After the news of Typhoon Yolanda that overtook the Philippines last Friday, I thought it appropriate to post this interview earlier than anticipated. Jana Lynne Umipig is an Accademia Alumna of Filipino descent who has strived to bring awareness to the plight of Pinay Womyn and migrant workers in the Filipino community. Through her piece “The Journey of a Brown Girl”, she brings light to personal stories, struggles, triumphs and experiences of Pinay Womyn all over the world. Jana really is one of the most remarkable young artivists I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I am posting her recent update before the interview. I hope you all will read and reflect in the dawn of this recent, terrible tragedy. Thank you Jana.
In the midst of Typhoon Yolanda ravaging our Motherland we reflect on how we can use the platform we have created through the Journey of a Brown Girl movement to spread awareness of our people’s struggle and give.
Important Message from the Team at JOBG:
In Light and Solidarity with our comrades and kapatid in the Philippines and with the Sagip-Tulong sa Pilipinas (STP) Relief Fund: SOS to Typhoon (Connected to Damayan Migrant Workers, Ugnayan ng mga Anak ng Bayan, People’s Core, Filipino American National Historical Society, etc.) will be donating 15% of all proceeds from our Indiegogo campaign to the STP campaign!
We understand the need toward the reliefs after Yolanda and see our efforts to raise money for our artistic/community movement to be ever connected to the struggle and resilience of our people. Please give to “The Journey of a Brown Girl”, and also give directly to STP funds- our motherland needs you.
The Sister of the Journey of a Brown Girl
Give here: https://bitly.com/14HMYud
When did you attend the Accademia?
I attended the Accademia in the summer of 2008.
What did you study there?
I studied Commedia with one of the most remarkable teachers I have been blessed to encounter in my living- Michele Bottini.
What University were you coming from?
I came from the University of California, Irvine
What was your favorite thing about the program?
The program was a life experience; the intentionality in summoning our spirits to live fully in the space was magical to me. From the sense of ownership we had in participating in the upkeep our living quarters, to the organizing of social gatherings and spaces to connect with one another, to the relationships that were built with all of the staff- our remarkable teacher Michele who helped us awaken our artistic souls, to Dory- who connected us to the culture, to the land, the sites and scenery, and to each other and to Riccardo and all of the villa keepers and the sense of family and home that he provided for us, nourishing us all with his delicious food, and his beaming smile. The program was life altering, and humanized me in so many ways.
Can you share a favorite memory or story from your time in Italy outside the classroom?
The day we took a trip to the Castentino Forest was so beautiful for me. I am constantly searching for calm and peace living in NY and I recall that time walking up through the woods, and feeling the sacredness of the trees was one of the most calming moments in my life. I remember feeling so small amongst the trees and the rocks, and feeling wonderment flood over me. And when we reached the monastery up high, I remember a moment of stillness and I felt spiritually fulfilled. There were many moments during this trip that my spirit was ignited, that I felt ancestors surround me and the power of preservation of nature and man made sites. My breath was taken, again and again by the history/herstory that surrounded me.
Do you have any “must sees” while in Arezzo?
When we were at that forest I remember this large tree that we were told was holy, that was cared for by monks, because it was one of the largest in the forest but was hallow, struck by lightening down the center but survived and was seen as miracle. I felt it deeply. Me and my close friend Julian who came from the same program with me also were gelato fiends during the trip, we may have tried any gelato place we passed in our time with the Accademia, our favorite was in Florence, we even got seconds! The place was called Perche no!= Why not? And why not indeed.
What were some of the biggest “take aways” from your time at the Accademia?
This is an excerpt from my journal while at the villa and a couple of the lessons I learned:
1) Humans Have Lost Their Animals
“The class today was a lot of physical theatre, movement that was basic but extremely challenging. The simplest movements can be the most difficult to master.
We talked a lot about the body’s center today, how the pelvis is your center, it is what drives you and in Commedia dell’arte a form of performance theatre where people are driven by power, sex and hunger, it’s no wonder why it would be your center. We meet at our centers.
“Humans” he says “have lost their animal”.
We think we are bi-peds but we were meant to be on our fours. We learned to have control by allowing our pelvis to be our centers. Our centers give us direction, they tell us our relationships with one another. This might not make too much sense, but it was a very simple and beautiful thought and allowed my movements to feel more controlled and natural.
The body is a pretty miraculous thing.
I have learned so much about the animal in my body, just in one class sitting.
Michele says that we must recognize we come from ONE CULTURE, the same culture. If you can allow yourself to open your eyes to that, to understand that is our nature and animalistic truth, you can connect to each other much more.
He also told us about the body and how when a man tries to convince an audience that he is doing something real, he becomes not believable. Jeph Parker, my voice teacher last semester said something like this “Keep going deeper. When you think you have gone deep enough, keep searching deeper.” I wonder to what degree I have actually accomplished just living on stage as opposed to trying to convince through acting?
We are going to be doing mask work in class, and from what we learned today the mask is an amazing thing. Every actor that works with a mask, brings life to it. Something of the human being, something different deep within can be revealed when a mask conceals the façade we put on during a daily basis. Michele says “We look to perform an “exorcism” of ourselves from the character, from the mask.” Humanity is seen beneath the mask.
Today it was all about understanding an impulse, a reaction, how to be honest to your body. Just understanding what is happening to your human being when you perform. Understanding your animal.”
2) On Understanding the Ensemble through Dreams
“…What I remembered the most was the relation of dreams with performance. We can easily center our thought on our own individual fantasies, because they are our own, but it also closes off those outside of our minds from connecting with us. In an ensemble when you must communicate and understand each individual’s dream, including your own, there is no room for the “superficial dream”…”
3) The Group is Always Right
“Today our exercise for group work had to do with this concept, and had to do with listening. We, were instructed to have our groups move as a whole, with certain rules and limitations that we as performers in the space we were in had no choice but to abide by (I could explain this further but it would be beside the point of this entry so I won’t). Listening to the whole is a beautiful thing, because once you have reached a point of togetherness you feel as if you are a part of something greater.
It is easy to focus on yourself as an individual, but to be able to FEEL yourself engulfed something bigger is indescribable. And it didn’t need any words to feel that connection to the whole, all it took was stillness and breath.
At first my group seemed to be individuals who just could not and would not allow for complete listening. There was impatience, some could not wait for the whole to move, but wanted to initiate movement and be the leader. Some were reluctant to follow, or waited for a cue from another individual to lead them.
Michele pointed this out, he knew, but we knew too. He said that even if you make the choice to move and the entire group stays, even if your impulse may have felt right, if the whole of the group does not move, then the GROUP becomes right. The group, the whole, is always right.
We don’t have to have the same intentions, the same passions, but if we choose to make an action we must move together with ALL of the intentions in mind. Michele also said that it doesn’t matter how long an action takes, if an action takes time, if it is cared for, then it will be more interesting it will draw you deeper.”
4) Fill the Skeleton with Your Soul
Your dreams, your soul are untouchable. In performance we build the skeleton, we know the action and we must fill in the “drama.” The soul.
5) Love is Sacred
“Love. The heart. Is sacred in Italian culture.
We learned about matters of the heart and passion for our work, as well as one another. Gianni, our Tarantella instructor is one of the most passionate people I have ever met. There is so much fervor that runs through him and exudes from his movement, his voice, his presence. It is a gift that I hope to one day assume in myself.
I don’t want this to be too long of an entry so I’ll leave with the thought of love.
To say “Ti amo” Gianni says, are very very powerful words. Many are afraid to say this unless there is a deep passionate connection that you have with one another. He says even to relatives you would rather say “Ti voglio bene” which is more in the terms of “I like you a lot,” a term of loving but not so deep as “Ti amo”.
I thought about how much we say we love one another in America, and I thought of how sacred it is to say these words. To my family and friends, when I say these words to you I will mean it, remember that. “I love you,” because I really truly do have a passion for you and for what you are in my life.”
What have you been up to since the Accademia?
I continued my studies gaining a Masters from New York University focusing on Educational Theatre to impact Communities and Cultural Connection. I have dedicated my life to building performances with diverse communities, creating from rooted stories and experiences of people of color, especially for my community and culture as a Filipino. I have prided myself with the dedication to being an instrument of my culture, that through my artistry I can pay homage to my ancestors and create the beauty of my existence to it’s fullest. I continue to carry much of what the Accademia had initiated in creating holistic training of mind, body and spirit development in all of the work I create. And have primarily been doing this work at an After School and Community organization in Brooklyn, NY called El Puente, focusing on creating Arts for Social Justice with young people reflecting on issues that they face and their families face day to day. Last year we launched a huge artistic campaign around Stop-and-Frisk in NYC using Visual Art and Theatre to relay the message “My Skin Color is Not a Crime.” I have also worked within the Juvenile prison system in NYC and with victims of Domestic Sex Trafficking creating art for healing and education of self and experience and how to empower ourselves through ownership, control and expression of our bodies and souls.
Do you stay in touch with anyone from your class?
Many of my cohort lives in NY now, and we constantly have tried to get together, but life in NY does not always make room for these connections especially when you are immersed in your soul work, which is what most people come here to do; to create reality of their dreams, and sometimes slowing down just does not happen as we would like.
Can you tell us about your work “The Journey of a Brown Girl”? What was your process? Who has been involved?
My largest soul creation since the Accademia is a performance project and movement called “The Journey of a Brown Girl,” an experimental theatre piece that seeks to create a space for self inquiry around womyn’s identity and issues and brings them to light through the narrative of Pinay (Filipino Womyn). Most often representation of Pinay in all forms of mainstream media depicts us as demure, obedient, subservient and sexualized objects of pleasure. This fetishization and degradation of our sisters should not be the main roles in which we are and can be represented in the Theatre world. “The Journey of the Brown Girl” seeks to break that mold and expose the true nature of our sisters and Ansisters- as powerful leaders, healers, visionaries, teachers, and warriors of our culture and communities.
The piece examines the exploration of the Pinay both transnational and US born and raised experiences and how our journey starts in being aware, owning, and loving our physical, mental and spiritual rooted beings- our whole beings.
It is an extension to the One-Womyn performance piece I produced in 2010 featuring conversations with Pinay womyn Leaders (including: Alleluia Panis, Kuttin Kandi, Rocky Rivera, Grace Nono, Womyn from the Center of Babaylan Studies, Damayan Migrant Workers, Af3irm, Ugnayan nd mga Anak ng Bayan, and other Pilipino Community Organizations) who have developed their own means of empowering Pinay Womyn- through their actions, spiritual connections and healing, through conversations and education, exchanges and connections, and through loving of their Filipina sisters.
These conversations, helped to build a series of workshops exploring Pinay Identity and experience for empowerment and community building. In the time span of 4 months July- November of 2010- a collective of Pinay womyn met in solidarity and sisterhood to examine the experiences, perceptions, struggles and triumphs of the Pinay body and spirit. From their exploration this performance was developed as a means of reflection, confrontation and healing.
In turn, connections between the Journey of these womyn, are fueled, influenced and internally- by mind, body and spirit- linked to the Journey that the Sisters of our community- the teachers,healers, visionaries and warriors have taken and continue to live through with each day the sun rises.
What difficulties and triumphs have you encountered in your work? What is next for this piece? How can people get involved?
Difficulties have always arisen around money. For much artistic work and especially community based work, money is often difficult to come across to support projects such as this and in the past I have put on workshops of the developing piece through my own deep digging of my pockets and with the raising of bits of money here and there. I think the power of the piece has allowed for me to put it on and without the best space or technical work or trained actors, I have been able to produce the work and make an impact on the audiences who have been able to learn of the piece. And the sisterhood that has been built and community around the work has been remarkable and a blessing beyond any recognition of the work as a viable piece of theatre.
The next phase however is to bring the piece to full fruition, to fund the works and allow it to be grown into everything that I dreamt it to be- connected to a universal audience, on a stage space with lighting and sound equipment, fully staged and costumed and legitimized. And so I have galvanized a team of Filipina womyn to build with me, in sisterhood and solidarity and create this show into its fullest and greatest existence. A show created, designed, built and performed by Filipina womyn to connect with all womyn and celebrate every sister, mother, grandmother, aunt, friend, lover, womyn and girl!
Check out our Indiegogo campaign video, with short excerpts from the original piece and more information on the piece: http://bit.ly/14HMYud
The campaign will be up from Now until November 23, 2013 and every dollar, every share, every click of our links counts! So please GIVE to the project, SHARE it with all your networks and community connections and JOIN the movement by following us on our webpage (www.thejourneyofabrowngirl.com), facebook and tumblr!
How has the Accademia helped shape who you are as an activist /artist /creator /teacher?
As I mentioned before the Accademia has shaped my artistry in so many ways, it had laid seeds in growing me as an artist who creates theatre and all art with intention of holistic impact, and stimulating the humanity of all those who experience my work. That whether audience, or performer or designer you will feel changed by the presence of my being and my artistry in your life. The Accademia has done this for me and many, and I pay homage by continuing the same in my own living and creating.
What would your advice be for people considering attending the Accademia?
Take it all in, with openness and Love and Light. It will change your life if you allow yourself to be immersed.
In your opinion who is a good candidate to get a lot out of the program?
EVERYONE and ANYONE who wants to find growth in themselves as an artist and a human being.
Anything else you want to add?
I have always hope that my Journey will eventually bring me back to the Accademia in any capacity. And with faith and intention I grow to know it will. I am filled with gratitude by the invitation to be a featured Alumni and I hope that you all received some Light from this article.