Everyone Should Participate in a Pilipino Culture Night at Least Once

Melody Nicolette

On April 25th, my college classmate Mark Mangaccat was murdered in cold blood.

It’s one of those things that is so awful, you look for anything to tell you that there’s been a misprint, that it’s not true. Somethings are just so senseless and vile, made exponentially bitter by the fact that they happen to some of the world’s best, kindest and least deserving people. When the news broke a week after the murder, I went through all of the articles I could find, looking for answers where there really weren’t any. I then turned to my photo archives in disbelief. I didn’t want the world to remember him this way, some sensationalist story on People Magazine.com or the Daily Mail.

Mark was, and is,  more than a headline. There are so many more reasons and ways to remember Mark.

 Mark Mangaccat and his daughter.

Mark Mangaccat and his daughter.

Mark was one of the finest actors, singers and dancers I’ve ever worked with. It was an honour to be his stage manager and watch him perform every night. He was an artist’s artist and a consummate professional (when he wasn’t trying to sneak in a race or two of Mario Kart. YES, I SAW THAT). I’ll forever remember him as the only person I’ve ever worked in any theatrical capacity with who was completely composed during Hell Week (HOW?!), for which I admired and envied him greatly in equal measure. While everyone else was about to go to blows, crying on the floor, or going to Def-Con 4 over who took who’s Happy Meal toy, Mark was That Guy You Never Had to Worry About. He came prepared and ready to give five hundred and ten percent. There are three kinds of people in this world: those who are a mess during Hell Week, those who lie about it, and Mark Mangaccat. (Or, you know, he could have just had me fooled, which would have made him the greatest actor of all-time.)

More importantly, Mark was also one of the gentlest and kindest people I ever knew. He was really, truly singular in how special he was. He was absurdly funny, mischievous, clever, and compassionate. The way that he loved  his favourite things (and I mean, really loved them), was inspiring and infectious. There’s a lot to be said for someone who loves so many things so wholly and unapologetically; I wish more people in the world had that ability.

Upon hearing the news of his death, I learned also for the first time that he had been the father of a beautiful three year old girl. I only knew Mark as a performer, but hearing that he was the absolute best partner and father didn’t surprise me at all. I mean, of course he would be.

Mark and I met during something I hadn’t given much thought about in over a decade: “Pilipino Cultural Night” put on by the amazing Kababayan Program at Skyline College. “Pilipino Cultural Night,” more commonly and lovingly  known as “PCN,” is a Filipino-American student-helmed production showcasing the vast complexities and diversity that make Filipino culture the jewel that it is. PCNs are predominantly student written plays about the Filipino/ Filipino American experience, embroidered with untold history, cultural jokes, and traditional dances and music. Almost everything in the shows are student-made, from the sets to the elaborate costumes. PCN is the perfect marriage of artistry, technical abilities, and outstanding cultural legacy.

Unfortunately, all of those blood sweat and tears are only appreciated for maybe one or two nights, which is absolutely criminal, considering that of PCNs are worthy, and deserving, of full-length or even extended runs. Our PCN was one night only. Looking back on all of the photo archives that week made me realize that one night wasn’t enough, and could never be enough. It was like Camelot: for one brief and shining moment, there was PCN.

Wait, Melody, you’re not Filipino, how the Hell did you end up doing PCN?!

*I Love Lucy “Well”…*

Skyline Community College hadn’t had a proper theatre programme in years. I wanted to do theatre. I had stage managing and tech experience, they needed it. It was as simple as that. It ended up being so much more than that.

There are experiences that are so seminal, they change who you are as a person; there is a clearly delineated “before” and “after.”  PCN was one of those experiences for many of us. I learned a whole lot. I wasn’t always perfect at what I did, because I came from a different theatre world and was used to doing things a certain way. I had never worked on a completely original piece from the ground up before! I wasn’t used to so many changes. I was used to just coming in and working on something that was well-established/ dye in the wool/ Day Older Than God, doing my work and then leaving. And there’s always those issues you run into when you have lots of very young people who have very complex and complicated emotions and make complicated mistakes, myself included.

Lifelong friendships were formed anyway. :) Producing and performing something of that magnitude from the ground up as students is going to bring you together in a way nothing else will, or can, for that matter.

image4.jpg

There is a bond that occurs in the theatre that only theatre people understand. This was especially true for Pilipino Culture Night(PCN). I’ve kept in contact with many people from my time at PCN. I love seeing updates of their babies, their engagements, their beautiful photographs and their projects. I am really proud of and happy for all of them.  As a stage manager, I‘ve always viewed my performers as my kids, regardless of their ages, so there is always going to be that maternal-y pride and joy in their achievements. Paying respects to my late classmate and friend was like saying goodbye to one of my kids. I hadn’t seen him in years, and it didn’t matter, those sentiments were the same.

I didn’t appreciate just how special PCN is until I returned to “regular” theatre. It wasn’t until I was in the thick of teching my second production of Bastien und Bastienne that I realized nothing is comparable to how magical Pilipino theatre truly is, plain and simple. After the vibrancy of working on a PCN, three people in ridiculous costumes caterwauling at each other for forty minutes, something that takes maybe two sentences to summarize, just doesn’t cut it. (I understand that Mozart wrote B u B when he was 12, but my point still stands!!!) I am not too proud to admit that I missed PCN, even years after.

I think working on a Pilipino Cultural Night is something that every theatre person should do at least once, especially in a collegiate setting. I personally feel that, of everything that I worked on during my theatrical career--the plays, operas, kid shows, beauty pageants-- that PCN was probably one of the most important and valuable things I worked on. I think that my fellow theatre peeps should have that experience, too. PCN is uniquely Filipino (well, obviously) and I hope the future holds similar productions for many more underrepresented ethnicities.

Here are just a few of the many reasons why!:

1. You’re putting on an original show! You’re literally working on a “world premiere.” (doesn’t that sound exciting?!). You’ve probably have a hand in the script development, as well.  That’s pretty amazing! You get to work on an original show that is doing something important (see #4).

2. It requires every skill set you have and every tool in your box. It requires you to be at the top of your game. There is no autopilot, no coasting.  I think in college, especially, if you’re not in an adventurous programme, you end up lumbering through a lot of the Old Chestnuts and it’s very easy to just coast. PCNs are a great theatre-skill workout. It’s like going from a casual jogger to an Olympian in a span of 9 months.

3. You should work outside of your cultural comfort zone. Not being Filipino should not deter you from working on a PCN. Diversity is healthy and necessary. PCN is unique in its composition and structure, and it’s a beneficial tool for any theatre person to have. Learning how to participate in a way that is culturally appropriate, without appropriation, is incredibly important, too. You can be appropriate without appropriating. You can appreciate something new to you without making yourself the centre of it.  You can be an observer and participate at the same time. This is a valuable skill everyone needs!!!

4. Representation Matters. This is a big one! One of the reasons why PCNs are so crucial is that they are Filipino stories being told on Filipino terms, with a predominantly Filipino creative and production team, telling valuable histories omitted from mainstream, dominant narratives. (Skyline’s PCNs have covered histories I guarantee most people have never heard of. Filipino pirates?! How cool is that?!) Everyone deserves to see themselves on stage, represented appropriately. My PCN was in 2007. This was far before the age of HAMILTON (if we’re talking about “seminal” here, this is a perfect example). In 2018, Lea Salonga is  portraying a Filipino woman for the first time in her theatrical career in the role Erzulie, goddess of love, in ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. When asked if there would ever be another Lea, she responded by saying, “No, there will not be another Lea Salonga, there will be a first of Eva Noblezada, Jon Jon Briones, Devin Ilaw, Rachell Ann Go, Sarah Geronimo, whoever, and that should be how it’s supposed to be, huwag na tayong gumaya or kumopya pa kung sino pa man. We have to each find who we are.” PCN is part of finding that.

5. The culture is stunningly beautiful. The sheer diversity of the Philippines mosaic makes Filipino culture one of the most unique in the world; there is no one answer to “what is Filipino culture?” The Philippines boasts 170 languages!  Even just Googling different dances and music of The Philippines (Tinikling, Kulintang, Singkil, Pandanggo sa ilaw) shows off such a sparkling gamut of variety. Even after countless rehearsals, I was still wowed by these performances on a nightly basis.

6. THERE’S FOOD. I mean, helping to contribute to representation should be enough of an incentive, but if you needed an extra push...no, really! It’s a culture that really loves its food, and it’s some damn fine food. Just saying!

The year I participated in PCN our show was “Parting Ways,” a story a young man who experiences the sudden death of his grandfather, with whom he had a severe disagreement prior.  Over the course of the play Ignacio (“Nacho”), learns about himself, forgiveness (including self-forgiveness), and how the way we interact with one another really does matter. Although they might not seem like it, even small moments and interactions are important. The grief we have felt as Mark’s friends could not possibly compare to that of his family’s, but there is something certainly that can be said about the impact Mark, and PCN, had on all of our lives.

I hope, one day, some of you get to experience some PCN magic, too.

Thank you, Zahra.

Isang Bagsak!

Snow Patrol’s ‘You Could Be Happy’ was used in “Parting Ways” after the reconciliation scene between “Nacho” and his Grandfather. There was never a dry eye in the house.