A Filipina American Longs for Home in Flipzoids

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Maxwel Corpuz, Ellen D. Williams and Becca Godinez in “Flipzoids”

How did a provincial girl from a lumber camp in the South Philippines end up on the legitimate stage?  What internal machination drove that girl toward a field that was not the most popular outlet for artistic expression at the time?

I arrived in Manila in 1972 eager to pursue the longing in my heart for music and theater.  It was in high school, while performing in a talent show, that a schoolmate told her parents about me.  The next day, the doorbell rang, and there she was, parents in tow.  They asked if I would accompany them to a TV studio. I don’t know why I agreed, but off I went, guitar in hand. I will never forget that day.

I sat on a stool and strummed my guitar while a camera took all sorts of angles of me. A month later, I was recording songs for a TV special entitled, Becca – Happiness Is and by December, I was featured in another show,  The Becca Godinez Christmas Special.

Becca Godinez

After a few appearances on TV and odd jobs doing voiceovers for radio and TV, I heard about auditions for a production of West Side Story at the prestigious Cultural Center of the Philippines.  I called to inquire, but I was told that the auditions had already ended.  I cried at the lost opportunity, and it surprised me.  A few hours later, I received a call explaining that the director had been in a mild car accident, and that auditions were postponed until the next day.  All was not lost.

I was given the role of Rosalia — a seamstress — and I would sing “I Feel Pretty” with two other seamstresses and Maria. On the last day, the actress playing Anita could not make the performance. The director came to me and said, “Get changed, you’re playing Anita tonight.” Talk about last-minute choreography!  We rehearsed Anita’s scenes before curtain and during intermission inside the backstage lobby.  After West Side, I went on to play Sally Bowles in Cabaret, Mrs. Molloy in Hello, Dolly!, and other roles, which sealed my decision to study this craft.

A few years later, I was on a plane bound for Fullerton to attend college, where I would major in theater.  During the first semester, I played a minor role in the school’s production of Prisoner of Second Avenue. Later that summer, I played the role of Anita in the college’s presentation of West Side Story.  I was lauded for my interpretation of the role. That was it — I was hooked. After Anita, I played Kate (The Taming of the Shrew) and went on to direct I Am a Camera by John Van Druten.

Becca Godinez as Agnes Gooch in “Mame”

The next summer, I was asked to return to Manila to play Agnes Gooch in Mame.  After graduation, I returned home and became a member of Repertory Philippines where I acted, sang, danced and directed.  Some nights, there were more actors onstage than patrons in the seats. I then truly understood the meaning of “the show must go on.”  At 22 years old, I directed my first professional play, The Ritz, and it was a very successful SRO run.  Shortly thereafter, I started losing steam. Theater began to feel like work and I burned out.

Soon, I was approached by a record label to record some of my original compositions. One album and two gold records later, I kissed theater good-bye.  I moved on to pop music and remained there for 30 years.  In 1986 I moved to California and thought I’d live an anonymous life”¦but the wonderful Filipino community simply would not have it. That visibility led to a call from Cedering Fox of WordTheatre to participate in a live reading of the book, Coins, by Mona Simpson. No memorizing? One performance? Easy.  I agreed.  But oh, I was hooked again!

I later proceeded to do readings for Eve Ensler’s A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer, followed by The Vagina Monologues, and I couldn’t stop.  When asked to audition for the role of Aying for Ralph B. Peña’s Flipzoids this year, there was no question.  I simply had to.

Maxwel Corpuz and Becca Godinez in “Flipzoids”

The character of Aying is a Filipina, hungering for home, with a daughter whose priority is assimilation into America. Aying is an amalgamation of the many women with whom I’ve interacted in my life.  I know her. I feel her pain. I’ve felt her joy — shared her traditions as well as her longing for the past

When I arrived at LATC on audition day, I could hear my heart beating in my ears.  I wondered if the panel in front of me could hear the noise as well.  Please, I prayed, let them hear only Aying. Five months passed before I was told that Flipzoids was going into production and that I would be playing Aying.  I was incredulous! Overjoyed!

The provincial girl from that lumber camp is a lifetime away, but it is those roots that connect me to Aying so viscerally.  It is roles like this that make my long-overdue journey back into theater feel like I’m simply returning home.

Flipzoids, presented By PAE Live in association with Latino Theater Company. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., LA. Opens Oct 6.  Thu-Sat, 8 pm; Sun 3 pm. Through Oct 28. Tickets: $20-$30. 213-489-0994  thelatc.org.

***All Flipzoids production photos by Hydee Ursolino Abrahan

Becca Godinez is an award-winning, LA-based singer, songwriter, director, producer and actress.  She was a member of Repertory Philippines where she portrayed numerous theatrical roles while simultaneously hosting and appearing in television shows and concerts. She is a pop singer/performer and this year has performed at Dodger Stadium, the Hollywood Bowl and at the “Jazzmopolitan” concert held at the Ford Amphitheatre where she received rave reviews. www.beccagodinez.com.

Becca Godinez

Becca Godinez