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As a native of Manila who moved to Juneau when she was 9, Joann Valentine Cortez Pelayo has found that many of her elders in the Filipino community are hesitant to share their stories, and their reasons for moving to Alaska.
"They don't want sympathy; it's a sign of weakness," Pelayo said. "They try to teach you certain values, but they rarely tell you the real story."
Now an accountant for the state, Pelayo is making her Perseverance Theatre debut in "Voyage," a 45-minute, second-stage production based on eight months of interviews with Filipino community members age 16 to 87. The play, written by Merry Ellefson and directed by Flordelino Lagundino and PJ Paparelli, ties four generations together through their identity - the way they understand who they are, and the ways they define their relationship to Juneau.
"One common struggle that each generation goes through in the play is that struggle to find a place where you belong," Pelayo said. "You don't fit in here, you don't fit in there. And even this generation growing up now, I can see they're torn. I can see them struggle."
"Voyage" plays at 7 and 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Filipino Community Hall, 251 S. Franklin St., and 7 and 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 28 and 29, at Perseverance Theatre's Phoenix Room. All shows are pay-as-you-can.
Paparelli conceived the play when he moved to town as Perseverance artistic director and began working on "The Cannery Project" - a piece that evolved into Chay Yew's musical "The Long Season."
"Voyage" comprises 20 interviews with Filipino Alaskans, including former House Rep. Thelma Buccholdt; Ellery Lumbab and his son, Joshua; Marcelo Quinto; Rosita Worl and Barbara Cadiente. Ellefson conducted 15 of the interviews in Juneau. She ended up with 129 pages of single-spaced transcribed interviews.
"People have been really generous and courageous in this whole process," Ellefson said. "There are many beautiful moments in this play, and they're based on truth. I think some of the people will really be very surprised at how their words and their stories came out."
The story is told by a chorus and four major characters -a mestizo, a teenager, an 87-year-old merchant marineer and an actor. Eighty percent of the script comes directly from the interviews. Ellefson, Paparelli and Lagundino asked each subject about his or her occupation, definition of success, dreams, struggles and connection to his or her home country.
"The goal was not to talk about being a Filipino, but also about being an American," Ellefson said.
Friday and Saturday: 7 and 9 p.m. at the Filipino Community Hall, 251 S. Franklin St.
April 28 and 29: 7 and 9 p.m. at perseverance theatre's phoenix room.
"This journey, for the mestizo it was intellectual," she said. "It was about respect and equality. For the older generation (the merchant mariner), it was totally spiritual. It was this journey home and this connection with his father. For the kids, it's totally physical. 'You know what I want? I want a 2004 Ford Convertible.' For the 40-something, it's an emotional journey."
Bernardo Bernardo (the merchant mariner), a longtime actor and comedian in the Philippines, played Conrado in "The Long Season."
"What appeals to me about this story is that it's given a voice to a minority that has tried hard to assimilate and be quiet and almost voiceless, but they have so much history to share and so many stories," Bernardo said. "It's tied together by the repeating process of survival, settling and assimilating and trying to achieve a certain higher level."
"Both in 'The Long Season' and in 'Voyage,' a lot of the people involved in it haven't been in the Philippines, so they don't know the language," Lagundino said. "It's been real interesting to work with Bernardo. He is a professional actor from the Philippines, and that lends itself quite a bit to the authenticity. He is able to add language in there and add things that are uniquely Filipino."
Carolyn Garcia (the mestizo) was most recently in "Juneau: Our View of the World" at KTOO-TV. She's not from Juneau or the Philippines, but moved to Alaska from California 13 years ago.
"There are a lot of similarities in the way that the mestizos felt and how I felt growing up in California," she said. "You don't really fit in anywhere. My father was in the Navy, and my grandfathers were POWs in the war, yet I was always treated like an outsider. It was really important for me to see those stories."