Sharing stories of the Filipino diaspora
Dec 11 2023
By Amy Kenny
Tita Jokes is a love letter its performers wrote to themselves.
The show, coming to Whitehorse as part of Nakai Theatre’s Pivot Festival in 2024 and a co-presentation with the Yukon Arts Centre, is a kind of greatest hits from Tita Collective—a group of Toronto-based Filipina performers whose medium is best described as (but not limited to) musical sketch comedy.
The group began in 2019 as a way to tell stories about the Filipino experience, says Ellie Posadas, one of the members. She’ll be joined at Pivot by Belinda Corpuz, Isabel Kanaan, Alia Rasul and Maricris Rivera.
“It’s something we were all craving as artists, was to have work that was created by Filipinos and performed by Filipinos,” says Posadas.
The five friends, performers from varied backgrounds, chose sketch comedy as the vehicle to create that work for a few reasons. A sketch format allowed them to tell many different stories in one show, and comedy allowed them to understand those stories through humour.
“Outside of performances people have to deal with real-life things in a very heavy way and there is nothing more therapeutic than being able to laugh off the hardships of life,” says Posadas. “It’s really important to see stories that are sad, and I think people create a lot of stories from their experience of trauma, but we want to create a space where people can come in and forget about that for a moment.”
Which isn’t to say all the stories are sad ones underneath all the laughs. When the collective started, its main goal was to honour members’ Titas.
“Tita is auntie in Tagalog,” says Posadas, but the definition includes mothers, lolas, sisters and friends.
In nodding to Filipino stereotypes, Posadas says, the group’s sketched also push back against stereotypes.
“We talk about how Filipinos are not a monolith,” she says. Even within the group’s shared experiences and jokes about their own culture, there’s such diversity in their stories.
Still, Posadas says she worried about that in the beginning.
“We were nervous about whether it would be universal enough to not just cater to Filipinos, but to everyone,” says Posadas.
She says she was surprised to come offstage at the end of those early performances to find that, not only were their Filipino audience members excited to see people who looked like them onstage sharing stories that resonated, non-Filipino audiences also found ways to connect with Tita Collective’s comedy.
It’s one of the reasons Pivot was so excited to bring the show to Whitehorse.
“Programming the Tita Collective was a goal the moment I heard about them,” says Jacob Zimmer, artistic director at Nakai. “It's an obvious choice up here. Whitehorse is full of comedy lovers, and a passionate and vibrant Filipino community— and many who qualify for both groups.”
For example, Ms. Titaverse is a show the collective performed at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2023. Parts of it are included in Tita Jokes. The show lampoons pageant culture, which Posadas says is huge in the Philippines.
“Although [pageants were] a way for us to connect with the rest of the world, we also kind of identify where certain things could be problematic, living up to the standard of beauty and what it means to really be Filipino,” says Posadas. The Collective used the spectacle of pageants as a way of talking about queerness, identity as a woman, body image, and to that love letter to their own younger selves.
“All of us are entering into 30s, or in them, and what’s interesting is being in your 20s you think you’ve got it all figured out,” Posadas says. All the members of the Collective can all call themselves Titas now. “Then you realize in your 30s you have this outlook of being able to reflect in a different way.”
It gives you a more full circle perspective on where you’ve been and where you’re going, she says. And while she realizes that perspective will probably change with every decade, one thing that’s stayed the same so far is that the stage is the place where the members of Tita Collective feel they can connect—not just with their audiences, but with their younger, future and present selves—and share their stories.
Tita Jokes is on the MainStage at the Yukon Arts Centre January 11 and 12 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30 and can bepurchased here.