga't Kaya Ko'ng Pangarap' and was set in a palengke in the Philippines. The approach was very teleserye with different character stories. There were serious and comedic moments throughout the play, but when I first heard an audience laugh at something I wrote, I was hooked!"

He was a business major at the time. "Like many Fil-Ams in college campuses, a Pilipino Culture Night is the closest we come to being in theater," he notes.

Fortunately, Panganiban found out about a group in Sacramento that could help him nurture his newfound interest. Sinag-tala Filipino Theater and Performing Arts Association, a Fil-Am community organization founded by Sonny Alforque, offered him a chance to write and perform on stage.

"From there, I found out about Bindlestiff Studio in San Francisco that offered playwrighting workshops for their annual program Stories High."

Panganiban went on to write his first short plays with Bindlestiff and seeing them produced on stage fueled what had become a hobby into seriously being considered as a career. In fact, he event went on to complete a master's degree in Creative Writing with a focus on playwriting at San Francisco State University.

"I can honestly say that without Sinag-tala and Bindlestiff Studio, I wouldn't be where I'm at today with wanting to write about events from Filipino American history and topics that affect the Fil-Am community like domestic violence," he says.

Panganiban's works have been staged in San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto, Melbourne, Scotland, and even in a staged reading in Manila.

Connection to the present

He's been working on "Welga" for several years now. "It originally started as a one-person show written for my master's. The play grew as I felt the play needed to also include a reason for the younger generation to appreciate and know about Itliong and other agricultural workers who helped shape labor rights in America."

"I was over the moon when Bindlestiff's managing director Oliver Saria and artistic director Aureen Almario contacted me with the opportunity to produce this play at Bindlestiff Studio," he says.

Adjustments that he's made include resetting the play's location, originally in a generic San Francisco neighborhood, to the South of Market district, which was recently named the Filipino heritage cultural district.

"By doing so, the play now feels grounded as a tribute to not only to our Manongs, but also to the vital people, history and resource of this Golden Gate City."

Cast includes Marissa Ampon, Doy Charnsupharindr, Lorenz Gonzales, Nikki Nutterfield, Aaron Orpilla, Ely Orquiza, Krystle Piamonte, Ava Tolentino, and Adisorn Wannaviroj.

"Welga" runs Oct. 6-21 at Bindlestiff Studio, 185 6th St., cor. Howard St., San Francisco. Tickets available at Visit


Abaca, ‘banig’ and other Pinoy visual elements in ‘Janus Silang’ book 2

Sept. 16, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Earlier this year, excitement greeted Tanghalang Ateneo's (TA) staging of Edgar Samar's young adult series, "Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon."

Scene from the first "Janus Silang" play.
Photo by Waldo Katigbak

The story revolves around teenager Janus Silang and his encounters with supernatural creatures as he tries to solve the mystery of why players of an online game have all died simultaneously-except him.

Fans will be happy to know that the group will open its 2017-2018 season with a staging of the series' second book, "Si Janus Silang at ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang."

Cast in featured roles are Jenny Jamora of Red Turnip Theater, and Carlo Vergara, graphic novelist and playwright of musicals such as "Zsazsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal" and "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady." Vergara returns to the stage for the first time since acting for Monique Wilson's New Voice Company in the 1990s in productions such as "Angels in America."

Adaptation is again by Guelan Luarca, and direction by Charles Yee. Gwyn Guanzon returns to design the set.

Building on the first work

The instruction from TA's artistic director Glenn Mas was that this production should build on its previous work and introduce new visual elements.

Set designer Gwyn Guanzon

Guanzon, whose set design for the first play was inspired by circuit boards-a nod to Janus' online gaming milieu-said dissecting the book and inspiration from his travels helped him design the sequel's look.

"Our director Charles Yee showed me photos of caves, especially ones with hexagon pillars," says Guanzon. "It was just months after I had traveled to a place in southern Iceland where you could actually see these hexagons by the beach. We are Filipinizing and adding texture to the main visual elements by adding abaca and banig."

He adds: "The main setting of the second Janus book is a mansion. Visually, the main takeoff is the amulet/USB pendant that Janus wears. Its shape is very Art Deco. From there, the set design's motifs were formed."

When working on design projects, Guanzon says that research is important, "especially for the details of the design. History plays a major role on the silhouette and consistency of such details. Unless you are creating another world, research on period styles is essential. But even if it is another world, a takeoff from these period styles is still helpful."

Design career

Guanzon began his design career decorating the set for Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas' "Merry Wives of Manila."

Carlo Vergara (left) and Jenny Jamora.
Photo by Waldo Katigbak

Training under Ogie Juliano as a student at University of the Philippines, Guanzon recalls: "I was his assistant in costume design when he asked me if I really wanted to pursue design. I said yes; he told me to go back to school."

He adds that "at the time, there were no Production Design courses being offered in the country. Studying abroad was not an option since I could not afford it."

So he went to study at the Philippine School of Interior Design, and from there built his body of work.

His recent credits include set and costume design for TA's "Rites of Passage" and Sugid Productions' "Buwan at Baril sa E Flat Major," and costumes for the Philippine Educational Theater Association's "A Game of Trolls."

"Si Janus Silang at ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang" runs Sept. 20-Oct. 21, Tuesday to Saturday, Ateneo Black Box Theater, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City. Visit link:


Expect glamour, social awareness, hilarity at Seattle's Mr. and Ms. Gay Filipino '17

Sept. 13, 2017

SEATTLE   The winner of 2017 Mister and Miss Gay Filipino pageant will receive a crown, cash and the honor of being the Filipino Community of Seattle's LGBT Ambassador.

Filipino American drag diva Aleksa Manila hosts this year's
Mister and Miss Gay Filipino pageant in Seattle.

Organized by Filipino Community of Seattle (FCS) and Pride ASIA, the event will be hosted by Filipino American drag queens Aleksa Manila and Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse. It will be held on October 15 at the Filipino Community Center here.

"Gay Filipino pageants have been produced in varying years," explains Manila. "Also, there have been different iterations of the pageant's title over the years, including `Miss Fil-Am' and `Miss Gay FCS.'"

Social and political

"This pageant came about because FCS board member Lou Vargas wanted to revive the rich relationship of the LGBTQ communities and the Filipino Community of Seattle," says Manila.

"Historically, gay pageants have always been more than just opportunities for drag queens and transfolk to parade in gowns and crowns.

"In addition to being a great event for LGBTQ folks to celebrate our colorful community, pageants have always been a social and political movement that reminds mainstream folks about the diversity of gender, and the existence gender-variant folks."

Drugs and drag

A drug counselor by day and drag diva by night, when Manila is not in "face" (in his drag persona), he educates the community through the Seattle Counseling Service where he's currently Program Coordinator and Addictions Services Program Supervisor. He's also worked as an HIV and STD counselor.

Filipino American drag crooner Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse
will join Aleksa Manila in hosting duties.

Born in Manila and raised in San Fernando, Pampanga, Manila attended St. Scholastica's Academy and Assumption High School. "Both institutions are exclusive all-girls schools in Manila but are co-ed in Pampanga. So, yes, I am technically a `Kulasa' and `Assumptionista!'"

"When in drag, I prefer `she/her' pronouns. But out-of-drag, `s/he' pronouns since I present more gender variant and identify genderqueer," says Manila.

Community service

Manila moved to the US when he was 20 and debuted his drag persona in 1998. Since then Aleksa Manila has gone on to win several pageants and titles.

For her, glamour and glitter have always gone hand in hand with community service and leadership. Manila has served as an Honorable Commissioner under the Seattle Commission for Sexual Minorities, working with the City of Seattle's Office of Civil Rights where she advises on LGBTQI equal rights.

Manila has also founded with FCS the Lola Maharlika LGBT Youth College Book Fund. "Lola Maharlika is also known as `Lola Maria, Empress VII of Tacoma.' The fund is in honor of her outstanding achievements as an openly gay Filipino in the community," she says.


This pageant is another opportunity for her to work with and help nurture ties in the Fil-Am community in Seattle.

"Registrations are coming along and we've very excited to see what the amazing contestants have to offer!" she says.

The pageant's categories will include Cultural Fantasy (National Costume), Tropical Realness (Swim Wear), Talent Competition (lip sync, etc.), Evening Eleganza (Formal Wear), and Spokesmodel Q&A (Impromptu Question).

"We will also be graced by reigning titleholders and phenomenal performers from the Pacific Northwest like Miss UTOPIA, Miss Gay Seattle, Miss Neighbors, Nubian Pride Prince and Princess, Emperor and Empress of Seattle, and so on."

"And of course, hilarity and banter between myself and Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse as your pageant hosts. We're your true Filipina amigas so there might be tsismis (gossip) or two!"

Mister and Miss Gay Filipino 2017 is on Oct. 15 at Filipino Community Center, 5740 MLK Way S., Seattle. Register at Visit

Anti-beauty pageant Fil-Am teens to be depicted on stage

Sept. 7, 2017

SEATTLE  When two Filipino American teenagers are pushed by their parents to join the Seattle Filipino Community Queen Contest, rejection and conflict occur.

Robert Francis Flor's play "Mabuhay Majesty," which is set in the 1960s, explores the challenges that traditional societies face when transitioning into modernity, all combined with the hurdles immigrants face when adapting to life in America.

Playwright Robert Flor and actress/director Eloisa Cardona.

The beauty pageants are not fictitious. Flor, whose father immigrated from Iloilo in 1932, was born and grew up in the Central and Rainier Valley areas of Seattle during the years when these pageants were held.

"These contests were fundraisers held by Filipino communities," he explains. "Contestants danced in box socials. The girls reject the tradition as humiliating."

Meals prepared in boxes, usually made by women at the time, were auctioned off to men at box socials. The winning bidder earned the privilege of sharing the meal with the box's preparer.

In Flor's case, "The boxes weren't meal boxes but empty, like collection plates for money," he explains.


Despite having worked in the academe and government, Flor has always had creative ways with words. He writes poetry and is currently the co-chair of writers' organization Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts.

"My father Vincent Fernandez, who passed in 2003, had always inspired us to read and pursue an education. He read Whitman, Poe and other American writers to us from time to time at the dining room table."

Flor's foray into playwriting was sparked when he unearthed some of his late uncle Baltazar's personal items. His uncle had immigrated to Seattle in 1921, ahead of Flor's father.

Flor discovered that Baltazar had been a playwright for the community and had formed the Filipino Catholic Club Drama Guild. "My uncle's affects included programs from plays he'd written and one surviving play," he said.

Flor showed the items to friends who suggested the materials could be fashioned into a play. "Not knowing how to write one, I enrolled in courses at Freehold, ACT and Seattle Repertory theaters."

The past

Since then, Flor has worked on his own play "My Uncle's Letters," scenes of which were performed in ACT Theatre's Multicultural Playwrights Festival in 2014.

He has written other plays, too. He has had his short plays produced at the Eclectic and Burien Actors theaters and has several other plays in various stages of development-most of which are set in the past, from the 1930s to the 1970s, and all set in Seattle. "I write about what I've experienced and what I love."

The love for the culture and dynamics of his Filipino heritage was partly nurtured by community leaders when he was younger. Flor had been a member of the youth social group Filipino Youth Activities, founded by Dorothy and Fred Cordova in 1957, both of whom went on to establish the Filipino American National Historical Society.

"During that time, Uncle Fred and Auntie Dorothy fostered in the second generation (i.e. Filipinos born in America to immigrant parents) a resonating pride and interest in our roots and our families."

The present

"Mabuhay Majesty" is Flor's first full-length play to be produced and will be directed by Fil-Am actress Eloisa Cardona.

He says he chooses to focus on stories in the community for several reasons.

"There are few writers writing about the Bridge Generation, author Peter Jamero's term for the children of Filipino immigrants who arrived in the US in the early 1900s.

"Each of us likely gives some thought to celebration and retention of the values of language, food, dance, dress, arts and customs. Those stories delve importantly into the assimilation of Filipinos in America and the maintenance or loss of cultural elements."

Flor also points out how little the greater American society knows of Filipino culture. "For sure, they enjoy lumpia, adobo and the tinikling. But, there's very little understanding or knowledge even among Filipinos of their history, role and contributions to this country. I wanted to seed the public mind and consciousness of Filipino participation in this nation through the arts: theater, fine arts, poetry and literature."

He also intends to have his plays be used as a bridge for Filipino theatrical and artistic aspirations. "They can be used for the development of our actors, directors and technicians.

"The Seattle area has seen the growing rise of Filipino talent in the arts. In theater, we're blessed to see and experience the talents of actors Ray Tagavilla, Ben Gonio, set designer Lex Marcos, composer Justin Huertas, and others. Actress and playwright Sara Porkalob is remarkable. She's an ascending shooting star!"

"We're also fortunate to have poets and writers Rick Barot, Donna Miscolta, Roberto Ascalon; artists Jeanette Tiffany, Olivia Zapata, Romson Bustillo and more. We have a rich tradition and more talent developing in the coming generations."

Cast includes Linda Rigor and Roxie Torres as sisters Reina and Marrietta, respectively; and Manny Golez and Laurie Rocello Torres as the parents. Language translations and music are by Roger Rigor and Josh Valdez. Lighting design is by Kiera Stevens.

"Mabuhay Majesty" runs at Sept. 27-28 at Rainier Arts Center, 3515 S Alaska St., Seattle. Visit