Meet Fil-Am lighting designer who puts a shine on dark comedy in Boston
BOSTON — A Filipino American family is front and center in the Boston world premiere of Fil-Am playwright Hortense Gerardo’s dark comedy “Middleton Heights.” Fil-Am lighting designer SeifAllah Salotto-Cristobal provides the enhancing hues.
Salotto-Cristobal’s recent credits include “Into the Woods,” “Dracula,” James and the Giant Peach,” “Eurydice,” “The Comedy of Errors,” “The Addams Family” among others.
He designs for theater, opera, dance, musical concerts and events. In addition, he is an Assistant Professor of Lighting Design at the University of Southern Maine.
Commissioned by the Umbrella Stage Company, “Middleton Heights” follows Meena and her family, new immigrants in Cleveland, Ohio. They pursue the American Dream amidst transformative social moments, from the tumultuous 1960s to the new millennium, such as the Hough riots, the Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations and the protests against the killing of Tamir Rice.
Fil-Ams are deeply involved in the production. Michelle Aguillon is directing Steve Bermudo, Justin Budinoff, Cheryl Daro, Lisa Fermin-Granada, Jenine Florence Jacinto and Jude Torres.
Umbrella Stage Company has stated that it is “immensely proud to make this all-Asian American and Pacific Islander production our first-ever full-length play commission.”
Salotto-Cristobal had initially planned to take up underwater archaeology in college. “I was required an elective to fill out my semester. Not knowing what to take, I closed my eyes, flipped through the college catalog and pointed.”
He ended up taking stagecraft. “I enjoyed the class so much that I stopped attending my other classes because I only wanted to be in the theater. I failed three courses that semester. I knew at that moment that I wanted to continue down this path.
“Bob Whittaker, the program’s former Technical Director, took me under his wing and introduced me to lighting design. His mentorship and encouragement led me to graduate school to continue to study lighting.”
Salotto-Cristobal says he is “honored and excited” to be working with “incredible storytellers” on this project.
Just as the play offers audiences a look into one Filipino American family, Salotto-Cristobal also has his own story to tell. He says, “This opportunity also serves as an education about Filipino culture and experience.”
Salotto-Cristobal was born in Cairo, Egypt to an Egyptian mother and a Puerto Rican-Filipino American father. “However, my father identified as white and my mother raised me as a Muslim.”
“There was little talk of my Filipino family,” he says. “[When] I was in high school and saw the hate targeting those who were different, I adopted my father’s ‘whiteness’ and spent much of my life hiding behind that camouflage.
“It has only been within the last five to seven years that I have embraced and tried to reconnect with my background. That has required education about Filipino culture and trying to connect with the Filipino side of my family, who primarily lives in California.”
“I am excited to have this opportunity to get to know and connect with the Filipino community here in Greater Boston, and I hope it will help me deepen my understanding of who I am and where I come from.”
Salotto-Cristobal says that the more he has been reading the play, “the more relatable the story becomes. While there are customs, food, and language that I do not yet know about Filipino culture, I feel closer to my Filipino heritage than I thought.”
“While I did not grow up in the Filipino culture, I recognize many of the familial relationships and conversations in the story as similar to ones I had with my own family.”
“I like this story and feel that even non-Filipino audience members will be able to attach themselves in some way to the characters. More importantly, every night the audience will get a glimpse into Filipino life and immigrant life.”
“Middleton Heights” runs March 31-April 23. Pre-show rondalla or tinikiling performances and post-show talkbacks are scheduled for selected dates. Visit theumbrellaarts.org.