Home Arts Miss Orient(ed) explores cultural identity

Miss Orient(ed) explores cultural identity

by Archives March 9, 2005

The Teesri Duniya Theatre brings Miss Orient(ed) to Montreal to open on International Women’s Day, March eigth. It is a comedy with a beauty pageant setting; three contestants vie for the title of Miss Pearl of the Orient. Miss Orient(ed) gently satirizes the struggle between conflicting cultural identities and beauty.

It has a cast of five, Cecil Cristobal as Beauty Icon, Elizabeth Lofranco as Carrie, Carolyn-Fe Trinidad as Conchoy, Emilee Veluz as Twinkle and Nadine Villasin as Jennifer. Sarah Stanley is the director.

Nadine Villasin co-authored the play with Nina Aquino. Villasin is the Artistic Director of the Carlos Bulosan Theatre (CBT), where she has been involved for over a decade. She has seen the company grow from a “community” theatre group to a community-based professional theatre company. Orient(ed) will be her first play as both performer and co-author. She spoke about the effects of being involved with this project on these two different levels.

“I feel more comfortable as a performer but performing what you wrote is less comfortable, especially if the character is closest to my own, yet not exactly me. Trying to find balance, dealing with the actor’s work to find out who she is, where she’s coming from is challenging,” said Villasin.

On why the play has a beauty pageant set-up, Vallasin said, “The community is into beauty pageants and the theatrical world of the play provides fuel for satire. The show talks about family issues in a new way; it provides an arena to share experiences personally, to be critical and analyze prejudices in our community. It makes a point that the Filipino-Canadian does not experience one thing. It is to battle the stereotypes and communicate messages in a way that is thought provoking,” said Villasin.

The characters in the play identify with their Filipino culture on different levels. One is Canadian born, one recently arrived and another came as a child. Their shared experience is reflected in their cultural identity. Which sector of society allows you to fully claim Canadian culture? Why can’t you also say you’re fully Filipino, who owns culture? Who’s to say what’s Filipino and what’s Canadian? These questions motivated the play.

During the research period, group discussions were held with young Filipinos to find out where they stand on cultural issues. It was discovered that those who grew up in the Philippines speak the language and eat the food.

“One guy came as a teenager, wasn’t willing to come to Canada, never identified himself as a Canadian but after five years he went back to the Philippines and found out they didn’t consider him a Filipino”, said Villasin.

Vilasin’s character has a late realization that she is not white. “It’s like my friend who is Asian, who realized that she was different when they wouldn’t see her as simply an actor but one of color. So we all have a turning point of that realization.”

“If you’re not taught to articulate racism, you’ll personalize it and think it’s about you or an isolated incident, you won’t notice that it’s part of something greater. When you realize that, you’re more inclined to fight it,” said Villasin.

The character Jennifer has many prejudices about the other women and they have their own as well. “All the characters are likeable. Even with all good intentions, as people we have prejudices we may not look at. We always want to associate [prejudices] with bad characters but…good characters are also…prejudice[d],” said Villasin.

She hopes that people will come out knowing that the Filipino experience cannot be limited to one perspective. Each one is unique. Filipino and immigrant experiences are complex and cannot be easily categorized.

“One of the characters is a nanny…As much as we step out of the stigma, we cannot reject the notion of the Filipino being a nanny because it’s valid. Most women come into the country to work and it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said Villasin.

Villasin was born 31 years ago in the Philippines and came to Canada at the age of six when her father, a journalist, was fleeing persecution.

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