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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sulong gets Schooled

While being interviewed in the sun at the Big Carrot Juice Bar, I realized this is one of many times academics have gotten in touch with me.

This time, it was the lovely Ryerson grad student, Parvin Vahdat, whose thesis involves the role of media and art in policy building around Live-In Caregivers. While sipping juice we discussed audience reactions to Future Folk and how I thought the play could move audience members towards changing their views on migrant work.

The first time academics caught onto our work was through George Brown College's Labour Fair, where we performed a 10 minute excerpt of Future Folk. Word spread like wild fire from then on when Shasha Nakai asked if she could film the presentation for the Ryerson student documentary, Baby Not Mine. It went on to win the Best Documentary at the Canadian Student Documentary awards.

More recently, Wilfred Laurier University Professor of English Eleanor Ty presented her paper on the Past As Affect in my play Singkil at the fu-GEN Asian Canadian theatre conference earlier this month.

Since then, as well as the presentation of my one-woman puppet show, Eating with Lola, I have been blessed with the interest of even more academics who would like to see the work in their schools.

I mention all of this because I am realizing the power of education in the distribution of our work as theatre artists. Of course I knew it somewhat before. But only now am I realizing that the interest of academics in theatre helps the work live beyond the curtain call and helps the message connect with people long after our fleeting runs.

Images: Above, Eleanor Ty at the fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Conference; Below, Parvin Vahdat during our interview.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Full Circle

I stood downstage delivering my final monologue of Future Folk in which my character, Luz, is reunited with her three children. For Luz, it had been 7 years since she had seen her kids and one of her children, the youngest, does not recognize her. It's one of the many harsh realities lived by Filipino domestic workers around the world.

"No, I'm not your Tita," says Luz to the doubtful child. "I'm your mommy."

At that moment, the audience, mainly comprised of Filipina caregivers, began sobbing. One woman covered her face as if she was watching a horror movie, but instead of a slasher scene, it was her worst nightmare come alive onstage.

After this performance -- a free one scheduled by Theatre Passe Muraille and Sulong Theatre specifically for Filipino caregivers -- one woman approached me and told me that she hopes and prays that her daughter will recognize her when they are finally reunited.

It was a dream for me: To perform Future Folk with my dear colleagues Karen Ancheta and Aura Carcueva, for these women who have given so much of their time and stories to make our production a reality. It seems like a million years ago that I felt like it was going to fail.

You see, before Future Folk was a full length play about the lives of caregivers told through Filipino folk arts, I thought researching it was going to be a breeze. I would simply book time at the Kapisanan Centre, bring food and over the course of one Sunday, we would interview 10-30 caregivers. That never happened. We could never get these women to convene because their one day off -- usually Sunday -- was often taken away from them at the last minute by their employers. I would receive phone calls from teary-eyed women saying they had to reschedule but weren't sure when.

I had to meet with them one at a time, over the course of a couple of years, to get this play's research in order. It was a triumph of baby steps, a puzzle put together with very tiny pieces.

Standing there before these women, these strong women, to tell their stories, made me realize how far we had come...and how much further we must go.

Our biggest win was when Ate Pinky, who contributed a great deal to our research was later interviewed by CBC Radio after seeing Future Folk said, "It was like it was my voice but in someone else's body."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Eating with Puppets

Eating with Lola began as an obituary.

After the death of my Lola Pacing last year, I took it upon myself, as her granddaughter, to write her obituary. Typical of most children of migrant Filipinos, I had only seen my Lola four times when I had the chance to visit Manila and in those fleeting moments, she still was a mystery.

So when I began putting pen to paper, I decided to actually ask questions about her remarkable life.

The play was borne out of the fantasy of being given the chance to actually be my Lola's grandchild. Be in the room with her. Be beside her and nurse her. No geographical challenges. A simple origami fold between Toronto and Manila, the turning back of time and there I was by her bedside listening to her voice.

I then began stitching together the story of Lola, who, over the course of her very last meal on earth, recounts her life's experience making food. And while this is unfolding, her granddaughter, Grace, is given the challenge of feeding her something the finicky Lola actually wants to eat.

It became a final lullaby to the living. It became a meal for the dead.

It was magical making the play come to fruition -- but even magic demands its own fare share of sweat.

I remember typing the words "The End" on my first draft, thinking I could then stage it. Not so. I realized that it was a glorious failure. I had to stage it then write down the culmination of my improvisations. This took several months.

Then, thanks to the fu-GEN Potluck Festival, I was mentored by Ann Powell of the Puppetmongers. Her solution? Forget the script. Start with storyboards and then commit the staging, words and the ever-growing props list, to paper.

I never got around to story boarding. But improvising the scenes allowed the story to come alive through the puppet, not despite the puppet.

I performed the play at the Potluck Festival to many teary eyes. It was so satisfying to perform it confidently with all of the tools Ann had given me.

I can't wait to perform it again.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Rub and Tug Story

To get over the horror of it all, I have recounted this story several times to friends hoping the tingly sensation down my spine would go away. It has not. Here it is.


This funny story begins with a tragedy.

I lost my grandmother. My body was paying the toll. I hurried to my hometown of Scarborough to see my dad who was distraught at not being able to attend his mother in law’s funeral in Manila.

I was happy to be there for him and hold him as he shed a few tears, not so happy to feel a distinct knot gathering in my muscle tissue between my shoulder blades.

I am no stranger to stress-related ailments. My nose did bleed each time I headed into my OAC chemistry class. My uterus was even so smart as to start menstruating right before doing it with Mister Wrong. Talk about a bullet dodged.

But this time, the muscle tension led me right into the lion’s den.

I needed to rush to a massage therapist.

I looked everywhere around my old neighborhood, seeking free time slots with my usual massage therapists in the area. Nothing. So desperate was I that I began looking for any sign that had that words “massage” or “shiatsu” on it. Heck, I would have even settled on “bloodletting”.

To my relief I found a place that offered massage and a variety of other aesthetic services. I parked the car in a 45 degree angle and hobbled in, my hand bag dragging on the ground behind me.

Upon entering I went straight towards the reception desk. Past the manicure station with five nail polishes on it. Past the dollar store-esque fountain and rang the bell.

“How can I help you?” said a tall blond woman behind the desk.

“Do you have a massage slot available?”I said, my eyebrows knitting sweaters. “Anything. Even half an hour. Anything you got.”

“With me? Or with someone else?”

“Ummm...” I had never been asked that question. “Sure. With you. Whatever.”

I was led to a room with an adjoined bathroom. The woman asked me to go into the bathroom to put on my towel. I obliged.

While I fastened the towel around my chest, I noticed a bottle of Vagisil on the sink counter. That’s when I knew: I was in a rub and tug.

Now, before you judge me for being so stupid, I need you to understand the harmless exterior of this establishment. I need you to understand that it looked like any other spa: its menu boasted everything from pedicures to facials. I need you to understand the loose laws in Ontario around the labeling of rub and tugs as “holistic massage centres.” I need you to understand my clueless state: in mourning and in pain. I need you to understand how helpless I was, the heat gathering between my ears, how utterly trapped I felt standing there, looking at a bottle of Vagisil, wondering how, how did I get into this fucking situation and how the hell was I going to get out?

Knock on the door.

“Hello? Are you ready?

“Ummm...” Oh my God, I thought to myself. Most people in the time that it took for me to open the door would have devised a plan, would have somehow MacGyvered some sort of machine to drill through the walls so that they could escape. Not me. I chose denial.

“What kind of massages do you do here?” I said in a please-for-the-love-of-humanity-don’t-say-happy-ending-massage kind of way.

“Well,” the woman’s face suddenly became pointed, her gaze alluding the detection of law enforcement, each word a code. “We do aromatherapy. And reiki. And acupuncture.”

If, in fact this woman did all of these things, my guess her name would not be “Misty” as it said on her name tag. My guess is she would not be wearing spike heels. My guess is she would have diplomas of some sort on the walls of her treatment room instead of landscapes. My guess is she would not need to have a bottle of Vagisil on the counter. All of this escaped me in my state of stupidity.

I was terrified. Neither of us could meet in the middle. Say what we wanted to say. I couldn’t just leave. What would that say about what I thought of the value of her work? And how could she tell me what kind of operation she was running? And if she wasn’t saying what she needed to say, how could I really know this was in fact a rub and tug?

With my shoulders in knots, I told myself that I would simply go on the table, get a massage, pay for it and get the hell out of there. I was sure that by my expression, Misty was certain I wasn’t there to be touched sexually.

I gingerly placed myself on the rickety table, my face looking down at her be-jeweled toenails. I shuddered. Misty proceeded to give me what may have been her very first legitimate massage. It was much like being poked and prodded by a blindfolded mule.

“I’m going to change the music,” said Misty as she played a CD of birds chirping. “Our clients like this.” Made sense to me. If I was some lowdown man in Scarborough getting a hand job, I’d want to hear birds chirping.

I lied there, terrified, my back twisted and knotted, thinking about my Lola. My grandmother. At this time, just after her death, I imagined her floating above the world, checking in on each of her progeny to make sure they were alright.

And there I was, her gay granddaughter on a massage table in a Scarborough rub and tug hoping that she wouldn’t get a happy ending.

To hear an audio recording of this story click here:

Photo above: It was not this obvious. Picture source.

Dike broken

No...I don't mean to write this as a double entendre, myself being a queer theatre writer.

I mean the dike of creativity is broken. After fu-GEN's inaugural Asian-Canadian Theatre conference this month, I can't stop putting pen to paper.

That's why I've created the blog. Andy McKim of Theatre Passe Muraille often preaches about the importance of public incubation. So here it is.

The growth of my company, my creative projects, online.