Fil-Am artist searches for multiracial heritage in Peabody Library
BALTIMORE, Maryland — Filipino American theater artist Tara Cariaso is searching for her multiracial roots and she’s taking us along on her journey.
In the production “See Also” by Submersive Productions, audience members will choose their own story as they follow “figurative and literal threads around the George Peabody Library while encountering visual art, soundscapes, and performers portraying characters based on women and non-binary individuals from the collections of the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries and University Museums.”
Cariaso, whose father is Filipino and mother is of Irish, Scottish and English heritage, will be playing a character who is “a seeker of historical data looking for information about the women in her family tree.”
Inspired by family
“On her journey, the library comes alive with magic as she follows clues towards understanding both her Irish and Filipino ancestors.”
“I never got to meet my grandmom from the Philippines, but I’m told she is where I get my passion for movement and performance,” she says.
“While the character I play is not me, it’s a transposition of me. We … have the same desire to find a piece of our heritage through a magical act of research.”
Road less traveled
Born and raised in Baltimore, Cariaso studied drama at University of Maryland and trained with the San Francisco Mime Troupe. In addition to acting, directing and teaching, she’s also a mask maker/performer.
Her passion for working with masks began when she pursued higher studies at Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre. “When I was introduced to mask performance and commedia dell’arte, I realized that I had so much more in my range than people could see.
“I wanted to play the old lecherous father or the over the top control freak … all these parts that traditional casting didn’t acknowledge.”
But it was also a matter of circumstance and practicality. “At the time, no one was going to cast a busty Filipina woman as Pantalone (an indispensable father figure commedia dell’arte stock character)! So I knew I was going to have to take a road less traveled.
“Making masks and teaching mask performance kept me doing work that protected my spark throughout the many years when I wasn’t being cast in stuff that was interesting and useful to my growth.”
Be it as it may, the path Cariaso’s carved out led her to become a leader of her own organization. In 2010, she cofounded theater group Waxing Moon Mask Company with Aaron Elson.
It also led to a previous collaboration with Submersive Theatre where she performed in and led the mask fabrication for butoh piece “Mass/Rabble.”
“Submersive Theatre is highly engaged in using puppetry and fabricated objects; their work is created collaboratively. Our intersection makes a lot of sense. I love that I get to work with a collective of skilled, compatible theater makers who are very diverse in background and self-expression.”
“I’ve had to question a lot of the world around me to better grasp the challenges that I face as an actor in the US with a Fil-Am face and body. It’s important for Fil-Am actors to know that the western canon will often not hold the answers we seek regarding our place in the performance industry.
“The theater community at large is finally becoming more accessible for Fil-Ams to play a wider range of roles, but the work is far from done.”
Reflecting the professional and personal parts of her life, her character’s journey involves adding a book that represents her history to the library’s collection. “This is a means of adding to the new canon. And having Filipino American representation in the new canon.”
“The character struggles to find identity and ancestry. Her arc examines the complicated nature of living in two worlds at once.
“There are some things we can take into our own hands. I hope her journey will encourage other multiracial folks to know that their answers and stories lived lives count, that multiracial people’s stories belong on those hallowed shelves in US libraries.”
“See Also” runs Feb. 18-20 at George Peabody Library, 17 E Mt. Vernon Pl., Baltimore. Visit Submersiveproductions.com.