Toronto, Ontario

Playwright wrote about her mother

By Ted Alcuitas

Ed’s note: We immigrated to Canada in 1968 and our first city was Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. At the time we settled in June, there were about 70 Filipinos in the city most of them nurses. While many moved on to other bigger cities like us, some are still in Saskatoon.

Prairie Nurse captures the story of pioneering Filipina nurses who were coveted by the Canadian medical system. Today they cannot enter Canada except as domestic helpers because their credentials as nurses are no longer recognized.

A fictional retelling of the lives of two Filipina nurses who immigrated to Saskatoon in the 60s is captured in a “manic comedy” – Prairie Nurse, premiering in Toronto on April 21 to May 13.

Prairie Nurse will have its Saskatchewan premiere this July 2018 at The Station Arts Centre in Rosthern, Saskatchewan directed by Johnna Wright.

Written by playwright Marie Beath Badian, it is  based on her own mother’s  experience as a nurse at  a rural hospital in Arborfield, Saskatchewan in 1967.

Two other Filipinas – Belinda Corpuz (Through the Bamboo, Soulpepper; Hilot Mean Healer, Cahoots) and Isabel Kanaan (Royal Canadian Air FarceHey ’90s Kids, You’re Old)—play the roles of the nurses.

Marie Beath is a Toronto-based theatre maker. For Factory: she played Rhoda Nunn in Age of Arousal and was in the 2016 Natural Resources Creators’ Unit.

As a playwright, her works include Prairie Nurse [Blyth Festival], The Making of St. Jerome (Next Stage Theatre Festival, nominated for three Dora Mavor Moore Awards), Mind Over Matter (part of AutoShow, Convergence Theatre), and Novena (UnoFestival Victoria, Toronto Fringe Festival). Her radio work includes Yellow Rubber Boots (CBC Outfront) and an adaption her show of Novena (CBC Radio – The Drama of Immigration).

She was Playwright-in-Residence for fu-Gen Asian-Canadian Theatre Company (2008-2009) and Project:Humanity (2010-2011). She was a member of the 2010 HotHouse Playwright Unit at Cahoots Theatre Company, 2011/2013 Tarragon Playwright Unit, 2015 Soulpepper Playwrights’ Circle.

Marie Beath is Artistic Director of SMOOTHIELAND Performance Projects, a new TYA Company specializing in Custom-blended Episodic Youth Theatre. She is currently Creator-in-Residence with The Blyth Festival where she is developing a sequel to Prairie Nurse.

The playwright and actresses shares how their mothers influenced them.

Marie Beath Badian

Playwright

My mom’s career as a nurse was not by choice. She had an obligation, as the eldest of six children, to help support her family. Her limited options were to either become a teacher or a nurse. I once asked her that if she had had the choice, what would she have pursued instead? She said she would have liked to be a chemist, but then she immediately said it was a different time and an impossible option. My mother’s influence on me as artist: her lack of choice became my limitless options.

 

Belinda Corpuz

Purificacion “Puring” Saberon

My mom introduced me to the arts. I remember looking out the window when I was four years old, singing to myself and creating songs about things I observed, while my mom listened in the background. Next thing I knew, she had enrolled me in piano lessons. And she’ll never let me forget that my first public music performance was singing a duet with her!

Isabel Kanaan

Indepencia “Penny” Uy

My mom is such a big character without meaning to be, and I think that’s what draws people to her. As a kid, I would copy things she would do to get a response from people. I noticed the more detail I put into copying her, the bigger the reaction I would get. I eventually found nuances and expanded to not just copying my mom but other people as well. It started with mannerisms, then I got into their mindset, then their state of being. When I discovered acting and the work that actually goes into it, I found myself at home.

 

Here’s Badian’s blog on how Prairie Nurse was born written on July 2013.

My mom immigrated to rural Saskatchewan from rural Philippines in 1967. She came to be a nurse in a small community hospital. She stayed two years before moving to Toronto.

In September 2007, I took my mother back to Saskatchewan – on the 40th Anniversary of her arrival in Canada. We returned to the village where she lived – Arborfield Saskatchewan – a tiny farming community, population 300.

To our surprise, many of the people that knew mom were still there – other nurses and people who lived and worked in the community. And the first thing they would say when they saw mom was “Where’s the other one?”.

Who’s the other one?

Her name is Penny. She was the only other Filipino nurse that was stationed in Arborfield. She came on the same flight as mom back in 1967. We had not planned to see her, as my mother rarely spoke of her, but to say that Penny didn’t seem to want to be there. Though both their contracts were for two years, Penny stayed just shy of a year, moving away shortly after sponsoring her fiancée over from Manila.

On a whim, I typed Penny’s name into the SaskTel search engine and found her in Saskatoon. On the day we were scheduled to leave Saskatchewan, we sat down with Penny in an airport café. She was short, sweet and grey haired. And she looked very much like my mom.

Penny and mum.

From that encounter I was tickled by the idea of what it must have been like back then when no one could tell them apart, when everybody thought they were like two-peas-in-a-pod but in truth had nothing in common other than nursing and the Philippines.

So Prairie Nurse was born. A partly-true-but-mostly-fiction play about My Mom, The Other One and Everyone Else Who Couldn’t Tell them Apart.