Fil-Am puppeteer conjures imaginary friends
NEW YORK — The rich world of a little boys’ imagination is brought to tangible life onstage by Filipino American puppeteer Maria Camia. She has designed the puppets for a workshop staging of “Learning How to Read by Moonlight.”
Written by Fil-Am playwright Gaven Trinidad, the play features six-year-old Eddie, who lives in New York. Eddie rarely gets to see his mother because she works long hours, he only gets to communicate with his father in the Philippines via calls, he is bullied at school.
To cope, he has his love for Filipino and American pop singers and he has his imaginary friends, one of which teaches him English and another that can eat moons.
The play goes on to tackle issues faced by Filipino communities in the United States, such as mental health problems, racism and violence.
“Puppets have been used through all generations of storytelling,” says Camia, who is also one of the directors of the play. “As a puppet’s life exists only in the play, the audience gives more empathy to it than to an actor who we know has a life outside of the play.”
Camia also notes what playwright Trinidad had shared with her. “Puppets remind us of when we were kids and they are otherworldly. Anything can happen with them. Gaven wants adults to feel magic again.”
Hailing from Chesapeake, Virginia, Camia was “the shy art kid all throughout elementary to high school. I learned to speak up in college because my roommate asked me to perform spoken word with her. Later, I joined the Filipino club and became part of their culture night show every year.”
She says puppetry was a natural extension of her studies in sculpture and extended media. “Everything I made turned into a costume, prop piece, installation or puppet. My professors Elizabeth King and Leslie Rogers supported and led me deeper into the puppetry community.”
Her favorite materials to work with are cardboard (“Specifically the cardboard from the grocery store next to my apartment.”), masking tape, and acrylic paint. “I love transforming recycled objects into art pieces. The most fun material I’ve worked with are wigs for the puppets. It gives them a playful and slightly uncanny quality. Eddie’s hair has a lovely bounce when he shakes his head.”
“My process for this play started by asking Gaven what his highest dreams were for the puppets. He showed me reference photos and his favorite influences,” says Camia.
She then kept notes of all the actions the puppets needed to do. “I drafted designs and began making. During the building process, I have a general idea, but I honestly watch my hands create the puppets.”
“I stop my critical brain from interrupting the flow by singing songs or listening to long videos online.” Eventually, “During rehearsals, I ask for the actor’s input on the design and I adjust accordingly. We have been playing with the puppets in different ways than is conventional. I’ve never worked with puppets in this way and it’s exciting!
“There are moments when actor-puppeteer Sergio Ang takes his energy back from the puppet and performs. With this back and forth from actor to puppet, we see many different layers unfold as it generates dialogue around puppet therapy, missing childhood, escapism and trauma still held in the adult body. It allows us to think about what energies we are still holding onto from childhood and how to breathe.”
Each show will feature a different guest narrator. Artists, community organizers and elected officials have been invited to join the show. Fil-Am guest narrators include playwright Roger Mason (Feb. 16); Obie Award winning actor Ching Valdes-Aran (Feb. 22); and poet, playwright and writer Luis Francis (Feb. 23).
The all-Fil-Am cast includes Sergio Mauritz Ang, Claro De Los Reyes, Patrick Elizalde, Kristian Espiritu and Vanessa Rappa. Fil-Am collaborators include lighting designer Alex Alipio and language and co-cultural consultants Bing Magtoto and Lydia Gaston. Leviathan Lab founder and producing artistic director Ariel Estrada is the executive producer. The play has received several developmental workshops through Leviathan Lab.
“Learning How to Read by Moonlight” runs Feb. 10-25, 2023. Visit https://events.humanitix.com/learning-how-to-read-by-moonlight.Fil-Am puppeteer conjures imaginary friends