Fil-Canadian play teaches kids how to grieve, cope with loss
TORONTO — Filipino Canadians Andrea Mapili and Byron Abalos have created a children’s play, “Through the Bamboo,” that will go on stage as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival this July.
Inspired by Philippine folklore, the play is an action-packed adventure about the value of storytelling and how families deal with the loss of loved ones.
The play is about a smart 12-year-old Filipino Canadian child whose grandmother has recently passed away. The independent, sarcastic and driven Philly is sorting through her grandmother’s items when she suddenly finds herself in the fantastical land of Uwi, a place where storytelling is forbidden.
Philly helps two duwende restore storytelling in Uwi. Along the way, she meets a tikbalang, a kapre, an ekek and other creatures. At the end of her quest, she learns to grieve for her grandmother.
Filipino Canadians involved in the production include director Nina Lee Aquino, sound designer Maddie Bautista and the entire cast, which has Angela Rosete as Philly and Carolyn Fe as Lola.
“We wrote this play to fill a void,” says Mapili. “We wanted to write a Filipino play for young audiences—an epic tale using Philippine mythology that featured women, young and old, as the central characters.
“We wanted to write something for our nieces and nephews and wanted to write a Filipino story with a scope that could rival the worlds in Chronicles of Narnia and Wizard of Oz.”
When she was a child, Mapili had received a book about the Samal (one of the indigenous peoples in the Philippines) myth of the love story between the human woman Tuan Putli and sky deity Manik Buangsi.
“We used that story as inspiration and then had fun reimagining other mythological creatures in the world,” says Abalos.
“This is not Philippine myths as you would hear it in its truest form,” they point out. Instead, in their capacity as theater makers, they’ve crafted a Filipino Canadian reimagination of Philippine culture, story and artistic traditions.
Born and raised in Toronto, Abalos’ playwriting credits include “Remember Lolo,” “Brown Balls” and “Monday Nights.” He also has acting credits with numerous theater companies.
Mapili moved to Canada when she was four years old. In addition to acting and dancing, Mapili also does choreography, with recent credits such as “Asiansploitation: We Will Wok You,” “Asiansploitation: The Text Generation” and “Cassettes 100.”
Over the years, “Through the Bamboo” has had developmental stage readings at Filipino American theater Bindlestiff Studio in San Francisco and Filipino Canadian organizations Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture and Carlos Bulosan Theatre, both in Toronto.
Though the couple have been developing the script for more than six years, they’ve known each other for far longer.
“We’ve actually known each other since elementary school. Our dads became friends on the neighborhood tennis court,” Abalos says.
They were cast as romantic leads in a show at the Next Stage Theatre Festival in the late 2000s and were married in 2010. “We’ve been collaborating on various projects ever since.”
The couple did not set out to write just any play for young audiences. They also wanted to address a specific subject matter.
“After experiencing death and loss in our own family, we were inspired to write a play about grieving from a child’s perspective. Something that would comfort children and help them understand what it means to grieve,” says Mapili.
They consulted with grief counselor and psychotherapist Andrea Kwan and incorporated her inputs.
In a poignant coincidence for the playwrights, the premiere of their children’s play (about death) is coinciding with the birth of their own child.
“We’ve been working on this play for about the same time we’ve tried to get pregnant. And now both are coming into the world within a couple of weeks of each other,” they say.
“We’re thinking a lot about family, ancestry and legacy. This play is dedicated to our family and ancestors, and to the child we are about to bring into the world.”
“Through the Bamboo” runs July 3-14, 2019 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St., Toronto. Visit Throughthebamboo.ca.