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Bong Cabrera Reflects on Blindspot's World Premiere Documentary Play 'Kagitingan'

by Cassiopeia Guthrie, Oct. 11, 2023

A cast of actors is photographed in black shirts in front of a white wall.
Cast of 'Kagitingan.' Photo credit Elliott Hefner Photography.

Documentary plays occupy a unique space in the art form, weaving together documentary content with the creative. Such is the case with world premiere production Kagitingan, a Blindspot Collective play commemorating Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor). This day, a national holiday in the Philippines, honors the thousands of prisoners of war lost during the Bataan Death March in World War II.

The play tries to do the same, incorporating music, movement, and interviews with over 80 veterans to tell stories of "friendship and loss, belonging and discrimination... resilience during the war and the ongoing struggle for recognition." In a partnership with Blindspot Collective, dance company Disco Riot, and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the production opens Oct. 20 in a new flexible performance and rehearsal venue at MCASD in downtown San Diego.

Headshot of actor Bong sitting against a window.
Photo courtesy of Bong Cabrera.

Director Desha Crownover, helming this show (which is based on doctoral research on citizenship and identity by Dr. Jimiliz Valiente-Neighbours), hopes that the show serves to amplify the experience of the veterans involved and represented. One of those such veterans, Hemogenes, is reflected onstage by actor Bong Cabrera, an award-winning film and theatre from the Philippines. Cabrera, who is one of this year's Berlinale Talents, came to the United States to attend the Independent Film Spirit Awards when his production, "Leonor Will Never Die," was nominated for Best Foreign Film, and decided to audition for Kagitingan due to his cultural connection to the piece... the idea of doing material that was close to home.

"My grandfather was a veteran and you can say that I am Lolo's favorite. So, this is kind of like my love letter to my Lolo and to all the unsung Filipino veteran heroes during WWII. Just like my character would say, 'I like sharing their stories so that they can still be remembered even if they are already gone from this world.' They have done so much and to share their stories to the world is my small contribution as an actor so that they will eventually get the recognition that they are fighting for."

Cabrera noted that development for this show has been very flexible and has really honored the voices present. "The production process was very collaborative," he said. "Everyone in this production works so hard to put up a show that is relevant, touching, meaningful , and probably would start and ignite a discussion in the community."

Bong poses for a headshot in traditional attire.
Photo courtesy Bong Cabrera.

He added that the diverse cast and creative team have leaned into their chemistry and varied experiences: "No matter what our backgrounds are and the range of experiences that we had when it comes to performances, the rehearsal feels like we are all equal. Everyone is grounded and open. Everyone is so accommodating and friendly, so aside from working so hard we also get to enjoy the entire process with the guidance of our director, choreographer, playwright, and producers."

Though Cabrera has engaged extensively in studying a variety of acting techniques (among them: Suzuki, Meisner, Alexander, Improv) and teaches theatre classes at De La Salle College of Saint Benilde and the Philippine High School for the Arts, a work like this is not without its opportunities for growth. One of them...? Learning a new language: Pangasinan.

"I want to get everything right, from the pronunciation to the accent. I love learning new things when I do certain projects, so this is something new and I accept the challenge. I was born in Pangasinan, but I never got the chance to learn and speak the language, because I left the place and moved to a different part of the Philippines when I was young. This will also be my homage to this very beautiful and colorful language which should be heard by a lot of people."

The cast poses for a photo in all black attire before a white wall.
Cast of 'Kagitingan.' Photo credit Elliott Hefner Photography.

Cabrera can be seen in Kagitingan alongside the rest of the world premiere cast: Kailey Agpaoa, Isaac Brieske, Joseph Corrales, Dey Ilagan, Jessica Mercado, Arlene Grace Nagtalon, Jonathan Nagtalon, Gabrielle Ocampo, Jayden Pagsolingan, Leobardo Rubio, Frank Kensaku Saragosa, and Samuel Young, as well as production team members: Desha Crownover (Director), Jimiliz Valiente-Neighbours (Playwright), Shellina Hefner (Line Producer & Stage Manager), Dey Ilagan (Dramaturg & Dialect Coach), Hsi An Chen (Scenic Designer), Eliza Vedar (Composer & Sound Designer), and Michael Barahura (Lighting Designer). The production is also made possible with support from the MAP Fund and the California Arts Council.

Kagitingan plays October 20-29 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Tickets are available on the Blindspot Collective website.


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