Earlier in 2011, two aspiring performers in their early 20s, James and Janine, came to me (separately) inquiring about a life in the arts and what CBT can do for them.

For those who are not familiar the annual Theatre Ontario Showcase features post-secondary theatre school graduating classes from across Ontario, and the National Theatre School in Montreal. There are also panels for participating students on “The Business of Casting” and “Surviving A Career in Acting”.

In addition to finding artists to add to Carlos Bulosan Theatre’s roster I thought bringing James & Janine with me to Theatre Ontario Showcase would be a great way to start conversations about…anything…industry standards, expectations, institutional training and culturally mandated theatres. I asked them to write freely about their experiences from the day. They were eager to share their thoughts therefore this blog post 2 of 2 featuring Janine Palencia’s perspective.

James Memije & Janine Palencia post Day 1 of the Theatre Ontario Showcases

Theatre Ontario Showcase 2012, and why being a Filipino aspiring artist makes my head hurt sometimes by Janine Palencia

On Sunday 15 January, I had the opportunity to sit in and watch the Theatre Ontario Showcases, allowing me to see the future faces of theatre, and get a peek at Toronto’s professional theatre industry. As somebody who has recently begun studying theatre arts, I found it to be an overall educational experience; I got to watch performances from the participating schools’ graduate classes with Carlos Bulosan Theatre’s Artistic Producer Renna Reddie and James (another guest), and we debriefed on what we saw afterwards.

There were elements of the event that came as a surprise to me and elements that didn’t; I’d been to similar showcases before. The people that were performing, the monologues performed, those who were scouting… none of them really came as a shock. What did surprise me, however, was witnessing the lack of overall cultural diversity within the talents showcasing.

Maybe it was because I came with CBT that I had an extra sense of awareness that day towards the performers’ backgrounds; but as a woman of colour hoping to one day work professionally in the arts, seeing the lack of diversity bothered me. And it bothered me for a couple of reasons:

  1. This is Canada, and there are a lot of Filipinos here—who’s representing us?
  2. … Don’t tell me they all went back to the Philippines.

Why? Often, Filipinos who express their desire to start a career in the arts are advised by other Filipinos to “go back home”; and it’s usually said in a manner that’s dismissive to one’s capability of having a career in the western world, due to their Filipino background. My question is: why? I identify as a Filipino-Canadian myself, and Canada is my home; I don’t see a reason for me to go to the Philippines and leave Canada in order to pursue something I love. And besides, why should the Filipino part of my identity hinder my pursuit?

Indeed, I have been told that not only is it possible to have a career in the arts, but that my background is an asset and makes me marketable. And yes, there’s a part of me that believes that—but at the same time, sometimes those assurances are difficult to believe since the examples aren’t really… there. I mean, if people can’t really find many names past Lea Salonga’s for Filipino actors who’ve built their careers in both ends of the globe, then something is amiss; if nothing needed fixing, then why aren’t we seeing more Filipinos in this industry?

I will admit that this issue itself is a multi-faceted one, and it’s unfair to assume that the problem is within JUST the industry—and it’s not just Filipinos who are affected. But for us specifically, even the discouragement of a career pursuit in the arts and using money as a reason is complex— spanning further than just the economic argument, adding socio-psychological and historical implications too.

With that said, there’s no real use in continuing the search for faults and pointing fingers; it’s more productive instead to just take actions and steps towards change.

I’m not discouraged.

It certainly took Janine and James risk and initiative to walk into CBT’s office/introduce themselves at a function and thank you for sharing your observations about the day. Doubt, discouragement and failure will happen, regardless of career choice. We all will meet failure along our journey to success.

Their concerns about visibility in the “industry” further validate the existence and continued need for culturally mandated theatre companies. In an attempt to raise the profile of  Filipino Artists in Canada the Carlos Bulosan Theatre will be posting selected profiles of artists every day for the next week.

Also, please note that there was a Filipino Artist showcased on Theatre Ontario’s Day 2 and current Play Creation Unit member Meesha Albano was part of last year’s Theatre Ontario Showcases.

Special Thank You to Cornelia and Tim from Theatre Ontario for organizing another successful showcase.  Theatre Ontario is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and developing theatre practitioners across the province, by providing resources, networking, training and advocacy.