Review: FROM NEXT STAGE: TITA JOKES

by Lynn on January 12, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

Part of the Next Stage Festival

At the Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

 

Presented by Tita Collective

Written and performed by:

Ann Paula Bautista

Belinda Corpuz

Isabel Kanaan

Alia Rasul

Maricris Rivera

Directed by Tricia Hagoriles

Musical director, Ayaka Kinugawa

Lighting designer, Justine Cargo

Choreographer, Chantelle Mostacho

Animation by Solis Animation

Tita Collective is a group of Filipina artists who want to focus on all things Filipino with humour and song. In their show Tita Jokes they use the pop group, the Spice Girls as their inspiration, complete with nicknames (prefaced by the word “Tita” , head microphones and sparkly costumes.

At the top they ask who speaks Tagalog, a language of the Philippines. One person puts up a hand. The cast seem almost disappointed. I’m wondering, therefore, for whom is this show meant? Is it for a Philippine audience or a general audience? They have to decide.

The group skewers the Filipina stereotype by noting with an edge that people look on them as small and cute, as caregivers and nannies. But them they present various skits that tend to be simplistic and stereotypical as well—the cloying, self-absorbed mother who whines and complains when her grown children even suggest doing things without her: raise their children, buy a new house. There is another skit of the possessive mother who does not want to allow her daughter to go out at night imagining all manner of danger that might befall her. The skits seem so unimaginative.

There is a rap song about a young woman who is a lesbian and has difficulty telling her family. It’s clever, smart and has an edge. I wish all the work was like that.

The show and its committed cast are well intentioned. I applaud that. But I wish they would rethink the format. The microphoning is muddy and often I could not make out what they were singing or saying. If I don’t know who these six women are then naming them Tita something or other without context means nothing and since the cast is not listed by their character’s names it gets confusing. And shouldn’t someone at least explain that “Tita” means “aunt.” It’s important to know. I had to ask. Just sayin.’

The Next Stage Festival continues to Jan. 19.

www.fringetoronto.com/next-stage

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Harold Povilaitis January 12, 2020 at 9:40 am

Thank you, Lynn, for SUCH an insightful and spot-on review of this problematic production. I did not catch the previous incarnation of this show at last summer’s Fringe Festival, largely because it quickly sold out its performances at the large Tarragon Mainspace venue … to the extent that it ultimately won the “Patron’s Pick” title for that venue. When it was then programmed for this January’s NextStage Festival, I was curious to see what all the hype was about … and I was REALLY puzzled after finally catching up with this show last Friday evening. At the performance I attended, many members of the audience’s were laughing and reacting heartily to the show’s skits … but I was feeling strangely unaffected and puzzled by the whole experience. Thank you, Lynn for SO clearly and SO fully encapsulating my own frustrations with this show … and for actually explaining that the Tagalog word “Tita” means “Aunt” !!!

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2 Aaron January 12, 2020 at 1:03 pm

So maybe the show is for a Filipinx audience and doesn’t cater to a western audience? In the same way that my Chinese grandmother attended Stratford year after year with her limited English and had no idea what anyone was saying (nor were there any efforts to make it accessible for her, which is fine). It wasn’t for her, but she could still appreciate what was happening and had a curiosity to go deeper.

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3 Quan January 12, 2020 at 1:34 pm
4 Maddie January 12, 2020 at 5:57 pm

Hello Lynn. You are alienating a lot of readers and artists this way – and you have been for a while now. You already have a reputation of being, frankly, culturally insensitive and even racist. Please, if there is something in a show you do not understand, ask yourself these questions:

1) Have I been listening with my whole body throughout the show or did I shut down the moment I listened to a few references that weren’t aimed for me? (The definition of Tita is described at the beginning of the show and in the program)

2) How far does my empathy truly stretch?

3) Can I sit with being uncomfortable and let that feeling of being uncomfortable transform me somehow?

Thanks for your time. Please deeply consider these questions as you encounter culturally specific work moving forward.

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5 Alia Rasul (Tita Posh) January 12, 2020 at 2:13 pm

Wow. This is a pretty harsh piece of criticism Lynn. Here’s my response as one of the members of the collective:

We do want to focus on “all things Filipino”, therefore our audience is Filipino. We have decided that from the beginning. We have never been shy about saying that the show is a love letter to the strong Filipina. It is a show for Filipinas but we invite everyone to join in community and in solidarity.

The sketch at the top where we ask if people speak Filipino, is satirizing the idea that English is the default/neutral language. You know, unfortunately because of colonialism. We also specifically say that in the line: “When we watch Canadian shows, there’s so many references we don’t know and now that’s going to happen to you.”

We feel okay that you had to look up what Tita meant. I’d like to invite you to think about how that felt, and imagine a group of people who constantly feel alienated in art spaces. That is the feeling we often get, even when we’re just trying to appreciate art. I get that feeling, so I empathize with that frustration. I feel that often, now you know how I feel in most theatre spaces.

I think simplistic and stereotypical was a little bit harsh, based on your language I’m not so sure that you’ve done enough anti-oppression work, and since you didn’t know what Tita meant, I’m going to assume you aren’t too familiar with Filipin’ culture, so you probably missed a lot of the nuance of the show. I am also okay with that. That’s on you, not on us.

Thank you for appreciating our Tita Boy song. You’re right, when we’re brave enough we will start writing more stuff like that, but we want to be accessible still and not too shocking to our community, we’ve been kept out of film, tv and theatre for so long, we have a lot of things to talk about and explore together, but a bit at a time so that we’re bringing them along on this journey and not alienating them. But good note, we’ll take this one.

Overall, thanks for coming out to see the show. Some of the things you said hurt for sure but I appreciate the effort of the review. I think a lot of the leaders who shape theatre are folks who created the status quo, and that is a theatre community that is not diverse and not inclusive, that celebrated problematic folks in the past that created toxic environments from theatre school to Stratford. We’re a new wave of theatre artists that aren’t afraid to question your criticism, and I think that dialogue ultimately will help us all lift the theatre community to a better place. If you’re curious about Filipin’ culture and the themes of our show, perhaps maybe we can talk about the things you missed, we’re here.

Cheers.
Alia

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6 Yolanda January 12, 2020 at 3:46 pm

Yeah I feel like this is an incredibly culturally insensitive critique. If you don’t think it’s “for you” then maybe it’s not for you to comment on.
The amount of white centered celebrated theatre I have to sit through every year is astounding. Your inability to see what these women are actually doing is not their fault.

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7 D January 12, 2020 at 4:25 pm

***NAKAKAINIS TALAGA***

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8 Romeo Candido January 12, 2020 at 4:30 pm

yay. White critics criticizing a culture and their art form! Especially a first for the community! This critique is so simplistic and one note and reductive.

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9 Maddie January 12, 2020 at 5:57 pm

Hello Lynn. You are alienating a lot of readers and artists this way – and you have been for a while now. You already have a reputation of being, frankly, culturally insensitive and even racist. Please, if there is something in a show you do not understand, ask yourself these questions:

1) Have I been listening with my whole body throughout the show or did I shut down the moment I listened to a few references that weren’t aimed for me? (The definition of Tita is described at the beginning of the show and in the program)

2) How far does my empathy truly stretch?

3) Can I sit with being uncomfortable and let that feeling of being uncomfortable transform me somehow?

Thanks for your time. Please deeply consider these questions as you encounter culturally specific work moving forward.

Reply

10 Stephanie Malek January 12, 2020 at 6:24 pm

Ooof Lynn, this review is quite tone deaf. It’s okay that this show is not written to make you comfortable or catered to. So much else is written for white audiences, it’s embarrassing that you would go after this production because it isn’t.

I would recommend retracting this review. Having seen the show a few times, this does not reflect the quality or content of this show.

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11 Quan January 12, 2020 at 7:41 pm

Was this review written by a clown, or someone even whiter?

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12 Jennifer Ferris January 12, 2020 at 9:58 pm

Hi Lynn,

I would recommend next time if you are unable to hear most of the production due to technical issues like a “muddy” microphone to not write a review. You yourself admit you couldn’t make out half of what they were saying and therefor missed a number of key things that brought context to the performances.

As well, if you’re going to review a sketch show, perhaps educating yourself about the format and learn that they are called sketches not “skits” as you called them. It shows a clear lack of understanding of the art form and the work put into creating a piece such as this. It also discredits you as a reviewer and is a red flag to anyone reading your reviews that you don’t know what you’re talking about and not a voice to be trusted.

Your review also appears to be rushed as I spotted a few typos and pour sentence structures. You owe it to your readers and the artist that you are reviewing to take you time and do it right and not so rushed.

As well, it’s to just say that a show is not for you. It’s also okay if you didn’t get the cultural references but it’s not on them to explain it to you. Just sayin.

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13 mistman January 18, 2020 at 11:17 am

So you have an issue with her typos but are cool with your ‘pour’ spelling and sloppy writing? Right. Sounds like a bunch of people from the show can’t take valid crit. wah wah wah.

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14 Yikes January 13, 2020 at 9:45 pm

are you and your lollipops cancelled yet?

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15 Mitch E January 14, 2020 at 7:47 am

Congratulations to Lynn Slotkin and Harold Povilaitis for embodying exactly why the existence of Tita Jokes is important and impactful for so many people. I hope you’re uncomfortable and confused because that’s a regular occurence for many of us. Unlike you, we often don’t have the option of being able to brush it away after some mild annoyance. I hope this backlash will compel you to reflect on your identity and cultural privileges.

P.S. My partner is a 6th generation Canadian of purely Western European descent and she thought Tita Jokes was hilarious.

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16 Joey Harlem January 14, 2020 at 7:56 am

I think what was happening flew way over your head here. you’re the reason why theatre blows. Your thought process and expectations are what kill art. Your traditions are dying in this melting pot and it sucks.

please do us a favor
finish your bottle of sauternes and watch another version of 10 little indians.

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17 Alison Haines January 16, 2020 at 1:21 pm

REVIEW: OF THE REVIEW: TITA JOKES

Lynn Slotkin is an internet blogger who wants to focus on all things theatre without humour or relevance. In her review, she uses the comedy group Tita Collective as a cultural punching bag, complete with tone-deaf remarks (prefaced with the words “just sayin” and thinly veiled xenophobia.

At the top, she notices that the show does not pander to her outdated, Eurocentric attitudes. She seems almost disappointed. I’m wondering, therefore, for whom this review is meant? Is it for a narrow-minded, mostly white, theatre establishment audience, or is it for a diverse and engaged audience? She has to decide.

The review skewers the sketch show, noting with an edge that she had to ask about the meaning of a word. And then she reveals views that are stereotypical and simplistic – the arrogant and self absorbed theatre “critic” who whines and complains when a cast even suggests that she educate herself without being spoon-fed by them: read a newspaper, read the room.

The whole thing reeks of a possessive theatre establishment who does not want to allow diversity on the stage, imagining all manner of ways it might expose their own bigotry. The review seems so unimaginative.

There are a few days of the week where she posts nothing on her blog. It is silent, absent and unobtrusive. I wish all her work was like that.

The review and its committed author have spelled the words correctly (for the most part). I applaud that. But I wish she would rethink her worldview. Her understanding of her own privilege is muddy, and I often could not figure out the point she was trying to make. If I don’t know who the heck someone is, then calling oneself a “theater critic” without context means nothing, and since she’s already had her press pass revoked by most of the reputable theatre companies in the city, her professional qualification for the title gets confusing.

And shouldn’t someone at least explain that “google translate” is “readily available on her phone”? It’s important to use it before putting your foot in your mouth. Just sayin’.

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18 mabamak January 18, 2020 at 11:20 am

So a critic does a critique and the people from the critiques show lose their collective minds? Maybe it just wasn’t funny.

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19 Grace Smith January 20, 2020 at 11:52 am

Not everyone criticizing this review is from the show in question. Many are just community members.
And if you’d read any of the responses to Lynn’s review, you’d see what the problem was. It’s one thing to not find a show funny. It’s another to be willfully ignorant in your review. The second is what’s happening here.

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