Fil-Am Isa Briones is youngest actor in 'Hamilton' nat’l tour

By WALTER ANG
April 20, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net
http://usa.inquirer.net/11701/fil-isa-briones-youngest-actor-hamilton-natl-tour

ST.  LOUIS, Missouri — Isa Briones has joined the cast of one of the two national touring productions of the hit musical "Hamilton."

Isa Briones plays Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds in "Hamilton."

She plays the roles of Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds in the Angelica cast; the other touring production is known as the Philip cast.

At 19 years old, Briones is the youngest lead to join the show. She is also the understudy for the Eliza Schuyler-Hamilton role.

Briones debuted during the Angelica cast's performance in Denver, Colorado. The Angelica cast is currently performing in The Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis, Missouri until April 22.

WATCH: Isa Briones singing with Arthur Joseph "AJ" Rafael

Its next stop is Houston, Texas at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts with performances beginning April 24. Atlanta, Georgia follows in May, and Washington, DC in June, with other cities afterward.

Other Filipino Americans and Filipinos

Created by Lin Manuel Miranda (who also co-wrote songs for the Disney animated film "Moana" and is acting in the upcoming Disney film "Mary Poppins Returns"), the multi-awarded musical is about the life of Alexander Hamilton, a statesman, one of the Founding Fathers of the US, as well as the founder of the nation's financial system.

In the Broadway production, Filipino American Karla Garcia has been a female swing—an actor who knows several different roles in order to take the place of absent cast members—since 2016.

WATCH: Lin Manuel Miranda singing with Karla Garcia

In the London production, which opened last year, the cast includes Filipino actors Rachelle Ann Go as Eliza and Christine Allado as Peggy/Maria.

Game-changer

"Fun fact: for my history project in the eighth grade, I made an Instagram account of Thomas Jefferson," says Briones.

Isa Briones (far right) with fellow actors backstage.

"Being in this show has definitely taught me a lot more about American history than I ever knew.

"It's so cool to think about kids now that are going to grow up knowing and loving this history because of this show.

"Not only that, but they will be able to visualize the founders of this country as people who are diverse, coming from all different backgrounds and representing America as it is today.

"This show is really changing the game in so many ways."

Award-winner

Briones landed the role after going through a seven-month audition process.

Briones went through a seven-month audition process before landing the role.
Photo by Jenny Anderson

"I had always heard from people that the Hamilton audition process was a long one, and mine was no exception," she says.

"'Hamilton' was my first audition when I moved to New York," says the actress who was formerly based in Los Angeles.

When she did so, Briones had just completed the run of Los Angeles-based theater company East West Players' staging of the musical "Next to Normal."

She played Natalie, a daughter who grapples with her mother's mental health condition. The role earned her the 2018 Ovation Award for Featured Actress in a Musical earlier this year.

She actually competed against herself at the Ovation Awards as she was nominated three times (for different shows) in the same category.

Surreal

"I went in to the auditions sporadically for about 6 months and then the last month went very quickly. It's funny how it feels like a slow process but once you get to the end of it, it's, like, `bam! now you're in the show!'"

Briones (left) and a fellow actor backstage.

She had to learn the show in New York for several weeks, rehearsing during the day. Then it was off to Denver, watching the show in the evenings for about two weeks before being treading the boards.

"It felt so surreal to debut. It didn't feel quite real and it still shakes me a bit when I stop and realize what an amazing job this is."

Her family, all actors, traveled in to Denver from Los Angeles to watch her debut and to dispense some words of wisdom for the new job that will take her across the US.

Family

"Of course, being my parents, their number one pieces of advice were to save money and stay healthy. They definitely know what they're talking about," she says.

From left: her father Jon Jon, brother Teo, Isa, and mother, Megan.

Her parents, Megan and Jon Jon, are no strangers to long-running touring productions. They met when they were both actors in a touring production of "Miss Saigon" in Germany.

If her father's name sounds familiar, it's because he recently concluded his Broadway debut as the Engineer in the 2017-18 revival of "Miss Saigon."

"It was wonderful to have people around me that could prepare me for what was ahead. They're always there to call when I need advice."

For details on the "Hamilton" US Tour, visit HamiltonMusical.com.

READ about Isa Briones winning the 2018 Ovation Award here.

READ about Jon Jon Briones being cast as the Engineer in the 2017-18 Broadway revival of "Miss Saigon" here.

Confusion, curiosity in Marlina Gonzalez’s 'Isla Tuliro'

By WALTER ANG
March 18, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net
http://usa.inquirer.net/11624/confusion-curiosity-marlina-gonzalezs-isla-tuliro

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota  Theatergoers will get a multilingual history lesson in how the Philippines was colonized by Spain in Marlina Gonzalez's play "Isla Tuliro."

From left: Lyra Hernandez, Lita Malicsi and Mar Alojado in "Isla Tuliro."
Photo by Bruce Silcox

That's Tagalog for "Island of Confusion." And though English supertitles will be projected to guide the audience along the play's deliberate switching around of Tagalog, English, and Spanish, one of Gonzalez's goals is to confuse the audience-at least in some parts of the story.

The aim of the confusion, in this case, is to amplify the audience's curiosity and to serve as a prompt for them to ask questions, even after the show is done.

"I'd like for audiences to ask questions about the commonalities between the Philippines and Latin American countries. About the relationships between the Philippines and the US, between the US and Europe, etc.," Gonzalez explains.

"Though most Filipinos and Filipino Americans know that Latin American countries were colonized by Spain, hardly anyone from those communities know about our history with Spain."

Collaborators

In the play, the idyllic life of the Kayumanggis, brown-skinned islanders who live by Dagat Payapa (Ocean of Peace) is disrupted by the sudden arrival of creatures from the ocean and sky. The creatures speak strange languages and claim the islands as their own, making up rules on how the islanders should live.

Marlina Gonzalez is the playwright of "Isla Tuliro."

The cast is mostly Filipino American. Other Filipino Americans involved include choreographer Mar Alojado, movement coach Sandy Agustin, and martial arts coach Allen Malicsi.

Sponsoring community producers include Cultural Society of Filipino Americans and Fil-Minnesotan Association.

Co-presented by Pangea World Theater and Teatro del Pueblo, the play is co-directed by Gonzalez and Pangea's artistic director Meena Natarajan.

Gonzalez had worked with both groups before and had broached her ideas on how to help bring together the Asian American and Latin American communities in their area.

A few years ago, both theater groups received a grant from the Joyce Foundation that enabled Gonzalez and two other writers to develop works for the stage.

That's when she began committing "Isla Tuliro" to the page.

Social justice

Gonzalez is known in Minneapolis as a producer of international film festivals, multidisciplinary art exhibits and performances for Walker Art Center.

She was previously based in New York and had been a festival director of the Asian American International Film Festival there.

"Isla Tuliro" is a result of all the different influences and theater ideologies she has learned.

Before she moved to the US in 1980, Gonzalez had been involved with theater company Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) as well as student theater groups at University of the Philippines during the martial law years in the '70s.

"I was involved in improvisational theater, street theater and agitprop theater. We used theater to address social justice issues," she says.

"That was when I learned that you could use theater and adapt stories to represent sociopolitical viewpoints. During those times, there was a lot of censorship. Artists got away with strong messages by camouflaging stories as mythology and fantasy."

Questioning history

In "Isla Tuliro," she uses mythology to address history-or the lack of awareness of it.

Cast of "Isla Tuliro." Photo by Bruce Silcox

"A play like this is almost like an editorial cartoon, where it pokes holes in facts and figures so that people start to think about what the realities are," she says.

"Our stories are not always represented in history books, especially those published by western authors.

"I hope that after audiences watch the show, they will think about how history, as we know it or as it was taught to us in school, is not always the complete history."

She hopes the play will inspire theatergoers to go out and do their own research of "the different cultures and peoples here in the US."

Remembering roots

The production itself has proven enlightening to its cast.

Sixteen-year-old Atquetzali Quiroz is of indigenous Mexica Nahua and Filipino heritage. "I grew up learning the ancestral teachings of the Mexica people but never knew too much of my Filipino heritage," she says.

The little exposure she had to Filipino culture was through hearing Tagalog being spoken by her mother, aunt and grandmother. "My mom would sing 'Bahay Kubo' to me all the time before bed."

"Being in 'Isla Tuliro' reminded me of those moments, and I feel more in touch with my Filipino side after hearing the language and the songs from the Philippines.

"Being in 'Isla Tuliro' made me feel like I was home and whole."

Stage siblings

Meanwhile, over in New York, Gonzalez' brother Jojo is in the cast of The Public Theater's world premiere production of two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage's "Mlima's Tale."

Jojo Gonzalez (left) is in the cast of
The Public Theater's staging of "Mlima's Tale."
Photo by Joan Marcus

Jojo plays five different characters in this play about Mlima, an elephant trapped in the international ivory market. His recent acting credits include "Small Mouth Sounds" for Ars Nova and "House Rules" for Ma-Yi Theater.

READ about Ma-Yi Theater's 2016 staging of "House Rules" here.

"Mlima's Tale" currently in previews, runs April 15-May 20 at Martinson Hall, The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., New York, New York. Visit Publictheater.org.

"Isla Tuliro" runs until April 22 at The Southern Theater, 1420 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis, Minnesota. Visit PangeaWorldTheater.org.

"Isla Tuliro" is available for touring or for restaging.


Nicholas Pilapil's play: Love among dumb high school kids

By WALTER ANG
April 11, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net
http://usa.inquirer.net/11488/nicholas-pilapils-play-love-among-dumb-high-school-kids

LOS ANGELES  Nicholas Pilapil will take theatergoers into the world of three unloved youths in his new play "Young Dumb Broke High School Kids."

Nicholas Pilapil

The play will have a staged reading at "Spring Readings: Two Plays, One Day," produced by theater company Artists at Play (AAP) as part of its annual spring staged reading series.

In the play, the pregnant Bliss, the loveless Olivia, and orphan Miles "try to sort out their lives in the most dangerous ways."

Other Filipino Americans involved in the play are Christopher Aguilar, who is part of the cast, and playwright and screenwriter Michael Golamco, who is the dramaturg. Marie-Reine Velez is one of AAP's founding artistic leaders.

The show's other play will be "Three Women of Swatow" by Chloe Hung, a comedy where three generations of women try to prevent the resurrection of a headless chicken.

Each staged reading will be followed by a talkback session.

Showcasing new works

Part of AAP's objectives is to present stories of underrepresented communities and to develop and showcase new works to the Los Angeles community "in the midst of a national discussion on the lack of diversity and representation."

Other Filipino American playwrights' works that have been featured in AAP's staged reading series include "Marabella" by Boni Alvarez in 2014 and "tot: The Untold, Yet Spectacular Story of (a filipino) Hulk Hogan" by Victor Maog last year, which went on to be staged by Mu Performing Arts in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The group has also featured "As We Babble On" by Nathan Ramos in 2016, which will be staged by East West Players later this year.

Empowering

While Pilapil has to read plays as part of his work as a producing member of Artists at Play, he mostly does so "for my pure enjoyment," he says.

Christopher Aguilar (left) is in the cast and
Michael Golamco is the dramaturg.

Born and raised in Cerritos, California, Pilapil took up theatre arts at California State University-Long Beach.

"I read a lot of plays. I'm a huge new play lover, I'm always trying to read something new and find my next favorite writer."

It was after going through many plays that had nothing new to tell that sparked his own foray into playwriting.

"Initially, I thought `I can do way better than that!' What I had been reading was just a lot of the same thing, like white people in a living room just talking about their problems that aren't really problems.

"I realized that I have a unique point of view and experiences that are different from the white narrative. I wanted to try to contribute that to the theater. I wanted to write more roles for Asian American actors."

He took a workshop under playwright Madhuri Shekar and began to craft his own works. "Oddly, playwriting felt like a form of activism. To be able to tell a story and share my point of view felt kind of empowering for me."

But what really hooked him was experiencing an audience react to his first play. His musical comedy "Before and After" received a staged reading at East West Players in 2015.

"Once that audience laughed, I was, like, 'I'm changing careers!'"

Talking fetus

He describes his new play as a love story.

"I wanted to write a love story. At the beginning of this play's life, it was a boy-meets-girl kind of story where they just fall in love. It was an epic love story that traveled through time and had a talking fetus," he says. "It was so stupid."

Though he hated the first iteration of this play, "I loved its characters, specifically the characters when they were 16 years old in 1997."

"I trashed the play but kept those characters. It became less of the typical boy-meets-girl love story and more of a story about learning to love yourself and the life you live."

Developing

"Young Dumb" has already gone through a previous staged reading and a workshop by The Vagrancy theater company last year.

From left: dramaturg Michael Golamco, actors Eddie Liu and Christopher Aguilar,
playwright Nicholas Pilapil, actor Jenapher Zheng, and director Jer Adrianne Lelliott.
Photo by Stefanie Lau

For this staged reading, Pilapil is working with playwright Michael Golamco, who is serving as the dramaturg.

"It's exciting to work with Michael. He's definitely someone to look up to. He's doing so many amazing things with film and TV," Pilapil says.

One of Golamco's most popular plays is "Cowboy Versus Samurai," where an Asian American man falls in love with an Asian American woman who only dates white men. He is also a writer/producer for television, with credits such as Syfy/Netflix's "Nightflyers" and NBC's "Grimm."

"As another Filipino American, it's so cool to see one of our people really succeed. As a fan of his plays, I think he's a fantastic writer, so I really trust his opinion and point of view. He's so smart."

Upcoming

Aside from playwriting, Pilapil is also a songwriter and a screenwriter. He is cofounder of Becky and Baldwin, a production company, and has written short films "I Don't Love You" and "Zoe."

There are no plans yet for full stagings of Pilapil's plays. "A production would be a dream!"

In the meantime, he has another play, "Celebrity Trash," that will have a staged reading on May 19 at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre by The Vagrancy.

"'Celebrity Trash' is an adaptation of August Strindberg's 'Miss Julie,' which is about class and sex. My adaptation adds explorations of race, white male privilege and celebrity culture. It's set in 2007, before the social media age, when tabloids were super popular and Britney Spears had just shaved her head."

READ about Artists at Play's staged reading of "tot: The Untold, Yet Spectacular Story of (a filipino) Hulk Hogan" last year here.

READ about Boni Alvarez's "Fixed" here and "Bloodletting" here.

"Spring Readings: Two Plays, One Day" runs April 28 at Company of Angels, Hazard Recreation Center, 1350 San Pablo St, Los Angeles, CA. Visit ArtistsAtPlayLA.blogspot.com.


Jovanni Sy's murder mystery 'Nine Dragons' goes onstage in Vancouver

By WALTER ANG
April 6, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net
http://usa.inquirer.net/11446/jovanni-sys-murder-mystery-nine-dragons-goes-onstage-vancouver

VANCOUVER   A killer is littering 1924 Kowloon with the corpses of mutilated women. Police detective Tommy Lam must investigate the case while dealing with condescending British counterparts from Scotland Yard.

Detective Tommy Lam investigates a series of
killings in Jovanni Sy's "Nine Dragons."
Photo by Tim Nguyen.

That's the premise of Jovanni Sy's "Nine Dragons," a noir mystery play that will be staged by Gateway Theatre this month.

Directed by Craig Hall, the play is a co-production with Vertigo Theatre and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre-venues where it has had performances last year as part of the whodunit's multi-venue world premiere.

Praise for last year's performances include "whip-smart" (Globe and Mail), "provocative...cinematic" (Winnipeg Free Press), "more here than initially meets the eye...[giving it] bite" (CBC.ca), "pulls no punches about ranks and race" (Downtown Calgary), and "impresses" (Calgary Herald).

Fan letter

"This is a very personal piece for me," Sy writes in the season lineup brochure for Gateway Theatre, where he is artistic director.

Jovanni Sy.

"First, it speaks to my lifelong love of mysteriesthe play is like a fan letter to my favorite fictional detectives of yesteryear.

"But it's also personal because the play is for anyone who has ever felt like they're on the outside looking in. My detective, Tommy Lam, is a voice we don't see represented on stage much."

Mystery lover

Sy explains that the initial idea for this play was sparked when he saw an old black-and-white photograph of a dapper Asian man in a Western suit.

"Something about that picture revealed a whole world to me. I knew immediately that I wanted to construct a mystery," he says.

Sy has always been a lover of mysteries "in all formatsnovels, films, whateversince I was young."

He noticed that there haven't been too many mysteries written for the stage in the last few decades. "I wanted to add to that canon and to create a new story with an Asian man as its hero."

Iterations

He first wrote the draft of "Nine Dragons" in 2012. "There have been substantial revisions between then and now. In particular, the play's ending changed a number of times.

"With each iteration, however, I learned something and received great advice from my peers and from my colleague Craig Hall."

The pair worked together on workshops of the material, which helped Sy through the revision process.

"I had a clearer idea of how to rewrite the draft to improve it. I think, in the end, we've created a compelling and entertaining story that will resonate with all Asian Canadians."

Artistic leader

Sy assumed the position of artistic director of Gateway Theatre in 2012.

John Ng (left) will reprise his role as Tommy Lam.
Photo by Tim Nguyen.

Born in Manila, Sy was raised in Toronto. "I was only four months old when my family moved from Manila to Burnaby. We lived in the Lower Mainland until I was four years old and then moved to Toronto."

He was based in Toronto professionally for 20 years as an actor, playwright, director, and dramaturg.

For six seasons, he was the artistic director of Cahoots Theatre Company. (He was succeeded by Filipino Canadian Nina Lee Aquino from 2009 to 2013.)

Book launch

There will be a book launch of "Nine Dragons" on April 17 co-hosted with Talonbooks and LiterASIAN Festival.

A book launch of Nine Dragons will be held on April 17.

Ticket holders for that evening's performance can avail of a discount on the book.

Other plays Sy has written include "The Birth of the American Empire (as told by those who received the Blessings of Liberty)," an epic drama set during the Spanish-American War.

He's also written a one-person play, "A Taste of Empire," which explores colonialism through food, labor, and immigration.

Directing

As an actor, Sy has performed with companies across Canada. His most recent appearance was in "Fear of Flight" at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre during the 2010 Winter Olympics. He has also appeared in film and television.

His directing credits include Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage," Jean Anouilh's "Antigone," David Harrower's "Blackbird (in Hong Kong), among others.

Sy will be directing one of Gateway Theatre's plays for the upcoming 2018-19 season.

"It's a hilarious comedy and I'm looking forward to it," he says. "Stay tuned for our season announcement on April 13!"

"Nine Dragons" runs April 12-21 at Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Rd., Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. Visit Gatewaytheatre.com.

Play: What if Godzilla really did destroy Tokyo?

By WALTER ANG
March 29, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net
http://usa.inquirer.net/11238/play-godzilla-really-destroy-tokyo

LOS ANGELES  A new play that explores an alternate timeline-where a real Godzilla-type monster attacks Japan-will be premiered by Sacred Fools Theater.

Reuben Uy (left) as Yukio Misihima in "Akuma-shin."
Photos by Jessica Sherman Photography.

"Akuma-Shin" is set in 1976 in an American television talk show where guests grapple with the "seismic waves of fear, anger and ignorance" that the attack has unleashed "through generations."

Filipino American actor Reuben Uy has been cast to play Yukio Mishima-a Japanese author, poet, playwright, actor, film director, and militia leader.

Speculative

Written by Kenley Smith, the play's characters are composed of real-life personalities such as broadcast journalist Nancy Dickerson (serving as the talk show host), novelist Truman Capote, psychologist Joyce Brothers, and civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.

Uy (seated, far right). "Akuma-shin" is set in a TV talk show.

A statement for the play reads, "facts are questioned and modern politics is set against primal religion in this cautionary tale of two nations coping with their own damaged legacies-can humanity reckon with the monsters that rise against us, the ones that live within us all?"

Uy's recent credits include "Pacific Overtures" for Chromulume Theater, "1984" for Greenway Court Alliance, "Twelfth Night" for Coeurage Theatre, and "La Cage Aux Folles" and "Beijing Spring" for East West Players.

The play will be directed by Scott Leggett.

"Sacred Fools is one of the most critically acclaimed theaters in LA," Uy says.

"It's one of those theaters that actors audition for a lot. It so happened that the right fit came at the right time," he says of being cast in this production.

Crafting characters

"'Akuma-shin' means 'god-devil,'" he says. "Kaiju or 'strange beast' monsters in Japanese media has always been used to symbolize the darkness in human hearts. This play leans on that as well."

Reuben Uy.

Uy is eager to tackle the material. "Few playwrights are able to infuse so many layers in their writing without it sounding clumsy and fake. With Kenley, the lines flow easy like it's conversation," he adds.

While Uy is able to research documents about Yukio Mishima, he can only rely on the playwright's words to build another character he has been cast to portray.

"For George, who is a fictional character, it's more of a process of discovery for me through rehearsals. Kenley is brilliant when it comes to incorporating exposition within dialogue and so it was easy for me to put the pieces together.

Controversial

Despite the presence of an otherworldly creature in the story, the play is not a campy comedy.

Uy (right) as George Serizawa in a scene from "Akuma-shin."

The play's alternate universe reconfigures historical figures in unfamiliar renderings: presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald becomes a decorated Marine and congressman, while Martin Luther King, Jr. is in jail.

"The show is a straight-up drama," explains Uy.

He goes on to point out that the play, despite its fictional premise, serves as an allegorical commentary to present circumstances.

He also highlights a component in the play that has to do with America's exchange with Japan. "The Japanese American experience has always been an example of how not to treat a certain demographic."

"The chaos in the TV studio is pretty parallel to a modern Twitter fight," he says.

"The play affected me in terms of how timely it is. The script tackles so many issues at once."

"Akuma-shin" runs March 30-April 28 at Broadwater Mainstage, 1076 Lillian Way. Visit Sacredfools.org.

Jessica Hagedorn’s 'Gangster of Love' goes onstage

By WALTER ANG
March 23, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net
http://usa.inquirer.net/11077/jessica-hagedorns-gangster-love-goes-onstage

SAN FRANCISCO  Singer, songwriter and poet Golda Sargento has been cast to play Raquel "Rocky" Rivera in Jessica Hagedorn's play "The Gangster of Love."

Sargento is a singer, poet, bookstore owner and publisher.
Photo by ClickDominique

This world premiere, based on Hagedorn's novel of the same title, concludes Magic Theatre's 2017-18 season and will be helmed by the group's artistic director Loretta Greco.

Inspired by Hagedorn's own immigration story from Manila to San Francisco, the play is about Rocky Rivera and her eccentric family who live in the Haight area during the 1970s. Amidst a time of conflict, social change, and artistic flourishing, Rivera comes of age as she interacts with other immigrant artists-poets, musicians, rebels.

The stage adaptation will feature live music, poetry readings, and music videos.

Aside from Sargento, other Filipino Americans in featured roles include Jed Parsario as Voltaire Rivera as well as Sean San Jose and Chuck Lacson, who will each portray various characters.

Thrilled

Hagedorn is most known for her novel Dogeaters, which won the 1990 American Book Award and has also been adapted for the stage. It had a recent production by Magic Theatre in 2015. However, depending on who you ask, she also sings, does performance art, writes poetry and plays, edits anthologies, etc.

Jessica Hagedorn.
Photo from Wikipedia

She founded music band The Gangster Choir in San Francisco and staged one-person multimedia shows in New York in the '70s before she delved into novel-writing and playwriting in the '80s and '90s.

Hagedorn's other plays include "Most Wanted, Stairway to Heaven" and its sequel "Fe In The Desert," both for Campo Santo Theater (which was cofounded by Sean San Jose).

"I'm thrilled to be collaborating once again with Magic Theatre's fearless artistic director Loretta Greco," Hagedorn said in a statement. "I can't wait to work with our innovative creative team, and the stellar cast of kick-ass actors and musicians that we've assembled."

Greco's directing credits at Magic include Jessica Hagedorn's "Dogeaters" and the world premiere of Fil-Am playwright Han Ong's "Grandeur."

First encounter

Sargento first read Hagedorn's works in college when she was taking up English Literature. "But it wasn't for class," she says.

"I was hyper-saturated in the standard canon of dead white men and moving into Shakespeare when a lone woman professor loaned me her copy of The Big Aiiieeeee! (an anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American literature) and Dogeaters."

"I then hunted down Gangster of Love, hungry for Jessica's prose and picture-making. I was stunned by the reflections she paraded in Gangster. I didn't know you could write from the gut like that, about the present still aglow everywhere, and that it could tell the future."

Relating

Sargento had never encountered a character like Rocky before. "I loved Rocky the moment I read her. She was my long-lost twin," she says.

Golda Sargento will play Rocky Rivera in "Gangster of Love."
Photo by Paciano Triunfo

She also related with Voltaire, Rocky's brother, as well as felt familiar with Milagros, Rocky's mother. "Milagros had that Pinay Mom scary-power, just like my mom."

"Using the gravity of love and fear in the family dynamic, explorations of sexual identities and friendships, all the while keeping time to a crescendo of art welling up inside, Gangster of Love became, and exists still as, an opus of a lost generation, previously unsung in the hallowed halls of literature.

"Representation matters. Jessica is our hero for that."

Music, family, memory

Sargento will be working with the show's band to develop the show's music. These days, "I'm listening to some bands from the '70s, including Hendrix, Bullet and Fanny, an all-girl band composed of two Pinay sisters," she says.

(Hagedorn has curated a music playlist to "celebrate the gritty, vibrant world of Rocky Rivera" here.)

Born in Quezon City, Sargento moved to Anchorage, Alaska with her family when she was three years old.

"I would listen to my dad's OPM (Original Pilipino Music songs), along with his American music. There were classic folk songs from the Philippines as well. Now that I think of it, there probably wasn't a lot of contemporary music from the Philippines available to us at the time."

Singing karaoke during parties aside, it was dance that became her stepping stone into performing. "My first experience performing would have to be dancing Filipino folk dances that my mother taught. I would peddle poems to house bands after that."

Theater

Her first foray into theater was performing for the edutainment collective Overseas Artists.

From left: Jed Parsario, Sean San Jose, and Chuck Lacson.

"The group landed a show at Bindlestiff Studio in the early 2000s. From there, I started volunteering at Bindlestiff regularly, performing as staff and creative element," she says.

"Having a space to explore and grow is critical. I met 8th Wonder, a spoken word group, as well as my bandmates, collaborators, friends. I found a lot of my art in that space."

She recently acted in Bindlestiff's annual "The Love Edition" series in 2016 and directed one of the series' plays last year. Other recent credits include "darkheart: a concert narrative" for Kearny Street Workshop's APAture festival and "Wandering: A Musical Dance Expression of the Filipino Diaspora" for SAFEhouse Arts, both last year.

Inspiration

"My inspiration comes from little stages, stories untold, my peers and mentors, and the community that creates space and art to play with," she says.

Aspects of Sargento's personal and professional lives converge in this production. To wit, she is a Filipino American woman performer-singer-songwriter who is also a poet and a bookstore co-owner/publisher (of Arkipelago Books) who will be acting in a play adapted from a book, portraying a character who is Filipino American, a woman, and a singer.

"Clearly, I'm honored to be a part of this production, this cast, this story, in this city for all you lovely people.

"What does it mean for me to play my real-life hero, written by my real-life hero in a city that's saved me over and over? I hope art and life listen to the beauty in each other, and that something magical happens from it all."

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

READ about Magic Theatre's staging of Han Ong's "Grandeur" here.

"The Gangster of Love" previews start April 11, run April 18-May 6 at Magic Theatre, 3rd floor, Bldg. D, Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, 2 Marina Blvd., San Franciso. Visit MagicTheatre.org.


Story of Filipino drag queen-care givers in Israel goes onstage

By WALTER ANG
March 19, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net
http://usa.inquirer.net/10988/story-filipino-drag-queen-care-givers-israel-goes-onstage

WASHINGTON, D.C.  A group of Filipino men work in Israel as live-in caregivers for elderly Orthodox Jewish men. They also moonlight as performers in a drag show-singing Hebrew, Yiddish, and English pop tunes.

Evan D'Angeles, Kevin Shen, Jon Norman Schneider,
with castmate Chris Bloch, Rafael Sebastian, and Ariel Felix.

That's the cast of characters of a new play (with music), "Paper Dolls," which will be shown at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, in this city.

Based on real individuals who were featured in a 2006 Israeli documentary of the same title, the play highlights the many challenges that immigrant workers go through.

Filipino Americans involved in the production include actors Evan D'Angeles (who will play Zhan), Ariel Felix (Sally), Rafael Sebastian (Cheska) and Jon Norman Schneider (Jiorgio), as well as choreographer Jeff Michael Rebudal.

To be staged by Mosaic Theater Company of DC, the production will be part of the 2018 Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival.

Director is Mark Brokaw, who recently helmed Rogers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" on Broadway.

Cast

Evan D'Angeles has performed on Broadway ("Miss Saigon" and "Pacific Overtures"), in national tours ("Rent," "Cats," and "The 25th Annual Spelling Bee"), and regional theaters ("Hunchback of Notre Dame" and others).

From left: Evan D'Angeles, Ariel Felix, and Rafael Sebastian.

Ariel Felix was in the first national tour of "Miss Saigon." Other credits include "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" for Attic Theatre & Film Center and "F.O.B." for East West Players. Felix also recently worked in an episode of television show "Chicago Fire." A film he wrote and acted in, "The Others," has been winning awards and making the rounds of the film festival circuit.

Based in Washington, DC, Rafael Sebastian's recent credits include "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Romeo and Juliet" for Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, "Journey to the West" for Constellation Theatre Company, and "A Bid to Save the World" for Source Theatre Company.

Reprise

This is the play's American premiere. Written by Philip Himberg, "Paper Dolls" had its world premiere in London in 2013 by Tricycle Theatre.

Jon Norman Schneider.

Jon Norman Schneider reprises his role from the London staging, playing Jiorgio.

"Very rarely does an actor get to revisit a role he's already done once in production," he says. "So this feels like an exciting opportunity to engage with the material more deeply."

"Philip, the playwright, has done a lot of work refining the script and story since the London premiere, so in many ways, this version feels like its own, discrete endeavor."

Real Jiorgio

Several of the documentary subjects who relocated to London were able to watch the staging there. (Salvador "Sally" Camatoy, one of the caregivers featured in the documentary, was found dead in the United Arab Emirates in 2007.)

Schneider had the opportunity to meet Giorgio Diokno-the real "Jiorgio."

"Mercifully, no one told us beforehand that some of the Dolls would be in attendance that night," Schneider says.

"It was quite a surreal, humbling moment the first time we all met after a preview performance. They were very gracious and said many complimentary things."

New American plays

Born in Quezon City, Schneider moved to the US with his family when he was three years old. He grew up in the Bronx and studied drama at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

From left: actors Ariel Felix, Jon Norman Schneider, playwright Philip Himberg,
actor Kevin Shen, director Mark Brokaw, actors Evan D'Angeles and Rafael Sebastian.

His has acted in regional theaters and in Off-Broadway productions. Recent credits include "Awake and Sing!" for National Asian American Theatre Company (acting opposite the company's founding artistic director, Filipino American Mia Katigbak) and "City Of" for Peter Jay Sharp Theater.

Schneider hopes that theatergoers who catch "Paper Dolls" will not only be entertained by the story of these "outsiders" but also moved.

"Despite being far from 'home,' they are able to carve out space for themselves in unexpected ways, through their particular expression of creativity, performing in drag," he says.

He adds that any chance to diversify the theatrical landscape is exciting to him "on a personal level, as an actor of color."

"These characters' stories are not ones you see often on American stages. It's absolutely true that representation matters in art.

"I believe the more we expand our curiosities about different types of people and their stories, the richer and more relevant the ongoing legacy of new American plays becomes."

READ about the Filipino actor in the 2016 London staging of "Paper Dolls" here.

READ about National Asian American Theatre Company (NAATCO)'s staging of "Awake and Sing!" here.

"Paper Dolls" runs Mar. 29-Apr. 22 at Lang Theatre, Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE, Washington, DC. Visit Mosaictheater.org.


Emily Bautista is Eponine in touring 'Les Miserables'

By WALTER ANG
March 17, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net
http://usa.inquirer.net/10931/emily-bautista-eponine-touring-les-miserables

NEW YORK  Emily Bautista is playing Eponine in the current North America touring production of "Les Miserables."

Emily Bautista plays Eponine in North America
touring production of "Les Miserables."
Photo by Matthew Murphy

This coming March 20 to 25, it will run in Appleton, Wisconsin at Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

It will then go on to tour cities in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Iowa, Texas, Arizona, and California, among others.

Lea Salonga played Eponine on Broadway in 1993. Filipino American actress Eva Noblezada, who played Kim in the recent "Miss Saigon" revivals in the UK and on Broadway, played Eponine in the 2016 West End production.

Bautista joins "Les Miz" straight from concluding her stint as the Kim understudy in the 2017-18 Broadway revival of "Miss Saigon."

Long journey

Bautista was in the middle of her schooling at Ithaca College for Theatre Studies when she was cast for "Miss Saigon." She landed the job after ten auditions, each time taking a six-hour bus ride from Ithaca to New York City.

Emily Bautista was born in Massachusetts.
Photo from Facebook.

Since she will be traveling across the country for the show, were those early bus trips for her "Saigon" auditions the universe's way of preparing her for this current job?

"The trips I took from Ithaca to Manhattan were definitely an adventure!" she says, laughing.

"Everything we do in life prepares us for something later to come. Every experience and encounter you have is an opportunity to learn something about yourself or your career and can help you in the future.

"I definitely grew during the 'Miss Saigon' audition process and I completely believe it has helped me get to where I am today."

And now, not only is she a professional actress, she also technically gets paid to travel and see the sights. "So far we've been to Montreal and Ottawa. It was my first time in Canada!" she says.

Plot

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, the musical is set in the early 1800s France-for reference, the US purchased Louisiana from France in 1803; and Alexander Hamilton was shot to death by Aaron Burr in a duel in 1804.

WATCH: Trailer of "Les Miserables" North America Tour.


The musical is about how Jean Valjean is relentlessly tracked down by a police inspector as he rises in society with a fake identity to escape his parole (after being imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving relatives).

The tragic Eponine falls in unrequited love with Marius, a student who is, in turn, in love with Valjean's adopted daughter Cosette.

Filipino Americans Ali Ewoldt and Adam Jacobs have played Cosette and Marius, respectively, on Broadway. (Ewoldt currently plays Christine Daae in "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway and Jacobs currently plays Aladdin in the national tour of "Disney's Aladdin.")

Unlearning

After Bautista announced to her family that she had landed the role, they celebrated by having dinner together. "Then we spent the night watching movies-just hanging out with all my loved ones before I hit the road.

Scene from "Les Miserables" North America Tour.
Photo by Matthew Murphy

"My family loves this show, so they were over the moon!"

Bautista was born in Massachusetts. "Both my parents are Filipino. My mom was born and raised here. She is half Filipino and half European descent. My dad moved here from the Philippines when he was 18 years old," she says.

She had actually played the same role back when she was in high school. Now that she is part of the official touring production, she has had to approach the role differently.

"The Eponine I play today is vastly different from the young girl I played in high school-for the very reason that I am a vastly different person now than the person I was in high school," she said.
But it's also because she never stops honing her craft. "I definitely had to unlearn some habits I had grown over the years and had to let go of some assumptions I had made about the character."

Discovery

"My process to finding my Eponine began," Bautista says, "as early as the auditions for the show."

"Every time I go into an audition, I try and write down everything that happens in the room. Anything the director says goes into my journal."

She would then spend time processing all the notes and channeling them into her characterization of the role.

"Our resident director Liam McIlwain gave me the book with pages marked out that gave a little insight on the kind of girl Eponine was. It gave me a more detailed look into the daily life of Eponine and the relationship she had with Marius."

And it's the scenes where the two characters establish their relationship that are Bautista's favorites.

"They're such fun acting moments, getting to play off your acting partner. Every night I feel like we're discovering new moments on stage, learning even more about the characters every time we do the show."

Visit Lesmiz.com for schedule of "Les Miserables" North America Tour.

Errol Isip to choreograph this year’s LA Fashion Week

By WALTER ANG
March 13, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net
http://usa.inquirer.net/10789/errol- isip-choreograph-years-la-fashion- week

LOS ANGELES  Filipino American Errol Isip is the casting director and choreographer of Los Angeles Fashion Week (LAFW)'s Fall/Winter 2018 presentation this month.

Fashion choreographer Errol Isip.

Filipino fashion designers Pia Gladys Perey and Michael Leyva are among the bevy of award- winning designers from around the world who will be featured in this installment.

Leyva and Perey's collections will be presented on March 18.

The runway shows will be held in the heart of Hollywood, at the modern and stylish coworking space NeueHouse.

The designs to be showcased will include California and international labels, women's wear and men's fashion.

Expertise

For LAFW, Isip regards diversity in casting as "very important!"

"LA is a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures," he says. "We make sure we cast models that cater to all markets."

Michael Leyva (left).
Actress Anne Curtis in (right) a Michael Leyva-designed gown.

Isip is a fashion show choreographer and fashion model coach with over 18 years' experience. He has directed shows for brands such as Armani, Moschino, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Bulgari, Harvey Nichols, Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach, among others.

"We are a big team composed of around 30 people," Isip says of the group he is in charge of-which handles model selection and choreography, as well as the lighting design and music scoring for all the shows for the event.

Pia Gladys Perey (left).
Model and actress Egith "Iggy" van Dither (right)
in a Pia Gladys Perey-designed gown.

He recently relocated to LA after working for several years in Dubai. He managed the appearances of celebrities in that city such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Stella McCartney and Tinie Tempah.

"To this day I am still so proud of our hard work for the Dolce and Gabbana show in 2016 because it was praised as The Gulf's biggest fashion event."

Isip is originally from Manila, where he choreographed and directed fashion shows and events, working with such clients as Adidas, Kodak and Chivas Regal. He also founded model management agency The Velvet Rope.

Filipino designers

Michael Leyva (Instagram.com/michaelleyva) began his career in the early 2010s and has become known for his designs in the wedding circuit as well as his celebrity clients such as TV host Kris Aquino and TV and film actress Anne Curtis.

Levya dreams of one day having actress Jennifer Lopez and former First Lady Michelle Obama wearing his creations.

Pia Gladys Perey's (piagladysperey.com) PGP label debuted in 2007 and is now sold in West Hollywood, New York, Florida, and Texas as well as UK, Sydney, Queensland, Perth, Adelaide, Dubai, and Singapore.

PGP launched in the US in 2010 and received a standing ovation when it showcased its Fall/Winter 2013/2014 collection at LAFW.

PGP has been worn by Hollywood celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, Eva Longoria, and Carrie Underwood.

Isip during rehearsals at a previous fashion show.

LAFW executive producer Arthur Chipman says, "LA is going through a cultural and we are excited to be a driving force behind its development into the premier hub for fashion, art, design and entertainment. Our city is surging with energy and artistic talent, and we cannot wait to unveil this season's offerings."

The caliber of the designers, the strength of their collections and the attendance of high-profile guests all contribute to LAFW's media coverage. Its recent show for Spring/Summer 2017 generated over 600 million impressions in Instagram alone.

LA Fashion Week's Fall/Winter 2018 presentation runs March 16-18. Visit LAFW.net or Instagram.com/LAFW.


Blood and aswang return to Los Angeles at a block party

By WALTER ANG
March 1, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net
http://usa.inquirer.net/10513/blood-aswang-return-los-angeles-block-party

LOS ANGELES - "Bloodletting," a play that involves two Filipino American siblings and their encounter with the supernatural creature aswang, will kick off this year's Block Party program at Kirk Douglas Theatre.

From left: Myra Maracine, Boni Alvarez, Alberto Isaac,
Jon Lawrence Rivera and Anne Yatco.

The program, organized by Center Theatre Group, highlights Los Angeles theater work and encourages collaboration by presenting three recently-staged productions from local theater companies. Each production will be staged for a two-week run.

The play is written by Boni Alvarez and directed by Playwrights' Arena founding artistic director Jon Lawrence Rivera.

"Block Party will shine light on the diversity of our programming at Playwrights' Arena and further showcase our work," said Rivera.

The play was premiered in 2016 by Playwrights' Arena and proved popular enough with audiences that its run was extended until 2017.

The original cast will reprise their roles for the 2018 staging. Included are actors Alberto Isaac, Myra Maracine and Anne Yatco. Playwright Boni Alvarez is also part of the cast.

Edgy and unexpected

Maracine plays Farrah, the sister. The first time she read the script, she found it "exciting and edgy and unexpected."

Scene from 2016 staging of "Bloodletting."

"I remember thinking wow, this is some crazy Filipino folklore taken to another level," she says.

Born in Manila, Maracine's family moved to Canada when she was three years old. She moved to the US after high school to attend the acting conservatory program at American Academy of Dramatic Arts in California.

Yatco, on the other hand, plays Leelee, a character that the siblings encounter in the Philippines. The first time she read the script, "I was immediately struck by the brother-sister relationship between Bosley and Farrah."

Yatco has a master's degree in acting from the California Institute of the Arts and also does improv and voice-over work.

The siblings' relationship to the Philippines as Filipino Americans also resonated with Yatco, who was born in Phoenix, Arizona.

"I've visited the Philippines once, while I was in high school, but I can relate to that dual feeling of recognizing something familiar about the country, but also feeling completely foreign at the same time."

Relationships

Both Maracine and Yatco are excited to revisit the roles they inhabited previously.

Cast of this year's staging of "Bloodletting," 
(from left) Myra Maracine, Anne Yatco, 
Boni Alvarez (also the playwright) and Alberto Isaac.

"Last year, I joined the production for the final three weeks of the extension, replacing the awesome Evie Abat. I had to learn a lot in a very short amount of time," explains Yatco.

"I'm looking forward to have the opportunity to dig a little deeper and really get to play around with the character for this run!" she adds.

Maracine says there are layers to the Farrah character that she wants to explore some more this time around. "And there will be new layers that I know I will discover in this process," she says.

Fascinating

One Filipino mythological creature that stands out to Yatco is the tikbalang. "I find it amusing that there's this half-man, half-horse that just pranks travelers and makes them get lost."

In "Bloodletting," two Fil-Am siblings return to the Philippines
to scatter their father's ashes--a scene from the 2016 staging.

For Maracine, she finds the manananggal (creatures who look like women whose torsos can split at the waist and fly off into the night) the most fascinating and scariest creature.  "I know they are a special breed of aswang that Boni writes about."

"The duwende itim (black elves) kinda cracks me up, and sounds more mischievous and vengeful when you anger them. The boogeyman's got nothing on these Filipino creatures!"

Maracine adds, "In the end, this play is not just about the Filipino culture and folklore with aswang, it's about these people and their relationships with one another."

"Bloodletting" runs Mar. 29-Apr. 8 at Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, California. Visit CenterTheatreGroup.org.

READ about Boni Alvarez' inspiration for writing "Bloodletting" here.

READ about director Jon Lawrence Rivera here.


Justine Moral plays Belle in 'Disney’s Beauty and the Beast' in Boston

By WALTER ANG
Feb. 21, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net
http://usa.inquirer.net/10316/fil-plays-belle-disneys-beauty-beast-boston

BOSTON  Justine "Icy" Moral is portraying Belle in "Disney's Beauty and the Beast" in Wheelock Family Theatre's production until March 4.

Justine "Icy" Moral in a scene from "Disney's Beauty and the Beast."

Belle is a young woman who doesn't quite fit in with the rest of her village. In order to save her father from the Beast, she agrees to become a prisoner in its castle.

Tinola and sisig are the two Filipino dishes Moral would add to the menu, if she could, in the number "Be Our Guest"-where the castle's enchanted staff serve Belle a welcome dinner.

"They are my favorite!" says Moral.

Heart

"The energy from the audience at the end of every show is so palpable and wonderful," Moral says.

This stage version of the animated film has music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.

Justine "Icy" Moral plays Belle in Wheelock
Family Theatre's "Disney's Beauty and the Beast."

We have had audience members say that this is a very moving production, that they felt the heart and depth that the cast brings to this show.

Direction is by Jane Staab with musical direction by Steven Bergman.

"One of the things said to me that I will always hold dear in my heart is 'Thank you for showing that any girl can be a princess.'"

Old favorite

"Disney's Beauty and the Beast" was actually the first theater production that Moral had seen as a child.

Moral having some fun backstage with a cast mate.

Though she had already been introduced to the animated version, watching the national touring production at the Kennedy Center enchanted and inspired her. She found it magical and beautiful.

Moral is based in Maryland and New York City. She was recently in Ford's Theatre's "A Christmas Carol."

Other credits include national tours of "South Pacific," "Elephant and Piggie" (including the Off-Broadway production) and "Les Miserables."

Regional credits include Constellation Theatre Company ("Avenue Q," "Journey to the West") and Imagination Stage ("The Little Mermaid," "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," "Peter Pan and Wendy"), among others.

Musical family

Born and raised in Maryland, Moral grew up in a musical family. Her father would play guitar, her grandmother would play Broadway soundtracks, and she would wrestle the karaoke microphone from her mother.

Jordan Moral (second from left, back row) plays Nassim
in "The Princess and the Pauper: A Bollywood Tale."

When she was 14 years old, she was signed up by a recording company in Manila and came out with a pop album "Dream Away." She eventually took up classical voice at Johns Hopkins University Peabody Conservatory.

She's not the only sibling who now works in theater. Her brother Jordan is currently in the cast of Anu Yadav's "The Princess and the Pauper: A Bollywood Tale" at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Maryland.

Inspired by Mark Twain's story "The Prince and the Pauper," this children's musical is about a spoiled princess who switches identities with a shy dressmaker's daughter and learns how unfairly her kingdom's people are treated.

"He plays the character Nassim, a family friend to the dressmaker's daughter and her family. I am very excited for him!"

Brunch

Wheelock Family Theatre also has Brunch with Belle and Friends on Sundays prior to the 2 p.m. matinee until March 4. Belle and other characters from the show visit diners as they partake of an all-you-can-eat buffet at Wheelock Dining Services (2nd floor, 150 Riverway).

Featured menu items include a make-your-own waffle station, pancakes and French toast, scrambled eggs and breakfast potatoes, bacon and sausage, a pizza bar, a made-to-order sandwich station, a full salad bar, and more. Vegetarian and gluten-free options will be available.

"Disney's Beauty and the Beast" runs until March 4 at Wheelock Family Theatre, Wheelock College, 180 Riverway, Boston. Visit Wheelockfamilytheatre.org.



"The Princess and the Pauper: A Bollywood Tale" runs until March 18 at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda, Maryland. Visit Imaginationstage.org.