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Kennedy Center Features Recent Graduate’s Play on Mom's Immigration Story

October 18, 2017 — An alumna’s original play that draws on her family’s immigration history and the philosophical questions she’s explored in Georgetown classrooms got a reading last month at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Cristina Maninang Ibarra’s (C’17) original play, Landas, was read at the Kennedy Center’s annual Page-to-Stage New Play Festival, for which theaters across the country are invited to put on readings of works in progress.

The philosophy major, who now works at a global investment firm, adapted her mother’s experience of moving to the United States while leaving her brother, Ibarra’s uncle, home in the Philippines.

First Play

Ibarra, who minored in theater and performance studies at Georgetown, had never written a play before.

“I was cast in a Nomadic Theatre play in a role that I could kind of tell was originally written for a white person,” she said. “I was grateful for the opportunity, but it got me thinking about the status of actors of color. I decided that I wanted to create a play with roles specifically for Filipino actors.”

Working with professors Maya Roth, Soyica Diggs Colbert, Christine Evans, Deb Sivigny and Natsu Onoda Power, she conducted research for the play and worked on a draft. The play developed in Evan’s Hope Playwriting Seminar.

After graduation, Ibarra stayed involved with the theater, working with Georgetown’s Laboratory for Global Performance & Politics.

Family Memoir

In the play, the main character heads to America to escape poverty and pursue the American Dream while her brother stays in the Philippines to write poetry and practice Buddhism.

Diaries Ibarra’s uncle kept before his death in 2008 became a direct source of material for the character of the brother in her play.

“It’s definitely a family memoir, though I didn’t intend for it to be originally,” Ibarra said. “I wanted to write something about the experience of Filipino immigrant women, and I wanted to explore the complexity of immigrant identity and fulfillment. I had taken an existentialism class, and I soon found out that my mom had been asking a lot of the same questions we had talked about.”

After months of classwork, research, writing and editing, Landas, which means “paths” in Tagalog, came to fruition.

A Great Turnout

Turnout for the reading, which featured a majority-Filipino cast, was better than Ibarra expected – a sold-out house, with some attendees sitting in the aisles, and a standing ovation at the conclusion of the show.

Perhaps most importantly, it drew rave reviews from Ibarra’s mother and sister.

“They thought it was hilarious, but they were crying the whole time,” Ibarra said.

Ibarra credits her undergraduate experience at Georgetown with helping her develop as a playwright.

A Well-Rounded Education

“Georgetown’s theater program doesn’t treat it like a pre-professional acting program — there’s more of a liberal arts angle,” she said. “Georgetown gave me that well-rounded education.”

Landas is, like the rest of the plays read at the Kennedy Center festival, a work still open to editing. She says feedback from the event will help her complete a final draft of the play, which she hopes to send out to theaters and place in anthologies with help from Georgetown advisors.

“I’m just really glad it touched people the way that it did,” Ibarra said.