I’m joining Marivi Soliven and San Diego Public Librarian Azalea Ebbay (Skyline Branch) for this frightful evening of scary Philippine folk tales. I’m a big fraidy cat, so I’m probably going to be a wreck afterwards. Especially when I go to bed that night and it’s quiet and dark and…
“Take space/Make space” is a community agreement that I am drawn to. Those who are quieter are encouraged to participate, and those who tend to express a lot are encouraged to make space for others. By temperament, I prefer to sit back and observe, so I definitely need encouragement to take space and speak up. As a leader and artist, though, my job is to take space, especially when voices like mine have not been heard. Last May, Southwestern College Theatre Professor Ruff Yeager was planning his fall production and reached out to me about my plays. With co-director Professor Wilfred Paloma, he used his privilege to make space for my plays as the inaugural production in the college’s new Performing Arts Center to commemorate Filipino American History Month. My one-act plays, “The Fire in Me” and “Hand Under Hand”, are being produced this October in a performance entitled Kasama.
It’s fitting that I met Professor Yeager through Playwrights Project, an organization that uplifts young writers and various communities. He’s been artistic director for their Plays by Young Writers Festival, in which I’ve worked with him as a dramaturg. Professor Yeager also supported the workshop production of “The Fire in Me” by having his students attend the performances. He’s invited me to speak at Southwestern several times.
Because of my work schedule as a teaching artist in Playwrights Project’s Out of the Yard program and other demands, I was only able to attend auditions and a few rehearsals for Kasama. What a joy it was to see diverse students taking space on the stage to tell these stories. They shared about their discovery process and how they could relate to the Filipinx culture, even when they came from different backgrounds. I count it as a success that Southwestern made space for these students to express themselves on stage through the drama, dance, and music of Kasama.
Putting on any production is a huge endeavor. Doing that in an educational setting adds further responsibilities to the process. In addition to rehearsals, the artists had other life demands, such as work, classes, and caregiving. On top of that, factor in COVID-19 protocols and breaking in a new facility. Phew! Still, the cast, crew, staff, and faculty of Southwestern have rallied to tell these stories from the Filipinx community about domestic violence and caregiving. They are proving that every presence matters. To the artists of Kasama–thank you for taking space and making space.
On a personal note, the frame for the two plays in Kasama is the groundbreaking ceremony for the Senior and Community Center at Bay Terraces Park, or Tooma Park. The community worked for 30 years to build that facility. My late mother-in-law, Mayumi V. de Castro, was one of the seniors who lobbied for the center. She passed away during the pandemic and didn’t get to experience the center’s grand opening. I used her words in the prologue to Kasama as further testament to the power and value of every voice.
Below are my notes from the program:
Kasama began with the voice of one person who wanted to share a personal story about domestic violence. That story led me to an immigration attorney who helped survivors obtain legal status. The attorney referred me to some of her Filipinx clients, who shared their experiences of pain and resilience. “The Fire in Me” is a fictional work based on these and other community member interviews. During my research for “Fire”, an AARP volunteer suggested I write about caregiving. “Hand Under Hand” was based on caregiver stories from the Filipinx and Asian American Pacific Islander communities. Emily Rutherford’s music and lyrics deepened and enriched the play. I am grateful to Professor Ruff Yeager for the opportunity to share these two one-act plays with you in this performance, entitled Kasama. It’s an honor for Kasama to be the inaugural production in Southwestern College’s new Performing Arts Center. Together with co-director Professor Wilfred Paloma and musical director Jaden Guerrero, Professor Yeager has guided this diverse and talented cast to perform with heart and compassion. Thank you to the cast, crew, band, creative team, and the Southwestern College administration and Governing Board for making this production possible. The plays were developed with support from The San Diego Foundation, California Humanities, AARP California, and the San Diego Public Library, and the talents and resources of Asian Story Theater, MaArte Theatre Collective, and many individual artists. Vital community partners, including Philippine Consulate, San Diego County, Access Inc., and Silayan Filipina, shared their expertise and filled our audiences. Although the plays explore challenging issues, I hope you feel the spirit of “kasama,” which in Filipino can mean “included,” “come with,” “companion,” and “together.” The message of that first brave voice endures: You are not alone.
For more information about Kasama, please visit the Southwestern College Theatre Arts Department website.
(This lead in could be a cop-out to a very tardy blog post, or it could be relevant. Let’s see where this goes.)
Dramatists Guild Southern California Regional Rep Diana Burbano invited me and playwrights Jennie Webb and Luis Alfaro to participate in a conversation about our season in review. It was a daunting task to make sense of what happened in our theatre community during the pandemic. (Was there a season? What counts as a season?) I probably scared Jennie and Luis with my many pre-game questions about the scope of our discussion. In the end, it was just a wonderful conversation about what we experienced and observed during these momentous times in our world and in Southern California theatre. Since this conversation happened, I actually changed course with The TAG Project. Instead of a Zoom reading, itwas filmed on site. Because of the Delta variant, we used Zoom as the platform to gather people to watch it together, meet the playwrights, and connect. And Luis joined the Artistic Team of the Center Theatre Group! What an exciting opportunity to effect the necessary changes we discussed. As the seasons flow and we do the two-step, opening/closing/re-opening dance, may the conversation and accountability continue.
Thelma participated in the Writers Panel for the PMX Charity Livestream on July 17, 2021. She and fellow Pinoy playwright Jeffrey Lo talked with Bobak Peyman about their journeys in Asian American theatre. She and Jeffrey discovered they have a lot in common.
A Table Read of Thelma’s One-Act “Wild Adventure Tour–In 5-D” starts at 2:01:30 below.
The PMX Charity Livestream benefits Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. To donate, click here. Thank you!
In July, Thelma has the honor of attending the Kennedy Center 2021 Summer Playwriting Intensive. This session will mark the launch of “a designated track for playwrights identifying as Black, Indigenous, of Latinx or Asian heritage, and of Mixed Race,” which is something Thelma has been searching for. (As in, her heart wanted it.) The homework started upon acceptance. “Tell us one thing that has been rattling around in your head since the pandemic began…” Thelma’s answer–“I’ve been fascinated by my local river.” The Intensive will be held virtually, so she’ll miss the Potomac River (where the Kennedy Center is located), but all water is one. She’s ready to see where this goes.
Thelma participated in the Dramatists Guild’s End of Play program during the month of April. She received daily writing prompts and participated in silent writing sessions, group e-mails, and check-in events . In truth, it was more like “beginning of play” as she developed ideas to transform her one-act version of “Penumbra” into a full-length. Still, the month brought many opportunities for building community and drawing inspiration from fellow playwrights. Accountability was key. As a result, she FINALLY has a website and signed up for the New Play Exchange.
Thelma has joined the Board of Directors of San Diego Writer’s, Ink (SDWI). She’s enjoyed collaborating with them through San Diego Playwrights and the Dramatists Guild and looks forward to serving more of the writing community.