Fil-Am ballroom dancers at the heart of new play

Dec. 9, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

NEW YORK  Linda Faigao-Hall's new play about Filipino American ballroom dancers in Queens, New York, "Dance Me!," will have a staged reading this December by Ensemble Studio Theater (EST).

The play is about a man and his daughter who have opposing views on what to do with the financially troubled dance studio left behind by his deceased father.

Linda Faigao-Hall (center) with writers Francisco Sionil Jose (left) and Mario Miclat.

The play was inspired by Faigao-Hall's exposure to the ballroom dancing culture in Manila, which she became aware of when she visited after many years of living in the US.

Directing the staged reading is Joe Barros whose recent credits include assistant direction for the Broadway revival of the musical "Gigi," starring Vanessa Hudgens.

Faigao-Hall has been a member of EST since 2006. Recent stagings of her work include "The A-Word" in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and San Luis Obispo, California; and "The Female Heart," by University of the Philippines Playwright's Theatre in Manila; both last year.


Faigao-Hall is one of the pioneering Filipino American women playwrights, together with Jeannie Barroga, whose works started being staged in the '80s. Faigao-Hall's works have been produced across the US.

When asked how she became involved in playwriting, she mentioned that her father Cornelio Faigao was a fiction writer, poet and journalist in Cebu City. "It seems there was no choice. It's in my blood. I was exposed to literature in English and Pilipino when I was growing up," she said. "I grew up appreciating Jose Garcia Villa and Charles Dickens."

She immigrated to the US in the early '70s and ignored theater agents who claimed they could never sell plays about Filipinos. In a talk she gave at the 2015 Cebu Literary Festival, she said, "I foolishly proceeded to write my first play. It wasn't even a musical, it had no dancing girls, and nobody sang."

That play, "State Without Grace," about an immigrant Filipina who carries a secret when she visits her strict, conservative grandmother in Manila, was premiered by Pan Asian Repertory Theatre in New York in 1984, then staged by Asian American Theater Company in San Francisco the following year, directed by Dom Magwili. "It was the beginning of a foolhardy career as a Filipino playwright," she said.

Giving back

Faigao-Hall continues to write plays. Some of her works were premiered by Filipino American-founded theater companies Ma-Yi Theater Company in the '90s and Diverse City Theater in the '00s.

She released an anthology of her works, "The Female Heart and Other Plays," in 2013.

Faigao-Hall subsidizes the Terence G. Hall Memorial Award, in honor of her late husband, open to members of Ensemble Studio Theatre for a travel grant to Dublin, Ireland for research or study.

In 2012, she added and has been subsidizing the acting and playwriting component of the Cornelio Faigao Memorial Annual Writer's Workshop in Cebu, a fiction and poetry workshop that has been in existence since 1983.

Another one of her plays, "Dying in Boulder," is scheduled for a full staging at La MaMa Experimental Theater Club for its 2018-19 season.

"Dance Me!" staged reading, 7pm, Dec. 19 at Ensemble Studio Theater, 545 West 52nd St., New York, New York. Visit

Carlos Bulosan Theatre raising funds for 35th anniversary book

Dec. 7, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

TORONTO  Carlos Bulosan Theatre (CBT) has launched a fundraising campaign for its forthcoming book A New World Being Born: 35 Years of Carlos Bulosan Theatre at

Posters from past productions were part of the exhibition at the fundraiser kick-off.
All photos by Bo Fajardo

"The anthology is being created by CBT, its artists and alumni to document Filipino Canadian theater," said artistic director Leon Aureus.

The book will include plays written by CBT's current and past artists and were developed or staged by the company. It is scheduled for publication and launch to the public in late 2018 or early 2019.

"Within these pages are our aspirations and dreams, meaningful and authentic stories, sometimes a reflection of the worst of us, but more often a shining inspiration, a commemoration of the best of us, who we are and who we can be, as individuals and as a community," Aureus stated.

"Be a part of preserving our artistic history and help us say 'We are here' to help the next generation of Filipino Canadian artists and storytellers orient themselves in their journeys," he added.


CBT kicked off its fundraising campaign at the Tarragon Theatre Workspace with an exhibition of past production posters, photographs and props celebrating over three decades of original works.

Carlos Bulosan Theatre artistic associate Belinda Corpuz (left)
and artistic director Leon Aureus.

Guests were also presented with a showcase of an all-Filipino Canadian ensemble of actors reading excerpts from past CBT plays and productions, including "If My Mother Could See Me Now," "People Power," "In the Shadow of Elephants," and others.

The group was founded in 1982 by the late Fely Villasin and Martha Ocampo originally as the Carlos Bulosan Cultural Workshop to serve as the cultural arm of the activist organization Coalition Against the Marcos Dictatorship.

The group is named for Carlos Bulosan, who immigrated to the US in 1930 and worked as an agricultural laborer before becoming a writer, becoming one of the first published Filipino American novelists.

Staged readings of excerpts from past CBT productions were performed.

The group has since staged plays and musicals with Filipino Canadian themes and issues, and eventually evolved to a full-fledged theater group.

"For 35 years Carlos Bulosan Theatre has produced theater that reflects the social and political issues affecting the Filipino community in Canada. Through the creation and production of new innovative work, the development of emerging and professional artists, and community engagement, our work is a reflection of the ever-growing, vibrant artistic voice of Filipino Canadians," said Aureus.

Reasons to support

Belinda Corpuz, artistic associate, said, "Filipinos are one of Canada's fastest growing cultural groups. It's the third largest Asian Canadian group.

Guests viewing props used in past productions at the exhibition.

"Canadians need to have a resource that reflects and celebrates the Filipino Canadian community's rich history in and contributions to Toronto and the rest of the country," she added.

"This collection of all-original work will add to a growing pool of Philippine and Canadian theater publications," said anthology co-producer Isabela Palanca.

"Celebrating diverse stories and voices that work within the mosaic of the multi-cultural country that is Canada."

She added, "The book will allow Filipino-Canadian artists and storytellers will see themselves reflected in the work they access in libraries and schools. They need this to be able to stand on the shoulders of artists who have already blazed trails and cleared paths."


Chuck Marbella: 9 going on 10 years in 'Miss Saigon'

Dec. 2, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Several Filipino actors joined the "Miss Saigon" global network of productions for the first time this past July. Making their "Saigon" debuts via the United Kingdom and Ireland tour were Red Concepcion (Engineer), Joreen Bautista (Kim alternate), Aynrand Ferrer (Kim cover-"cover" is the British term for "understudy") and Gerald Santos (Thuy).

Chuck Marbella

Welcoming them into producer Cameron Mackintosh's universe was longtime "Saigon" actor Christian "Chuck" Marbella, who has been alternating as the Engineer, and is approaching his 10th year, collectively, as part of the "Saigon" machinery.

Marbella started out in the ensemble in the 2000 Manila staging (for six months) and graduated to playing Thuy and the Engineer as he went on to join the Asian tour (six months) and the first two UK tours (five years). During the recent 2014-2016 West End revival, he alternated with Jon Jon Briones as the Engineer. (Briones plays the same role in the current Broadway revival.)

Favorite subject

Marbella took up medical technology and was about to enroll in medical school when he decided to audition.

"Parasitology was a favorite subject in college," he says. He still remembers the scientific names of some of them. "The great triumvirate of enteric nematodes are Ascaris lumbricoides, giant roundworm; Trichuris trichiura, whipworm; and Enterobius vermicularis, pinworm."

While his academic training might not have come into play during the auditions, everything else he'd done in his youth led him to his seize-the-moment opportunity.

Marbella collects Marvel action figures and Monchhichi dolls.

"I started singing quite young," he says. "Weddings, Christmas parties, fiestas and every event you can imagine, you name it, I've done it," he adds, laughing.

It was because he wanted to look physically better that he got into dance as well. "I got offered free ballet training after being spotted at a jazz dance group competition. I was a very lanky college freshman. I said yes because I was convinced it would help me tone my muscles."

As is the usual case with male dancers who come into ballet training in their teens, he went through an accelerated curriculum. "You're supposed to start at age three or four to gradually improve technique one level at a time. I did an intensive five-year course from elementary ballet to intermediate partnering just because there weren't any boys interested in ballet."


In between "Saigon" productions, Marbella appeared in "The King and I" and "Cinderella" for Resorts World Manila, and in Ballet Philippines' restaging of "Rama Hari." He has also done several musicals for Village Theater Washington in Seattle, where both his sisters live.

He also collects action figures.

When he's not busy performing, he takes photos of his travels and his collection of Monchhichi dolls. Inspired by his father ("He was into photography and bought a lot of photography books. I used to flip through them to admire the pictures"), Marbella developed some of his skills as a photographer for his high school paper.

These days, he uses his iPhone. "I invested in good lens attachments like super wide angle, fisheye, macro and polarizer. I also bring my GoPro Hero4 Black whenever I travel," he says.

Monchhichi dolls

He first became enamored with the monkey dolls while living in London. "I saw a Monchhichi in a hobby shop that looked so adorable."

He started searching for more online and now has about 22. "I even have an original 1974 doll from Japan. I also have Marvel action figures. I'm friends now with other collectors all over the world."

He has separate Instagram accounts for his travel photography (@CRMarbella) and Monchhichi shots (@chuckiemonchhichi). "I wanted to share them with the world. And it's always fun to look back at photos from time to time."

For "Miss Saigon" UK and Ireland 2017-18 tour schedule, visit link:


Filipino chefs around the world to star in new cookbook

Nov. 30, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

SAN FRANCISCO  Filipino chefs, restaurateurs and food writers will be included in the forthcoming book The Migrant Filipino Kitchen, an anthology of personal stories and recipes from Filipino chefs around the world.

Pinakbet by Leo Fernandez.
Food photos by Rowena Dumlao-Giardina, courtesy of Agate Publishing

Spearheaded and edited by restaurateur and food writer Jaqueline Chio-Lauri, the book is scheduled for release in the fall of 2018.

"Each contributor shares segments of their lives examined through a Filipino dish. Each dish has a personal twist to reflect the contributor's transformation or journey," explains Chio-Lauri.

Jaqueline Chio-Lauri is editor of The Migrant Filipino Kitchen. CONTRIBUTED

Popular Filipino American chefs featured in the upcoming publication include White House chef Cris Comerford, cable channel TLC's "Food Buddha" host Rodelio Aglibot and former TV cooking competition shows "Top Chef" and "Chopped Grill Masters" contestant Chrissy Camba, among many others.


Born in the Philippines and currently based in Norway, Chio-Lauri has opened and operated several restaurants for Shangri-la Hotel in Manila and Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Dubai.

Filipino American chefs to be featured in the book include
(from left) Cris Comerford, Rodelio Aglibot and Chrissy Camba.

She eventually added writing to her plate, with pieces published in and in anthologies such as the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

The book began as a personal project. "I wanted to write a food memoir revolving around the food I grew up eating, my childhood and my Lola, who was a storyteller and cook extraordinaire with an incredibly colorful personality," she said.

Jacqueline Chio-Lauri.
Photo by Henriette Time, Studio Hjelm.

"My intention was to immortalize the memories, reflections and lessons I've learned to pass on to family members and relatives. But a voice in my head bugged me, `What have you done for your country?'

"So, I decided to go broader and include kababayans from around the world since I have always wished our that our food was more accessible worldwide.

"Most of the places where I've lived didn't or still don't have a single Filipino restaurant. Hardly anybody knows the cuisine. It's always a struggle to make others understand what it really is all about."

Global team

She created a proposal that ended up being more than a hundred pages long. Though she landed a book agent (in Texas) quickly enough, she spent months sending proposals and receiving rejections from publishers.

Kilawin by Cristina Quackenbush.

Fortune favors the persevering. She received two offers in succession and ended up with Agate Surrey, a publishing company based in Evanston, Illinois with marketing offices in San Francisco, that has worked with Food Network chefs and James Beard Award winners.

Rome-based Rowena Dumlao-Giardina will handle food styling and photography. The foreword will be written by two-time James Beard Award-winner writer John Birdsall.

"By doing this book, I hope I can help raise awareness and memorability for our food and culture. And hopefully silence that voice in my head nagging me to do something for the motherland!"

Across borders

Other featured Filipino American chefs include Paolo Dungca (Restaurant Eve in Washington, DC); Cristina Quackenbush (Milkfish, formerly a restaurant but now only pop-up dining events, in New Orleans); Ray Espiritu (Isla Pilipina in Chicago); Robert Menor (Bonifacio in Columbus, Ohio); and Alexa Alfaro (Meat on the Street food truck in Milwaukee).

Kare-kare by Vanessa Hangad.

Writers and organizers include Dalena Benavente (author of Asian Girl in a Southern World), Marilyn Ranada Donato (author of Philippine Cooking in America), and Joanne Boston-Kwanhull (co-director of Filipino Food Movement).

Filipino Canadians include Allan Pineda (Manila Nights pop-up dining events in Winnipeg) and food writer Nastasha Alli.

To preorder or for updates on The Migrant Filipino Kitchen, visit

Mom’s Filipino recipes in new cookbook-storybook

Nov. 21, 2018
USA & Canada Section,

NEW YORK  "This cookbook is for the novice who wants to learn how to cook classic Filipino dishes, or for the culinary pro who needs traditional inspiration," says Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino, who has released her new cookbook My Mother's Philippine Recipes.

Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino.

"I wanted to demystify the notion that 'mom's cooking' is an impossible feat," she adds.

But more than just a cookbook, it's also a storybook, with vintage pictures to boot. (It's available at Amazon both in print and Kindle editions.)

And despite the title, there is at least one recipe that's pretty current: for foodies who want to partake of Asia's latest trend in salted egg-flavored potato chips, Besa-Quirino has a homemade version. The relatively new recipe is borne out of her family's ingrained hospitality, of taking care of guests by nourishing them.


The book compiles a collection of her mother's recipes that were cooked with produce grown by her father in their backyard and farms. The dishes were often served to family and friends who stopped by their home in Tarlac, which was about three hours away from the capital, Manila.

Besa-Quirino (right) with her mother Lulu Reyes (center) and sister.

In addition to instructing how to prepare dishes, Besa-Quirino recounts the memories created and evoked by the transmittal of love through food among family.

Besa-Quirino tells the love story of her parents and shares vignettes of her family's connections to each recipe she presents in the book. Along with photographs of the completed dishes, family pictures accompany her anecdotes.

Some her family's favorites in this cookbook: Pancit Palabok, Carne Asada Kapampangan, Spanish Cocido, Beef Kalitiran Pot Roast, and Crispy Pata (which Besa-Quirino points out can be done without deep frying, but roasted in an oven instead.)

Sinigang na Baka with Lemongrass prepared by Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino.

For sweets, there are recipes for Pastillas de Ube, Pastillas de Leche, and Ube Puto-Leche Flan.

The dishes are categorized as soups and appetizers, vegetable dishes, rice and noodle dishes, fish and seafood dishes, meats (chicken, beef, pork), and, of course, desserts.

She gives suggestions for ingredient substitutions for readers who may not have access to Filipino or Asian grocery stores in the US or would like to try new twists to classic recipes.

More recipes

This is the second in Besa-Quirino's series of Filipino Cookbook Recipes from Asian in America. The first installment, How to Cook Philippine Desserts: Cakes and Snacks, was released just last year.

My Mother's Philippine Recipes, available at Amazon both in print and Kindle editions.

"After all, life is short. Make it sweeter with dessert!" says the author who's also illustrated and published the coloring book Color and Cook Food Coloring Book, which includes bookmarks and gift tags.

"For years, I have been cooking Filipino and Asian dishes almost every day," says Besa-Quirino, who moved to the US more than two decades ago.

Prior to her leaving the Philippines, her father worried about her well-being in a foreign country. "I assured my father I was going to be fine because Mom taught me how to cook. Cooking was what I knew best."

Aside from her books, Besa-Quirino also has a blog, Asian in America (, which she started in 2010. There she has other recipes not found in her cookbooks.


Peta to restage its landmark production 'Galileo' for 3 nights only

Bertolt Brecht's take on Galileo Galilei-when real science was considered fake news
Nov. 18, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) is bringing back one of its landmark productions, "Ang Buhay ni Galileo," on Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, as part of its 50th anniversary season.

Peta first staged the material in 1981.
Joel Lamangan (left) will reprise his role as Galileo.

Even more significantly, the play will be mounted in Peta's original home, the open-air Rajah Sulayman Theater in Intramuros.

Translated by Alan Glinoga based on German playwright Bertolt Brecht's "Life of Galileo," the play is about the titular Italian scientist's problems with authorities when he attempts to deliver scientific truths to the masses.


Peta first staged the material in 1981 with young actors who are now stalwarts in the profession: actor Bodjie Pascua, composer Lutgardo Labad, playwright Manny Pambid, and current Tanghalang Pilipino artistic director Fernando "Nanding" Josef, just to name a few. Current Peta artistic director Maribel Legarda was part of the production's publicity team.

Reprising his role as Galileo is current Gantimpala Theater artistic director Joel Lamangan.

Rody Vera, who is directing the new production, was also already a member of Peta at the time. He recalls Peta inviting Weimar National Theater's Fritz Bennewitz from Germany to direct the show simultaneously with a children's/street theater version of "Hatol ng Guhit na Bilog" (Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle").

"I was involved in 'Hatol,' but I attended a number of rehearsals of 'Galileo.' I saw the play a few times during its Fort Santiago run," he says.

Vera admits he was quite apprehensive when asked to direct this revival. Soxie Topacio had been originally assigned as director, while Vera was to be the dramaturg.

"My job was to provide him with as much material as possible to restage the play as it was first staged at Rajah Sulayman. But when he passed away, the job fell into my lap."

Resonant as ever

More than just simply reproducing the 1981 staging, Vera is focused on what messages the play can convey to 2017 audiences.

"The play was written just before Hitler invaded Europe. It became even more resonant when the atomic bombs were dropped in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The apolitical stance of scientists who are dedicated to only achieving scientific discoveries without realizing the political implications to mankind is devastatingly presented by this play."

The relevance of the play, he notes, goes deeper than just merely comparing Galilei's problems to modern-day issues of fake news and fighting for truth.

"The play also shows how the power that authority wields, whether religious or secular (the State or those who control the economy), can also control the direction and philosophy of science and its pursuit of truth.

"Even in the digital age of information, advances in science and technology have benefited only those who see the immense potential of power and influence these advances can wield for them.

"More advancements in science can only mean more suffering, not just because a scientist like Galileo can give up his control of truths he's discovered, but also because he has to relinquish that control to other people in power."

"Mabigat ang play na ito (This play is grave)," he says. "Probably Brecht's most important play."

"Ang Buhay ni Galileo" runs Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at Rajah Sulayman Theater, Fort Santiago, Manila. link:


Fil-Ams star in Chicago thriller on fake news, media manipulation

Nov. 17, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

CHICAGO  Christine Bunuan and Karmann Bajuyo are playing the leads in Silk Road Rising's staging of "Wild Boar," a "turbulent thriller about media manipulation and fake news," which runs until December 17 at Chicago Temple Building.

Karmann Bajuyo plays Ruan.

Written by acclaimed Hong Kong playwright Candace Chong, "Wild Boar" depicts a student and her editor's quest to publicize the truth when a controversial professor goes missing.

Originally staged in Cantonese, "Wild Boar" is an adaptation by playwright David Henry Hwang (Trivia: Hwang's mother was born in China but grew up in Cebu before immigrating to the US.)

Windy City

Christine Bunuan, who plays Tricia, was born in Vallejo and raised in Vacaville, both in California. Growing up, Bunuan saw other Filipino girls her age singing in talent shows.

Bunuan (left) and Bajuyo.

"I wanted to sing just like them," she said. "Then I saw children's theater production of `The Wizard of Oz' with a bunch of kids and thought, if those kids can do it, then I can do this, too."

The four-foot tall mezzo-soprano has worked with Chicago theater companies such as Steppenwolf, The Goodman, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, among others.

Six-foot tall bass-baritone Bajuyo plays Ruan. He was born in Peoria, Illinois and moved to Chicago in the late '90s. Originally involved in athletics and pursuing a career in law, he became interested in acting while attending an acting class in college.

Aside from working in productions at Porchlight Music Theatre and Timer Lake Playhoues, Bajuyo has acted in Danny Bernardo's play "Mahal" for Bailiwick Theater.

Research and reflections

Both actors prepared for working on this play by holding discussions on and reviewing the background of the story's milieu.

"The research I did consisted of reading up on the history of Hong Kong and asking questions of our director Helen Young, who is very familiar with the city," says Bajuyo.

Christine Bunuan plays Tricia.

Bunuan adds, "With the help of our dramaturg Carol Ann Tan, who is from Singapore, we discussed the culture, the political climate in Hong Kong as well as China's influence"

When it comes to accessing news and information, Bajuyo follows business and sports news as well as Chicago's PBS affiliate WTTW. "I am on Facebook and Instagram but certainly not consumed by either. I am not a social media nor TV addict."

"I have actually stepped away from Facebook quite a bit because of the cyberbullying that I have seen out there," reveals Bunuan.  "Now, I mostly just post about shows or events that are happening in the community and then I leave."

For her news sources, Bunuan reads articles from the New York Times or Washington Post. "I also listen to NPR. Our current political climate can be depressing at times so I turn to John Oliver for some humor about our news."

She adds, "It can be difficult to know what is real or fake news. I do hope that this play will educate people to dig deeper to find the truth, understand the importance of doing their research and consider who their sources are.

"Social media seems to be the source of news for many people. They have become so quick to judge and state things as fact but don't take the time to step back and really see the big picture and dig for the truth."

"The play hopefully challenges the audience to apply their critical thinking skills to the news they hear or see on social media," says Bajuyo. "I think we have to be especially discerning when seeing 'news' on social media that corroborates our own point of view.

"In these instances, we must be diligent about researching and validating a story before we just post the link onto our social media account. Snopes, FactCheck, Politifact, PunditFact are all great websites to check the veracity of a statement, report, or article. Assuming they themselves can be trusted."

"Wild Boar," previews until Nov. 18, runs Nov. 19-Dec. 17 at Silk Road Rising, Chicago Temple Bldg., 77 West Washington St., Chicago. Visit

Justin Huertas' new musical, 'Howl's Moving Castle,' to open in Seattle

Nov. 16, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

SEATTLE  Justin Huertas has composed music and written songs for the musical "Howl's Moving Castle" for Book-it Repertory Theatre to be shown starting November 29.

Composer/lyricist Justin Huertas (right) with adapter/director Myra Platt.
Photo by John Ulman.

Huertas first worked with Book-it, whose ethos is adapting books for the stage, as an actor in its production "Welcome to Braggsville" earlier this year, for which he received a nomination at this year's Gregory Awards for Best Actor in a Play.

It was during that show when founding co-artistic director Myra Platt assigned him to write songs for "Howl's."

Huertas recalls, "When she told me they had secured the rights to adapt the book, I literally fell on the floor with a 'Yaaaas!'" Platt is adapting and directing the show.

"Howl's Moving Castle" is by British author Diana Wynne Jones, first published in 1986, wherein Sophie Hatter is turned into an old woman by a witch and seeks the notorious wizard Howl and his fire-demon Calcifer to help her break the curse.

The role of Sophie will be played by Filipino American actress Sara Porkalob, who recently concluded her one-person play "Dragon Lady," about her Filipino gangster grandmother, for Intiman Theatre. (Read about it here.)

Book and movie fans

The book had been previously adapted by Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli into a film in 2004, directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

He's excited for Miyazaki-philes like himself ("I'm a huge fan of the Studio Ghibli films," he says.) to come watch the musical. "It's cool that there's this whole amazing fanbase for the movie, and a large portion of those fans have never even read the book, so this musical will have a lot of plot points and characters they've never seen."

Seattle boy

Huertas was born and raised in Seattle. "First generation Filipino on my dad's side, second on my mom's." He studied theater at Pacific Lutheran College and has not stopped working since graduating in 2009.

Sara Porkalob (left) as Sophie Hatter with Michael Feldman as Howl.
Photo by John Ulman.

He started off with acting gigs at Seattle Repertory Theatre, then playing cello in the national tour of the Broadway musical "Spring Awakening" for eight months, then back to Seattle Rep to play Rod in the staging of "Avenue Q" (Seattle premiere), then writing and acting in his first musical, "Lizard Boy."

Seattle Rep artistic director Jerry Manning knew Huertas as an actor first. When he found out Huertas also played the cello and was a fellow comic-book lover, a commission for the musical was assigned. Huertas went on to develop his coming-of-age love story cello-rock musical about a young gay boy who develops lizard superpowers, which premiered in 2013.

Pop folk-rock

"The way I write can vary," Huertas says of his composing style. "Sometimes I find a melody by noodling on a guitar, but most of the time, I free-write in character, then some magical line will appear to me."

He always composes songs using a guitar. "My writing style fits somewhere in between pop-musical theatre and folk-rock. It's an easy access point emotionally for me, because it's the kind of music I grew up listening to."

For "Howl's," Huertas found inspiration from the book itself. "The awesome thing is that Diana Wynne Jones has done all of that work for me! I find a magic sentence in her book and, boom, I've got a song!"

"Howl's Moving Castle" runs Nov. 29-Dec. 30 at Center Theatre, Seattle Center Armory, 305 Harrison St., Seattle. Visit

Don Darryl Rivera wins Seattle’s Gregory Award for best supporting actor

Nov. 9, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

SEATTLE  Broadway actor Don Darryl Rivera won Best Supporting Actor at the recently held 2017 Gregory Awards for playing Sancho Panza in 5th Avenue Theatre's "Man of La Mancha," which ran late last year.

Don Darryl Rivera as Sancho Pancha in "Man of La Mancha."

"When they called my name, I think the first word that came out of my mouth was a curse word because I was so pleasantly surprised!" says the Seattle native.

Named after Gregory Falls (1922-97), founding artistic director of A Contemporary Theatre and a former chair of University of Washington's School of Drama, the awards are administered, funded, and produced by Theatre Puget Sound.

"I was so not expecting to win that I didn't even prepare a speech. The talent in Seattle is so immense that it is a privilege and an honor to even be nominated among my colleagues. I love the Seattle theatre community so much."

Rivera previously won the 2009 Gregory Award in the Person to Watch category.

Several other Filipino American theater artists were nominated this year. Corrina Lapid Munter in the Best Actress in a Musical category for playing Mrs. Lovett in ArtsWest Playhouse and Gallery's "Sweeney Todd;" Ben Gonio in the People's Choice for Best Actor in a Musical category for playing Sweeney Todd in the same production; and Justin Huertas in the Best Actor in a Play category for playing Louis in Book-it Repertory Theatre's "Welcome to Braggsville."

Hosting the awards ceremony at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall were Huertas and Sara Porkalob, who recently concluded her one-person play "Dragon Lady," about her Filipino gangster grandmother, for


Rivera currently plays Iago in Disney's "Aladdin" on Broadway, which he's been doing since the show opened in 2014. Iago, a parrot sidekick to the villain Jafar in the animated film, is human in the musical.

Sara Porkalob (left) and Justin Huertas hosted the awards show.

Rivera originated the role in the musical's world premiere in Seattle and through its developmental run in Toronto prior to opening on Broadway.

Princess Jasmine's singing voice was done by Lea Salonga in the animated film that the musical is based on.

Other Fil-Ams in the "Aladdin" machinery include Reggie de Leon who plays Iago in the US national tour together with Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, who originated the role on Broadway. Jacobs' sister Arielle opened the show in the Australia production, where Fil-Australian Aljin Abella (Blue Ranger in TV's "Power Rangers Jungle Fury") plays Iago.

Rivera and his wife have moved to New Jersey, after a brief stay in Brooklyn, because of the job, which he is contracted for until next year. Disney management allowed Rivera to join "La Mancha" last year.


"I was gone from 'Aladdin' for about seven and a half weeks. Alan Muraoka, who you might know as Alan from `Sesame Street,' took over the Iago role while I was gone and he was fantastic! He's a Broadway vet and one of the sweetest, most humble people I know," says Rivera.

Corrina Lapid Munter (left) and Ben Gonio in "Sweeney Todd."

Rivera's parents immigrated to the US in the '70s and his father, Danny, became a founding member of Filipino folk dance group Kultura. It's no surprise that he grew up learning to dance tinikling and itik itik; and eventually joining kaSAma, a hip-hop dance group.

Rivera, whose acting credits stretch from Shakespeare to children's theater, was bitten by the acting bug in high school and took up acting at Cornish College of the Arts.


Rivera is also a playwright and composer. He's written the book for children's musical "Harold and the Purple Crayon," adapted from the children's book; and he's co-composed and co-written children's musical "Adventures With Spot."

Rivera as Sancho Panza in "Man of La Mancha."

For Philippine history buffs, one of the musical's songs, "The Impossible Dream," is associated with anti-Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship activist Evelio Javier and politician Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino.

Rivera's favorite song from "La Mancha" is "To Each His Dulcinea." "Nick DeSantis, who played the Padre, sang it so beautifully every night," says Rivera. "There is always something worth fighting for. There is always beauty in the world."

READ previous coverage of Seattle-based Filipino American theater artists:

Actress Sara Porkalob stages the story of her gangster lola

Fil-Am actors play homicidal couple in musical thriller "Sweeney Todd" in Seattle

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

Musical 'Portrait of the Artist as Filipino' to screen in San Francisco

Nov. 8, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

SAN FRANCISCO  "Ang Larawan" ("The Portrait"), a Tagalog musical adapted from Nick Joaquin's play "A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino," will be screened with English subtitles on November 9 at the Cinematografo International Film Fest, Kabuki 8 Theaters.

Rachel Alejandro (left) and Joanna Ampil
play the Marasigan sisters.

Variety has praised the film as "stunning . impeccably performed and crisply photographed . Clearly made with the utmost love and care . beautifully decorated and top-notch in every technical detail," based on the film's world premiere at the Tokyo Film Festival on October 29.

Directed by Obie Award-winner Loy Arcenas, the film features Filipino actresses Rachel Alejandro and Joanna Ampil as the Marasigan sisters. The two are having financial difficulties and must decide if they should sell their father's last great painting.

"This movie is our love letter to Filipinos everywhere to look back at our heritage," says Arcenas, who will be at the screening together with Alejandro for a talkback session with the audience.

"The core of the story is about commerce versus art and love for family. We want our Filipino American youth to think about what is truly important in life," says producer Girlie Rodis. "Candida and Paula could make a fortune selling the painting and their lives could change. It's important for us to know what's behind their final decision."

Behind the scenes

Libretto is by Philippine National Artist for Theater and Literature Rolando Tinio (who studied for a master's in Creative Writing from State University of Iowa) with music by Ryan Cayabyab.

Arcenas designed sets for Broadway and Off-Broadway productions and directed theater in New York with groups such as Ma-Yi Theater ("Flipzoids," "Romance of Magno Rubio") before shifting to filmmaking in the Philippines.

Ampil is a mainstay in West End musicals and has played Kim in "Miss Saigon," Mary Magdalene in "Jesus Christ Superstar," Christmas Eve in "Avenue Q," and Fantine in "Les Miserables." Her most recent credit is Grizabella in a UK touring production of "Cats."

Alejandro's recent stage credits include "Avenue Q," "Xanadu," "Aida," and "Rock of Ages."

Production design for the film is by Gino Gonzales, who has a master's degree in set design from New York University and recently won 2nd place in the costume category of the World Stage Design competition earlier this year. [READ ABOUT IT HERE.]


First published in 1952, Philippine National Artist for Literature Joaquin's "Portrait" has been a staple on Manila stages both in English and in Tagalog translations. Director and theater teacher Edgardo de la Cruz staged the English version at University of Hawaii Manoa in the early '70s. Ma-Yi Theater staged it in New York in '97.

Joaquin had written "Portrait" at the behest of his sister-in-law, theater actress and director Sarah Joaquin (who later retired to Washington, DC and staged Filipino productions there in the '90s).

Lamberto Avellana's Barangay Theater Guild edited down Joaquin's original script to the definitive staging version. He also directed a film version in 1965.

In 1997, Musical Theater Philippines (Musicat), now Culturtain Musicat Productions, headed by singer Celeste Legaspi and producer Girlie Rodis, commissioned and staged "Ang Larawan" at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, with Legaspi playing one of the sisters.

A bit of trivia: Musicat has also produced a musical, "Katy!" on the life of jazz and bodabil (Filipinized vaudeville) singer Katy de la Cruz, who was popular in Manila in the 1920-'30s and performed at San Francisco's Forbidden City nightclub in the late '40-'50s.


To celebrate Joaquin's birth centenary, Penguin Classics (headed by publisher Elda Rotor) published "The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic" earlier this year, a collection of his works that includes "A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino." The book has a foreword by New York-based writer Gina Apostol and an introduction by scholar Vicente Rafael.

Culturtain Musicat has also published a book "Ang Larawan," which includes the Tagalog libretto, the English play, the Tagalog screenplay, and behind-the-scenes photos of the filmmaking process. Limited copies are signed by the film's actors.

"This material was originally written by Filipino genius Nick Joaquin in English but the soul of the story is Filipino. Then it was translated into Tagalog by another genius Rolando Tinio. They are both National Artists. The music was created by Ryan Cayabyab, who obviously will one day become a national artist," says Rodis.

Filipino American theater groups or cultural organizations interested in staging "Ang Larawan" can contact Rodis at for arrangements.

Cinematografo International Film Fest runs Nov. 9-12 and features shorts and documentaries by Filipino American filmmakers and full-length films from the Philippines. (List of films can be seen here.)

Alejandro and her cousin Nino will have a concert featuring Original Pilipino Music (OPM) songs on Nov. 12, 8 pm at Fort McKinley concert hall in South San Francisco.

"Ang Larawan" screens Nov. 9, 6 p.m., AMC Dine-in Kabuki 8 Theaters, 1881 Post St., San Francisco. Visit

Some books on Filipino American history

Oct. 26, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

SEATTLE  Spouses Dorothy and Fred Cordova founded the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) in 1982 to champion the preservation and public awareness of Fil-Am history.

FANHS lobbied for years for the month of October to be observed as Filipino American History Month in the United States. California officially declared it so in 2009 and Congress followed suit the following year.

In 1986, FANHS established the National Pinoy Archives here in Seattle, a collection of historical documents and photographs on Fil-Ams across the US. It opened the FANHS Museum in Stockton, California in 2015.

It's also established chapters across the country (that can be reached via their respective Facebook pages).

It has also published pictorial essay books on Fil-Am history.

Filipinos: Forgotten Asian Americans
A Pictorial Essay/1763- circa-1963
By Fred Cordova
Published by Kendall/Hunt Publishing in 1983
If you type in "Filipino American history" at online bookstores, this is one of the oldest publications that pop up in the results. A seminal publication in Fil-Am history titles.

Filipinos in ____
(Images of America series)
Published by Arcadia Publishing with editions starting 2001

This series of locale-specific pictorial essay books are charming visual accounts. Children of Fred Cordova's seminal publication, as they were. Editions include Puget Sound, the Willamette Valley, Vallejo, Stockton, the East Bay, San Francisco, Ventura County, Los Angeles, Los Angeles' Historic Filipinotown, Hollywood, Carson and the South Bay, San Diego, Hawai'i, Chicago, Greater Philadelphia, Washington, DC, New York City.

The internet has a trove of articles, videos and podcasts that touch on Fil-Am history. There are also history books, memoirs, and academic books about specific periods, individuals, or geographic areas in Fil-Am history.

But it can be challenging sometimes to decide what precise topics to search online for or find books to read about, without first having a general idea of the broader timeline of Fil-Am history.

For readers who'd like to go beyond the Wikipedia entry and dig a little more, here are some beginners' books on Fil-Am history.

Unlike some available in-depth and topic-specific books, these titles are geared towards general readership and provide an overview Fil-Am history from early Filipino settlers in the northern American continent (even before the US declared its independence) all the way through the different contexts and reasons that spurred the multiple waves of immigration to the US and the growth of the Fil-Am population.

Although some are already out-of-print (sad!), these titles are still available for purchase online, with some even having e-book versions.

Filipino American Lives
By Yen Le Espiritu
Published by Temple University Press in 1995
Though a collection of interviews with Fil-Ams from different sectors, Vietnamese scholar Espiritu's (she married a Filipino) introductory essay is an overview of Fil-Am history.

The Filipino Americans from 1763 to the present:
Their history, culture, and traditions
By Veltisezar Bautista
Published by Bookhaus Publishers in 1998; 2nd edition published in 2002

The Filipino Americans
By Barbara Mercedes Posadas
Published by Greenwood Press in 1999

For context, there is:

History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos
By Luis H. Francia
Published by Overlook Press in 2010

For younger readers, there are:
Filipino Americans
(New Immigrants series)
By Jon Sterngass
Published by Chelsea House in 2007
For teenagers.

The Filipino Americans
(Peoples of North America series)
By Jennifer Stern
Published by Chelsea House Publishing in 1989
For teenagers.

Filipino Americans
(We Are America series)
By Carolyn Yoder
Published by in 2003
For 7 years and up / Grades 2 and up

There is an obvious dearth of publications that are available for general readership; hopefully an article like this one will help remind and jar scholars, writers, illustrators, photographers, editors, and publishers into producing; organizations, businesses and noble patrons into funding; and readers into clamoring(!) for more titles. (Or at the very least, for publishers to keep marketing or start producing ebook versions of existing titles.)

For more recommendations on books about Fil-Am history, approach a librarian or get in touch with Fil-Am bookstores like Arkipelago in San Francisco and Philippine Expressions Bookshop in Los Angeles, or contact the Philippine American Publishers Consortium.

Filipino ghosts to haunt San Francisco theatergoers

Oct. 19, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

SAN FRANCISCO  "Mumu," a show about ghosts will premiere this Halloween weekend at Bindlestiff Studio in the SOMA (South of Market) area.

Suzette Sagisi (center) plays Josefina,
who has twin spirits, shown behind her.
Photo by Julie Munsayac.

"We all have ghosts," says Irene Faye Duller, one of the founding members of Susmaryosep & Co., a group of multidisciplinary artists that's co-presenting the show with Bindlestiff Studio. "The show deals with the celebration of death and a meditation of our darker selves."

"Mumu" is the children's diminutive for the Tagalog word for ghost "multo," itself a corruption of the Spanish "muerto" ("dead").

The concept of "celebration of death," Duller points out, is informed by Philippine traditions. "All Soul's Day in our history is not a day of mourning; in the homeland, it is a day to gather, remember and celebrate," she says.

"Since we [here in the US] no longer go in hordes to fill the cemeteries with song and ceremony on November 2nd, the time is very ripe to conceive new rituals and continue a community gathering in the name of our ghosts," she adds.

Crafting the experience

Susmaryosep would like to keep as much of the plot confidential, though it is willing to say that "Mumu"'s story is set in 1977 San Francisco and involves a Filipino immigrant.

It also advises interested audience members to wear comfortable shoes.

Sumaryosep & Co.'s publicity GIF file used in social media for "Mumu."

While the venue can usually seat up to around a hundred theatergoers, this particular production limits each show to only 40 audience members, all of whom will need to obtain online reservations.

The 90-minute production will involve acting and choreography set to music collected by Joel Quizon from original vinyl records from the 1970s.

The soundscape includes influences from disco music and the Manila Sound, the popular music movement in the Philippines from that decade that focused on original Filipino music versus foreign works.

The script and designs for sets, costumes and lighting were devised by the entire group.

Choreographer is Kyle Limin. Featured dancers include Alexandria Diaz De Fato and Cassey De La Pena.

Stories and symbolisms

The show "Mumu" is only one part of a multi-tentacled endeavor.

Another installment of Susmaryosep's work is "#HelloMumu," a project to preserve ghost stories and their telling.

Recent sessions held at Arkipelago Bookstore have included singer and poet Golda Sargento, writer Paul Berrara, and Desi Danganan, one of the founders of the Undiscovered Night Market. Theater directors Allan Manalo of Bindlestiff Studio and Sean San Jose of Campo Santo theater company have also made appearances.

It may seem the efforts are simply to collect ghost stories and to keep alive the practice of communal storytelling. But Duller explains that the larger goal is to forge a deeper connection to Filipino and Filipino American culture and history.

The ghost stories are to serve as metaphors, a jumping off point to think about broader issues. "The bigger theme of the relationship between Filipinos and what haunts us is definitely something we want to continue exploring.

"This exploration of our unknown darkness reveals an intimate story of connection, cultural psyche and death. This is our inquiry of everything that haunts us as a people."

In other words, "What do ghosts symbolize about us and why are we afraid to confront them?"

"Mumu" runs Oct. 27-Nov. 18 at Bindlestiff Studio, 185 6th St., cor. Howard St., San Francisco. Visit

Aswang and halimaw to hold concert in Sonoma County, Calif.

Oct. 7, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

RONHERT PARK, California  About an hour and a half's drive from San Francisco, aswang and halimaw of all sorts will sing at a concert at Sonoma State University this October. In Tagalog no less. But there will be English supertitles.

Charmaine Clamor (left) as Manananggal rehearsing
with composer and librettist Florante Aguilar.

With music and libretto by Florante Aguilar, "Aswang the Concert: Mga Kuwentong Halimaw, Their True Stories" is a dramatized song cycle that debunks the common stories about Philippine mythical creatures such as manananggal, tikbalang, syokoy, lady in white and tumao.

"My co-writer Fides Enriquez and I endeavored to create back stories that tie them with actual historical events. We tend to like events that history books 'forgot.'" Aguilar says.

The concert is free admission and guests can come dressed as their favorite aswang or in Filipiniana attire to celebrate Filipino American History Month.


The concert builds on a previous incarnation of the show when it was workshopped at Yerba Buena Center and Bindlestiff Studio in San Francisco in 2013.

"This is the fuller version," says Aguilar. "Whereas the 2013 version approach was one song per aswang, this 2017 concert version has more of a full arc with certain stories told over several songs."

Aguilar's most recent work was composing the percussive music for last year's "Bae Makiling," a dance production staged by San Francisco- based performance group Kularts. Born in Manila,

Aguilar learned to play the octavina in a rondalla group. He studied at University of the Philippines' College of Music and trained as a classical musician. He later moved to New York with a scholarship to study at the Manhattan School of Music, and he received his Bachelor of Music Degree at the San Francisco Conservatory for Music.

Aguilar is an advocate of harana music, songs used in the now-vanished Filipino courtship ritual of serenading. He and Enriquez produced the 2012 documentary "Harana: The Search for the Lost Art of Serenade," where Aguilar returned to the Philippines after 12 years to interview and collaborate with three haranistas from remote provinces.


Growing up in Cavite province in the '70s, Aguilar experienced many "brownouts.'" "When there'd be no electricity at night, my cousins and family friends would gather over candle light and tell really scary ghost stories. You can imagine what that does to an impressionable young boy."

Cast records for "Aswang the Concert" soundtrack.
From left, top row: Kyle de Ocera and Leon Palad.
Bottom row: Kristine Sinajon and Giovanni Jose.

Fast forward 30 years later, when Alleluia Panis of Kularts and Aguilar were exploring ideas for a new performance piece, Aguilar immediately thought of the creatures from his childhood.

He wanted to have these creatures come out and tell the "truth" of their stories themselves. "That they're really not what we thought they were," he says. "That some were born out of misconceptions, or they're just humans portrayed as evil by the Spanish friars in order to discredit shamanic figures so they could convert (people) to Catholicism."

"Fides and I don't like the usual horror movie representations of these mythological creatures, we don't think that's interesting. We hope to successfully portray them more as multidimensional figures that would ruin your usual preconceived notions." Multimedia This concert is only one component of a multiformat endeavor.

Sneak-peek videos of rehearsals have already been posted in the production's Facebook event page and a raw soundtrack has been uploaded to Augilar's Soundcloud account.

The concert will also be filmed and the footage will become part of a planned "Aswang" movie production. There is also another staging of the concert being planned.

Cast includes Charmaine Clamor as Manananggal, Leon Palad as Tikbalang, Kyle de Ocera as Isagani/Syokoy, Giovanni Ortega as The Host, and mezzo-soprano Kristine Sinajon as Candida/Lady in White.

Music is performed by the Fandangueros, Florante Aguilar (guitar), Chus Alonso (flute and laud), Sage Baggott (percussion) and Greg Kehret (double bass). Sound engineering is by Chris Bell, lighting design by Kevin Myrick, costume design by Lara Waters.

The concert is presented by Filipino American Association of Sonoma State University. A production of New Art Media in partnership with Center for Babaylan Studies, co-produced by Esperanza Catubig.

Free admission; donations accepted for Center of Babaylan Studies. "Aswang the Concert" runs Oct. 15, 5 p.m., at Schroeder Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park, California. Visit

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: