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Angelo Paragoso: Pinoy cockroach in London

LONDON, United Kingdom - "Paper Dolls," a "play with music" written by Philip Himberg is the story of 5 Filipino gay carers in Israel who create and re-create bonds of family and community in a foreign land. 

It is based on the award-winning documentary film of the same title by Tomer Heymann. Watching the play in the packed but intimate auditorium of the Tricycle Theatre in London was quite moving and unforgettable. The mostly white British viewers in the audience, some perhaps with a Jewish connection, gave a long and thunderous applause at the end of the show. 

"Paper Dolls" is a breakthrough for the Filipino community in the UK – it is perhaps the first major play focusing on Filipinos to be staged in Britain.          

Angelo Paragoso plays Zhan, one of the 5 leading characters in Paper Dolls. At 17, Angelo left the Philippines to do what he loves best – performing. He was a member of Repertory Philippines when he joined the original Dutch production of "Miss Saigon" in Holland in 1996. Angelo moved to the United Kingdom 5 years later. 

He has performed in various productions such as "The Reporter" (Royal National Theatre), "The King and I" (Royal Albert Hall), "Aladdin" (Theatre Royal Stratford East), and "Peter Pan" (Manchester Opera House). 

SINGING COCKROACH. Paragoso (4th from left) in 'Paper Dolls.' Photo by Tristram Kenton

SINGING COCKROACH. Paragoso (4th from left) in 'Paper Dolls.

' Photo by Tristram Kenton

Rappler caught up with him after the Tricycle Theatre show for a quick Q and A:

Name? 

Angelo Antonio Herrera Paragoso

Age? 

34

Where did you grow up?  

Loyola Heights, Quezon City

What is your greatest fear? 

That I would not be able to perform

What is your dream role?  

I would say it (Zhan) is the best role I’ve played so far. I’ve never played a drag queen in my life. When I met the real Zhan, it was like, we looked like each other! Her real name is now Angela, and I’m Angelo.

I’d love to play Jean Valjean in "Les Mis." I’m such a "Les Mis" freak. I have 13 recordings of it in different languages. 

What is your most treasured possession? 

It sounds heartless but it would be my iPhone.

How do you feel acting in a play about gay overseas Filipinos on a London stage with a British director at the helm?

Very, very honored because it’s a voice that you don’t really get to hear, especially here in London. To have 5 leading roles who are Filipino carers and drag queens, in London, in Europe – is this for real?

The Filipino community in Britain is a sub-culture that hasn’t been tapped into.

Which living person do you most admire and why? 

My parents. They took care of my sister who had cerebral palsy for 20 years before she died in 2001. I admire my parents for looking after us – they did a wonderful job.    

What is your favourite book?  

"You Can Heal Your Life" by Louise L. Hay

How would you describe your life in London in 3 words?  

Fun, challenging, free

How many times have you fallen in love? 

Far too many times!

Is there something about British theatre which Filipino performers could learn from? 

Back home, the things you need to do on stage are being spoonfed to you. You have to do this, you have to do that.

But here, I have been very lucky that the directors and the people I have worked with have given me the freedom to express my creativity through the characters that I have played.

But I think the new generation of directors back home are now more open and accepting that actors are not robots.

What is it about Philippine theater which British performers could learn from?

What I love about Philippine theater is that it is more organic. We make do with what we have. Filipinos are very resourceful, very entrepreneurial, and very creative. 

What is your favourite food? 

Lengua

What makes you homesick?  

You know what’s funny? In the show, there is a scene between me and Sally where he asks, "Do you ever miss home?" And my character says, "Oh, I don’t think about it." That’s how I feel.

Of course I miss my family. I’m in touch with them but I don’t feel I would like to settle there just yet. Right now, I’m happy where I am.   

What is your relationship status? 

Very much single

What is the most important lesson that life has taught you?

Believe in yourself. Don’t listen to what other people say. If you are being dictated by someone else, then you are not living your life. 

What makes you most proud to be a Filipino?

Resilience. I love those photos during the floods. There were these photographs which were being circulated on Facebook, and you had these gay people pretending to be mermaids in the middle of a flooded street. It was hilarious! 

They’d lost their belongings but they still had the ability to laugh about it and rise above it.

Was there any low point in your life? 

I lost my mum in 2010. I went home after she died. 

Where do you get your news about the Philippines?

Funnily enough, BBC. Generally online.

What is your biggest achievement so far?

Being able to do what I love despite the challenges. Most of my friends in the Philippines have very stable jobs. I’m the one who tells them, "Yeah, I don’t have a job right now but that’s fine."

One of my closest and oldest friends told me, ‘‘You’re like a cockroach. If there’s a nuclear bomb, you will survive it." He’s quite impressed that I’m in London doing odd jobs but pursuing what I love to do. My friend said he wouldn’t know how to do it.

So I’m proud to be called a cockroach.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a cockroach

- Rappler.com