Filipino-American playwright Boni Alvarez brings aswang to Los Angeles

March 30, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- Boni Alvarez's recent play, "Bloodletting," the plot of which includes the Filipino supernatural entity aswang, proved popular enough with audiences to warrant an extension.

Boni Alvaez.
Photo by Mike Palma/M Palma Photography.

Premiered in October last year and scheduled to originally close in November, the play was extended until January of this year.

"The production was well-received. It surprised me a little," Alvarez admits, believing that it resonated with theatergoers because "there are many points of entry for the audience."

Directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera for Playwright's Arena, the play is about two siblings who travel to the Philippines to spread their father's ashes when the sister discovers her latent powers.

"There were people who loved the mythology, people who are fans of witches of all cultures.  Most of the audience accessed the play through the brother-sister relationship.  Some people loved the 'foreign-ness' of the play, an escape to a remote locale they know nothing about."

Inner monster

Over the past few years, Alvarez has been steadily crafting plays that connect, combine and collide elements from the two countries that have shaped who he is.

For this play, he drew on childhood memories. His parents are from Antique province in the Philippines, a region believed to be a nexus for supernatural creatures.

"I've always been fascinated by aswang," he says. "Especially because we only heard about them when we were behaving badly.  My parents would threaten that the aswang would get me if I wasn't good."

Curiosity won over fear. As a child he pondered, "What did the aswang look like, sound like, move like?"

During a visit to the Philippines when he was four years old, his family actually introduced him to an aswang who lived across the street from his grandmother's home.

He said in a previous interview that the introduction was a courtesy, "So that she wouldn't curse me or what not. She seemed like a normal woman, just another person in the village."

In the play, he uses the mythology "as the inner monster of the main character, that her human behavior is an extension of her inner self."

Acting to writing

Alvarez entered theater as an actor first before he shifted to playwriting.

Scene from "Bloodletting."
Photo by Playwright's Arena.

"In the seventh grade, I saw an audition notice for the Palo Alto Children's Theater. The play was 'Rumplestiltskin' and I was cast as Hilard, Master of the Household.  I loved the experience and continued performing in more and more plays."

He went on to study theater at Sarah Lawrence College. "I did some plays in New York and went to the American Repertory Theatre Institute at Harvard University for an MFA in Acting."

"After grad school, I went back to New York, but my hopes fizzled out. I had an agent, I was part of Actors Equity, but I wasn't getting very many auditions."

He'd taken several playwriting classes in college and remembered a professor telling him that he had a lot of potential as a playwright.

"I moved back home with my parents, took some more playwriting classes and, after a few years, went to the University of Southern California for an MFA in Dramatic Writing."

Filipino stories

Now based in Los Angeles, Alvarez has been adding Filipino American stories to the fabric of the US stage.

And while having been born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area in East Palo Alto himself, he's incorporated immigration as a plot element in some of his works.

To wit: "America Adjacent," where pregnant women from the Philippines attempt to give birth in LA so that their children will have US citizenship; "The Special Education of Miss Lorna Cambonga," an immigrant Filipina schoolteacher who leaves her son in the Philippines to teach in LA; "Dallas Non-Stop," where a call-center agent in the Philippines tries to score a US visa.

Outside of LA, his plays have been produced or developed in New York, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

As for acting, he actually had to step in during the run of "Bloodletting" when an actor became unavailable. "Audiences were very kind about my performance. It's been surreal, jumping back into acting after over a decade. But the experience has been eye opening and I'm excited about exploring acting again, especially with all of the opportunities that didn't exist fifteen years ago."

Process and new works

"I write every day," Alvarez says of his process. "It can be as much as thirty pages or as few as two."
He qualifies that "writing" can mean the many different things that need to be done in order for actual writing to happen. "Sometimes it's revision or research. Right now, I'm working on a play set in the Philippines during WWII so there's a lot of research involved.

"Sometimes, it's reading a novel that might inform the world of my play. Sometimes, it's something as simple as brainstorming character names or thinking about a play's title."

For the rest of this year, adaptations are also in the works. In June, Alvarez's play "Nicky," a modern adaptation of Anton Chekhov's "Ivanov," will be staged by Coeurage Theatre Company.

"I've made Nicky's wife, Anna, a Filipina. In Chekhov's original, Anna is Jewish and Ivanov turns her culture against her in a very mean and unfair way. I wanted to explore what it's like for a Filipino immigrant to find herself in the middle of another group of immigrants, in this case, a Russian family."

In September, his play "Fixed" will be staged by Echo Theater Company. An adaptation of Pedro Calderon's "The Physician of His Own Honor," Alvarez reconfigures the story to feature ladyboy masseuses who work at the House of Malacañang Massage in LA's historic Filipinotown. A forbidden love affair soon catches the attention of the city's hottest political family.

And if any theater groups are interested, he says, "One day, I would love to have my plays performed in the Philippines."

To contact Boni Alvarez, visit

PARC Manila is San Juan's new performance venue

March 25, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

"Pinagtawanan ako," says Wilmer Guido of his father's reaction when he announced his plan of building a theater. "He thought I was joking."

Architectural perspective of what PARC Manila will look like.

Guido founded and runs Performing Arts and Recreation Center (PARC) Manila, a repurposed office compound along a side street in San Juan that's now a space for intimate performances.

"The venue's aim is to provide opportunities for artists, to increase performing arts' impact on the youth and to cultivate a culturally competent society," he says.

His father's LED-billboards business was expanding and the 1,600-square-meter compound was about to be sold off. Guido requested that the building and lot be leased to him instead so he could transform it into an arts venue.

"It took a long time for me to convince my father, he's a businessman after all," he says.

This 24-year-old advertising management graduate from De La Salle University put his tuition to good use by making a feasibility study, conducting focus group discussions and crafting a business plan.

Market study

Guido's findings show potential in filling the seats. "There are a number of schools in the area and we are in a family-friendly neighborhood."

Wilmer Guido

He notes that SM City Sta. Mesa, Greenhills Shopping Center, Araneta Center and Robinsons Magnolia are all one jeepney ride away.

With his father's blessing, Guido established a foundation to run the venue. Some of the office spaces have already been converted for dance classes (jazz, contemporary, urban, movement meditation, etc.) and theater productions usually seating 200.

Recent shows include Egg Theater Company's "Moliere PMS" and Twin Bill Theater's "My Name is Asher Lev."

The space is open for all manner of performances such as music, improv acts, spoken word, etc. It's also available to rent for photo shoots, corporate events, even parties.


A classically trained pianist, Guido never had plans of becoming a venue manager. "I just saw an opportunity for it and took action."

His former piano teacher Raul Sunico, current president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, is a trustee of the foundation.

Guido always keeps his father's practical advice in mind. He established his co-founders as part of the business team, finance director Samsam Santiago and marketing director Issay Nodalo, before recruiting artistic staff.

"We're still new. We're finding our ground and focusing on financial stability," he says. Revenue needs to be generated not  just to maintain the space, but also to build towards PARC Manila's intended final incarnation.

Guido has hired WTA Architecture and Design Studio and plans to eventually construct a two-story black box theater with an adjoining coffee shop.

While parking is limited for now, there are plans to break down the compound's posterior wall to allow access to the parking building behind it.

PARC Manila also wants to be a good neighbor by giving back to the community. Guido usually requests performing groups to have at least one show for free for public school students. The foundation also offers dance scholarships to public school students from the vicinity.

"Things are slowly taking off. It's still difficult. I have a lot of sleepless nights, but my hope and love for our local performing arts keep the fuel burning," he says.

PARC Manila will host workshops starting April 1 by theater companies Twin Bill and Scenius Pro on acting for adults, teens, children and backstage disciplines such as lighting design and stage management. Crammers Collective will also hold classes on using improvisational acting methods in teaching.

Call 0942-281-6920. PARC Manila is at 494 Lt. Artiaga St., San Juan.
Details: or link:


Giannina Ocampo is in Rep's comedy 'In the Next room (or The Vibrator Play)'

March 18, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Giannina Ocampo and Joshua Spafford.
Photos by JC Inocian

During the 1880s, Jose Rizal was studying to be doctor in Europe. Meanwhile, in the USA, doctors were using vibrators to treat women for hysteria (trivia: the word is derived from the Greek word for uterus, hystera).

Repertory Philippines' next play, Sarah Ruhl's comedy "In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)," touches on this (touchy) subject matter.

Giannina Ocampo plays Catherine Givings, who is intrigued by the medical technology her doctor husband uses to treat anxious women and men.

Other women characters in the play are portrayed by Tami Monsod, Caisa Borromeo and Cara Barredo. Joshua Spafford, Hans Eckstein and Jef Flores round out the cast directed by Chris Millado, who will also direct Rep's year-ender musical "Hair."


Ocampo's excited to breathe life into her character. "Catherine's a woman on the verge of finding herself and discovering what's truly important to her. Her candor and innocence are so infectious and pure that you just begin to root for her and her relationships."

She adds, "Catherine has an insatiable curiosity for life and love. She's also unafraid to speak her mind and challenge norms. For women to speak up so candidly during that time was quite ludicrous."

To prepare for the role, she's been reading books and watching films set in the 1880s. "I want to get into that headspace so I can understand the setting better."

Her reading list includes titles that inspired Ruhl to write this play: "The Technology of Orgasm" by Rachel Maines and "Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages" by Phyllis Rose.

Devices and de-stressing

While the characters in this play rely on a medical device for anxiety relief, Ocampo herself is not a gadget-junkie.

Giannina Ocampo and Joshua Spafford

"There really aren't any devices that I can't live without," she says. "But it's much easier when I do have my cellphone, to keep in touch with people, to listen to music, to read online and because, well, it's a necessity these days. And my laptop, to do work and to browse the net."

As for stress, it was actually after she got burned out in her corporate job that she shifted to acting. Since debuting with Rep's Children Theater, she's gone on to act for Red Turnip Theater ("Time Stand Still"), Philippine Educational Theater Association ("3 Stars & A Sun"), and Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group ("Jersey Boys"), among others.

These days, her go-to solution for relaxation is traveling. "I travel a lot. I work hard to travel, actually. I go to the beach as often as I can. The sea, sand and waves all relaxes me and just calms my soul."

When work keeps her in the city, there are still other options. "I run and do barre3 (an exercise regimen that incorporate ballet barre, pilates and yoga). I spend time with my husband, my family and friends. Through all of that, there's always good music, good food and good conversation. Those are the three essentials."

The show has set design by Mio Infante, costume design by Bonsai Cielo and lighting design by Katsch Catoy.

"In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)" runs Mar. 24-Apr. 23 at Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1 Mall, Makati. Tickets: Details: link:


Devin Ilaw: A Pinoy Thuy in the new 'Miss Saigon' on Broadway

March 18, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Devin Ilaw
Photo from

Sharing the stage with Rachelle Ann Go and Jon Jon Briones on Broadway for this year's revival of "Miss Saigon" are Filipino-Americans Eva Noblezada, Lianah Sta. Ana and Devin Ilaw.

In the story, where Vietnamese orphan Kim falls in love with and is abandoned by an American soldier during the final days of the American occupation in the 1970s, Go will play Gigi and Briones will play the Engineer.

Both are from the Philippines though Briones is now based in Los Angeles. Go will move to London later this year to act in "Hamilton" on the West End.

Playing the titular character Kim are Noblezada (born in San Diego to a Filipino father and Mexican mother) and Sta. Ana (born in New Jersey to Filipino parents).

(Go, Briones and Noblezada previously played the same roles in the 2014-2016 West End revival.)

While all four are making their Broadway debuts, their co-actor Devin Ilaw has already performed on the Great White Way as Montparnasse and Marius in "Les Miserables."

Jersey boy

Ilaw will be playing Thuy, Kim's betrothed cousin and one of the musical's antagonists.

He previously played the same part in the 2010 Toronto revival. He's acted in various productions across the US, including Song Liling in "M. Butterfly" and Lun Tha in "The King and I."

Born in New Jersey to Filipino parents, Ilaw grew up immersed in music. His mother plays the piano, is a church music director and was in a rock band; his younger brother sings, is an award-winning percussionist and plays over 20 instruments.

Piano playing

Ilaw himself began playing piano at seven and also went on to win awards. "My grandmother was my first piano teacher. I'm also a pretty good violinist and can play basic chords on the guitar. I'd love to get better at the guitar and teach myself the ukulele at some point."

Rachelle Ann Go and Devin Ilaw.
Photo from

An offshoot of his piano playing, he started listening to show tunes ("My favorites were 'Les Miserables,' 'Miss Saigon,' and 'Jekyll and Hyde.'") and would practice belting out the songs.

"In 8th grade, I entered the school talent show and sang 'Confrontation' from 'Jekyll & Hyde,' and the rest is history!"

He went on to complete a BFA in Acting and Music Theater (with honors) from Carnegie Mellon University. (Same school of Zachary Quinto, Josh Gad, Ming Na Wen, Renée Elise Goldsberry, etc.)

Pinoy food

Though Ilaw's never been to the Philippines ("I'm dying to go. Hopefully soon!"), he grew up with its cuisine. "My mom is an amazing cook. I love Filipino food! My favorites are pancit palabok, menudo, mechado, pancit bihon, afritada, bicol express and sotanghon."

He's inherited her skills. "I can make a good adobo, both chicken and pork, and sinigang. I'm getting pretty good at making lumpiang shanghai."

He always jokes that the reason he spends so much time at the gym is so that he can eat anything and everything he wants.

Ilaw works out at least five times a week, usually starting with 20 minutes of cardio, either spinning or treadmill, then an hour on specific muscle groups. "My favorite day at the gym is chest day, and my least favorite is legs."

He also tries to attend a SoulCycle class every Saturday morning taught by Fil-Am castmate Robert Pendilla.

Ilaw's favorite word in Tagalog is 'mabuhay' and he says it's how he approaches every day: to live a good life with friends and loved ones.

"Miss Saigon" features music by Claude-Michel Schönberg with lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr., adapted from the original French lyrics by Boublil. This Broadway revival is scheduled to end in January 2018. A US tour will follow.

"Miss Saigon" previews ongoing, opens March 23, Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, New York. Tickets: link:


Filipino-Americans lead in Seattle staging of 'Here Lies Love'

March 15, 2017

Jaygee Macapugay

SEATTLE - Filipino-American actors take lead roles in "Here Lies Love," a musical about the life of Imelda Marcos, at Seattle Repertory Theatre starting April 7.

Set in a disco where audiences stand and move around with the actors, the show opened off-Broadway in 2013 and won the Village Voice Obie award for music (David Byrne and Norman "Fatboy Slim" Cook) and lyrics (Byrne).

Jaygee Macapugay reprises her role as Imelda. New York Times praised her performance in the 2014-2015 run as "devastating . adds an extra dash of molten steel that makes this Imelda a red-hot chiller."

She says, "The music is so much fun. The songs are a truncated anthology of Imelda's life up until the People Power Revolution. It seemed as if her life had its own soundtrack. David was fascinated by Imelda installing a disco ball in one of her New York City residences.

"He was fascinated with the idea of how extremely powerful people live in their own bubble."

Reprising their roles from the first two runs are Conrad Ricamora ("How to Get Away With Murder") as Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, and Melody Butiu  ("Rizzoli and Isles") as Estrella Cumpas, Imelda's nanny.

Manila-based recording artist Mark Bautista reprises his role as Ferdinand Marcos, which he first played in the 2014 staging at the Royal National Theatre in London.

Costume design

Cebu-born, New York-based Clint Ramos designed the costumes, for which he won the 2014 Lucille Lortel award. Critics have lauded his work for "Here Lies Love" as "vast and fabulous" (New York Times), "[providing] beautiful symmetry" (The Hollywood Reporter), and "top-notch" (New York Magazine).

Ramos won a Tony award last year for his work on the play "Eclipsed," starring Lupita Nyong'o. ("Eclipsed" is playing in San Francisco until March 19.)

Jaygee Macapugay and Melody Butiu both recently had their Broadway debuts: Macapugay in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "School of Rock" and Butiu in "Dr. Zhivago."

Martial law

Both also have personal family histories tied to the Marcos dictatorship. Their respective parents left the Philippines because of Martial Law; Butiu's parents even had to leave her elder brother behind in the first few years of their stay in the US.

Macapugay had played Imelda previously in another musical, "Imelda," for Pan Asian Repertory Theatre in 2009. "Both are completely different shows. Therefore, my character execution was also completely different, even if I was playing the same character."

She notes that while it's important to consider physicality and speech patterns in any role, "It's equally important to marry those ideas with the dictates of the show's text, music and choreography."

When crafting characters for the stage, "I start with my own opinions on the character, however, the final 'product' is always a collaboration with the creative team.  That collaboration is one of the many reasons I love theater."


Both actresses researched to prepare for their roles, from reading books and news articles to interviewing people who'd spent time with the Marcoses.

Melody Butiu with her father

Macapugay considers Ramona Diaz' 2003 documentary Imelda as a great resource. "Seeing and hearing Imelda discuss in her own words her personal account of her rise to power and her overall life philosophy was fascinating and extremely helpful in creating the character."

Butiu is re-reading The Untold Story of Imelda Marcos by Carmen Navarro-Pedrosa. "It has the most detailed account of my character, Estrella Cumpas."

"My friend and co-star Conrad Ricamora shared a quote by Ninoy Aquino that really resonates with me regarding the biggest message of the show: 'We should not depend on one man; we should depend on all of us. All of us are expendable in the cause for freedom and therefore I say stand up now and be a leader, and when all of us are leaders, we will expedite the cause of freedom.'"


Butiu has been involved with this musical since it was still in its concept-album phase in 2005. Her work in the 2013 staging prompted New York Times to praise her "rich voice" and to contend that she should've been nominated for a Tony.

Butiu says she hardly saw any Filipino stories on TV and in the movies when she was growing up. "And certainly not in theater. To have the opportunity to tell Filipino stories on stage is a chance to delve into my family's history with my art.

"It's awesome to know that Filipinos in the audience can see their perspectives being shared, but also that others can see the universality in our experiences. Filipino stories are human stories."


Both are enjoying their return to Seattle.

Though born in New York, Butiu was raised in Washington state and lived in a Seattle suburb for a while. "This is my first show in Seattle after not living here for many years. I can't wait to spend time at the Museum of Pop Culture, also known as MoPOP, the Chihuly Garden and Glass, as well as finding some great hiking trails."

Born and raised in Chicago, Macapugay has performed in Seattle before. "I'm looking forward to eating all the fresh seafood at Pike Place Market, including raw oysters, which are my favorite. In my first week here, I've already eaten sushi three times! I'm looking forward to eating at Pike Place Chowder, Elliott's Oyster House, and Blueacre Seafood."

Past Filipino cast

The original cast included Jose Llana as Ferdinand Marcos. Llana is currently playing the King of Siam in the US touring production of "The King and I" (Pittsburgh, Boston and Fort Meyers in April 2017.)

The 2014 West End cast included Natalie Mendoza ("Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" on Broadway) as Imelda and London-based Gia Macuja-Atchison ("Lion King" on West End), sister of Manila-based ballerina Lisa Macuja, as Estrella.

Directed by Alex Timbers, set design by David Korins ("Hamilton"), choreography by Annie-B Parson, lighting design by Justin Townsend, sound design by M. L. Dogg and Cody Spencer, and projection design by Peter Nigrini. Seattle Repertory Theatre's artistic director is Braden Abraham.

READ about Clint Ramos' 2016 Tony Award here.

READ about Jose Llana's work on "The King and I" here.

READ about Gia Macuja-Atchison's work on "Here Lies Love" here.

"Here Lies Love" runs Apr. 7-May 28 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center, 155 Mercer St, Seattle. Tickets:

Nonon Padilla directs ‘Makbet’

March 11, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Irma Adlawan

There's plenty of love amidst the murder and mayhem in William Shakespeare's "Macbeth," a play about an army general prophesied to ascend the throne and, upon the prodding of his wife, kills the people in his way to speed up the process.

The love of theater artists who are collaborating with each other once again, that is.

Nonon Padilla, Irma Adlawan and George de Jesus III all used to be part of Tanghalang Pilipino (TP). Padilla was founding artistic director and the latter two were resident actors. Gino Gonzales designed sets and costumes for TP, while Shoko Matsumoto designed lighting for the group.

The quintet is reuniting for a staging of Rolando Tinio's translation of the play, presented by De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde's Arts and Culture Cluster.

De Jesus is playing the titular character, with Adlawan tackling Lady Macbeth; students and faculty fill the rest of the cast.


"Superficially, 'Macbeth' may be about serial murders and obsessions with bloodlines," says Padilla. "But on reflection, 'Macbeth' isn't just about tyranny and ambition. Its central drama is the murder of the soul. It's the reenactment of the fall of Man from the Garden of Eden. The tragedy played out is Macbeth's discovery of the impossibility of eliminating the spirit or the soul."

George de Jesus III

Audiences will just have to watch to see how Padilla will execute his directorial approach. As for the two actors and the two designers working with him, their common refrain is that crafting a new production with Padilla doesn't require much explaining.

"We don't need to talk too much. Just a few words and we understand each other. We're like a family now," says Matsumoto, who now shuttles back and forth between Manila and Taipei. She recently designed the lights for "Next to Normal" for Atlantis Productions.

Joy, thrill

"Working with Nonon is always a joy," says Adlawan. "I have learned a lot from this man. He is partly responsible for what I am as an actress."

Adlawan received a Philstage Gawad Buhay for Outstanding Lead Female Performance for her work in TP's "Mga Buhay na Apoy" last year.

She expresses joy at working with De Jesus again, partly because they didn't have too many partnered scenes back when they were with TP. "I've known George since the '90s. I'm happy to be working with someone who knows the 'language' Nonon uses."

De Jesus seconds the motion. "Since we were both trained by him, his directions come at us fluidly. There's an inherent understanding and an energy that's hard to explain," he says.

"It's always a thrill to work with Nonon because he makes his actors' brains go on overdrive. It's so exciting to see his vision and work come together and to realize what you can do to contribute to that vision.

"His direction is quite challenging, as he asked us to look at the spiritual nature of Macbeth's tragedy, something that goes deeper than the usual ruthless ambition that Macbeth is known for.

"I just hope I can pull it off," he adds, laughing.

"Makbet" runs March 22-April  1 at Black Box Theater, 6/F  De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde School of Design and Arts, 950 P. Ocampo St. (formerly Vito Cruz), Manila. Tickes: link:


How Teresa Barrozo is designing the soundscape for Red Turnip’s ‘The Nether’

March 4, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Standing, from left: TJ Trinidad, Jenny Jamora,
Bernardo Bernardo and Bojie Pascua.
Seated, from left: Ana Abad Santos and Alba Testa.
Photo by Jojit Lorenzo

Red Turnip Theater's latest production, opening on March 10, is "The Nether," a sci-fi crime drama written by Jennifer Haley that tackles the complicated results of blurring the virtual and the real.

The play is set in the near future where a detective interrogates the creator of a virtual reality area in the "Nether"--the evolved version of the internet--that caters to pedophiles.

Directed by Ana Abad Santos, the cast includes Jenny Jamora, Alba Berenguer-Testa, Junyka Santarin, TJ Trinidad, Bernardo Bernardo and Bodjie Pascua.

Acclaimed work

Teresa Barrozo, an award-winning composer and sound designer whose work has been hailed in films such as Brillante Mendoza's "Kinatay" and in theater productions such as Peta's "Bona," Tanghalang Ateneo's "Middle Finger" and Repertory Philippines' "Next Fall," is handling the sound design.

Teresa Barrozo

For a play that deals with unsettling scenarios, her approach is to "explore the broad spectrum of emotions relating to fear: doubt, suspicion, terror, horror, panic, etc. Then I have to find the closest sounds that would best trigger these feelings," she says.

"Sound can be subjective. Listeners sense fear differently. One might sense danger from a loud and angry thunderclap. Another might feel uneasy as a low rumble creeps in. Some might feel disturbed with a sweet and gentle lullaby, while others might panic with the mere absence of sound."

She points out that "fear, danger and suspense can be heard, seen, felt and imagined. If done in proper context with the right mix of all the other theatrical elements such as music, lights, costumes, set design, acting, etc., it would be interesting to tell this disturbing story."


Though she'd always wanted to try her hand at musicals, Barrozo began her career as a composer for film.

"My heart got broken by an industry colleague," she says candidly. "I promised not to work in film ever again, which did not happen-but that's another story.

"That was when I decided to try theater. Then I fell in love with sound design. I felt more free expressing myself through sound."

Barrozo says she's intrigued by how listeners can be affected by what they hear, even in the absence of spoken lines. "A single sound can be loaded with emotion, meaning and history."

Her process is to first attend rehearsals to get a grasp of the tone and where the play is heading. "I ask the director and the actors my questions. It's important that I understand the material before working on the sound and music design."

She then consults with the other designers (set, costume, makeup) before conceptualizing a soundscape. If a production needs original music, she handles composition duties.

Relaxed and fun

Her relationship with the Red Turnip group is something she keeps going back to. Barrozo designed the sound for the company's three previous productions ("33 Variations," "Constellations," "Tribes").

"They invite me back. With the Turnips, it's always relaxed," she says. "Theater work itself is toxic especially when the schedule is tight, but the Turnips have a way of making things calm and fun."  -

Red Turnip Theater's "The Nether" runs Mar. 10-Apr. 9 at Power Mac Center Spotlight Theater, Circuit Mall, Makati. Tickets: Details: link:


LA theater director Jon Lawrence Rivera soldiers on to boost new voices

His theater company Playwrights' Arena is celebrating its 25th anniversary

March 2, 2017

Jon Lawrence Rivera

LOS ANGELES - What would you do if your new theater company has just mounted its inaugural production and a riot occurs?

Keep going, just like Jon Lawrence Rivera did. When he founded Playwrights' Arena in 1992, the Rodney King riots erupted after its first show opened in Hollywood.

That's when he decided to devote the company to staging new plays by LA playwrights. "People had no place to put their energies. I knew I could promote local playwrights who'd been complaining that no one produced them unless they've been successful somewhere else," Rivera said in a previous interview.

He's done so for 25 years now. "I'm a bit overwhelmed that we've lasted this long," he says. "It's a proud moment for me and for the company to have launched many careers. Especially since most of them are writers of color."


Born in Manila, Rivera and his family left the Philippines after his journalist father Jose Lorenzo "Larry" Rivera was blacklisted by the Marcos dictatorship.

Australia granted them asylum, and Rivera studied acting in Sydney before relocating to the United States where he studied film directing at Los Angeles City College.

After he worked as a freelance director and producer, a desire to work on material that he'd be personally passionate about spurred him and an actor friend to rent a theater, hire a then-unknown actress Elisabeth Shue and put on a play.

A quarter of a century in, the company now stages two to four productions a year by playwrights of all colors, all world premieres or LA premieres. It also has a staged reading series for new works in development.

Filipino American playwrights or plays with Filipino characters that the company has staged include Jessica Hagedorn ("Dogeaters"), Daniel Cariaga ("Sleepwalk"), Nock Salamone ("Helen"), Michael Premsrirat ("Girl Most Likely To"), and Boni Alvarez ("Ruby Tragically Rotund," "Dallas Non-Stop" and "Bloodletting").


It hasn't been without challenges. Rivera's commitment to premiering new works instead of staging more commercial fare is one of the reasons why his founding partner left.

Rivera's insistence on diversity on stage has cost him projects. "There's a resistance to it, mostly by white producers, because it's not a world they see, or they refuse to see, even though it's in front of them every day."

He still sees "an overwhelming number of productions that have an all-white cast because the theater's white artistic director or the play's white director goes to their `default' choice, which is white."

Rivera is frustrated by productions set in "major cities like LA, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago or New York" but with no actor of color. "How is that possible? We still have a long way to go, in terms of diversity," he says.

Nonetheless, he's seen some improvement. "I find that if the theater artistic head or a production's director is a person of color, then we see an increase of diverse artists involved in the process."

"It's also great how much our talent pool keep rising up to the challenges. The quality of acting has improved greatly and some are moving up in ranks and going to big regional theaters and on to Broadway."

Coming up

If you include staged readings, Rivera has directed over a hundred productions, for his own company and others. And because his designation is usually "director," it's easy to miss all the other things that he has to do to run the company.

He also has to cultivate a board of directors (who source funding for the company), secure and maintain an annual budget, select and implement the line-up of plays per year, hire manpower, and does community engagement and student-outreach programs.

He's still at it. Kicking off its silver anniversary line-up with a nod to its birth year, Playwrights' Arena is staging "The Hotel Play," conceived and directed by Rivera and written by seven women playwrights of color.

To be staged at an actual hotel, audiences will go from room to room and watch/listen to attendees of the class of 1992's high school reunion. "Their school days ended bitterly due to the riots. They ponder what might've and could've been. All the characters will then intersect poolside where confrontations spark and truths are revealed," Rivera explains.

The company will also be hosting its silver anniversary benefit gala, "Hot Night in the City." Billed as "an electrifying evening of songs and words," the program includes handing out the company's Lee Melville Award, given for outstanding contribution to the LA theater community, to three honorees-one of whom will be Fil-Am actor Reggie Lee (NBC's "Grimm").

"The Hotel Play," previews start Mar. 31, runs Apr. 1 to 16 at Radisson Hotel Los Angeles Midtown at USC, 3540 South Figueroa, Los Angeles. Tickets:

"Hot Night in the City" is on Apr. 11 at Barnsdall Gallery Theater, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Tickets: