Decades of activism in Filipino American theater

Actress Mia Katigbak; writer-director Loy Arcenas

The Filipino American National Historical Society’s theme for this year’s FilAm History Month of October is “The History of FilAm Activism.” For lovers of theater and history, the book Barangay to Broadway: Filipino American Theater History by Walter Ang provides an engaging look at how different theater makers and groups have constantly been a part or product of activism.

Groups such as Ating Tao in San Francisco in the late 1960s coalesced from the nascent Asian American identity that emerged from the Civil Rights movement. Sining Bayan in Berkeley, California was created in the 1970s as the cultural arm of activist group Union of Democratic Filipinos; while Circa-Pintig in Chicago was formed in the 1980s as an offshoot of anti-martial law activist group Philippine Forum.

Triumphs and tribulations

Ang writes about Filipino American theater for publications such as (, among others. Before moving to the U.S., he covered theater for national broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer and was a researcher-writer for the Theater volume of the Cultural Center of the Philippine’s second edition of the Encyclopedia of Philippine Art.

Barangay to Broadway includes some of his previously published articles, additional research and new interviews with theater makers such as directors, playwrights, set and costume designers and actors who have founded companies or blazed trails in their respective disciplines.

The book provides snapshots of the tribulations artists have faced, such as inequities in casting and lack of opportunities due to stereotyped roles and pervasive racism, as well as their triumphs, such as creating positive and productive changes in the industry and establishing organizations that have faced the odds and continue to thrive.   

Walter Ang hopes his book will appeal to the casual theatergoer as well as the passionate theater fan.

Some of these include actress Mia Katigbak, who cofounded the National Asian American Theater Company, and set designer Loy Arcenas, whose court case against plagiarism of his work has set a precedent for theater set designs to be copyrightable.

It also lists plays and musicals that prove FilAms have always been actively creating American history, such as works about Larry Itliong, who spearheaded the Delano Grape Strike along with Mexican farmworkers Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, among others. 


The book also has information on Tony Award winners such as Lea Salonga (‘Miss Saigon’), Lena Hall (‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’), Clint Ramos (‘Eclipsed’) and Robert Lopez (‘Avenue Q,’ ‘The Book of Mormon’).

The ‘barangay’ in the title is a Filipino term used to designate districts. In pre-colonial times, it meant ‘settlements.’

“Hopefully the book will be useful to Filipino Americans whether they be casual theatergoers, passionate theater fans, new or seasoned theater makers seeking information about the paths carved by their fellow artists, or parents and educators looking for resources to help younger generations become more aware of the rich heritage and artistic work that has been and continues to be created by Filipino Americans,”  said Ang.

Barangay to Broadway: Filipino American Theater History has hardcover, paperback and ebook formats at

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