Actor-writer sparks conversation on immigration with Bulosan’s life and work
HONOLULU – Actor-playwright Giovanni Ortega tries to spark a conversation on immigration through the life and work of the late immigrant writer Carlos Bulosan.
Ortega, who has done readings in various countries, was at the University of Hawaii at Manoa on May 9 for a special reading of “Allos, the Story of Carlos Bulosan.”
“Allos” depicts Bulosan’s story of moving to America at the age of 16 and the hardships he went through as a non-white immigrant.
Before Ortega was commissioned by East West Players to write the piece, he wrote a two-page treatment and offered to continue writing about Bulosan. Ortega closely read Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart. He also read Letters to My Father, Pride and the Beloved, and researched the historical context of these works.
“Allos” took about six months to write. He had the help of a dramaturg before performing it for the first time. He eventually found himself performing before Bulosan’s great grandniece. She then helped him continue developing his performance, giving him more information about her great-granduncle.
Since then, the play has reached various audiences throughout the world. Ortega first toured middle schools before moving on to universities. In Chicago, it became a three-person performance.
Ortega has been invited to perform outside the United States, in countries such as Uganda, Austria and Singapore. He makes adjustments every time he performs in a new country, altering the play to connect with that country’s political realities. “And for people who don’t connect with it, it’s still a good educational moment.” His next pursuit is to portray the last 13 years of Bulosan’s life.
Ortega comes from a family of artists; his mother had a singing career in the Philippines and his uncle was a writer who won the Palanca award twice.
When he first moved to Chicago as a 12-year-old, Ortega said he did not celebrate his Filipino identity. “My main focus was becoming more American in my first few years, as many immigrants do. It was not till grad school that I had the resurgence of Filipino pride.”
He started his career as an artist in Milwaukee, where he was on the Dogeaters play by Jessica Hagedorn. Since then he has worked as an actor and a director.
Ortega hopes to continue working globally, and learning from the Filipino diaspora. He plans to perform in Singapore and Australia next.