Ano ba yan? Two plays in Tagalog arrive on one Seattle stage

Performing in their native tongue, Filipino actors connect a Seattle audience with their roots.

On a late summer evening in Lorna Velasco’s Kirkland home, a group of five Filipino actors has gathered over chicken adobo for an unusual occasion: the table read for two one-act plays written by Filipino playwrights in Tagalog, a language widely spoken in the Philippines. While all of the actors are native speakers of Tagalog, reciting the script still proves challenging for several cast members because of the essential nuances in pronunciation.

“Listening to the Tagalog again gives me goosebumps,” says Velasco, who grew up in the Philippines and is directing the plays. “There’s nothing like hearing our language.”

That’s the point of Tagalog sa King Street, the public performance of the plays. It’s a chance to hear the Tagalog language — both its older, more formal construction and the more contemporary Taglish — on stage, as art. English supertitles and shadow puppetry will help non-Tagalog speakers follow the action. 

Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady (How I Became the Leading Lady), by graphic novelist Carlo Vergara, is a sibling rivalry comedy-drama set in a superhero lair. Hintayan ng Langit (roughly translated as Heaven’s Waiting Room), by Juan Miguel Severo, is a romantic comedy about two elders meeting in purgatory to settle their unrequited love.

Velasco has staged several Tagalog plays at San Francisco’s Bindlestiff Studio with co-producer Joyce Juan-Manalo. But this is her first time doing so in Seattle. She is hoping to tour the production to Filipino communities in greater Seattle and across Washington.

How do the actors feel about performing for a Seattle audience in their native tongue? “I would like to see myself — and hear myself — on stage,” says actor Nina De Torres Ignacio. “So to be doing this is a really special thing.”

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