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ARTIST INTERVIEW: Issa Manalo Lopez [English Translation]
Published December 4, 2020

Translation by: Kirby Vicente

The following text is the english translation of Issa Manalo Lopez ASIA/N/ESS/ES Performance Interview which originally premiered on the website on December 3, 2020, 8:30 PM. The interview focuses on Issa Manalo Lopez’s experiences as a performance maker and in pursuit of creating socially-engaged work examining Women’s narratives as part of her research on female identity and social history and the journey of exploring shared identities among these platforms. The ASIA/N/ESS/ES intercultural project investigates the question of “How does Asia view Asia?” The work captures the journey of Asian individuals investigating their own personal narratives, the socio-political conditions of their own countries, our nations’ histories and the unfamiliar narratives of people and spaces that they encounter in Japan. It is a performative documentation of our re-imagining of the Asian cultural identity through this discovery of varying Asian-ess. The original piece was performed in the APAF Exhibition Lab 2019, co-directed with Kyougoku Tomohiko featuring the co-creators and cast Fitri Anggraini, Paopoom Chiwarak, Keita Jimmy Hara, Su Ling, Jared Jonathan Luna, and Emi Oyama. 

Today is November 6, 2020. It is now 7:36 in the evening here in Metro Manila. I am Issa Manalo Lopez

Question: Where are you coming from?

I want to start with a memory. Where I am coming from. So let me share with you a memory of a place in my hometown. I live in Quezon City in the Banaue Area. And this Banaue Area is now called the new Chinatown. There is a very old Chinese restaurant called Ma Mon Luk and my mother would bring me there to share meals or when has meetings she would bring me along. I would sit on a high chair  and place a plate of Siopao in front of me while she’s having her meetings. Thank you for sharing this meal with me, JK. So, she would usually eat the siopao by taking off the skin or they call it the skin, in Filipino balat ng siopao. So you have to take it out because it’s dirty because they say those who make siopao would knead the bread and squish it with their armpits to make this kind of form. It’s so funny but as a child, I didn’t want to eat the whole siopao. I just wanted to eat the skin of the siopao. Everyone was raving about this special siopao in Ma Mon Luk but I would just love the skin of the siopao. I would eat it and they would eat the siopao for me while I feast on the skin of the siopao with all of the juices. I started with this memory because when I create I usually start with where I am where I am really at, what is the space I’m coming from. I’m coming from this urban area that is lined up with restaurants, lined up with automotive stores or people come here to have their cars fixed. And you have informal workers selling you car parts while you drive down the street and you have a woman-like Manang Virgilia who would live at a corner and right at the corner of our street selling cigarettes, and then trying to find junk that she could sell in the junk shop. I start with geography. I’m interested in that because I’m interested how the space changes because of the people in it, because of the different waves of events that happen in that space. I start with a memory of that space. My memory of that space. I start with the memories that I have and the memories of the people in that place. I’ve been here for almost 14 years and I’m interested in creating works of people who don’t really have their voices heard of people who live their lives you know all the intricacies, all the very little specificities of living a small and obscure life. I’m interested in kind of binding that. I’m interested in being able to show or showcase or frame that life because it is so ordinary and we don’t really look at the ordinary. I’m coming from that place wherein a lot of issues coming from the lives of ordinary people who are usually not being heard and I’m interested in listening to them. I’m interested in sharing that experience of listening with people through theatre. I’m coming from a space where, as women. I identify as a woman but I’m also bisexual. I come from a place where our voices and what we want to do, what actions we want to take on aren’t really allowed, aren’t really heard, are usually pushed to the side. I’m coming from a place where there’s not a lot of money even as an artist, even if you go outside of the realities of an artist and just be a Filipino middle-class, lower middle-class Filipino, it’s so hard to find a job to be able to sustain to a life that you’d be happy with. It’s like if I am to compare my realities with other people from countries who have gone past that. I’m coming from a place where Filipinos have a reality where we’re always subject to poverty, oppression, or struggle because it’s hard to attain justice under an unjust system that we have. So that’s where I’m coming from in what I do. 

I’ll just take you to a story. In this house where I grew up, I started writing stories about an imaginary sister and then telling that imaginary sister how to play and what to do and problematizing what are the different parts of that story, what are the different solutions to the problems of the story. I started playing with different toys and dreaming up of realities of people I have not met. That’s how I started creating through that realm of imagination. I personally liked to watch Sound of Music and musicals from my childhood that were very western and I’ll pretend that I’m Alice in Wonderland or one of the Von Trapp children who are singing in the stairs. Why I’m saying this is because this is where my likes and interests in exploring stories is rooted, and which I also took when I took a theatre arts degree in UP Diliman. From acting, my practice has shifted towards playwriting. That’s where I realized where apart from stepping into a character and living the life of a character on stage, I’ve had a stark interest towards making stories. I wasn’t satisfied in playwrighting because most of my works aren’t captured by words but by actions I choreograph in my head and I try to put in paper. Usually when you’re starting as a playwright, you also direct it.

Click here to read the full translation.