Playwright’s Commentary: “Interview with an Aswang”

It’s been two and a half years since I last had a play I wrote be produced. Honestly, I thought it would be a good while before something of the sort ever happened again, as I shifted focus towards getting my screenplays out there, as well as work to complete something resembling a draft of the third novel-in-progress. But sometimes, opportunities come along that you just can’t pass up, and it’s because I went for one that eventually led to the creation of my latest one-act play and first play to be performed on a virtual platform, “Interview with an Aswang.”

Two years after finding out her friend Kiana is an aswang, Nora interviews her over Zoom for a school assignment about what her life is like. However, when Nora unknowingly asks questions that trigger an uneasy memory for Kiana, she must decide whether she can entrust Nora with the information, all the while risking how her human friend will see her forever.

The opportunity to write this play came in early December, when a friend of mine, Laura Uyeki, put a call out on social media for playwrights to write material for the inaugural one-act festival of a newly formed theatre collective she co-founded called Rainy Day Artistic Collective. I responded to her, telling her that I’m a playwright, and that I’d be willing to contribute something if she wanted to discuss it further. Laura didn’t know prior to that that I’m a playwright and so she was happy to learn of this. The requirements for the play were simple: write whatever you want and keep it to about ten minutes in length.

The idea for “Interview for an Aswang” is quite interesting. In 2018, I had written a short story about an aswang who abstains from consuming fetuses and small children and instead hunts animals. All the while, she constantly struggles to master tadhana; a sort of mind-controlling power. It’s when she encounters a woman in need of help that the aswang finally gathers the inner endurance to master it.

I never did anything with that short story after writing it. It has just been sitting in a notebook this whole time. So when the opportunity to write a new play arrived, I decided to revisit this story and tell it, but from a different point of view.

Writing a play that’s designed to be performed in a virtual space is tricky. You don’t have the luxury of lighting, set design, or even blocking to bring it to life. You just have your actors and the power of technology to tell it. It’s very bear bones, especially for a play where there is a fantasy element to it. That’s why I approached it by keeping it as simple as possible.

Oddly enough, while the play itself was simple enough to execute, casting and finding a director for “Interview with an Aswang” proved to be anything but that. Laura and her co-founder, Jack Conley, both went to school up in the Seattle area, where the population is predominantly white. As such, the same could be said for their pool of talent. The script called for two Filipino American actors for the roles and while the director didn’t have to be Filipino American, it’s fair to say that someone who’d be willing to learn and wholeheartedly collaborate with everyone involved was required.

Thankfully, two actors were found. Thanks to Jack’s networking skills, Teresa Bocalan was cast as Nora, the human college student. Through my own network, I brought on Aureen Almario to play Kiana the aswang. As for the director, I asked Laura if she’d be willing to take on that duty, and that I’ll be there to assist however needed. Together, we made up an all-female, all-Asian American creative team, and that was very empowering.

It was an incredibly collaborative process. We discussed the characters’ background histories, we went over what an aswang is with Laura, I had them watch an episode of “So Weird” to better understand the bond between Nora and Kiana, Laura and I worked with Teresa and Aureen on perfecting their performances, and we were in constant communication about when the next rehearsal would be. With the four of us located in three different parts of the country, we were always figuring out what would be the best timing for all of us.

The fact that I, as the playwright, am able to say that this was a very collaborative process is with both utmost satisfaction and astonishment. Generally speaking, in the theatre world, when working on an original production, the writer remains involved even after the script has been written, and yet in my limited experience as a playwright thus far, I’ve never been as involved in bringing a play I’ve written to life as much as I was here. It’s been very fulfilling.

What I hope for audiences to take away from “Interview with an Aswang” can be broken down into two parts. One of them is to learn about one of the most well-known creatures that make up Filipino folklore. As a mixed race person who was not brought up with much exposure to my Filipino side, learning and writing about the folklore that make up this side of my heritage has been very meaningful for me.

The other part is to see a story of genuine trust unfold between two friends; a theme that seems to parallel the real-life experience of bringing this story to life. As someone who’s been dealing with a lot of trust issues for the past several years, getting to work with these talented and intelligent women on this project has been very cathartic.

“Interview with an Aswang” is part of the inaugural Winter One Act Festival from Rainy Day Artistic Collective. While the first performance was last night, there will be another one tonight at 7pm Pacific. More information can be found here.

Even if you’re not able to catch it tonight, have no fear. This won’t be the last time you can see “Interview with an Aswang.” I’ll elaborate more on that another time.



3 Replies to “Playwright’s Commentary: “Interview with an Aswang””

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