Getting To Know ...
The Filipinos of the King and I.
by: Joycelyn S. Espiritu, Editor(firstname.lastname@example.org)
Across the globe, Filipinos are making their talent and high caliber musicality known in such international Broadway hits as Miss Saigon, Les Miserables and the King and I. The Filipinos in Edmonton art scene are no exception! From November 28, 1998 to January 11, 1999, Edmonton’s Citadel Theater showcased the King and I, a Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein musical based on Margaret London’s novel Anna and the King of Siam. Casting required "Asian" performers with exceptional singing, acting and dancing talents, and several young local Filipinos were chosen: Susan Aceron, Jennifer Villaverde, Anne-Marie Felicitas, Lindsay and Arian Piojo.
All outstanding performers and dedicated to their craft, these filipinas are prime example of how Filipinos musical talents are embedded in our neo-ethnic culture, and demonstrate the initiative to establish worthwhile careers and move away from the "typical" Filipino performer. Each of these fine performers have extensive music and/or theatre background, education and training; what is unique is their determination and perseverance to immerse themselves in professional circles and widen horizons.
Susan Aceron, plays a wife in the King and I; more importantly, she was the understudy to the lead role of Anna. Interestingly, the role of Anna calls for a non-Asian woman (Anna is supposed to be from Britain), and still Susan was given the tremendous role. Susan comments on some obstacles she has encountered in casting: "traditional roles in theatre call for non-Asian performers, "My Fair Lady" for example, takes place in 19th century England, and most casting directors look for those who "fit the part". The lack of roles for Asian performers is astounding, - and "The King and I" is the first Citadel production in nearly 5 years that required Asians." Susan was crowned as Edmonton’s first Miss Manila in 1994 and has been active in television, film and theatre around Edmonton. Susan graduated from Grant MacEwan’s Musical Theatre program, and followed up with course work in Drama at the University of Alberta. Previously a modeling agent with John Casablanca’s, Susan has kept busy with modeling contracts and performing. Susan plans to pursue her ambitions in film and television down East.
Jennifer Villaverde, also plays a wife in the King and I, and is also was the understudy for the role of TupTim. A native of Winnipeg, this 23 year old has performed in productions across Canada as far East as Nova Scotia! Having graduated with BA in Drama from the University of Manitoba, Jennifer emphatically states she is living her dream: to perform on stage. The complexities of the business require performers to be versatile and be on their best; "each time you perform or audition you never know where your next contract or big break will come from… you are always being watched, for your talent, commitment and dedication… the reality on stage life is that once the show is over, I’m unemployed and looking."
When I asked Susan and Jennifer how plausible a career in theatre, Music or Drama was, Jennifer and Susan smiled, "This is a hard profession." Jennifer explains, "but if you are willing to work at it and remain focused, you can do it. For me, a big influence was my cousin who performed in Miss Saigon in Australia. My parents were a little hesitant. I guess they were just worried if I could really make it." Susan confirms this, "My family was also a bit leery. I had a perfectly stable office job working in marketing, but music and performing are my first loves. My husband is especially supportive, and it was he who helped urge me to pursue my performing career wholeheartedly."
Amongst the children chorus is Anne-Marie Felicitas, a 16 year old with amazing credentials and performing experience. Also the understudy to the role of Louis Leowens, Anne-Marie is currently studying at the Stage Polaris Theatre and Citadel Theatre School. Anne-Marie’s exposure to the performing arts began at an early age. "My parents encouraged me. I took piano lessons. Now I’m interested in the saxophone and violin." Anne-Marie has made several guest appearances on television series, and following the King and I, immediately begins rehearsal for the Stage Polaris production The Velveteen Rabbit. Anne-Marie aspires to attend the Montreal Theatre School.
Also in the children’s chorus are twins Arianne and Lindsay Piojo. At only 9 years of age, these girls express a deep interest in pursuing performing. "We like singing, playing piano… we also get to miss school! (Don’t worry they are keeping up!) Anne-Marie, Lindsay and Arianne all agreed that their parents support and encourage them in their endeavors; however, when asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, responses included a doctor and a teacher.
These talented and dedicated Filipinos exemplified the astounding quality and brilliance of the Citadel'’ The King and I. Having moved away from the typical venues of Filipinos: singing in church, at parties or celebrations, each performer expressed the need to nurture and encourage young Filipino talent. The scope and depth of Filipino talent needs to go beyond the mundane, and push Filipinos to literally "reach for the stars!". There are various programs and schools such as Stage Polaris, the Citadel Theatre School and smaller community based theatres that offer extra-curricular programs for people of all ages; the University of Alberta and Grant MacEwan have excellent programs in Drama, Music and Acting.
"The world can have all the engineers, doctors, lawyers and scientists in the world, but most truly, it is the dreamers and artists who make the world go round." - Anonymous