Andrea Mapili and Byron Abalos’ THROUGH THE BAMBOO is a cross-cultural epic for young and old

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

Playwright/Producers Byron Abalos & Andrea Mapili. Photo by Jenna Harris

Few have experienced “Fringe benefits” quite so fully as Andrea Mapili and Byron Abalos. The multidisciplinary artists met and fell in love in 2008 at the first-ever Next Stage Theatre Festival (the Fringe’s winter cousin) at the Factory Studio Theatre. Now married for seven-and-a-half years, they are bringing their new play Through the Bamboo to the Factory Theatre as part of this year’s Fringe . . . and two weeks later, they will welcome their first child into the world! 

Through the Bamboo is an action-adventure story featuring a young girl named Philly (Angela Rosete) who sets off on an unexpected quest to find and retrieve her beloved Lola (“grandmother” in Tagalog, played by Carolyn Fe), and finds herself in the fantastical land of Uwi. Drawing inspiration from children’s literary classics like The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland, Through the Bamboo is a contemporary Filipinx-Canadian tale performed by a 10-member cast of Filipino-Canadian actors, and directed by award-winning Filipino-Canadian director Nina Lee Aquino. It is rooted firmly and fantastically in Philippine mythology (Philly encounters a baby cyclops, a giant who lives in the trees and a merman), yet beneath the play’s mythic plot lie timeless and universal themes of death, loss, grief and resilience. Though weighty, the production delivers hard truths with humour and heart, and affirms the power of stories to heal our pain and honour those we love. 

During this time of great expectations – for both their “Fringe baby” and their actual baby – we spoke with Mapili and Abalos about the real-life inspiration for Through the Bamboo, its robust developmental journey, and mining myth to create a legacy through art.

SesayArts: What has the developmental journey of Through the Bamboo been like, and what will be performed at the Fringe?

Andrea and Byron:Through the Bamboo has had a long and full development journey. We’ve enjoyed the support of several established theatre companies in the city including Young People’s Theatre, The Toronto Fringe Festival, Cahoots Theatre, fu-GEN Theatre and Theatre Direct. We had a public reading of an early draft of the play at San Francisco’s Bindlestiff Studios in 2011 and other readings hosted by Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture and Carlos Bulosan Theatre. In 2017 and 2018, we had a series of workshops and readings at Soulpepper Theatre. Most recently, we did some workshops of the play with the second year acting students from Humber College. The Toronto Fringe production of Through the Bamboo will be the world premiere of the show, and we are so excited to finally share it with young people and families with full blown set, costumes, music and all the bells and whistles.

Lana Carillo, Ericka Leobrera, Anthony Perpuse and Angela Rosete at rehearsal. Photo by Byron Abalos

SesayArts: What can audiences expect at Through the Bamboo, and what do you hope that they will think about as a result of experiencing it, both in terms of the play as well as their own family relationships?

Andrea and Byron: Lots of fun, laughter and imagination! We think Through the Bamboo is a treat for all ages because it’s so imaginative — have you ever seen a talking shrimp before?! The play is very funny and has lots of memorable characters, but at its heart, it’s about how children and families deal with loss and the importance of storytelling. Our hope is that the young people that see Through the Bamboo leave the theatre with a curiosity about their parents and grandparents. We want them to be curious about who their parents were before they were parents. And if they’re dealing with the loss of a family member, we hope that the play gives them the confidence to share what they’re thinking and feeling with the adults in their lives.

SesayArts: Through the Bamboo is inspired by Philippine Mythology, and concerns family, grieving and loss. What inspired you to explore such a serious (albeit necessary) topic for young audiences? 

Andrea and Byron: When we began writing this play, all we knew was that we wanted to write a play for children inspired by Philippine mythology that felt epic — something that felt like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Wizard of Oz. During our writing process, a close family member died unexpectedly, and grief became a part of our daily lives. Death is a part of life but can be difficult for young people to process. Our nephew and niece were really young at the time, and we thought that maybe our play could help children like them learn about loss and grieving. We both had grandparents pass away when we were younger, and we’ve always felt a strong desire to remember and honour them. Family, ancestry and legacy are themes that recur in our work. One of the lessons in the play is that while we can’t bring loved ones back to life physically, we can keep their memory alive by remembering them and telling stories about them.

SesayArts: What should I have asked you that I didn’t? 

Andrea and Byron: What is it like writing and producing a play with your first child due just a couple weeks after the show?

We have been working on Through the Bamboo for about the same amount of time that we’ve been trying to become parents. Last year, we were fortunate enough to get pregnant in our first round of In Vitro Fertilization. We could have never imagined that our “art baby” and our actual baby would enter the world within the same month. It’s definitely busy and challenging to produce, write (and for Andrea to choreograph!) while 8-months pregnant. We’re preparing for a big production and a newborn, so it can feel overwhelming at times. But there’s so much joy and excitement about both the play and baby, that it’s all worth it. Our lives are about to change forever, and it feels perfect that our first children’s play is gracing the stage just before we become parents.

News You Can Use

What: Through the Bamboo (world premiere) written and produced by Andrea Mapili and Byron Abalos; directed by Nina Lee Aquino
Performed by Angela Rosete (Philly), Carolyn Fe (Lola), Karen Ancheta (Isa/Mom), Marie Beath Badian (Dalawa), Joy Castro (Tatlo), Nicco Lorenzo Garcia (Matalino/Bunny), Ericka Leobrera (Ipakita), Lana Carillo (Giting), Anthony Perpuse (Kapre/Koyo), and John Echano (General T/Ekek)

Who: Audiences 7 – 107 years of age 

When: July 3 – 14, 2019 

Where: Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario

Info and Tickets: throughthebamboo.ca

© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019

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