"Being Filipinx has provided me a gift of a global perspective.
It has consistently reminded me of the importance of seeking guidance from our elders and ancestors, and honoring the body, mind, and spirit as a vessel for truth telling and radical imagination."
Ely Sonny Orquiza
Ely sonny orquiza
Director • Teacher • Actor • Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of The Chikahan Company
San Francisco, Califonia
Ely Sonny was born in Manila, Philippines, and immigrated to the United States from the Philippines at the young age of 12. He was raised in San Francisco, California where he is currently Directing, Teaching, Acting with The Chikahan Company, an organization he co-founded and is a co-artistic directing. In late Fall of 2019, Ely directed the world premiere of Los Angeles-based, Bay Area-bred Fil-Am playwright Boni B. Alvarez entitled DRIVEN. The production received critical praises and reviews regionally, and being cited by The Daily Californian as "a testament to the powerful sincerity of queer and diverse theater, and one can only hope that the rest of the Bay Area theater scene can rise to that level.” Ely talked about how this production made an impact on him and his career, “DRIVEN was one of the most impactful pieces of theater I have directed prior to the Great Pause (2020 Global Pandemic); it enabled me to celebrate a uniquely Filipinx American story in the intersection of queerness! Having the ability to highlight, uplift, and amplify our community's voice and experience for the American Theater has always been a gift and an honor as an artist. It was such a monumental experience in the theatre for me too in that I was able to work with 100% BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) creatives -- the dynamic between all of us and the deep relationship we were able to forge during our time together was truly transformative and enlightening.”
Ely also talked about how his interest in theatre started, “Unlike many of my peers, I had a late start in the theatre: my exposure to it was late in my high school days, through the school's once-a-week meeting of Drama Club on Tuesdays at lunch. It was the only time where I felt I could be my truest self and further explore who I am without repercussions and be celebrated for it. Having that experience was empowering; it was truly a revelatory time and I am grateful for that experience. Admittedly, it wasn't until I began my undergraduate journey when I learned that Theater and Performance was something I could further study; not only did theatre teach me how to make a life, it also taught me how to make a living; it also expanded my perspective, my worldview, and my relationship to myself and others.”
He thoroughly discussed with us his experience as a Filipino in his theatre practice, He said, “I am constantly on a search to find uniquely Filipinx/a/o American stories to champion and amplify for the American Theater. There is an urgent need to tell our stories to build compassion, empathy, understanding, as well as connection with others -- and within ourselves. My identity as a Filipinx artist always informs my process of art-making and never separate!”
We asked him if being Filipino affected his practice in the industry, Ely answered, “Being Filipinx has provided me a gift of a global perspective. It has consistently reminded me of the importance of seeking guidance from our elders and ancestors, and honoring the body, mind, and spirit as a vessel for truth-telling and radical imagination. More importantly, my Filipinx identity has taught me to always anchor my work with the community in mind.” He further talked about how he would envision the theatre practice moving forward, “Exposing our Filipinx/o/a communities to visual and performing arts at a young age is the first step to inclusion; however, I understand that access to it is in itself a huge privilege not many can have. To build a more inclusive theater world for Filipinx/o/a communities, we need to begin by unapologetically telling our stories to ourselves, to each other, and then to the world. Finding and owning our voice and building our table wherein we can commune, collaborate and celebrate together is essential to our representation and visibility especially in this art form that was initially invented without us in mind. With that, we also need to re-examine, re-evaluate, and re-invent what theater and performance are outside of the Westernized ideals in our terms."
When asked if there was ever a disadvantage for him in his practice, he thoroughly explained to us his experience, “I've never thought of being an Asian as a disadvantage to my career. I see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to inform my artistic work with sensitivity and cultural competence, be vigilant in how I see my Asian body interact with another body onstage (and interrogating what story that tells) including in the rehearsal rooms, and most importantly: a chance to be part of real representation for the next generation and to provide a younger individual an experience to see someone that looks like them helming a production or performing onstage.”
For our last question, we wanted to know if Ely has a message for young Filipinx theatre artists who are starting in the industry and/or want to pursue a career in theatre? “Many artists go into the performing arts industry for a one-in-a-million shot to fame while others become an artist to purposefully make art and give back to their community. Some have started their journey in the theatre at a very young age while others are just emerging at the age of 50. There isn't a right or wrong way to start in the industry, but what I found helpful for myself as a Filipinx theatre artist is staying shamelessly grounded in whom I am and owning my unique identities that come from an immigrant background, and reveling in my full, queer, Filipinx self. If anything, young Filipinx theater artists need to remind themselves that being an artist is a form of service, therefore asking yourself: how will you use your art to make social, cultural, and even a political impact? What a privilege it is to be of service to our Filipinx/a/o community!”
Ely has some exciting things coming up soon, make sure to catch him as he will be directing a contemporary devised theater piece with the American Conservatory Theater's Young Conservatory inspired by the Theatre of Ancient Greece. He is also assistant directing ACT's Artistic Director, Pam MacKinnon, with the reading production of CYMBELINE. In the next month, he is Artistic Producing the Chikahan Company's inaugural production, a local commission with San Francisco-based playwrights Lauren Andrei Garcia and Conrad A. Panganiban, THE ACT OF CARE - set to premier mid-November 2021.
Make sure to follow him on social media as well, Instagram: @TheOrquiza and @ChikahanCompany Website: elysonnyorquiza.org