Tita Collective: 'We're like the spice girls of theatre,' with a Filipino twist

A multidisciplinary Filipina arts collective say they use comedy to poke fun at their Filipino roots, and also bring light to issues that many people fear talking about.

Group uses comedy to talk about issues in the Filipino diaspora that's 'kind of tricky to talk about'

Ann Paula Bautista, Maricris Rivera, Isabel Kanaan, Alia Rasul and Belinda Corpuz make up the Tita Collective. (Connor Low/Instagram)

In between fits of laughter, five women between the ages of 25 and 31 are rehearsing choreographed dances and finely tuned impersonations of their family members at a quaint and rustic theater in Toronto's west end. 

The multidisciplinary Filipina performance artists — Ann Paula Bautista, Maricris Rivera, Isabel Kanaan, Alia Rasul, and Belinda Corpuz — call themselves the Tita Collective

They write, sing and act in skits but they say it goes much deeper than that.

"Through comedy we talked about some issues in the Filipino Diaspora that is kind of tricky to talk about, and I think through comedy we were able to touch people," says Kanaan. 

The Tita Collective dance, sing, act, and write their own comedy skits. (Dahlia Katz/Instagram)

When they first performed together at a Filipino theatre one year ago, they instantly felt a connection to each other. 

Shortly after, they became friends and have been collaborating in comedy ever since.

"We're basically sisters at this point . . . we all share that dynamic with each other," says Bautista. "We're all very playful, we just bounce around each other in rehearsals. Meetings are super energetic and fun . . . but very productive."

"We're like a well-oiled family business," says Rasul. "We're like the spice girls of theatre."

Honouring female elders through comedy

Their work is intended to poke fun at their Filipino roots. Kanaan's mother's pronunciation of the word 'chipotle,' gives her some ripe comedy material.

"My mom calls it 'cheee-polay'...instead of 'chipotle'," says Kanaan as she fights back laughter. "My aunt calls [it] 'chee-po-tel', " adds Bautista as she continues in a fit of laughter.

The collective says their connection to each other fuels their work. (April Vendiola/Instagram)

But the Tita Collective also tackles the difficult subjects often not discussed in their community. 

"We talk about things that people try to avoid — queerness, sexism, classism," says Rasul. 

The performances primarily focus on their cherished titas.

If you're not Filipino then you likely don't know the word tita is a term of endearment. It's given to female family members.

"Tita is sort of the title that we give, traditionally like our moms and dads like sister traditionally. But then it's also extended to close family friends. So it's like the female elders in the community," says Rasul.

It was initially scary for the collective to use comedy to explore the intricacies and nuances of their Filipino relatives because the community is rooted in respect for elders. The biggest fear they had was that their families wouldn't understand that their jokes were coming from a place of love and reverence. Luckily, their titas understood.

'It's a very intergenerational story'

Not only did their elders become fans after watching them perform, but so did the young ones.

"It's a very inter-generational story. So our parents, our older aunts and uncles have come to the show . . . But even my niece and nephew who are eight and 11 years old also came to the show and they could still enjoy it and resonate with it and identify with that," says Rivera.

Family members have been the most supportive and loyal fans of their comedy. (April Vendiola/Instagram)

They want to keep telling these stories, and even possibly find solutions to tough issues.

"Comedy is a really accessible way to explore these stories. And we're hoping that it will sort of kind of start conversations behind closed doors," says Rasul.

The Tita Collective will be performing at Tawa festival in Toronto in June — which is also Filipino heritage month. 

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With files from Our Toronto