Tuesday, December 31, 2013

CONVERSATION | Jean-Guy Lecat kicks off "Creating Theatre for a New Audience" series in Brooklyn, Jan. 5th

Theatre for a New Audience at Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn

BROOKLYN, NY |   In 2000, Harvey Lichtenstein, recently retired executive director of BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), invited Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA), a modern classical theatre, to build its first home in what was previously known as the BAM Cultural District.

Established in 1979, TFANA produces Shakespeare alongside a wide range of other major authors. Jeffrey Horowitz, Founding Artistic Director, wanted a space that would be both intimate and epic, but without one fixed perspective, so that artists could change the configuration of the stage and audience depending upon the needs of a particular play and production. The Cottesloe at London's Royal National Theatre inspired Horowitz.

A team consisting of architects Hugh Hardy and Geoff Lynch (H3 Collaboration Architecture), theatre consultants Jean-Guy Lecat and Richard Pilbrow, acoustician Russell Todd, and graphic artist Milton Glaser collaborated with Horowitz on designing the 299-seat Scripps Main Stage and 50-seat Rogers Studio.

Over the next year, TFANA will host a series of free public discussions, which will focus on each team member's exploration of how theatrical design can support art.

I am honored to kick off Part One: A Conversation with Jean-Guy Lecat, an exploration on space, architecture and performance design.

Our conversation talk is set for Sunday, January 5, 2014 at 5:30pm at the Theatre for a New Audience at Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn.

FREE EVENT. For further information, contact humanities@tfana.org or visit www.tfana.org.

Peter Brook calls Jean-Guy "Monsieur Space."

Jean-Guy Lecat is a French scenic designer and architectural consultant for Peter Brook's Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris, BAM Harvey Theater, and consultant to Jeffrey Horowitz.

I see Jean-Guy more properly as a space designer and a developer of architecture. Why? Because Jean-Guy devotes himself fully to the transformation of space for performance.  He is untiring in his exploration of the interaction of theater and architecture, design and performance, space and storytelling.

Jean-Guy Lecat

Jean-Guy Lecat's guiding hand can be gleaned in the construction of Teatro Azul de Almada in Lisbon, the building of the New Young Vic in London, the major renovation of the historic Abbey Theatre in Dublin, the conversion of an old Norway factory into theatre spaces and schools, the remaking of the Naves del Antiguo Matadero into a performing arts space in Madrid -- and now the construction of Theatre for a New Audience's new home at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn.

Prior to the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, Lecat was known in New York for transforming a literally crumbling 1904 space, two blocks from the Brooklyn Academy of Music (formerly the Majestic, it had been boarded up for 20 years) into the BAM Harvey Theater. The newly refurbished Harvey was built specifically to house Peter Brook’s nine-hour production of The Mahabharata and his subsequent The Cherry Orchard.

In an award-winning magazine profile of Jean-Guy Lecat, "The Further Adventures of Monsieur Space" (American Theatre, January 2009), I wrote, "Although the term 'maverick' has become much-abused in the media nowadays, it is actually an apt description of Lecat's place in the pantheon. On the occasion of the publication of 'The Open Circle,' Brook dubbed Lecat 'Mr. Space,' because he thrives in the avant-garde of an entirely new profession that is neither scenic design nor architecture--call it space design. Perhaps another way of looking at Lecat's trade is that he is a stage manager of space, whose simultaneous aims are to lift the theatre experience to a new level, to bring the text forward, and to stimulate 'the imaginary,' which he views as the real current and lifeblood of theatre.' "

BAM Cultural District

In a period of 25 years, Lecat designed approximately 200 performance spaces for Brook around the world, as well as many others in cooperation with international theatre makers and architects. Lecat began his career as a stage design assistant in the Theatre du Vieux-Colombier in Paris and as an architectural assistant at the Avignon festival. Lecat has worked as a stage manager, scenographer and light designer for Jean Vilar, Jorge Lavell, The Living Theatre, La MaMa, Jean-Marie Serreau, Luca Ronconi, Jean-Louis Barrault, Dario Fo, Roger Blin and Samuel Beckett.

Friday, December 20, 2013

NEWS FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS | A Great Review...and an Official Government Seal of Approval

NEW YORK CITY |  See that "Philippine Transparency Seal?" That's a government seal of approval from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of the Republic of the Philippines.

It was already very nice of the DFA to publish an article that reviewed my recent performance at the Philippine Consulate General of New York's Kalayaan Hall. But it was a whole other matter to get an Official Seal of Approval from the state.

That means that the article reprinted in its entirety below was thoroughly and completely vetted by every stakeholder inside the DFA before they published it on their official website.

What the article does not mention is that the evening I participated in raised some $40,000 in funds that will go directly to the Philippine Jesuit Foundation in New York, which will hand over the funds to Gawad Kalinga in the Philippines. The evening was a launch of a Build a Shelter program that would allow for actual homes to be built for all those Filipinos in central Visayas who lost their homes.

In the initial aftermath of the typhoon, people around the world gave money. However, those funds were geared for emergency relief. This flash funding will not specifically address the actual re-building efforts that needs to be undertaken long after the world has moved forward and the victims of the super typhoon stop becoming a huge part of the current news agenda. By then, it will become even more necessary to re-build new homes, perhaps even schools and buildings, in central Visayas and other regions severely impacted.

Build a Shelter Program (BASP) is a continuing program. For the time being, companies, organizations and individuals that would like to support the BASP can contact the Philippine Consulate General at email address: phcongen.newyork@gmail.com. They may also send check (with “Build a Shelter Project Fund” written in the memo line) to the Philippine Jesuit Foundation, 39 East 83rd St., New York, NY 10028.

It was a pleasure to be part of this important and necessary evening. How very nice of the DFA to say nice things about my performance and giving it a stamp of approval.


Filipinos in New York Celebrate
150th Birth Anniversary  
of Andres Bonifacio 
with Poetry Reading, Film Screening

05 December 2013 – Love for country and hope for a better future was the theme of the Philippine Consulate General’s celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio last November 26 at the Philippine Center in New York City.

A fundraising town hall to launch the Build-A-Shelter Program for typhoon Yolanda victims took place earlier in the evening, where Consul General Mario L. De Leon, Jr. spoke about how ordinary citizens can emerge as a hero during times of crisis, much like Andres Bonifacio during the Spanish era.  The audience were then entertained and educated with a program in commemoration of the man oftentimes called the “Father of Philippine Revolution.”

Theatre actress Debralee Daco, who appeared in the Imelda Marcos bio-musical “Here Lies Love” read excerpts from the Lakambini ng Katipunan, Gregoria De Jesus’ life account that describes her marriage and family life with the Supremo and her participation in the Katipunan.

A poem written by Gat Andres himself, “Pag Ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa” was brought to life by a rousing interpretation by Randy Gener.

The highlight of the program was a film showing of “Prologo to the Great Desaparecido,” by Lav Diaz.  The movie depicts Gregoria De Jesus’ desperate search for her husband’s body in the mountains for 30 days.

To relate the celebration to community fundraising efforts, Vice Consul Khrys Corpuz highlighted some messages in the film that resound to the community post-Yolanda: that we must not lose hope and that as a community we will find a cure for our kababayans’ misery.

The evening ended with Debralee and Randy reading Gregoria De Jesus’ 10 Advices to the Philippine Youth. END

Sunday, December 15, 2013

TYPHOON RELIEF EFFORT | Artist Collective and La MaMa host #HaiyanRelief performance and art auction on Dec.18th

NEW YORK CITY |  La Mama e.t.c and Kinding Sindaw are presenting a #HaiyanRelief fundraising benefit. I will serve as the host.

The event will benefit the victims of Haiyan/Yolanda. All proceeds will go to NAFCONUSA #HaiyanRelief fund# nafconusa.org

NAFCON is a national multi-issue alliance of Filipino organizations and individuals in the United States serving to protect the rights and welfare of Filipinos by fighting for social, economic, and racial justice and equality. At present, NAFCON members encompass over 23 cities in the United States.

Featured artist performers are: Yusef Abdus-Salaam || Maria Elena Anaya || Kilusan Bautista || Michael Dadap || Christian Harmon and Juan Torregoza || Interstellar Sex Machine || Kanttara || Kinding Sindaw || Makalina || Saung Budaya || Scientific Soul Band || Substance || 10Tecomai || Amir Vahab.

You can find more detailed information about each artist performer on Facebook herehttps://www.facebook.com/events/1439586276261709/

There will also be an art auction featuring work by: Corky Lee || Crude Things || Funkologist || Bob Gruen || Caitlin Keegan ||Alan Ket || Jayne Lies || Alice Mizrachi || Jaclyn Reyes || Sarita Louise Moore || Venus In Orbit || And more!

Tickets are $20.00

Tickets can be purchased in advance online at http://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe.c/9861504 or at the box office.  Box Office: (212) 475-7710

All proceeds will go to NAFCONUSA #HaiyanRelief fund# nafconusa.org

For more info: info@kindingsindaw.org

Kinding Sindaw Melayu Heritage
47 Great Jones St., New York NY 10012

Lamama ETC

INTRODUCTION OF HOST – Angela Torregoza, Executive Director of Kinding Sindaw
INTRODUCTION – Mia Yoo, Artistic Director of Lamama ETC
INVOCATION – Tom Porter, Mohawk Elder
WELCOME– Potri Ranka Manis, Founder & Artistic Director of Kinding Sindaw
WELCOME DANCE (Silong Sa Ganding) – Kinding Sindaw

Scientific Soul Band (soul)
Kanttara (vocals)
Lotus Fine Arts Presents: MAKALINA (Hawaiian)
Yusef Abdus Salaam (Spoken Word)

Silent Auction #1

Michael Dadap (Guitar)
Maria Elena Anaya (Flamenco)
Amir Vahab (Tanbour)
Kilusan Bautista (Multimedia)

Silent Auction #2

10Tecomai (YOSOKAI Dance Group)
Substance (vocals)
Saung Budaya (Indonesian Dance)
Christian Harmon and Juan Torregoza (Vocals and Guitar)

Silent Auction #3
Lotus Fine Arts Presents: AJNA DANCE GROUP (Indian Dance)
Interstellar Sex Machine (Downtempo)

Friday, December 6, 2013

NEW YORK DIARY | Remembering Nelson Mandela for Arise America TV

NEW YORK |  Tonight I was a guest on Arise America's TV prime-time news program. I spoke about Nelson Mandela's impact on my life, on American youth and on South Africa's arts community. It was a live show!

Arise News was founded by Nigerian publisher Nduka Obaigbena. He dreamed of a global news channel connecting all the colors and shades of news around the globe. With a team of world-class journalists, behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera, Arise News covers the compelling issues of our time in a way no one else can.

I was honored to be asked to speak my mind in Nduka Obaigbena's enterprising news network. It was a rainy Friday night, almost 24 hours after I reported about Mandela's death in The Journalist.ie and posted my story six minutes after his death was confirmed by South African President Jacob Zuma.

I recalled my student days when I drove five hours to Oakland Coliseum to see in person Nelson Mandela who had just been released from prison where he spent 27 years. We paid $5 for the ticket. My fellow students joined 75,000 of our closest friends in the Bay Area to see Mandela on what was his last stop in an eight-city tour. It was a glorious sun-drenched day. He did not speak very long, but he spoke directly to us, telling us that we students and the laborers and longshoremen in the Bay Area were in the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement here in the U.S. by agitating for the U.S., especially American universities, to divest their South African investments, which at the time totaled $12 billion. 

As I said on TV on Arise America, his speech at that Oakland Coliseum confirmed that we were fighting the good fight and connected our student agitation to this larger, greater and global fight against apartheid. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

TYPHOON RELIEF EFFORT | AAJA-NY Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fundraiser with the Asian Affinity Roundtable

NEW YORK CITY |  I am a member of AAJA-NY (Asian American Journalists Association of New York). The group is holding a Typhoon Haiyan relief fundraiser with the Asian Affinity Roundtable.

I urge you to go. There will be free food, free drinks (up to a point, during happy hour), plus a silent auction and raffle which explains the $10 suggested donation.

Here are the details:

AAJA-NY Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fundraiser
with the Asian Affinity Roundtable

Wednesday, December 4, 2013, 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM
Location: Katra Lounge, 217 Bowery Street, NYC
Event information: http://typhoonrelief.eventbrite.com

This event is open to the public.

Proceeds will go to International Rescue Committee (rescue.org)

Emcee: Ti-Hua Chang, WNYW/Fox 5 / Performances by: FanAlex, Mary Josephine, and IZZY / Music by DJ VinnyRomance
Free drinks for the first 100 attendees and happy hour drink specials
Free food until 7PM
Silent Auction and Raffle
$10 donation at the door; Event information: http://typhoonrelief.eventbrite.com

Donations will be matched 1 for 1 by Time Warner Inc. and will be donated to the International Rescue Committee.

Silent Auction Items: Reebok sneakers, Real Simple beauty gift basket, Knicks tickets, Restaurant gift certificates, Cookware, Books, Theater tickets and MORE

Co-sponsored by APEX of Time Warner, A3 of Time Inc. and Aspire of JPMorgan, AHG of Interpublic, Asian American Journalists Association of New York (AAJA-NY), APA@NBCUniversal, Asian Connection NY of Wells Fargo, AMP of Viacom, APEX of McGraw-Hill Companies/S&P Capital IQ, TurnerAsia of Turner Broadcasting. This is event is not sponsored by JPMorgan Chase

Sunday, November 24, 2013

TYPHOON RELIEF EFFORT | Lav Diaz Film for Bonifacio Day + FilCom's fundraiser for typhoon victims in Tacloban


NEW YORK |  November 30 is a public holiday in the Philippines. Why? It is the day Andres Bonifacio, the de facto national hero of the Philippines, was born.

The "official" national hero, as was designed by the Americans, is Jose P. Rizal. Bonifacio founded the Katipunan movement which sought armed independence of the Philippines from Spanish colonial rule and started the Philippine revolution.

Many advocates consider Bonifacio to be the "real" first President, although he is not recognized as such in the history books. The reasons are too complex for a blog post to unearth. Suffice it to say that the more popular recognition of Rizal as the Philippine national hero has no explicit legal designation in Philippine law. As a consequence of our colonial past, my native country officially celebrates two holidays in memory of two national heroes: Jose Rizal, the more famous patriot, and Andres Bonifacio, the underground hero.

I would like to invite you to the Philippine Consulate General of New York's 150th anniversary of the birth of Andres Bonifacio. The Consulate originally scheduled it for December 2, but then it moved it up to Tuesday November 26 to coincide with a Friends of FilCom fundraiser to benefit the victims of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in central Philippines.

FilCom stands for the Filipino American Communities of the Northeast. The Consulate is hosting a simple reception for this fundraiser, with the Bonifacio Day celebration as the evening's entertainment. The Consulate will update the New York community of the developments of the typhoon, relief efforts, government and international aid. That is the first part of the evening. Donations to the fundraiser, as the flyer above states, will go to the Philippine Jesuit Foundation.

The evening's second part (the entertainment) will consist of a poetry recital, a life account reading by the actor Debralee Daco (HERE LIES LOVE), and a film screening of an austere short film by Lav Diaz, one of the greatest Philippine film auteurs of all time.

I will deliver a performative recital of a poem written by Andres Bonifacio. The wonderful actor Debralee Daco will interpret the role of Gregoria De Jesus, the wife of Bonifacio. Daco will read from De Jesus's autobiography, an account of her life with her husband.

Both the poem and the Daco's reading from De Jesus's autobiography function as contextual material for the evening's film screening: a 30-minute short film, Prologue to the Great Desaparecido. It is Lav Diaz's introduction to his most important upcoming feature film The Great Desaparecido which questions truth and history around Philippine Revolution and Philippine Independence.

Prologue to the Great Desaparecido

In Prologue to the Great Desaparecido, we find Gregoria De Jesus searching for the body of Bonifacio in the mountains for 30 days. She calls for Bonifacio. She calls for the spirits even to help find her husband. It has been 325 years that the Philippines was under Spanish colonial rule when the Revolution, led by Bonifacio, exploded on August 21, 1896. On May 9, 1987, Bonifacio was charged with a death sentence by counter revolutionaries led by Emilio Aguinaldo, a Filipino general who later appointed himself the first President of the Philippines.*

Seen in light of the Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, Gregoria De Jesus's search for her husband's in the mountains strikes me as deeply relevant in light of the search of Haiyan/Yolanda survivors for their own loved ones.

All this said, Debralee and I wish this evening will nevertheless be enlightening, edifying and in aesthetic terms entertaining. We also hope it will serve as a prologue to Lav Diaz's Prologue.

Lav Diaz, you see, is considered "the ideological father of the New Philippine Cinema.” He began directing in the Philippine commercial film industry in the 1990's. But he received greater attention for films with clearly independent, socially conscious and artistic intentions such as Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcyon and Hesus Rebolusyonaryo.

After leaving the industry, Diaz sought to create his cinema on his own terms. Like the Danish auteur Lars Von Trier, Diaz's reputation rests on path-finding epic films. Beginning with the five hour Batang Westside in 2001 which won the Best Asian Feature at the 2002 Singapore International Film Festival -- followed by later films (such as the landmark near 11-hour Evolution of a Filipino Family, the nine-hour Heremias Book 1, Death in the Land of the Encantos and the seven-hour Melancholia (2008 Venice International Film Festival New Horizons Best Film) -- Diaz has used his long-form cinema to question the very nature of cinematic time and space.

His films also makes us aware of the inherently commercial nature of film-making. Most importantly, the very un-commercial nature of his body of work raise the notion of cinema as a possible tool for involvement, investigation, mourning, healing, remembrance, meditation, confrontation and action for his fellow Filipinos.

Please RSVP to events@newyorkpcg.org.

Prologue to the Great Desaparecido

*Footnote: Historians have condemned the killing of Bonifacio as unjust. Bonifacio did pose as a threat to the Revolution, because a split in the rebel forces would have resulted in almost certain defeated to a united front against the Spaniards. But historians have noted that the trial of Bonifacio was politically rigged. The Cavite leaders, led by Aguinaldo, wanted to wrest control of the Revolution from Bonifacio who exerted a spiritual reign. In other words, he had to be eliminated. Class played a significant role too. Aguinaldo represented the upper class and Bonifacio the middle and lower classes.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TYPHOON RELIEF EFFORTS | In Brooklyn, a Bayanihan Spirit benefit (Nov. 21) and a Sunday brunch fundraiser (Nov. 24)

NEW YORK CITY | It was inevitable: Hundreds of people and organizations around the world have stepped up to the plate to offer their services and aid to the Philippine victims of super Typhoon Haiyan. The deadly cyclone killed more than 3,600 people, and many more have been left struggling to overcome the destruction that was left in the typhoon’s wake.

The deluge of benefits, fundraisers and international pleas for donation comes with it a major problem: finding a reputable group that can get the supplies to the people who need them.

Sending cash directly to people in the area isn’t as helpful, since there’s nothing they can buy. But if you’re able to donate, the most important way to help right now is with a cash donation to a vetted relief organization. While medical supplies, food water and clothing are still in scarce supply, it’s very difficult to get the hard materials collected and then delivered and distributed there.

If you want to donate or help promote a fundraiser, the first order of business is to uncover where the money is going to. Is that humanitarian group or charity actually on the ground in the Philippines?

An NGO, the US Philippine Society (http://www.usphilippinessociety.org/) has a veted list of relief organizations - $40 can feed a family of 5 for a week.

Gawad Kalinga USA (http://gk-usa.org/) is another relief organization with collection and distribution systems, was identified by the NY Times, and has a history of doing this work. They’ve already distributed 60,000 food packs and aim to provide another 200,000 packs in the next 2 weeks.

The next step is to figure out if there is a crack in the system. Are there specific needs, voiced by Philippine victims (antibiotics and other med packs, for example), that are not being served by the overwhelmingly institutionalized support mechanism?

As someone who has received tons of emails announcing their own relief efforts, I'd like to call attention to two benefits for which I have already voiced my support. For convenience's sake, I will start out with a brief summary here, followed down below by longer descriptions.


Hosted by the Filipino American Museum in association with more than 30 New York organizations, including Filipino Mundo-NYC.

Tickets are $10. The event takes place at GALAPAGOS ART SPACE, 16 Main Street,  Brooklyn, New York 11201. Tickets are available at www.filipinoamericanmuseum.com

All proceeds for this Thursday November 21st benefit starting at 8:00 pm will go to National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON). To learn more about NAFCON USA, visit www.nafconusa.org

See the line-up of performers below.


NOVEMBER 24, Sunday, from 11 am to 4 pm at Purple Yam restaurant in Brooklyn

$40 brunch!

Featuring dishes by Chefs Romy Dorotan, King Phojanakong, Perry Mamaril and Pancho Gatchalian.

ALL PROCEEDS go to GAWAD KALINGA. Visit http://gk-usa.org/

RSVPs are suggested! Call 718-940-8118. Or email bettyannquirino@gmail.com

This past Sunday, November 17th, Purple Yam Restaurant in Brooklyn raised $7,615 for Gawad Kalinga USA.


FAM (Filipino American Museum)'s 


Thursday, Nov 21 2013 8:00 pm
Please join FAM (Filipino American Museum) for a night of BAYANIHAN SPIRIT
to raise funds to benefit Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts.

Thursday, November 21, 2013, 8PM at

16 Main Street
Brooklyn, New York 11201

Tickets $10

Emcee: Miss Info, HOT 97

The line-up of performers is terrific. View it at
http://www.meetup.com/FilipinoMundo-NYC/events/151716032/ or

For more information, here are the social media outlets.
Facebook facebook.com/filipinoamericanmuseum
Twitter @famnewyorkcity
Instagram @famnewyorkcity

Filipino Mundo-NYC is honored to be a community partner of Bayanihan Spirit.


NOVEMBER 24, Sunday, from 11 am to 4 pm
at Purple Yam restaurant in Brooklyn
$40 brunch!
Featuring dishes by Chefs Romy Dorotan, King Phojanakong, Perry Mamaril and Pancho Gatchalian.

ALL PROCEEDS go to GAWAD KALINGA. Visit http://gk-usa.org/
RSVPs are suggested! Call 718-940-8118. Or email bettyannquirino@gmail.com

As it happens, Amy Besa, one of the owners of Purple Yam Restaurant, is presently in the Philippines. She has been organizing dinners in Manila as well.

On November 17, Besa posted on her Facebook Page:
Some thoughts percolating around here. After the relief work to provide food, water, shelter, clothing, electricity, medical needs of the survivors of typhoon Yolanda, some forward thinking people are now looking at ways to help the displaced refugees esp those here in Manila. Chefs like Theodore Day Salonga are suggesting helping provide jobs within the restaurant industry. Ginny Roces-de Guzman is suggesting city vegetable gardening esp utilizing the skills of displaced farmers. 
Since my advocacy is establishing community kitchens where they are needed, I hope we can transform what Tricia Tensuan's Enderun Community Drive's efforts to feed the refugees at Villamor Base into some form of a community kitchen for those who need it. We need to look for more long-term solutions to the problems that Yolanda created.  
Proceeds from tonight's (Nov 17) dinner at Gustare and tomorrow night's (Nov 18) at XO46 will go to these efforts to provide water to communities down south and to help feed the refugees at Villamor Base.
Together, we can re-build this country! Tulong tulong tayong lahat para sa kinabukasan ng bansa! 

To give context, to date 11.8 million people have been affected compared to 3 million people in Haiti’s Hurricane; 12,000 people have been injured, 921,000 people displaced from their homes.

The UN has estimated that $3M in cash is needed immediately for basic rebuilding of homes and essential buildings (hospitals, schools, etc.). International appeals have brought in 19 percent of that amount – primarily from the business sector. Asia Citibank turned over all of one day’s profit to relief, JP Morgan is matching employee donations up to $250,000. Doctors without Borders and the Red Cross are providing medical support and other governments have donated food and water.

Monday, November 11, 2013

ON CÉLINE DION | Music commentary for Le Journal de Montréal in Canada

QUEBEC |  Canadian journalist Raphaél Gendron-Martin of Le Journal de Montréal interviewed me about my views on the release of Céline Dion's new album Loved Me Back to Life. It was her first English-language studio album since Taking Chances in 2007, so naturally it's big news.

Raphaél published a thoughtful and well-researched article, in which he interviewed various members of the English-language media (including Robin Leach).

I very much enjoyed being interviewed about Céline for this French-language Canadian newspaper. I did actually say a lot more about her and her new album. Scroll down to read the complete text of the interview I gave Le Journal de Montréal.

Raphaél's «Le retour d’une valeur sûre» article appeared in French on November 6, 2013 in the Canadian publication. It was subtitled «Les médias étrangers saluent l’arrivée d’un nouvel album de Céline». 

See more at http://www.journaldequebec.com/2013/11/05/le-retour-dune-valeur-sure.

I was happy to help Gendron-Martin, who charmingly tweeted his article as soon as it was published online.

To prepare his article, Raphaël asked me these questions:
  • What's the importance of a new Celine Dion's album in today's industry?
  • How can Celine Dion be still relevant compared to the other pop artists?
  • When you hear the name "Celine Dion" today, what do you first think of?
  • How do you think being "permanently" in Las Vegas had changed her career compared to a touring artist?
It turns out that Raphaël is quite an expert on Céline Dion, as evidenced by this tweet where he is writing at a junket while surrounded by Céline's glamorous photos.
As is often the case, I offered the U.S. perspective on cultural matters, just as I recently offered an Irish radio the U.S. perspective on the conviction of Bradley Manning.

In «Le retour d’une valeur sûre», Raphaël quoted me as saying:
Selon Randy Gener, critique new-yorkais pour Critical Stages et ­ancien contributeur du New York Daily News, l’arrivée d’un nouvel album pour Céline Dion apportera de la nouveauté au public qui ne pense à elle que pour ses spectacles à Las Vegas et pour les reprises du Titanic à la télévision. 
«La question est maintenant de voir si sa réputation sera suffisante pour créer du profit dans une industrie maintenant dominée par les ­extravagances de Lady Gaga ou encore un rappeur coréen. L’image de Céline dépend entièrement de sa merveilleuse voix. Mais je me ­demande si ce sera assez pour se traduire en immense succès de vente pour l’album.»
Man, he made me sound so trenchant!

Raphaël was courteous and professional. I am thrilled that he got a cover story for his work. That's super-cool.

Like I said, I enjoyed being interviewed about Céline for this French-language Canadian newspaper. I did actually say a lot more about her and her new album, so I am posting here the entire interview I gave Le Journal de Montréal.

Raphaël G.-Martin of Le Journal de Montréal: What's the importance of a new Céline Dion's album in today's industry?
RG: Céline Dion has not released an English-language album in six years. "Loved Me Back to Life" is going to be a novelty in an entertainment industry that has relegated her to Las Vegas concerts at Caesars Palace and the occasional TV re-run of the movie Titanic. The question is whether Céline's brand of talent will ultimately make a huge profit in a music industry where wild Lady Gaga-like antics or Korean rappers on YouTube typically make a big splash on the top 10 list. Celine's image depends entirely on her golden voice, and I have to wonder whether that will be enough to make her album a huge success.

-How can Céline Dion be still relevant compared to the other pop artists?
Have you noticed that pop stars do not just sing anymore? Lady Gaga sang her new song on a London stage while completely naked. Miley Cyrus, the nasty little twerker who shouldn't, exploits Twitter to post photos of herself sticking her tongue out and proclaiming her promiscuity.

In Brazil, Justin Bieber has been visiting brothels in between performances where people throw water bottles at him. Courtney Love revealed her drug addiction problem in a magazine because she wants to make a comeback. Guys like Bruce Springsteen, Michael Stipe and Bono act more like politicians than rock stars; they use their music as a platform where they score political points. Madonna recently packaged her latest song inside a short film and a free speech web project.

When you compare Céline to these pop artists, you would not be so far off if you thought she were a nun! She has a stable home life. Her French albums kick ass in the French market and sell very well. She's not a songwriter, so she's an interpreter of songs. She's a mother. She does not smoke. She does not do drugs. She does not drink. She always thanks her husband and her family. Maria the nun in The Sound of Music was a bigger troublemaker than Celine. She's from another planet of Music Star.

-When you hear the name "Céline Dion" today, what do you first think of?
As a Broadway critic in New York, I always put a great premium on a singer/entertainer's sound. The golden voice that comes out of her just wins me over, no matter how overly cutesy her image has become and how shockingly thin her body looks and how mannered her vocal style can be when she sings. She has a powerful voice that is beautiful to listen to. Nobody can take that away from her.

-How do you think being "permanently" in Las Vegas had changed her career compared to a touring artist?
Céline minted herself as a different kind of star by being permanently in Las Vegas. If you want to hear her sing in person, you have to go to her. She does not have to go to you. That's a game changer, a real testament to how she has positioned herself in an orbit that is closer to the genuine old-fashioned pop artists of the previous century like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin or Sammy Davis Jr.

Of course, Céline is also selling spectacle by staying rooted to Las Vegas. But she does not have to constantly trick out or twerk her ass or do nasty attention-getting antics, the way other touring artists do. An argument could be made that she has become a kind of singing statue: that she runs the risk of becoming a too-comfortable, immovable fixture in Las Vegas. She attracts an older demographic of audiences, for example. I bet it is difficult for her theatrical collaborators to stage her in every new Las Vegas concert just because there is a level of out-sized spectacle that people have come to expect from her Las Vegas shows. The challenge is always to re-design the spectacular effects in ways that do not overpower her singing voice.

I have heard some tracks from her new album, "Loved Me Back to Life." The voice I heard there is practically difficult to recognize. It's stripped down, almost pure in its sound, restrained, elegant, more beautifully controlled. Going this direction is quite likely the logical next artistic step for a pop icon who has become so closely associated with a certain level of Las Vegas spectacle.

That's where my interview ends.

BONUS FOR DION FANS:  Two days after the Le Journal de Montreal article was published, on Friday, November 8, Céline showcased her excellent Loved Me Back To Life with an intimate gig at New York’s Edison Ballroom.

See her wow the fans and music critics with a resonant rendition of the album’s Sia-penned title track in this YouTube recording of her live performance:

Saturday, October 19, 2013

JOURNEY TO LAND'S END | Who's Afraid of Jane Bowles?

PROVINCETOWN |  You've likely not heard of Jane Bowles, but she wrote a cock-eyed, mesmerizing play that was one of the signal achievements of postwar American drama. It's right up there with the classic works of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein, late Eugene O'Neill, Lillian Hellman, and Sam Shepard.

This post is about that unjustly neglected play: In the Summer House.

It's not that difficult to become a literary expert on Jane Bowles. She wrote one novel, one play (two if you include a six-page puppet play), and seven meticulously crafted short stories. Her total output was tiny. Yet what she did leave behind was beyond brilliant.

It's not that difficult either to be enamored with her biography. She lived an out-sized life, an unhappy one, if you believe the conventional wisdom, but it's the stuff dramas are made of. She was Jewish, homosexual, alcoholic, a communist, a cripple, the platonic wife of the gay writer and composer Paul Bowles (The Sheltering Sky), a cult figure, and a fascinating pole star in a literary coterie that included Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes and later such Beat Generation types as William Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg.

Like Gertrude Stein (the formalist who altered the face of the American drama), Bowles had for years enjoyed an underground reputation among artists. When she died in 1973, the poet John Ashberry classified her in a New York Times obit as "a writer's writer's writer." It's the accursed designation that stuck, even though Ashberry did go further. He wrote, "It is to be hoped that she will be recognized for what she is: one of the finest modern writers of fiction in any language."

Her friend Tennessee Williams had long been hitting the drumbeat for Bowles. He called her "the most important writer of prose fiction in Modern American letters."

Bowles was so much more than a fiction writer raised to the third power. She was a maverick. On the strength of one full-length play, In the Summer House, she had set her own place in the pantheon of post-war American drama. She did it in her own highly individualistic way. This play, although rarely produced today, is so exquisite and so original that it has taken us (well, it is still taking us) a long time to catch up with its odd dazzle.

The idea of acknowledging In the Summer House as a singular work of postwar American theater is, in part, why I came to the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival. As moderator, I joined the festival's curator David Kaplan in a post-performance discussion on Sunday, September 29. Kaplan devised this year's festival theme of "Williams and Women." His contribution? He himself staged Act Two of In the Summer House on the pool deck of the Boatslip, facing the Atlantic Ocean, on Friday Sept. 27 and on Sunday Sept. 29.

Why not stage the whole play? I journeyed to America's land's end to find out.

Me and David Kaplan
It was very much a workshop production. In our public conversation on the pool deck of the Boatslip, Kaplan said that for him, a question hangs over the Bowles's text. Tennessee Williams loved this play. Why?

Williams read the first act in 1940. He helped Bowles obtain a grant to get the second act written. He traveled in 1956 to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to see the play performed. He gave it blurbs and consistent praise in interviews and in his Memoirs. Why?

Kaplan's answer was to stage an experiment. Viewing In the Summer House through the prism of Williams's sensibility, this workshop production tries to answer Kaplan's quizzical questions by picking up the play's story in Act 2 and then doubling back on a fragment of Act 1. To help him explore, the rabbinical director used actors from past festival productions of Orpheus Descending (TW Fest 2010 and 2011): Irene Glezos as Mrs. Eastman-Cuevas, Brenda Currin as Mrs. Constable and Beth Bartley as Ines.

What Kaplan has been doing is to lay bare (for himself and his actors) the narrative structures and character motivations of a text that he confesses seems inscrutable. That's because In the Summer House is full of idiosyncrasies.

Stylistically Jane Bowles resembles her own heroine, Miss Goering, in Two Serious Ladies. At one point in this strange, entrancing novel, a character complains to Miss Goering, "You can never sit down for more than five minutes without introducing something weird into the conversation. I certainly think you have made a study of it."

So does In the Summer House. It makes a screwball study of being wild and peculiar. Dramaturgically, it balances a refined, decorous naturalism with a modernist attentiveness to the incongruous or repressed inner life. In the Summer House does not work in the conventional sense. Its dialogue lures you to dig deeper into the characters' inner workings even as it refuses to yield anything further. It vibrates within that kinetic space.

It was not for nothing that Bowles had felt that perhaps Charlie Chaplin might have been the only director capable enough to stage her play. With its odd involutions and surprising turns, her sense of the dramatic relies a great deal on unresolved ambiguity in both character and action. What makes her play theatrical and highly original is that it challenges audiences to create a narrative logic that avoids reduction to common cliches.

Writer and playwright Jane Bowles (1917-1973)

In the Summer House is a play about mothers and daughters: about "serious ladies" who are frequently nervous or uncomfortable in their own skin, even when they are domineering. Bowles was 30 years old in 1947, the year she completed Act 1 of In the Summer House and published it in Harper's Bazaar. By then, she had been writing fiction for at least a decade. Her fictional narratives repeatedly returned to relationships between women. She was "an expert on strangeness," as the writer Janet Mason observes, adding:
Most of her stories, if not all, explore both the entanglements and estrangement inherent in the claustrophobia of intimacy. In the introduction, Truman Capote refers to this as "human apartness." 
Unlike Williams, who was himself a poet of human apartness, Bowles's focus was not always with her women characters's sexual lives. Invariably she explored women's conflicting experiences to bind themselves to and escape from one another -- to serve and to command.

In Summer House, there are three sets of mothers and daughters. Each pair struggles to maintain the emotional closeness between them and to separate from one another's clutches. Whereas in Williams's The Glass Menagerie the smothering mother comes across as a kind of sacred monster, in Bowles's Summer House, mothers take control and domineer, but the true power rests with their daughters.

Seeing Act 2 alone turns out to be quite a fascinating exercise for those of us who have seen the entire play with the scenes in their original order. It forced me to look at Act 2 anew and with fresher eyes. In the past critics have generally found the second act to be less successful than the first act. To prove their point, they point to the fact that Bowles had devised three endings for the play. (The published ending is the classic scenario in popular melodrama where the young woman runs out with the man.) During the original Broadway production in 1953, according to Bowles's biographer Millicent Dillon, "a psychiatrist was brought in to explain the motivation of the play."

The surprise in Kaplan's entertaining presentation is that Act 2 (with a little help from a piece of Act 1) stands on its melodramatic own. Staged around a pool at the Boatslip and making wonderful theater out of the yawning distance (both literal and psychological) between characters, Act 2 works as a great teaser. It whetted mine and the audiences' appetite to see more of the play.

Next year Kaplan will return to Provincetown. He will stage a site-specific production of In the Summer House. He said he will push forward with his idea of reversing those two Acts, although he did quickly add that he will give Bowles her due by offering some performances that preserve the original order.

"I owe it to her to do it the way she wrote it," Kaplan told me.

The prospect of participating in what promises to be an innovative new take of In the Summer House was the other great reason to go the annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival. Bowles's unpredictable work has never received significant popular attention. Here was an opportunity to get involved in this unique festival's stronghold: its ardent mission of offering fresh new discoveries from the Williams canon.

Eight years since it was first established, the festival has rejuvenated Williams's later plays and his more experimental works, those commercially unsuccessful plays which the critics have consistently relegated to the dustbin of the work of a failed drug-addled alcoholic.

What this festival has done and is continuing to do in terms of revivifying the late, strange Williams works, perhaps it can do as well to Jane Bowles's strange, singular In the Summer House.  --rg

Thursday, October 17, 2013

WATCH THIS VIDEO | My conversation with director David Kaplan about Jane Bowles and her play "In the Summer House"

Me and David Kaplan at Provincetown's The Boatslip

PROVINCETOWN |  You've likely not heard of Jane Bowles, but she wrote a cock-eyed, mesmerizing play that was one of the signal achievements of postwar American drama.

I think it's right up there with the classic postwar works of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein, late Eugene O'Neill, Lillian Hellman, and Sam Shepard.

That unjustly neglected play is called In the Summer House.
In the Summer House (Act Two) 
by Jane Bowles
Directed by David Kaplan
Friday Sept. 27, 1:00 – 2:00
Sunday Sept. 29, 10:30 – 12:00 (with discussion moderated by Randy Gener)
The Boatslip (161 Commercial Street | $15) 
A Festival Workshop Production at Provincetown, MA 
A year after Mrs. Constable’s daughter Vivian died they both hang around the Lobster Bowl Restaurant. Did Vivian fall? Or was she pushed by Mrs. Eastman-Cuevas’s daughter, Molly. Adding to the melodrama set-up, another question hangs over the text: Tennessee Williams loved this play. Why? He read the first act in 1940, helped Bowles obtain a grant to get the second act written, traveled in 1956 to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to see the play performed, gave it blurbs and consistent praise in interviews and in his Memoirs. Why? 
This workshop production from Festival curator David Kaplan, tries to answer those questions by picking up the story after Vivian’s death and doubling back to the scene on the cliff. With stars from Orpheus Descending (TW Fest 2010 and 2011): Irene Glezos as Mrs. Eastman-Cuevas, Brenda Currin as Mrs. Constable, Beth Bartley as Ines. 

The idea of acknowledging In the Summer House as a singular work of postwar American theater is, in part, why I came to the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival.

Kaplan devised this year's festival theme of "Williams and Women." His contribution? He himself staged Act Two of In the Summer House on the pool deck of the Boatslip, facing the Atlantic Ocean, on Friday Sept. 27 and on Sunday Sept. 29.

Why not stage the whole play? I journeyed to America's land's end to find out.

Following the workshop performance on Sunday, September 29, Kaplan and I discussed the play’s many connections to Williams. More important: we explored Jane Bowles and her singular dramatic style.

Here is the video recording of our conversations:

Monday, October 14, 2013

ANNOUNCEMENT | Finalist for 2013 Plaridel Award for Excellence in Filipino American Journalism

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. | "A Song for My Mother," a personal essay I published in The FilAm, has been named a Finalist for the 2013 Plaridel Awards for Excellence in Filipino American Journalism. In the category of Outstanding Editorial Essay.

The annual Plaridel Awards was established last year as the first-ever coast-to-coast competition among the Filipino publishers, recognizing excellence among journalists from Los Angeles, New York and of course the Bay Area. Submissions came from publishers.

Led by Esther Misa Chavez, Philippine American Press Club President and Vice President for Sales of INQUIRER.net, the Plaridel Awards is a project of the Philippine American Press Club, and The Plaridel Awards Committee.

The winners will be announced and receive their trophies on Saturday, October 19, 2013 at Lucky Chances Casino/Rene's Fine Dining in Colma, California at 6:30 PM.  Gala dinner and awards will be emceed by Joey Guila and Fresca Eriarte. Intermission by Mitch Franco. Dance Music by Willie Santa Maria's Standard Time Band. Dress Code: Cocktail Dress

For tickets, visit: www.plaridelawards.eventbrite.com

Who was Plaridel?
Over a century ago, Marcelo H. del Pilar, a Filipino journalist and publisher went into exile in Europe. His fearless commentaries against the oppressive Spanish rule made his exile inevitable. Through it all, his desire to be a journalist never waned and he continued his writing while abroad. He was unrelenting in his pursuit of truth, fairness, and the upliftment of his constituents. Plaridel was his nom de plume, the anagram of his surname, Del Pilar.

In him the Philippine American Press Club, U.S.A. (PAPC) has found a hero – a person to emulate and an inspiration to Filipino-American writers and publishers everywhere who continue in their journalistic aspirations and in service to their constituents in the new land they now call home. The Philippine American Press Club, U.S.A wishes to honor our hardworking press corps, and the media agencies they represent. They have made the vibrant Filipino American community well-informed, entertained and involved through the years.

The Plaridel Awards was named after del Pilar, whose nom de plume was Plaridel. This annual award will be given to Filipino American journalists who have proven through the years his/her dedication to the ideals of Filipino hero, nationalist, publisher and writer, Marcelo H. Del Pilar. Plaridel dedicated his life to the highest journalistic standards. His near-Quixotic drive for the well-being of his constituents never waned. And whether he was in his hometown in Pampanga or exiled in Hong Kong or faraway Spain, he was unrelenting in his pursuit of the truth, fairness in reporting, and in the upliftment of his countrymen.

Philippine American Press Club, USA
PAPC,USA was established in 1988 by former members of the National Press Club of the Philippines who had immigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area and saw the need for a US based Filipino American media group. All fierce advocates for truth, fairness, and excellence in journalism, they realized the vital role of media education and advocacy for the fast-growing Filipino population. A quarter of a century later, PAPC continues the legacy of the founding members and has grown its membership to include influential Filipino American publishers with a reach well beyond North America.The group’s combined total monthly circulation in the US alone is over 2-million.

The goals of the Press Club are: (a) To preserve freedom of the press and the free flow and exchange of information in society; (b) To promote the professional advancement of Filipino American journalists and media practitioners; (b) To provide a forum for the discussion of issues of interest to its members and to initiate programs beneficial to its members and the community at large; (c) to promote cooperation and understanding among its members and the community.

PAPC is composed of members active in the media; which includes publishers, editors, reporters, correspondents and columnists of newspapers, magazines and the internet; broadcast media owners, managers, producers, directors, writers and production staff; advertising representatives of media organizations, public relations and communication professionals; and invited community leaders.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

ANNOUNCEMENT | 2013 Wai Look Award for Outstanding Service to the Arts goes to...

NEW YORK CITY |  I am honored to share that I was named a Finalist for the 2013 Wai Look Award for Outstanding Service to the Arts, given annually by the Asian American Arts Alliance.

According to the Alliance's website, the Wai Look Award for Outstanding Service to the Arts "recognizes and encourages Asian American individuals who are making a significant contribution to the arts by demonstrating a commitment to outstanding service, advocacy and/or leadership."

It continues: "Selections are based on demonstrated and exceptional service to or participation in the field, the impact of the work and the potential for future contributions."

The actual 2013 Wai Look Awardee is Gladys Chen of 2G Theater. Congratulations, Gladys!

The Wai Look Award will be presented at the alliance's 31st annual gala evening. The gala will take place Tuesday, October 15, 2013, 6:30pm at Tribeca Rooftop (2 Desbrosses St, NYC).

If you have the extra change to support the Asian American Arts Alliance, please come to the gala. You will meet visual artist and fashion designer Richard Tsao, as well as jazz musicians and 2013 MacArthur "Genius" Fellow Vijay Iyer. Cindy Hsu and Phil Nee are the emcees.

The gala is a celebration of outstanding Asian Americans in the arts and an opportunity for audiences and patrons to significantly raise the level of support for artistic talent within our community.

To purchase tickets for the gala, visit http://aaartsalliance.org/page/31st-gala­

Past galas have attracted more than 1,000 artists, cultural and business leaders, philanthropists, elected officials, and community members. Honorees and presenters have included Margaret Cho, David Henry Hwang, Phillip Lim, Suketu Mehta, Mira Nair, SuChin Pak, Maulik Pancholy, Jeff Staple, BD Wong, and many others.

Wai Look Award
Established in 2011, the Wai Look Award for Outstanding Service to the Arts is a tribute to the life and work of Wai Look, who served on the Asian American Arts Alliances board of directors from 1999 until her death in December 2010. She spent most of her career in the arts, as an administrator and in artist services, and devoted herself to helping others. Look also strongly believed in the importance of volunteering, which was reflected in her personal, as well as professional life. The award is given periodically to an Asian American who is making a significant contribution to the arts by demonstrating a commitment to outstanding service, advocacy and/or leadership.

Purpose and Criteria
The Wai Look Award for Outstanding Service to the Arts is intended to recognize and encourage Asian American individuals working as an arts administrator, advocate, leader or equivalent whose active participation in or for the arts has made a considerable impact. The award aims to illustrate the potential of exemplary work in the field.

Past winners of the Wai Look Award are Christine Toy Johnson, actor, playwright and filmmaker (2012), and Deepa Purohit, co-founder of Rising Circle Theater Collective (2011).

About Wai Look (1969–2010)
Born in New York, Wai Look was one of five daughters in a Chinese American family. She grew up in Queens and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1991. Since that time, she held positions in management and development for the United Hospital Fund, the Arts & Business Council of New York, and the New York Pops. A longtime board member of a4, Ms. Look served on the executive committee as board secretary. She also served on the board of the Artists Community Federal Credit Union.

About the Asian American Arts Alliance
The Asian American Arts Alliance (a4) is dedicated to strengthening Asian American artists and arts/cultural groups in New York City through funding, promotion and community building. a4 helps support individual artists and arts organizations access and share resources online and in person. A4 builds community through programs that lead to peer-learning, collaboration, and professional development.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

FASHIONISTA ALERT | Treading the Ramp at a Fashion Show For a Good Cause

Me and Corazon Reyes, this year's Grand Marshall.
NEW YORK CITY |  Sarah Jessica Parker was not the only one who has sashayed down a runway for a charity ball gala in New York for a group called Friends in Deed.

This past September, another group also called Friends Indeed USA held its own charity ball, and it came right in time for Fashion Week in New York City. The event, which took place at World Astor Manor, showed off the Philippines’ rich fabrics and collections of four Manila couturiers: Edgar Madamba, Richard Papa, Edgar San Diego and Tony Cajucom.

Guess who was asked to tread the ramp modeling their stunning creations?

Madamba, Papa and San Diego are all active officers and members of the Fashion Designers Association of the Philippines. For the past decade or so, they have been traveling extensively as a team doing shows for the international and Filipino communities in key cities like New York, St. Louis, Syracuse, New Jersey, Maryland, Chicago, Florida, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Glendale, San Diego, and London (England). Their next stop after this New York show: Hawaii.

Corazon Reyes was the chair of the September 15th grand ball for Friends Indeed USA, the highlight of which was a parade of exquisitely designed collections by these Manila-based fashion couturiers. A nursing professional, Reyes is also this year's Grand Marshal for the Philippine American Friendship Committee during Philippine Independence Day and Friendship Parade. The grand ball was a strictly black-tie by-invitation-only event, with bow for the gents and formal long gowns for the women.

As for the fashion show itself, the women wore colorful ternos. And we, the men, wore contemporary variations of the Barong Tagalog. The producers of the show even held a couple of rehearsals for those of us who signed up to be models.

The Barong is an embroidered formal shirt, very lightweight and worn untucked (similar to a coat or dress shirt), over an undershirt. In lowland Christian Filipino culture, it is a common formal attire especially in weddings.

The term "Barong Tagalog" literally means "a Tagalog dress" in the Tagalog language; the word "Tagalog" refers to the ethnic group's traditional homeland in central and southern Luzon, and not their language. The Barong was popularized as formal wear by President Ramón Magsaysay, who wore it to most private and state functions, including his own Presidential Inauguration.

I hope you enjoy the photo album from our affair with high fashion. --rg

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

PROFILES IN ACTIVISM | FANHS-NY Outstanding Artist Award goes to actor/singer Liz Casasola of Broadway Barkada

Liz Casasola: FANHS Outstanding Artist Awardee
The beautiful actor and singer Diane Phelan, who most recently reprised the role of Tuptim in THE KING & I at Sacramento Music Circus and played the role of Laurey in Rodgers & Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA! at the Berkshire Theatre Group, has had a streak of successes this year. But she remembers a period when her career had gone fallow, and she was feeling down about her future. "Being a performer of ethnic heritage sometimes means there is less opportunity to perform," Phelan says.

Enter Liz Casasola, the New York actor, singer and producer who formed Broadway Barkada – a group of Filipino American artists who have performed on and off-Broadway and core member of Broadway Barkada.

"Liz has, on several opportunities, given me the chance to stretch myself as an artist as well as give Filipinos a voice by performing with Broadway Barkada," Phelan recalls. "The first time was particularly poignant for me because I was recovering from a long illness and was set to leave the business. I hadn't danced in a long time and didn't think I could continue. Liz encouraged me to participate in the dance concert; it gave me the confidence and strength to move forward. That very next month I was cast in a new show, and I know it was due to Liz's help."

Casasola is one of two artists whom the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS)'s New York chapter will honor with an Outstanding Artist Award for their integration of Filipino American culture in their respective artistry. (The other Outstanding Artist Awardee is the comedian Air Tabigue.)

Every year, at the start of the Filipino American History month of October, FANHS presents an annual community award to several individuals who have demonstrated commitment to the preservation of Filipino American history and the promotion of the Filipino American community of the metropolitan New York area. This year's kick-off the event, co-hosted by the Philippine Consulate General, is called “Opening Ceremonies.”  It takes place at the Philippine Center in Manhattan (556 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY), on Tuesday October 1 from 6:30-9:00 pm.

FANHS Metro NY chapter

Two of Casasola's cast mates from Pan Asian Repertory Theatre's 2009 production of Imelda: A New Musical sing her praises as well.

Actor/singer Brian Jose portrayed the part of Ninoy Aquino in the Pan Asian Rep musical opposite Casasola who played Corazon Aquino. Jose says, "There is no question in the Filipino performing arts community of New York that Liz is the glue that keeps us all connected. It's been a privilege to co-produce with her on Broadway Barkada productions and to see firsthand how her networking skills, passion for the arts, and her love of the Philippines have united the Filipino arts community and, in turn, have brought our culture and talent to the forefront of many New York stages."

Actor/singer Jaygee Macapugay has twice played the title role of Imelda Marcos: for Pan Asian Rep's musical and the Public Theater's hit immersive musical Here Lies Love. Macapugay can't help but underscore Casasola's role as a change agent.

" 'Everything you do must reflect your passion' -- if you've ever received an e-mail from Liz, you know that's how she signs off every message," Macapugay says. "Liz has adopted that philosophy in every aspect of her life, especially with Broadway Barkada. Liz has the gift of bringing people together.  Loving, conscientious, forward-thinking Filipino Americans who sincerely want to help bring about change in the community."

Often, rehearsals for Broadway Barkada shows take place at Casasola's home. "Our home," Jose says. "We are treated like family. We eat. We sing. We laugh and laugh and laugh. There is an instant comfort level that comes with knowing Liz. She puts you at ease, her words are genuine, and you feel like you've know each other for years. Her passion for the arts is palpable and inspires all of those it comes in contact with."

Like most artists avid for opportunity and not waiting for anyone else to hand it to them, Liz Casasola took charge of her own destiny. In the fall of 2009, she, Jose and Billy Bustamante formed Broadway Barkada, a group of New York-based Filipino actors, singers, and dancers who have professional credits in the performing arts.

Broadway Barkada

Macapugay says, "Liz told me once that the only qualification you need to be in the Barkada is to be real. My first memory with Liz and Broadway Barkada was as co-emcees for the 2010 benefit concert 'A Barkada Christmas,' where we raised $2,400 for the relief efforts in the Philippines, from the devastation of Typhoon Andoy.  The proceeds went to the PinoyMe Foundation, which micro-finances local business, and the San Juan Nepomuceno School, with the idea of helping the poor help themselves. Onstage or off, Liz has a passion for promoting the success of our people, whether at home or abroad. And that's just one of the reasons why Liz is one of my best friends."

I myself have been a recipient of Casasola's generosity of spirit. This past summer, for example, she went out of her way to reach out and ask if she could help me with a kapihan event I organized with the cast of Here Lies Love at Ugly Kitchen Restaurant in New York City. Together we co-hosted the afternoon, which included a meal and a discussion about the vexed legacy that Marcoses left behind.

What stays with me when I think of Liz Casasola are her achievements as a committed theater artist. In Pan Asian Rep's Imelda: A New Musical, she embodied the strength of spirit and the purity of the character of the role of Corazon Aquino. She was especially memorable in the show's 11 o'clock anthem, "Myself, My Heart," which lifted the show to inspiring heights.

She has also been an integral mover-and-shaker at Diverse City Theater where she produced a series of plays by women. She co-produced Lea Salonga's sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall in 2005. She stood out in a Sondheim concert at Lincoln Center and in the Obie Award-winning production of DOGEATERS at The Public Theater. She can be heard on Grammy-nominated band, Boukman Eksperyans' album. She held a sold-out concert at NY's famed Crash Mansion. On television, she has appeared in "Saturday Night Live" and "Sex & the City."

Where did her passion for theater come from? Hailing from Berkeley, Casasola is an acting graduate of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and the American Musical & Dramatic Academy in New York City. She grew up watching musicals on TV. The definitive moment she knew she wanted to be in musical theater was when she played a 2-cassette tape given to her by a friend. It was the Miss Saigon soundtrack.

"I was completely blown away by the score, and particularly, the lead actress, Lea Salonga," Casasola recalled in an interview. "I was inspired by her voice and passion just from hearing the recording. My sister and I would play the soundtrack, and act out the scenes, even though we had never seen the show!"

Even then she was a versatile performer. Her sister played Kim, the lead actress, and she always portrayed Chris, the GI soldier. And she eventually did perform in MISS SAIGON.

Casasola's passion is connecting Filipinos to each other here in New York City. That makes her winning. Yet what makes her special is the reason she deserves to be celebrated this month by FANHS: her outstanding theatrical artistry.

Congratulations, Liz. -- rg

Me and Liz

Saturday, September 21, 2013

NEW YORK DIARY | My Night With Jennifer Hudson at the Al Jazeera America Launch Party

Jennifer Hudson rocks Al Jazeera's launch party at Lincoln Center | Photo by RG

NEW YORK CITY | Fine. It was not an entire evening. It was a moment with Jennifer Hudson. It was memorable and spectacular though. Plus, it happened during a private party by Al Jazeera America.

Al Jazeera, one of the world's biggest media companies, started a new 24/7/365 cable  news channel in the U.S. and on Thursday September 19 threw a rockin' party at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center to celebrate that launch. Out of sheer luck, I got invited to the launch party (at the very same space where I sometimes drop by to have coffee or meet with a colleague).

It was ironic, the thought that I would maybe meet the leaders of the Qatar-financed news organization. At the exact minute that Al Jazeera announced some nine months ago that it had about 104 job openings in New York, I brushed up my resume and applied to any number of positions. The network's site received a stack of 22,000 resumes and eventually hired between 400 and 500 people. Imagine new jobs in journalism! Offering living wages and old-fashioned benefits for grown-ups!

Needless to say, it was a numbers game. Nobody found the needle I left in the h.r. computer haystack.

I did relish the idea of going to @AJAM launch party, because the real strength of Al Jazeera lies in the diversity, plurality and even accents of its journalists. It has the potential to break the stronghold of homogenized news and pundit noise that swamps the U.S. news market. Fox News takes up views on the right. MSNBC leans toward the left. CNN drubs us with a diet of opinion-heavy coverage.

Defining its mission distinctively will be crucial for Al Jazeera to gain a foothold in the U.S, a goal that has so far eluded the upstart network funded by the emir of Qatar. I definitely would want to be part of a true revolution where the mission is to uncover political topics, cultural issues and humanitarian stories that are profoundly overlooked by the U.S. media and internationally.

At the launch party it became clear to me that Al Jazeera means serious business. That it is hungry to win in the U.S.. And that it has fought a public-relations problem borne out of an overseas reputation and entrenched stereotypes that frequently face upstarts from Middle East countries. At the launch party, as was the case in a recent Washington Post ad which the network took out, Al Jazeera America stressed and positioned itself as a network whose mission is to offer a fresh, fact-based and unbiased approach -- to deliver objective, balanced, in-depth news reporting on stories that matter.

Dozens of small screens along one wall flashed news trailers and colorful images as I entered the Alice Tully Hall lobby. These flashing screens led to a stage where a gigantic TV emitted that familiar glow of Yves Klein blue. At first subtle matrix-like patterns flowed into place. Then the islands of Manhattan skyscrapers came into view and filled the earth's horizon. Until finally cursive Arabic calligraphy danced into place, forming the decorative logo that represents the network's name.

Photo by RG

For the first hour or so, the menu was all American. One station served comfort food, including miniature hot dogs, bacon cheeseburgers and lobster rolls. Another station had succotash and shrimp gumbo. The bar was open, and drinks poured freely.  For dessert, caterers wheeled doughnut carts through the crowd. The pastries hung from hooks along the sides of the cart. The caterers served ice cream from the middle of the cart.

It was a big, private affair. A majority of the people who attended were newly hired employees of Al Jazeera America. Sports journalist Michael Eaves and TV anchor David Shuster were both there. Denver-based correspondent Paul Beban marveled at what he called "the magic doughnut cart" ("It's like a Christmas tree only waaaay better," he tweeted). TV news producer Kim Bondy could not help but steal a selfie with her and former CNN anchor Soledad O'Brian, who by the way was sweet and charming especially to students from Columbia University.

Eventually the bigwigs had their turn. Ehab Al Shihabi, Al Jazeera’s interim CEO, came up to the podium to praise his editorial team. A five-year veteran of Al Jazeera,  Shihabi has overseen the network’s more than 70 bureaus around the globe – the largest footprint of any news gathering organization in the world. "We are here tonight to do more than just celebrate our launch," he said.

Kim Bondy, Kate O'Brian, Soledad O'Brian and David Shuster
Kate O’Brian, the new President of Al Jazeera America, has full responsibility for defining and implementing the editorial strategy and operations across the network. “Al Jazeera America has been able to demonstrate that it can and will keep its promise to views,” said O'Brian who came from ABC News. “Al Jazeera America is really trying to tell the story of Americans, stories that effect Americans,” Ms. O’Brian said in the video.

The Acting Director General of Al Jazeera Media Network, Dr. Mostefa Souag acknowledged the reputation Al Jazeera has in the U.S. "I am extremely grateful to the media that has covered Al Jazeera America so extensively over the last nine months," he said. "Those who have reported and commented on what we have been doing have demanded facts and answers. We respect, appreciate and welcome feedback and hope it will continue. Regardless of how they perceive Al Jazeera, we want you to tell us our good things and our bad things. That's the way we learn. There is still more to do."

Al Jazeera America made a string of big, splashy hires. Former "NBC Nightly News” weekend anchor John Seigenthaler, who will serve as the primetime news anchor, had his turn on the podium. He said that he was thrilled to be part of this brand new journalism. Seiganthaler was an 11-year veteran of NBC News, reporting for all of its major programs and anchoring on NBC, CNBC and MSNBC. He reported on 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 London bombings and a slew of other stories for the company during those years.

Unfortunately Ali Velshi, another former CNN talent, did not show up. But he appeared on the video presentation where he contrasted Al Jazeera’s real-news approach with the current cable-news model where the focus has instead been on the anchors, the anchors’ views and the opinions of the most excitable pundits who are frequently booked on TV.

The highlight of the evening was, naturally, Jennifer Hudson. The mega-star and pop-music icon was clad in a short, tight, long-sleeved black turtleneck dress. She performed several songs to the constant snapping of cellphone pictures. My favorite was her rendition of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together."

Michael Eaves saw me dance with Jennifer Hudson
During Hudson rendition of a Whitney Houston classic song, the American Idol alum came down from the stage to dance with the audience. She mostly shimmied from one fan to another. Then she spotted me. She sidled right up to me and we danced, real up-close and personal, for what felt like a blissful 30 minutes. (I'm sure it was not that long, but you know what I mean.) I tried my best to feature her when I danced beside her. I did not want to upstage her with any tricky moves. She was the star, after all.

To my surprise and delight Hudson did not move on to the next chump. As we gyrated together, she chose to stay with me until it was time for her to turn around to walk back up the stage. While we danced, she pointed the microphone at me several times so that we took turns singing! She was nice enough to rescue me when I forgot the lyrics. A total pro!

It was a great time, a very fun and memorable evening, even though by New York standards Al Jazeera America's one-month celebration was actually pretty tame stuff. Basically a lavish cocktail party for the friendly, hard-working employees who did not dare go too crazy in front of their bosses who had something to prove to American everywhere. They were on their best behavior.

Al Jazeera America launch party | Photo by Peter Wang

Later, some people came up to me to ask if I were a plant for the occasion. Well, no. I was just a guest who was loving Jennifer Hudson's great voice and stylish vibe. I thought it was classy that the Qatari-owned network pulled out all the stops by inviting her to their swanky party at Lincoln Center.

And I thought it was very canny of them to emphasize the “America” in the new channel's title. As we all exited the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, we all walked away with a party favor that was very much on-message: an individual apple pie. --rg

HERE IS Ehab Al Shihabi, Al Jazeera’s interim CEO, explaining his vision for the network at an Aspen Institute event: