Remembering Daisy Ba-ad

This piece first appeared in the book Dancing with the Ripples: Celebrating Inspiration One Story at a Time by Michelle Simtoco.*  I am posting this here today as a tribute to Daisy, my dear friend and mentor, in what would have been her 53rd birthday. 

On a cool autumn night in Vancouver, some audience members were milling around outside after the show at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, a theatre popularly known as ‘The Cultch.’ It was the middle of a 3-week run for Headlines Theatre’s** production, Us and Them.

“Thank you so much for your performance! It was so moving,” a man with gray hair said to me.

“I cried,” a woman in her twenties gushed. She added, “This is the second time I’ve seen the show. And I cried both times – even if I knew what was going to happen. Your performance is always so real.”

“You’re a professional actor, right?” The woman’s friend asked.

I smiled and thanked them for their kind words. In the first week of the show, I felt embarrassed with the compliments and I just wanted to bolt to the dressing room and hide there! I was happy to hear them of course, but I just wasn’t used to it. Being an immigrant in Canada, I have often felt invisible. Having then been plunged – literally – into the limelight, I became “hypervisible” as Ligaya, my character in the play, and as a Filipino actor in Canada.

This particular night wasn’t the only night I was asked if I’m a professional. Mariton Pacheco, host of Balitang Canada (ABS-CBN/The Filipino Channel), also asked me similar questions during an interview. Was it my first time ever on stage? Have I had training as an actor? Was I a professional actor in the Philippines?

A professional is someone who is paid to do something and does it for a living. Us and Them was my first paid acting project. Does that make me a professional actor now? These are simple, straightforward questions that require multifaceted answers. And stories. Many stories. But if there’s going to be a short answer to all of them it would be: “Daisy Ba-ad” – the woman who changed my life in both small and big ways. The woman I first knew in my teen-age years in my city of origin – Cebu, Philippines.

The Greenhouse

I knew of Daisy Ba-ad many years before she became my teacher and friend. When I was in second year high school at Saint Theresa’s College, I used to watch the third and fourth year students in the Drama Club rehearse skits beside the Greenhouse. At our school campus, the place we call the Greenhouse was not actually a glass structure with plants in it. It was a gazebo with a green roof. There was a hole cut at the centre of the gazebo to give room for an old tamarind tree that stretched its branches to the often cloudless sky. There were tables and benches in the Greenhouse, painted – yes, you guessed it – green!

At first, I didn’t know who the adult leading their rehearsals was. She seemed to be younger than most of my regular teachers. There was something different about her. She was hip, cool and bursting with life. I heard the Drama Club members call her Ms. Ba-ad. Sometimes, they referred to her simply as Ba-ad. That would have sounded too casual and perhaps disrespectful in a culture where young people are expected to show deference toward those even slightly older than they are. But I heard sincere respect and even affection from the students towards her.

I remember feeling very excited about the prospect of joining the Drama Club with Ms. Ba-ad as the teacher/director in my two remaining years of high school! But to my disappointment, Ms. Ba-ad disappeared. I didn’t see her around the campus until about 4 years later. By then, I was in third year college pursuing my BA degree in Psychology. (Yes, I’m a loyalist of Saint Theresa’s College. I spent most of my formative years there, from kindergarten to college.) I learned later that Ms. Ba-ad had gone to Manila and worked with film and theatre luminaries like Laurice Guillen, Leo Martinez and Johnny Delgado.

Meanwhile, the Greenhouse, the place where I first became aware of Ms. Ba-ad, became the backdrop of my college life. It became the hub of my interactions with fellow students and Ms. Ba-ad, the rare teacher who actually liked hanging out with her students. The Greenhouse turned into my study room as I would cram for tests and write assignments for my subjects, including Ms. Ba-ad’s Play Production and Developmental Theatre classes.

It became an Oval Office of sorts when my thesis group brainstormed with Ms. Ba-ad, our thesis adviser. We came up with a very ambitious thesis with a very ambitious title: “A Video Documentary on a Personality Development Workshop using Participatory Drama.” Looking back, I realized we were way over our heads! Yet, I never heard Ms. Ba-ad urge us to scale back our original idea. It’s very likely that she was as crazy as we were. More than that though, I think that she always had this genuine, almost naïve, belief that anything done with passion is possible. Because she wasn’t jaded like other adults we knew, her idealism and optimism paved the way for our group to accomplish our thesis project with flying colors!

The Greenhouse is memorable in other ways, too. It was where I hatched my brainchild project to Ms. Ba-ad when I was elected as chairperson of the student body. “Smoke, Baha ug uban pa” was a hugely successful ecological concert directed by Ms. Ba-ad with eighteen repeat performances in different venues in and out of town. The Greenhouse was transformed into a studio and rehearsal spaces of various works of performing arts before it were brought to the school auditorium. It was also where we ate our lunch and sometimes dinner. I remember Ms. Ba-ad, known for her generosity, treating the whole gang to scrumptious snacks or drinks after a warm day of hard work in rehearsals.

Then there were those quiet nights when the Greenhouse turned into a confessional. A place where Ms. Ba-ad and a group of us students talked about hurts from our past and our hopes for the future. Those were precious moments when I knew who I was and I was certain what I wanted in life.

STC Greenhouse

This is the Greenhouse in front of the college building. Photo taken about two years ago by Jieve Gantuangco.

The Big World

By the time I graduated, Ms. Ba-ad had become “Daisy” to me. Our student-teacher relationship had developed into a close friendship. After giving me some training and experience in facilitating drama workshops, she invited me to help her teach her summer workshops for children and youth. I also assisted in some of her projects outside Saint Theresa’s College.

When I started my career as a school guidance counselor, Daisy and I connected only sporadically. We saw each other less and less when I started my own non-profit organization in a rural town south of Cebu City. Life happened and we just … drifted apart. I had lost touch with her completely by the time I immigrated to Canada in 2006. But somehow she was always nearby. The lessons she taught me both inside and outside the classroom shaped my decisions and interactions with others.

The trajectory of my life never hinted at a career or even work of any kind in theatre. In school plays back in the Philippines I was always the friend or assistant of the leading character. In a culture where “white (or fair-skinned) is beautiful,” I was resigned to the fact that I would never be a main actor. Daisy knew this reality only too well. She had experienced it when she tried her luck as an actor in Manila. Like her, I concentrated on other things I do well. For her it was directing and teaching. For me it was stage management, scriptwriting, and organizing. Despite the minuscule possibility of having a career in acting, I remained passionate in participating in all of Daisy’s acting workshops. It never occurred to me to question my commitment to something that in all likelihood wouldn’t be of practical value to me in the future. All I knew is that throwing my heart and soul into these acting workshops made me feel alive inside!

I never expected that all the things I learned in Daisy’s workshops would come in handy one day. I was wrong. In July 2011, David Diamond, the Artistic Director of Headlines Theater in Vancouver, informed me that I was chosen as one of the 6 cast members (out of 185 applicants) in their next production. I was stunned! To be paid to do something that I love doing – Wow! Headlines Theatre is a leader in forum theatre. Their productions are rooted in the important current issues of the community. Actors of their plays are chosen because of their real-life experience with their characters. My character was named Ligaya, a Filipino immigrant in Canada.

Being Ligaya

I lived and breathed my character from the moment I created her.*** The emotions of Ligaya ran the gamut from high hope to deep despair. Each day that we rehearsed and performed, I gave it my all. Every day. Even during my bad days. The whole process was absolutely exhausting emotionally! I am certain that I wouldn’t have survived the three months of psychologically intense work without having the bag of acting tools that I gained from Daisy’s workshops. Her voice guided me each day.

Express, don’t impress. Give 100%, take 100%. Performance level! Feelings are equal. They are neither right nor wrong. Share. Accept. Believe. If you believe in the situation (scene), the audience will believe you. Focus. Commit to your character. As an actor, your instrument is your body. Your resource comes from your past experience, your feelings. No acting please! NO ACTING. Take it from the place of truth.

Even if Daisy’s workshops took place many years ago, the exercises I learned just floated into my mind. In preparing for scenes, I didn’t have to think hard what I should do. Identifying the emotional obligation (the emotion required in the scene), the choice (person, object or event that will help you feel the emotion) and choice approach (acting exercise you will do to reach the required emotion) became as natural to me as breathing. Is acting physically and emotionally draining? Absolutely – and I loved every moment of it!

The World is a Stage

When I think of Daisy, I think of the many big happy moments with her and my dear college friends. I also think of the dramatic outbursts during rehearsals and the deep sadness after closing nights. But one quiet and tender moment keeps coming back to my mind. It was just the two of us in the alumni office. I was telling Daisy about the film, Prince of Tides. She was typing; her eyes on the computer screen. I had read the book before and I was interested to see how the film portrayed the scene wherein one of the characters was sexually molested.

She turned to me, looked into my eyes and said calmly: “It happened to me when I was a little girl. How old were you when it happened to you?” My brain protested: “I was just talking about the film!” But my heart saw the truth. With those two lines from Daisy, a flood gate opened and my long journey of healing began. Great teachers don’t just teach their subjects. They teach you about yourself. They teach you about life.

So am I a professional actor? That question still stumps me. Acting is not my bread and butter but it is my nourishment and my first love. It is my lifeline to my inner self.

It is my connection to Daisy Ba-ad. Teacher and friend. Fellow survivor. Fellow warrior.

=======================

About the author: iris a. paradela-hunter is a performer, dreamer and meaning weaver. Aside from being Ligaya in Headlines Theatre’s Us and Them (directed by David Diamond and Kevin Finnan), she also played Maria Virginia, a lesbian in I Confess (directed by Sean Cummings) as part of the BC Buds Spring Festival in 2007. 

End Notes:

* This piece appeared in the book under the title “Teacher, Friend.” For more information about the book, visit http://dancingwiththeripples.com/.

** Headlines Theatre is now called Theatre for Living (TFL). For more information about TFL and forum theatre, visit http://www.headlinestheatre.com/theatre_for_living.htm.

*** In forum theatre, actors create their characters. No script is written beforehand. Actors, together with the director/s, create the play from improvised scenes.

Sara’s List

Who is Sara? What happened to her?

Books to finish:

  • The poetry of Edward Abbey, Earth Apples –> finish intro and see if you like to continue with the rest of the book
  • Zsuzsi Gartner’s “all the Anxious girls on earth” – > last 2 stories in the collection
  • David Kuhl’s “What Dying People Want”–> re-read chapter 5 and finish rest of the 9 chapters
  • Catherine Millet’s “The Sexual Life of Catherine M.” – p. 149 -> maybe skip chapter “confined spaces” then jump to next chapter?
  • Rediscovering the lost body-connection within Christian spirituality – > decide whether you want to read this book or consider giving it away
  • The Adobo Road Cookbook: a Filipino food journey –> dare I experiment with barbecued pig’s ears?

Things to do this week:

  • Hand wash wool socks and silk blouse
  • Pack up nursery room – > sell items in Craiglist? ask Rita if she needs/wants any of the items for Jack and donate the rest to Aunt Leah’s Closet
  • Hair cut
  • Pay overdue fine at the library –> online OK
  • Cancel appointment with divorce lawyer
  • Try asking John again if he’s ready to see marriage counselor
  • Register for new yoga class –> try Zumba this time? Both? 
  • Call clinic and donate rest of the embryos to other couples 
  • Get tulips from garden shop and plant in front yard
  • Check lavender in the backyard –> maybe re-pot?
  • Make nursery room to reading room? Ask John what he thinks.
  • Think about a trip somewhere warm –> Costa Rica? Florida? Somewhere farther? Cambodia – maybe visit the Angkor Wat? John would like the Angkor Wat.

Image

Debunking Unconditional Love

Once in a while, there are posts in my Facebook wall that really capture my attention. Thoughts, ideas and stories that make me think and say to myself: “This is worth reading. I’m happy I checked my FB wall today.”

I am talking about a short piece by writer, Courtney A. Walsh called “Dear Human”.

“Dear Human:

You’ve got it all wrong. 

You didn’t come here to master unconditional love. This is where you came from and where you’ll return.

You came here to learn personal love.
Universal love.
Messy love.
Sweaty Love.
Crazy love.
Broken love.
Whole love.
Infused with divinity.
Lived through the grace of stumbling.
Demonstrated through the beauty of… messing up.
Often.

You didn’t come here to be perfect, you already are.

You came here to be gorgeously human. Flawed and fabulous.

And rising again into remembering.

But unconditional love? Stop telling that story.

Love in truth doesn’t need any adjectives.
It doesn’t require modifiers.
It doesn’t require the condition of perfection.

It only asks you to show up.
And do your best.
That you stay present and feel fully.
That you shine and fly and laugh and cry and hurt and heal and fall and get back up and play and work and live and die as YOU.

It’s enough.

It’s Plenty.”

― Courtney A. Walsh

 

The Day My Brother Came Home in a Box

In commemoration of the 13th anniversary of my brother’s death.

I remember the day my brother came home in a box.  As we had done during his previous homecomings, my mother, my brother’s wife and children, cousins, aunts, uncles and neighbours packed like sardines into a jeepney, drove to the airport and waited to welcome him home like a hero from battle. The plain, unadorned, wooden box appeared on the carousel along with other large items. This was not the regular carousel at the airport where passengers claim their luggage. After working many years in places like Riyadh and Muscat, my brother arrived home as cargo.

I remember the heavy silence as we drove to the mortuary. I rode with the friendly men from the mortuary. They sometimes chattered cheerfully to each other. Once or twice, they included me. But I was not in the mood for small talk. We crowded into a small room before the box was opened. I felt the anticipation in the room. It was almost like the anticipation of Christmas, just before you open your gifts. Yes, there was a little bit of hopefulness that it wasn’t my brother inside the box. That it was someone else’s brother. That perhaps this was really just a mistake. The claw of a hammer pried the lid of the box open. The little hope left was squashed. This was no mistake. This was not just a bad dream.

I remember the smell when the box was opened. The strong, pungent smell accosted not only my nose, but my eyes. The smell reminded me of naphthalene balls in my family’s antique wardrobe. There was a hint of camphor, not unlike the Vicks VapoRub that my mother used to slather on my chest when I was sick.

I remember the white, gauzelike fabric that loosely wrapped my brother’s naked body. I recall quickly covering his private parts after the two men transferred his body from the box to the table. I thought of my two nephews and niece, and how it didn’t seem right for them to see their father’s privates. I remember seeing the giant Y cut from his shoulders to his breastbone, to somewhere below. It was the first time I’d seen autopsy cuts in person, and I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I don’t remember where the Y ended. I had already covered the middle part of his body. I remember the stitches where the incision had been made. The skin sewn together reminded me of a pig before it is roasted during fiesta, the white skin slightly raised and scrunched where the thread held it together. I remember tripping over the words myocardial infarction and explaining to my mother how this meant heart attack. Though my mother knew what a heart attack was, she was still confused. How could her son, in his forties, die so suddenly? How does a mother go on with her life without her son?  

I remember the coffin that my mother and sister-in-law chose. It was made of steel. The salesman said the coffin, which was gray, wouldn’t rust, and that it would last for a very long time. There was a silver-colored band decorating all sides with pictures of roses. Front and center was the Pieta. The image of the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Jesus must have appealed to my mother. Perhaps it comforted her. Perhaps the deep sadness on Mary’s face reflected my mother’s own anguish.

I remember my brother. How he would put one arm affectionately on my shoulder, his other arm akimbo. I remember feeling both the gentleness and strength of his arms. I thought about how these same arms served him well as an admired basketball player in high school and college. I remember his chipped tooth and how his eyes crinkled when he smiled. I remember how my brother was kind, hardworking, selfless, and generous of his time, talent and money. Remembering my brother, how he lived simply and was much loved by everyone, somehow eases the pain of that day.

NOTE: This piece first appeared in New Voices II: Fiction and Memoir in a Second Language. The anthology, launched in November 2013, is part of the Writer-in-Residence program, a joint project of the Richmond Public Library, Richmond Cultural Centre and Minoru Place Activity Centre. You can read the anthology here

Video

Reading “Croaky Chorus”

Emerge and See was a fundraising event organized by artist, musician and activist Mutya Macatumpag for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, the super typhoon that hit the Visayas region of the Philippines. The northern part of Cebu, my home island, was one of the places that was hit hard by the calamity.

I did a reading of my short piece “Croaky Chorus.” If you’re like me who would like to see the words that they hear, you can read the transcript here. Though I stuck to the script for the most part, I made some ad-lib as well. I like being in the moment.

Special thanks to my friend Wanda Behr for the video recording. 

Quote

New Year’s Eve Reflection

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the quote below. These words really resonated with me.

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”         — Steve Jobs

Do you know someone who you consider to be a “crazy one, a misfit, rebel, troublemaker, a round peg in a square hole”? How did they change your world?

Are you one yourself? How is the world changed because of who you are and what you did?

Croaky Chorus

This is the third part of a longer piece I wrote entitled “Memories of Cebu: Three Ways.”

The storm has passed. But still I couldn’t sleep. My brother and I have long since put away the dozens of buckets we used to collect the rainwater escaping from our leaky roof. My father has nailed back the corrugated iron that was ripped apart by the angry wind. From where I was lying on the sleeping mat under the mosquito net, I noticed how the room was bathed in moonlight. My mother was softly snoring beside me. I listened to nature’s sounds outside, dominated by the chorus of frogs. They lived among the water spinach in the swamp in front of our house. A handful of the croaky critters led the melody. The tenors and bass joined in, harmonizing throatily. The amorous baritones completed the chorus. Hundreds of frogs in vocal union, sounding like an amphibian version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. After the ecstatic crescendo, only a couple of frogs called out to each other and then – silence. I snuggled close to my mother. I put my thin, small arm around her and felt it rising and falling with her breathing. Her soft snoring finally lulled me to sleep.

 

Mango Delight

This story is the second part of a longer piece I wrote entitled “Memories of Cebu: Three Ways.”

Stealing mangoes from Senyora Nitang’s backyard was Jose’s idea. Not mine. Though I admit that the suggestion that he and I stage our heist during siesta time when the senyora would be resting indoors came from me. And yes, I might have offered two other proposals: that we enter the property from the west side so that the dog, usually tied just outside the kitchen on the other side of the house, wouldn’t notice us; and, that Jose climb the tree while I catch the mangoes with my skirt. It was a typical hot afternoon, though cool under the shade of the mango tree. I smelled the salty breeze from the ocean with an occasional whiff of drying cow manure. The increasing weight of mangoes on my bunched skirt made me giddy. Must have been a dozen in there. Then I heard the rustling of dried leaves and turned. I saw Senyora Nitang’s black mongrel dog sauntering toward us. I panicked. The dog is not leashed! I called out Jose’s name in a whisper. Let’s go, I said. The dog started to bark. I screamed: Run! We ran for our lives. Later, when we were safe, we shared the only mango left. The flesh was ripe, sweet and succulent. Jose and I smiled at each other, mango juice dribbling down our chins.

Lost and Found

This story is the first part of a longer piece I wrote entitled “Memories of Cebu: Three Ways.”

Image

It was the day after the fiesta of the Holy Child yet the basilica was still filled with pilgrims. A few churchgoers, most of them women, walked the aisle on their knees, their faces in intense prayer. In the pews, clusters of people were praying the rosary softly. The smell of candles filled the air. My father held my small hand tightly as we made a beeline toward the statue of the Holy Child at the side of the cathedral. There must have been hundreds of pilgrims packed in the narrow space, bodies pressed tightly to each other. Once my father and I were part of this mass of people, it was difficult to hold his hand. I lost him. I was pushed in all directions, swept away by the strong current. I wanted to cry but didn’t. My fear turned to anger. I didn’t know who or what I was angry at, but my growing anger fueled me to break away from the crowd. A small fish swimming against the current. I reached the main door and stood there. Old women danced with candles in their wrinkly hands. Balloon vendors sold their wares to children. My worried father stood beside a boy with a red balloon. Tatay, I called. Dad. Relief flooded his face when he saw me. Being eight, I was too old to be carried, but my father picked me up and embraced me tightly to comfort me. But perhaps it was mostly to comfort himself.

By my Window

In the early evening

when light comes in

through the sheer curtain

I

sit

contently

in the room.

I watch

how the sunlight

touches

and caresses

my space.

I watch scenes

unfolding

in my cul-de-sac.

Lovers holding hands.

A mother pushing her twins in a buggy.

A dad talking on the phone

as his young son pedals his red bike

with training wheels.

An elderly man, his shoulders stooped,

rummaging in the recycling box

on my neighbour’s curb.

I watch the world outside

filtered through the lens

of

who I am

who I was

where I come from

and

where I want to be.

I witness the world outside

and watch

how the sun

touched

and

caressed

me

how it

healed me

with its light.

window 2