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Filipino ghosts to haunt San Francisco theatergoers

/ 01:21 AM October 19, 2017

Publicity GIF file for “Mumu” used in social media. CONTRIBUTED

SAN FRANCISCO — “Mumu,” a show about ghosts will premiere this Halloween weekend at Bindlestiff Studio in the SOMA (South of Market) area.

“We all have ghosts,” says Irene Faye Duller, one of the founding members of Susmaryosep & Co., a group of multidisciplinary artists that’s co-presenting the show with Bindlestiff Studio. “The show deals with the celebration of death and a meditation of our darker selves.”

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“Mumu” is the children’s diminutive for the Tagalog word for ghost “multo,” itself a corruption of the Spanish “muerto” (“dead”).

The concept of “celebration of death,” Duller points out, is informed by Philippine traditions. “All Soul’s Day in our history is not a day of mourning; in the homeland, it is a day to gather, remember and celebrate,” she says.

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“Since we [here in the US] no longer go in hordes to fill the cemeteries with song and ceremony on November 2nd, the time is very ripe to conceive new rituals and continue a community gathering in the name of our ghosts,” she adds.

Crafting the experience

Susmaryosep would like to keep as much of the plot confidential, though it is willing to say that its story is set in 1977 San Francisco, involving a Filipino immigrant.

It also advises interested audience members to wear comfortable shoes.

While the venue can usually seat up to around a hundred theatergoers, this particular production limits each show to only 40 audience members, all of whom will need to obtain online reservations.

The 90-minute production will involve acting and choreography set to music collected by Joel Quizon from original vinyl records from the 1970s.

The soundscape includes influences from disco music and the Manila Sound, the popular music movement in the Philippines from that decade that focused on original Filipino music versus foreign works.

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The script and designs for sets, costumes and lighting were devised by the entire group.

Suzette Sagisi (center) plays Josefina, who has twin spirits, shown behind her. JULIE MUNSAYAC

Choreographer is Kyle Limin. Featured dancers include Alexandria Diaz De Fato and Casey De La Pena.

Stories and symbolisms

The show “Mumu” is only one part of a multi-tentacled endeavor.

Another installment of Susmaryosep’s work is “#HelloMumu,” a project to preserve ghost stories and their telling.

Recent sessions held at Arkipelago Bookstore have included singer and poet Golda Sargento, writer Paul Berrara and Desi Danganan, one of the founders of the Undiscovered Night Market. Theater directors Allan Manalo of Bindlestiff Studio and Sean San Jose of Campo Santo Theater Company have also made appearances.

It may seem the efforts are simply to collect ghost stories and to keep alive the practice of communal storytelling. But Fuller explains that the larger goal is to forge a deeper connection to Filipino and Filipino American culture and history.

The ghost stories are to serve as metaphors, a jumping off point to think about broader issues. “The bigger theme of the relationship between Filipinos and what haunts us is definitely something we want to continue exploring.

“This exploration of our unknown darkness reveals an intimate story of connection, cultural psyche and death. This is our inquiry of everything that haunts us as a people.”

In other words, “What do ghosts symbolize about us and why are we afraid to confront them?”

“Mumu” runs Oct. 27-Nov. 18 at Bindlestiff Studio, 185 6th St., cor. Howard St., San Francisco. Visit Mumu-sf.com.

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TAGS: "Mumu", (South of Market), Bindlestiff Studio, Filipino American theater, Filipino ghost stories, Filipino traditions, Halloween production, Halloween weekend, legends, Susmaryosep & Co., tales
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