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Lagundino an invisible yet tangible presence in this weekend's art scene

Posted: February 9, 2012 - 1:02am
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Models walk down the runway during the grand finale of last year's wearable art show, "illuminate."  Klas Stolpe
Klas Stolpe
Models walk down the runway during the grand finale of last year's wearable art show, "illuminate."

Theater artist Flordelino Lagundino won’t appear on stage in Juneau this weekend, but if you attend performances at Perseverance Theatre or at Centennial Hall, you’ll see his work in action.

Lagundino is the director for both Perseverance’s “Animals Out of Paper” and the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council’s Wearable Art Extravaganza: Fusion, one of the biggest art events of the year. He’s been working on both productions over the past few months -- dealing with big picture issues as well as all the minutiae that make a show run smoothly -- while holding down a job at a local restaurant. And If that sounds like a busy schedule, that’s only the half of it: He’s also currently in rehearsals for “Flipzoids,” a play his own Generator Theater Company plans to produce this spring, and is gearing up for a workshop of Ishmael Hope’s new play, “Defenders of Alaska Native Country” in March. A typical day last week had Lagundino at work on one project or another from about 5 or 6 a.m. through 1 or 2 in the morning (and he doesn’t drink coffee!).

But it’s clear in speaking with Lagundino that all that work is energizing, rather than exhausting, in part because he chooses projects that get him excited about the art of theater and about the possibilities for sharing meaningful stories with the Juneau community.

“For me directing is very personal. If I produce something, I feel really strongly about it, I think this is something people need to see, to discuss.”

Rajiv Joseph’s “Animals Out of Paper” -- which stars local actors James Sullivan, Elizabeth Pisel-Davis and Junior Davidson -- attracted him in part because of its strong thematic elements and interesting interplay between the main characters. The play, which he describes as “intentionally raw,” closes on Sunday.

“I’m very interested in how actors relate to each other on stage. I’m very interested in plays that have a lot of language. I’m interested when actors are forced to be their full selves -- when are they the saddest, when are they happiest, when are they angriest, emotionally, and then when are they pushed to do something that is unexpected, that they don’t want to do,” he said. “It’s this process of just finding those moments in the play and helping the actors find those moments in themselves.”

Lagundino said that though working on Wearable Art has been an entirely new experience for him, the core of the project is not that different from his theater work.

“For me, the ideas that you can present on stage, that is my primary focus -- to present ideas on stage and to get people thinking about them,” he said.

His interest in theme, in character and in stimulating his audience to think about what they’re seeing informed his work on Wearable Art; he views the show as a collection of 31 two-and-a-half minute acts, and has been working with the artists to find the essence of their pieces.

“Each individual piece for me is its own individual show within the bigger show,” he said. “I’m hoping that each piece finds its own connection to the audience.”

The show, now in its 12th season, has grown to be enormously popular; this year it sold out both shows way in advance. It features artwork specifically designed to be worn on the human body; works are modeled on a runway complete with music, video projections and special lighting. Funds raised at the event go toward the JAHC’s scholarship programs, individual artist grants and operating costs for the JACC.

Lagundino, who took over for previous director Patricia Hull, said he was a bit daunted by the idea of taking on such a huge event -- which involves more than 200 volunteers -- but that he’s been having a blast.

“This is actually some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” he said.

Part of what makes it fun is that the artists themselves are clearly dedicated to the show and determined to do a good job -- both in making their art and in presenting their work to the audience. Getting to know them a bit better and talking to them about their vision for the show was very rewarding, he said.

“In that respect I have been very heartened and honored to be a part of that, to help showcase their work,” he said.

As far as the more technical aspects of the show -- and there are a lot of details to worry about -- he was helped along by a team that’s been doing it for years, including the JAHC’s Nancy DeCherney and Kari Groven, set designers Jeremy Bauer and Jason Clifton of Bauer/Clifton Interiors, layout designer Sean Boily of North Wind Architects, multi-media production designer Rik Pruett, lighting designer Calvin Anderson and returning MCs Andy Kline and Shona Strauser (Strauser will be replaced by Ericka Lee for Sunday’s show). Also back is Dana Hernandez of Choco Boutique, who created the costumes for the MCs.

Lagundino said his main goal is for people to have fun -- and to this end he has incorporated more dancing on the part of the artists and MCs than in previous years -- but that he also invites the audience to consider what each artist has to say through their wearable art.

“I just want it to be a party, and then when there are things that are thoughtful ... I’m letting those things speak for themselves.”

Lagundino first came to Juneau in 2004 to work on the Perseverance production ”Long Season,” a musical that focuses on Filipino migrant workers in 1920s Alaska. Lagundino, who is of Filipino descent, was taken by the beauty of the state and the strength and historical role of the Filipino community in the area.

“I was smitten by the place,” he said.

After “Long Season” was over, he mentioned to then artistic director PJ Paparelli that he would be interested in coming back. He ended up taking a job at the theater and staying for five years, later marrying his wife here, and found it a productive environment for his theater work.

“What’s interesting about this place is the conversations you can have with people,” he said. “By doing a show here you can touch a large percentage of the community and a broad swath of the community.”

Since then the couple has moved to New Haven, Conn., where his wife is pursuing a drama degree at Yale, but Lagundino continues to be connected to the Juneau theater scene, particularly through Perseverance and through his own Generator Theater Company, who produce shows sporadically -- basically whenever one of the group members has a good idea, he said. The company, formerly called the Thunder Mountain Theatre Project, includes ensemble members Enrique Bravo and Ryan Conarro, both of whom are also well-known to Juneau theater audiences.

Generator’s upcoming production, “Flipzoids,” will star local actors Ricci Adan and Junior Davidson (who also stars in “Animals out of Paper”) and New-York-based actor Marisa Marquez. Written by Ralph Peña, the play centers on three generations of Filipino immigrants, and will be co-produced by the Filipino Community, Inc. Though he hopes it will draw many members of the Filipino community, Lagundino also sees the play as having broad appeal for the rest of the community.

“I think it’s a really strong story about people who are trying to figure out what it means to live here as immigrants in the United States from the Philippines. “It’s a story about identity, about mothers and daughters, about family,” he said.

Prior to the opening of “Flipzoids,” Lagundino will be directing a workshop of Ishmael Hope’s new play, “Defenders of Alaska Native Country.” In the past he has directed Hope’s “Cedar House” and “Reincarnation of Stories” and said he looks forward to continuing to build that relationship.

“I believe in him, I believe in the partnership,” he said, “I believe we communicate well together and that we both want similar things.”

“I think he’s very interested in Alaska Natives seeing representations of themselves on stage. And that’s kind of what I’ve always been interested in, too, is presenting an inclusive view of America so everybody is able to see themselves.”

Lagundino said he produces or directs a lot of minority theater in part because he notices a lack of it in the community.

“If there was more produced, I would probably do less and do something else,” he said. “I just want to make sure there is a balance in the community of things that represent the community.”

Lagundino will head back to Connecticut after “Flipzoids” is underway, and continue to freelance as a director, actor, producer and photographer. It’s not an easy life, supplementing arts-related jobs with multiple restaurant jobs and often completing projects with no new work in sight, but he is working on embracing the unknowns.

“The hard part about being an artist is allowing yourself to be open to things, not thinking too much about ‘this is the linear through line of my life,’ rather than letting moments happen ... allowing yourself to be open to something unexpected.”

Know and go

ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (final performance)

Where: Perseverance Theatre.

Details: www.persevereancetheatre.org.

 

WEARABLE ART EXTRAVAGANZA: FUSION

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Doors open one hour early. Sunday’s show will include distribution of the Mayor’s Awards for the Arts. Both shows include silent auction.

Where: Centennial Hall.

Details: Both shows are sold out but unclalimed tickets will be released 5 minutes before showtime. For more, visit www.jahc.org.

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