(Ed’s note: We welcome Carlo Javier as a new member of the team at philippinecanadiannews.com (PCN.com). This is his first feature for PCN.com. Look for exciting coverage from this young and emerging writer.)
Award-winning performer talks about falling in love with theatre and diversity on stage
By Carlo Javier
There is a deliberate lack of suspense in the story of Cinderella. It is a time-tested tale that has long been all too familiar with the audience – we know what happens.
Douglas Carter Beane’s 2013 reimagining of the classic kept much of the spirit of the story but added layers of new ideas to revamp the tale. We are now set in an environment akin to the French Revolution and love is no longer the singular theme that rules above all. Politics and the oppressive relationship between the haves and the have not take spotlight in the (slightly) darker adaptation of Cinderella.
In Theatre Under the Stars’ (TUTS) rendition of this fresher, reinvigorated version, there exists another layer – a new element – that makes a tale as old as time feel so refreshingly modern. Some of the characters do not look like your cliched fairy tale figures.
This type of diversity is the very ethos of Caleb Lagayan’s acting doctrine. The up and coming Filipino-Canadian performer stars in Cinderella as Lord Pinkleton. Lagayan’s energy is both magnetic and enthralling, but even on the very surface level of his performance, you can see a truly rare sigh in entertainment media. Lagayan, as Lord Pinkleton, is wearing a barong – that national dress of the Philippines.
I met Lagayan in the chilly sanctuary of Fabourg Paris Café in Downtown Vancouver. It was early August and the seemingly annual summer heat wave had become debilitating. Lagayan and the cast of Cinderella had been performing three to four times a week for the past month, and their production was only halfway through its run. Late in July, TUTS announced that Cinderella would continue until Aug. 25.
Though Lagayan admits that cumulative fatigue is setting in, you couldn’t tell by the exuberance he carries with himself – an impressive trait for the 20-year-old who has performed in every season of the past three years.
Lagayan’s journey to the professional stage started in the humblest of beginnings. “It was always a hobby,” he said. It was not until a somewhat scathing review by a high school teacher did Lagayan decide to pursue acting. After participating in a singing competition, one of his then-teachers memorably told him, “You’re good at singing, but you lack the stage presence.”
Soon, Lagayan saw himself deeply embedded in the world of drama. In Grade 9 at Burnaby Secondary School, he competed in a monologue competition where he saw himself taking home the gold medal on the first night, and silver in the next. Though falling short of back-to-back gold stung the highly competitive performer, Lagayan looks back on the loss as one of his greatest teaching moments. “I think if I had won gold both nights, I would have been content,” he said. “Don’t ever be content, because that anyone becomes content, you stop learning and growing because you get comfortable.”
After high school, Lagayan enrolled to Capilano University’s Musical Theatre program and saw prominent roles in productions of Anne of the Green Gables and The Secret Garden. The latter of which features what Lagayan describes as his most challenging role yet. As the elderly Archibald, Lagayan not only had to learn and master a British accent, he also had to perform with a prosthetic hump on his back – an addition that forced him to modify his stance and singing.
Representation in the industry
With conversations surrounding representation in entertainment increasingly becoming part of the norm, Lagayan hopes to continue securing roles that have long been disassociated with actors of colour. “Even in the audition room, every time I enter, I know the first thing they see is the colour of my skin,” he said. “I don’t let what people see define what they should choose… I believe that my talent is most important, and that’s what the panel should see.”
While Lagayan aspires to cast a brighter spotlight on the talents of Filipinos and Filipino-Canadians, he understands that there are very real obstacles standing in his way, and the acting industry can often be unforgiving. “They promote diversity like no other, but they also spoke a lot about the realism of theatre and the world,” Lagayan said about his instructors in university. “In film and in theatre, they look heavily at what you look like. That’s why goal is to fight that.”
Fortunately, the young performer is doing quite well for himself. Earlier this year, Lagayan received two nominations in the prestigious Ovation! Awards – an annual celebration of musical theatre in the Lower Mainland. Lagayan was nominated in both Outstanding Chorus Member and Outstanding Newcomer – Male categories and won the latter for his work on Exit 22’s Thoroughly Modern Millie, TUTS’ Mary Poppins, and URP’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
As he closes out his run as Lord Pinkleton in Cinderella, Lagayan will soon be preparing for a new role. He recently secured an ensemble role in The Arts Club’s Beauty and the Beast, marking his first professional booking. “It’s the best of the best,” he said.
About the author.
Carlo Javier is a Vancouver-based writer and editor. He was born in Quezon City, Philippines and moved to Coquitlam, BC Canada in 2006. Javier graduated from Capilano University’s School of Communication Studies in 2017. During his time at the University, Javier was an integral part of the campus’ official publication, the Capilano Courier. After graduating, he was elected by staff members and contributors to serve as the editor-in-chief for the 2017-2018 publication year. In the summer of 2016, Javier worked as an editorial intern at the esteemed Western Living Magazine. While his written content ranges from a number of topics, Javier is particularly interested in topics such as race, sports, and food. He concluded his undergrad with a thesis on the racialization of Filipino-Canadians and racist attitudes stemming from the Live-in Caregiver (LCP) program. He is an avid basketball fan and is a passionate cook.