Milwaukee Fil-Ams speak up for cultural visibility
MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin — Filipino American theater artists and community leaders will be in panel discussions hosted by Milwaukee Repertory Theater for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
To kick things off, Fil-Am theater actor Paolo Montalban will give the welcome remarks. Theater fans know him for his role as Prince Christopher in the 1997 made-for-TV adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “Cinderella” that recently became available on the Disney+ streaming service.
Milwaukee Rep’s series of activities under its “Making the Invisible Visible: A Celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Culture, Arts and Activism” aims to offer opportunities to hear from AAPI community members, more so in light of recent violent attacks on Asian Americans.
Fil-Am actor N’Jameh Russell-Camara (the J is pronounced as Y), Milwaukee Rep’s new Associate Director of Engagement, spearheaded and shepherded this year’s activities.
She will moderate a panel discussion on May 11 focusing on the importance of representation and support for the AAPI community. The session will be livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube.
Included in this panel is Fil-Am playwright A. Rey Pamatmat, co-director of the Ma-Yi Theater Company’s Writers Lab, a support group for Asian American playwrights. Pamatmat’s credits incude “Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them” and “House Rules.”
Later in the month, there will be another panel discussion with AAPI community leaders from the Milwaukee area on how arts, activism and legislation come together to help AAPI representation in the arts.
Moderator will be Fil-Am MacArthur Antigua, Senior Director of Collective Impact at Imagine MKE, a socio-civic arts advocacy organization.
Fil-Am panel members include Alexa Alfaro, co-owner of Meat on the Street restaurant and Angelito Tenorio, common council alderperson of West Allis City’s first district, a suburb of the Milwaukee metropolitan area.
For Camara, who is Black Filipino American, looking back at 2020 provides perspective for her new responsibilities at Milwaukee Rep, which includes being in the organization’s first official department of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
She says last year has been one of the best and worst times of her adult life. “I have witnessed abundance and have felt the most powerful that I have ever been. Yet, I’ve experienced the most mourning, fear and constriction at the same time,” she says, referring to the pandemic as well as the Black Lives Matter movement.
Related to her theater work, she began to actively follow information provided by a collective of theater artists of color called We See You White American Theater, which seeks for more equitable treatment in the industry.
All these reckonings with racism led her to reflect on her own place in society and in her profession. “[It] caused me to ask myself, ‘What is my purpose? What is this moment in time revealing to me about the transformation or evolution of my calling?’”
“In what ways can I use my voice to affect systems off the stage? I see the power that the arts can do. How can I pitch ideas, create opportunity, be a leader, and be ‘in the room where it happens’ so that I understand these systemic issues from the inside?”
Camara had done work as an actor, recently in productions such as the national tour of “The Color Purple,” an Off-Broadway staging of “Macbeth” and as an audiobook narrator.
And now, this new role she’s stepped into has proved fulfilling for her. “I am thrilled to be in this leadership position. I’m learning so much and am using my voice in ways that feel right. I feel like I am inching the needle forward.
“While I have been able to curate and facilitate a plethora of high quality intentional conversations for virtual audiences across the country, I’m also proud of the responsiveness of the community that I have had the privilege to engage and lead in.”