Practiced Empathy and Awareness with Atlantic Pacific Theatre
Atlantic Pacific Theatre challenged their regular audience with a diptych, part process theater, part rehearsed performance, detailing the difficulty of the war in the Philippines.
The first part was a deeply interactive audience experience. Part free-form discussion, part participatory improv, Atlantic Pacific Theatre’s Do Wager reminds us that the Philippines is a rich place, full of a people awake and aware, and prepared to fight for what is important to them.
The evening started in the lobby when the company offered Bibingka, a type of Filipino cake. On the offering table was also a large group of photos. Though race would be the topic of the day, benevolent assimilation and inclusion were the more complex topics. Political cartoons from the late 1800s included photos of domination and suppression. The faces were colored, and the sense of who is leading next gave way to an outpouring of thought and emotion.
Atlantic Pacific Theatre are really bridge builders, who believe in cultural immersion. At Downtown Art in the East Village, they brought together an audience of young and old, Filipino, Eastern European, and African American. Part 1 is devised by the Atlantic Pacific Theatre ensemble, directed by Brisa Areli Munoz. At the company’s invitation, audience members were asked to sit on stage and hear a great story about the war in the Philippines.
When the East Village bands together, we question if the group is stronger than the individual. “Long Live You” is battled against the concept of “Long Live the East Village.” Audience members in the theater on East 4th Street were engaged to act out, and create lines from a script. Some discussion topics: Is there water? How are you feeling after siege? How will we survive and move forward as a people? Recognition was met with the desire to fight.
Who will join in the fight? Black soldiers stand side by side with their comrades, lighter in their skin tone. Invasion is juxtaposed with assimilation. The Philippines will find independence and a sovereign nation. Calling upon four audience members to sit in a circle and look at each other, while discovering artifacts from years past. Through attacks, this isolated island provides not only cocoanuts, hair of indigenous peoples, but also, a key to the past.
As a theater company, Atlantic Pacific seeks to create “theater works, community programs, and social practice art experiences towards cultural equity for and with the Asian Pacific Islander (API) diaspora community, and beyond. We aim to enhance the public’s understanding, empathy, and awareness of the API diaspora in local and transnational contexts. The company’s underpinning values of cross cultural exchange and pluralism center our work on narratives of the API diaspora in exchange with fellow communities of color.”
Part II of the evening was a grounded performance, rooted in the principals of acting. Stylishly beginning, two Filipino women pose with umbrellas. The shade provided might set our minds towards issues of light, dark, color, and gender. Struggling against the concept of being a “half-breed,” and using words like “negroid,” they find who they are under the argument of “the other.”
Appearing slick, in shadow with mood music under the performance, the play proper explores the concept of being Filipino in a modern setting. Using a microphone and posing against walls, it lets a bit of East Village funk slide through, countering the teaching lesson begun in the first piece.
Actors Lydia Gaston, Laura Cabochan, Claro de los Reyes, Lynnette R. Freeman, Michelle Vergara Moore, Robert Stevenson, Ashley C. Turner, and Ben Weber truly shine as facilitators with a great appreciation of the stage. The artistic team accomplishes a lot in a small amount of time. Their moody theatrical concepts are realized quite thoroughly. Shadow puppetry, out loud microphone, and beautiful rehearsed monologues are in their bag of tricks.
I Thought Part II, written by Claro del los Reyes, directed by Artem Yatsunov, looks much more realized than Part I, it’s really the difference between immersive process theater and thoughtfully executed performance. It’s terrific to see the company interpret and reimagine their Filipino experience.
Explaining the Filipino experience is within their core values, and their presentation is filled with poetry and grace. When we look at the 19th century, we leap forward. Leaping past a world of explorers and conquistadors, we find humans, living with the land. We know our future stands in a different place than our past, and this journey is firmly rooted. At times, Part II delves into multi-cultural arguments that feel already won. However, in doing, Atlantic Pacific Theatre explains. In seeing and portraying, they build empathy. With understanding, they seek to experience great things.
Do, Wager was performed on Friday, May 11 and Saturday, May 12 at Downtown Art, located at 70 East 4th Street, New York, NY 10003.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.