Portrait of the hairstylist as performance artist

Leslie Ferrer Espinosa. Photo by Daniel d’Ottavio

By Cristina DC Pastor

A typical day for Leslie Ferrer Espinosa would be listening to her clients as they are seated on a chair talking about themselves. See, Leslie is not a psychiatrist. She is a hairstylist and makeup artist but she listens just as attentively as any therapist does, and sometimes she gets to talk about herself.

“What are you?…Oh, you’re Filipino,” is usually the icebreaker.

Then Leslie, 31, would begin to engage the client about her ethnicity, her family, her art and her language. Thus, was born “Tagalogue,” a performance art about what it means to be Filipino American using monologues and dialogues from Leslie’s life and others. “Tagalogue” will premier in October as part of the community-wide celebration of Filipino American History Month. It will have a fundraiser debut on July 21 at Nuyorican Poets Café on Third Street.

For Leslie, the daughter of a Navyman from Pangasinan and a registered nurse from Nueva Ecija, the program is about conversations, sharing stories and “educating” people about Filipino Americans.

“I get into a lot of conversation with people, with performers and artists while they’re seated on my chair. They ask about me and I tell them I’m Filipino and they listen to my stories – and these are stories that need to be shared,” Leslie told The FilAm. She chronicles those conversations and compiles them into a journal. A theater enthusiast, she has been performing since she was a young girl in San Diego dancing at FilAm community events. At San Diego State University, she was majoring in child development and dropped out of medical studies hoping to take up theatre arts.

But Fate had a different agenda. Leslie met Peter Herman, San Diego’s notable “Wig God,” who made her an apprentice. She trained in wig-making under him and learned more skills along the way: costuming, theater makeup and hairstyling. Leslie has a string of Broadway and Los Angeles theater credits as hair and makeup artist: “Finian’s Rainbow” on Broadway; “Imelda,” “Don Giovanni” and “La Boheme” in L. A., and yet the yearning to perform has never waned.

Leslie gives wig a little touch-up.

“Journaling,” volunteer work and getting in touch with her “Filipino-ness” were her life’s work when she met Kilusan Bautista, activist and performance artist, on Facebook. They and some friends collaborated on the performance art “Tagalogue,” dubbed as a night of original monologues and theatrical works about Filipino American identity.

“It will be my debut performance,” said Leslie who made New York home in 2008.

At the July 21 fundraiser, Leslie and Kilusan will be joined by host Kevin Nadal, and performers Precious Sipin, Nicole Ponseca and Emerald Gan.

“It feels amazing to be with people who want to do the same things I do. This is what being an artist is about,” she said.

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  1. […] the FilAm previews an upcoming performance by a Filipino hairdresser about what it means to be Filipino in […]

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