Nadine Villasin knows from personal experience that a grassroots voice carries weight.
Her father was a journalist, arrested by Philippine president Fernando Marcos in the 70s. Upon release, he moved his family to Canada. Her mother became first a Toronto and then a North American leader of the movement against Marcos.
Back home in 1986, the People Power Revolution – spurred in part by the murder of Ninoy Aquino three years earlier – led to the election of Aquino’s widow, Cory Aquino, as the country’s leader, ending Marcos’s decades-long rule.
That extraordinary change of command is the subject of People Power, a collectively written piece first workshopped at SummerWorks 2006.
“The idea for the play didn’t occur to me until the late 90s,” recalls Villasin, artistic director of Carlos Bulosan Theatre, which stages the show in association with Theatre Passe Muraille. “I went with my mother to a reunion of anti-Marcos activists in Seattle, where I learned about people who were killed for their views and actions against him.
“That’s when I realized the danger my mother had been in and the sacrifices she’d made as a movement leader.”
Villasin and four other Filippino-Canadian actors with youthful memories of the People Power Revolution – Leon Aureus, Rose Cortez, Nicco Garcia and Christine Mangosing – began working with director/dramaturge Nina Lee Aquino on a project that would give theatrical life to the unnamed leaders who spearheaded the revolution and others drawn into the movement.
I remember the passion the cast brought to the SummerWorks production, inspired by stories they had lived and heard from family and friends.
“In this new version, we’ve fleshed out some of the characters, including a woman whose activities were in California,” says Villasin. “There was strong anti-Marcos resistance across North America.”
Each actor created a central story arc for one character and also plays about a dozen other figures. Villasin, ironically, gets to become the shoe-fixated Imelda Marcos.
“I had to watch newsreel footage of her over and over,” she laughs. “It was hard for me to connect with her; my world and my female role models are the antithesis of Imelda.
“It’s difficult not to poke fun at her, but I want to capture the charm that’s central to her public personality.”