|A scene from the New York production of "The Romance of Magno Rubio."
SINGAPORE – A group of Filipinos in Singapore have formed their own theater group and are now reaping praises for their debut production, a local staging of the Filipino classic “The Romance of Magno Rubio.”
Entablado Theatre Company (ETC) is a new performing arts group that hopes to represent the estimated 180,000 Filipinos living in Singapore.
The group was founded by singer Babes Conde, a former member of the band New Minstrels, who first performed in the city-state back in the late-‘70s; performer-choreographer Filomar Tariao, who now teaches at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, along with technical director Nadina Jose and marketing director Celia Defato.
“We need something to bond the community, lift up the spirits of those who miss home and share our culture with other cultures – there needs to be a better appreciation of just who Filipinos are among Singapore’s diversity. ETC will provide a stage for expressing who Filipinos are,” Conde said in an interview with Singapore magazine Time Out.
Conde has been involved in several musicals in Singapore and also worked as a vocal coach on “Singapore Idol.”
For their debut on Singapore’s thriving theater scene, ETC couldn’t have chosen a better play to communicate its mission. “Magno Rubio” tells of Filipino migrant workers in the United States during the 1930s.
Reviews have been positive for the play, which opened on November 29 and runs until December 8 at the DBS Arts Centre.
“‘The Romance of Magno Rubio” strongly oozes Filipino-ness but it is definitely not a niche production. Its very specificity gives it that added punch and puts human faces on issues that should resonate in any country built on the backs of immigrants and foreign workers. It's clear the topics facing the migrant workers of 1930s California still ring familiar today,” wrote Mayo Martin in the Singapore newspaper Today
“Folks in Singapore, it is without hesitation that I recommend you see the excellent ‘Romance of Magno Rubio.’ Heart and storytelling at its finest. You will be moved!” wrote Tim Garner of Musical Theater Mondays.
“Okay admittedly I was a little cynical - really a play about a Filipino migrant farm worker in the USA in the 1930s? Having just watched ‘Jersey Boys’ the other week at Marina Bay Sands (which is fantastic by the way), this was really about going to watch and support something my ‘titas’ had put together. How wrong was I! The ensemble cast was fantastic - right from the first cry of ‘Magno Rubio Filipino Boy’... Singapore, please go and watch them! You will not be disappointed,” said audience member Antonio Chan.
Pinoys in Singapore
Singapore theatergoers have long been exposed to Filipino stage actors. Just last month, Tony winner Lea Salonga, along with Filipino actors Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and Art Acuna, took their drama “God of Carnage” to Singapore. Months earlier, Rachel Alejandro led a Filipino cast for a staging of the Broadway musical “Avenue Q.”
Alejandro also performed the role of Mimi in “Rent” in a joint Filipino-Singapore production many years back along with Calvin Millado and Anna Fegi.
But "Magno Rubio" is not your ordinary stage adapation.
“There’s never been a show in Singapore about Filipinos as a people – Filipinos imbibe the culture they’re in; what people here see is only a thin dilution of what’s Filipino, or Filipino actors staging foreign productions like ‘Rent,’” noted ETC’s Tariao in the Time Out interview.
And don’t mistake ETC for a mere community theater group. For “Magno Rubio,” the group even flew in US-based Filipino actor Gelo Francisco, who played Magno in Los Angeles, to reprise his role.
Still, ETC isn't just an artistic endeavor. In its website, the group said that apart from producing "excellent, relevant and world-class productions" in Singapore and Asia, ETC aims "to reach out to the international diaspora by providing a venue of artistic expression for our new-age heroes: our migrant workers."
“We want to keep our focus on productions that delve into current issues – migration, alienation and integration into the global community," Tariao told Time Out.
"While whatever production we mount will inevitably be influenced by our cultural backgrounds, I see ETC evolving into a platform not only for Filipino-themed performances, but edgy, contemporary Southeast Asian theater,” he said.