The Final Phase Is Action

Beyond the obvious benefits of working with a dramaturge—structure, guidance, support—this dramaturgy program gives me the opportunity to engage in the process of decolonial aesthetics; a structure to move in and beyond the borders of what theatre can be.

In my work, I explore the five stages of decolonization proposed by Hawaiian sovereignty activist Hayden Burgess (indigenous name: Poka Laenui). These stages are Recovery, Mourning, Dreaming, Commitment, and Action. Recovery involves a reconnection to our indigenous selves. Mourning is a time to lament what has been “lost.” Laenui believes that Dreaming is the most crucial phase, in which “the full panorama of possibilities is expressed, considered through debate, consultation and building dreams on further dreams.” The fourth phase is making a Commitment. The final phase is Action.

I participated in the Carlos Bulosan Theatre’s (CBT) Play Creation Unit for three years and enjoyed the dramaturgical process. The experience taught me how to write collaboratively, develop a personal writing practice and intercultural stories rooted in my Filipino-Canadian identity.

Marjorie Chan and I engage in rigorous play creation open to interdisciplinary exploration. I share, ask questions and listen to Marjorie who is a wisdom keeper. Then I go for a walk in a park and write; book space at Cahoots and sort out writing on the studio floor; or play with plants and electronic sensors. Thinking about other things allows me to process ideas for my play.

A significant turning point during my writing of Hilot Means Healer involved a character that is a vampire-like mythical monster in Filipino folklore called an Aswang. I originally wrote her to be an evil creature, as I’ve been taught through the stories passed on to me. However, over the past two years I have travelled to the Philippines and California to attend conferences exploring indigeneity. Scholars are considering the possibility of the Aswang as actually being Babaylan—community leaders who were healers and conduits to the spirit world and cruelly maligned during over 300 years of Spanish colonization. I am fascinated with this point of view and in the process of rewriting the Aswang character to reflect a more complex storyline.

Hilot is a biomyth story. My Ninang (godmother) taught me that those who reside in the spirit world are present when we include them in the telling. So for me, writing a biomyth play means travelling through space and time to other worlds. Argentine philosopher and feminist scholar, María Lugones writes about this as: “The shift from being one person to being another person is what I call travel . . . Those of us who are “world” travelers have the distinct experience of being different in different “worlds” . . . The attitude that carries us through is playful . . . We are not worried about competence. We are not wedded to a particular way of doing things. We are there creatively.”

Part of my development as an interdisciplinary artist of dual Filipino and Canadian heritage came through a journey I made in 2012 to the Philippines with a group of Filipino-Canadian artists, critical thinkers, and healers to participate in the KAPWA-3 Conference: “Indigenous Knowledge in the Academe.” Upon our return to Toronto, we formed the Kapwa Collective. We work towards bridging narratives between the Indigenous and the Diasporic, and the Filipino and the Canadian. Kapwa means seeing “the self in the other” (Tagalog). It is connected to the concepts of Ubuntu—I am because we are (Bantu), Kadua (Ilokano), and Kola, which means friend in Lakota (Sioux).

My most memorable experience of theatre as an audience member: Everything Under the Moon, Harbourfront Theatre (2012).