It's been three years since I've touched a half written play of mine entitled dtroublewithnormal. I started writing the play when I was in my first semester of graduate school for a class entitled The Art of Adaptation. Inspired by Willa Cather's short story "Paul's Case," I started writing a play exploring the intersections of race, belonging, queerness, social mobility, and love. It was only then that I started writing for the stage, and by the end of the course I was only able to finish half of the play. I was at first taken aback by my style of writing. I was pushing for poetry, music, and imagery to tell the story; influenced heavily by Ntazoke Shange, Ping Chong, and Sarah Kane.
It has been fun to return to the piece, now with clearer eyes. I've been angry lately reflecting back at my experience as a queer POC in an MFA program, and now realizing how I sometimes was simply robbed of opportunities to really explore what I personally wanted artistically. Now that I'm out of academia, which is often white American-Eurocentric, I've been more generous to myself with my odd style of playwrighting. No matter how weird my writing may be, there is a place for me in theatre.
It hasn't been difficult writing lately, and I hope I continue finding ways to do so. Writing makes me happy. Simple as that.
Many successful artists in New York have found several ways to survive financially while creating and performing their work. The three main examples that are common are: 1) Juggler, an artist who is able to juggle four part time jobs while still making it to theatre classes, rehearsals, the gym, and performances; 2) Hollywood Star, an artist who is lucky enough to do big commercial work and spend a majority of their time creating theatre; and 3) Artist-Administrator, an artist who spends the majority of their day working in theatre administration for one company and then spend the nights producing and creating their own work.
At the moment, I'm finding myself in the third category, and my experience working with multiple theatres in New York are mostly in administrative positions. However, having worked extensively in administration, how can I make more space to be seen as an artist and not simply an administrator?
I've been pro-active in combating this challenge. That's where I have been doing two things: 1) just go out and make my work. Rehearsal spaces are difficult to find, but I will use a park or a public square to just meet with collaborators; 2) meeting with potential collaborators throughout the city. Have I been successful in finding like-minded artists? Yes, and yes, I have indeed started creating new work.
(When the time is right, I'll announce it here on the website!)
After completing my MFA, it's extremely important to me to be recognized as an artist. That's why I attended a graduate program! I'll just continue the hustle, do my multiple jobs, and keep building the finances to live and create work in the city. To keep my artistic soul alive, I must create new work and not just see new work.
Growing up as a Filipino American, I'm immersed in my family's Catholic background. I am not religious; however, surprisingly enough, I often reflect how my Catholic upbringing has shaped how I now see the world as a Queer Artist of Color.
My family has often recounted a story of how my aunt, my dad's cousin, was once possessed by a demon that was only thrown out of her body through multiple exorcisms in the town's parish. Supposedly family members were visited by the child Saint Bernadette, who confirmed of the cleansing of my aunt.
There is a long documented history of people who have been thought of suffering of possession as simply misunderstood and undiagnosed mentally or emotionally unstable individuals. Family members continue to speak of this story of my aunt, and whenever I listen to them, I listen closely to their deep religious fervor and devotion layered in their words. As someone who openly speaks about his own challenges with mental health, I often think how my aunt most likely was just suffering from mental and/or emotional turmoil. On top of that, she was pushed to endure the physical and emotional torture of exorcisms.
I have never met her, but I think about her. Or maybe I have, but she was never pointed out to me to have been the one. I don't know if I have ever seen a photo of her. My family still speaks about it, reliving the story every time it is told. Whenever I think of the story, I always imagine a small ten-year-old girl in a small village who was deeply scared and confused by the world, which was made even more complicated by the prayers to angels and spirits for guidance and redemption.
Adapting old works to fit new contemporary discourses around sexuality, gender, and power, has its limitations. European fairytales rely heavily on heteronormative gender assignments for tropes and key story elements to work. So why do people continue to write new versions of the old instead of creating new stories entirely? I'm struggling with that answer as I am currently tasked to adapt a German play by Heinrich von Kleist. The original German play is immersed in old Catholic teachings, compulsive heteronormativity, and other tropes of gender that don't jive with me politically and culturally. So what should I do to make this play resonate with me now? I would rather write a new play entirely, but that's not what I am tasked with. It's a rarely done epic five act play with magic and angels. That alone enticed me and my collaborators Jennifer Onopa and Christina Beam to adapt the play.
Though it's commonly known as Ordeal by Fire in English, the play is commonly known in Germany as Kätchen von Heilbronn, which translates as Young Kate from Heilbronn. Though the title indicates a woman as the supposed lead, Kleist treats her more of a secondary character as all the men in the play seem to have more power than her. It's multiple stories into one, but hers seems so secondary to the rest. So why am I doing this play? There's magic, a castle, an epic fire! It's essentially Lord of the Rings or The Game of Thrones on stage. The journey is so enticing to adapt and enact live with an audience. However, what can I do to make this play resonate for me personally and not perpetuate disagreeable politics that are often portrayed on American stages?
Ah, there's the rub.
I always dread when someone asks me my ethnic and/or cultural origin - for many reasons.
However, as a Filipinx American it's challenging to always pin point a particular community of people as the Filipino people have been colonized my many others. When looking at my family, it's very clear that we are a collection of different cultures, ethnicities, and communities. My family has kept family trees, tracing our lineages back to Spain, China, and various areas of the Philippines.
Despite the documentation, this did not inform me of how much of this mixing was part of my DNA. Curious to know more, I completed a 23 and Me DNA test. After two weeks of waiting, I received my results. I am 100% Filipino. The company explained that this does not cancel out my family's multiple origins, but the test does speak to my own unique chromosomal make-up.
My test revealed two important things; 1) For me to be 100% Filipino, one of my parents or great-parents is 100% Filipino; and 2) My DNA revealed that I am genetically predisposed to be overweight. Overall, my final results from 23 and Me reminded me that the Philippines is another home that I must one day get to know more intimately. I've lived and studied all over the world and I was brought up culturally Filipino in the U.S., but my relationship to my family's homeland is still not what I want it to be. I want to call the Philippines as much as a home I call the U.S.
I guess I now have more incentive to write and create artistic work about my Filipino heritage and my Filipinx American identity. I hope to find a way to map my DNA in performance.