Fighting the Patriarchy

by Ross Jackson
Jade Cagalawan
Jade Cagalawan

An Interview with Jade Cagalawan, Stage Manager

Jade Cagalawan is a Filipino American, Los Angeles based stage manager.  Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, she first fell in love with theatre when her family repeatedly watched the documentary on Miss Saigon, praising Lea Salonga. She started stage managing at the age of 18 when she told former Cal Poly Pomona department chair, William H. Morse, that she was interested in directing. He then stuck her into stage management, stating that “stage management is an important aspect of directing”. Since then she never looked back.  

She’s worked in a variety of capacities: for 99 seat theatres like The Blank, Open Fist, and Sierra Madre Playhouse, theme parks Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios Hollywood, and most recently A Noise Within, Geffen Playhouse, and the Impractical Jokers Block Party at Comic-Con. She also likes to dabble in film and television, having PA’d for Pretty Rosebud (feature and Filipina lead!), Jesse Collins Entertainment, and The Aesthetic Awards. One of her most unique experiences though was for the Bond Bar at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Vegas, where she had to defend go-go dancers from drunk guests. On top of all of that, she is the Production Manager for Cal Poly Pomona’s Department of Theatre and New Dance. When she has free time, she likes to go to metal and punk shows, is a member of the Filipina activist group GABRIELA (Los Angeles), and is currently working on a theatre project with Anak Bayan (Inland Empire Chapter).

Stage-Directions: How has being as a person of color harmed and/or helped your career?
Jade Cagalawan: I don’t think that my ethnicity has harmed me as much as my gender has. I’ve had people assume that I don’t know what I’m doing, that I’m not strong enough, or that I’m too short for a task. I have quite a few stories about a certain place that either took me off shows, or took duties away from me because they believed that I wasn’t going to be fast enough for it– they didn’t even give me a chance to try it. I used to call that job “fighting the patriarchy.” I didn’t even consider it as doing theatre anymore.

Ethnicity wise, it’s been more neutral. It hasn’t benefited me, but it hasn’t harmed me either. It’s been more of the type of comments that people have aimed towards me as a female.

How has your race/ethnicity influenced your career journey?
It’s made me even more proud, more motivated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked around myself in a rehearsal room, and I’ve been able to count on the PoC on one hand. It’s usually me and then maybe one or two others. It makes me more motivated to help my fellow PoC get into the room. I’ve also always believed that what’s even more important is to look at who’s in charge. I’d like to one day climb up higher in the hierarchy of the theatre. Whether it’s as a production manager or something else, [some position] where I can be influential in terms of increasing awareness for inclusivity, and even if I’m not in those positions quite yet, I do have the ability right now to voice my concerns.

What would you like for people of color considering - or in the early stages of - a theatre career to know?
Don’t give up. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true. Even if you get a rejection, some weird side-eye, or micro-aggressions aimed at you, turn that frustration into motivation and keep going. Don’t stay silent either, though. Speak up and don’t be afraid of how people will react. Educate– both others and yourself.  

Who was it that helped formulate who you are as a person of color trying to express your art in a white-dominated field?
My then professor, now friend, fellow colleague, and Cal Poly Pomona department chair, Bernardo Solano. He and his wife, Paula Solano, are just super kind. I could seriously get lost in my conversations with them about anything– it doesn’t even have to be about race, gender, and politics. It first began when I was twenty. I was in a class that Bernardo taught called “Community Based Theatre,” which was about theatre that revolved around community-based issues. I found it to be fascinating, and that’s when I started learning about Chicano, Black, and Asian American Theatre. I had no idea this existed until then, and it made me excited that there was a place for PoC to not only have a platform, but to help lift each other up.

These days, my friends that are PoC and in the theatre motivate me. Whenever I feel like I’m losing motivation, I look to them (aka stalk them on Facebook) and I see how well they’re doing and it makes me happy. It keeps me going.

Jade and the crew from King Lear at A Noise Within in Pasadena, CA
Jade and the crew from King Lear at A Noise Within in Pasadena, CA




Is there a type of production you haven’t done yet that you’d like to endeavor upon? (i.e. Opera, Dance, Themed Entertainment, etc.)
I’d love to do site specific theatre. I’ve always been fascinated by the whole process and would love to venture into that.  

Can you give us 3 reasons you love stage managing?
1 – You get to be a part of the entire process.  People tell me it’s kind of "micro-managey" of me, but I just love seeing a production go from nothing to something huge, and then back to nothing again.

2 – I like connecting with everyone in the process.  As much as I like to joke that I’m not social, I like getting to know people, and seeing where they come from, who they are, and how they go about what they do. 

3 – I LOVE seeing and hearing the audience’s reactions during a show. No matter how stressful a production may get, when I hear the gasps, the laughter, or the sniffles in the audience, it’s then that I know my job has paid off. Each show is different though, and even though I’m not physically on the stage, I’m still putting on a show, and it’s satisfying.

You also teach, how has your experience been being a woman of color in academia?
It’s my favorite job, though there were a few obstacles, just like any job. At the beginning, I felt like it was a little tough getting respect from both the students and the faculty. Not only was I a former student at Cal Poly, but I’m the second youngest in the department. So it sometimes felt like I had to remind them that, “Hey, you may have years of experience on me, or you may be only a couple years younger/older than me, but I’ve been freelancing for a bit now, and I have my Master’s Degree. There’s a reason for why you wanted me in this position.” When I started really settling into my position as a production manager, creating stage manager handbooks, mentoring students, or just simply overseeing student crews, that I felt like people started to realize that I do have some important things to say.

But, I LOVE working with the students. We have a very diverse department, and there’s a sense of pride I feel in that because it is most definitely not common, especially in the theatre world. Plus, we make great productions. I’m definitely proud of the work that they put into these shows. It’s not easy. A majority of the students there are not only full-time students, but they work part time (some of them almost full time), and are in rehearsals. When I was a student, I was definitely privileged enough to not need to work while in school. I got to go to school, then go to rehearsal, and not have to worry too much about bills or rent. So, I applaud them for being able to accomplish all of that. Their hard work does not go unnoticed. I know it seems like the faculty, myself included, gives them a hard time, but it’s only because we want them to strive at what they do, and to aim higher than the bar that they’ve set for themselves. 

Jade calling To Kill a Mocking Bird at Nevada Conservatory Theatre
Jade calling To Kill a Mocking Bird at Nevada Conservatory Theatre




How important do you feel having a Master's degree is in your field?
To me it’s felt important because it’s definitely brought more attention to my resume. I’ve also been able to meet more people that I know I wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for my education. It’s especially helped me get my job in academia, since it’s something that I know I’ve always wanted to do.

Do you feel that the theater can be an effective means of protest, even in challenging itself?
Most definitely, but I think the more important issue right now is investigating how we can make theatre more accessible to people. We want to educate people on these issues, but how can we reach out to those who can’t afford for it? That’s where I think the challenge is.  I’ve read all these plays that have existed for years, and while they tackle such heavy issues, I feel like they continue to circulate within the theatre, but have never gone outside of the community.

Can you describe times in which you have experienced discrimination in your workplace that may not be overt, but still harmful?
Micro-aggressions are such an important thing that I don’t even know where to begin. People make more “minor” jokes that seem harmless to them, but for me I’m so tired of it that I just kind of roll my eyes and go, “Wow really?” Like do you really have to joke that you know more about Asian culture than I do? No, I don’t know anything about Pokemon, but I know you’re blocking better than you do right now. Stuff like that.  I’ve also noticed that people tend to think that I’m this docile, innocent person. I’m not sure if it has to do with my ethnicity, or even because of my small stature, but they get surprised at how outspoken I can be as a person. I was raised by very strong women. We cuss, we don’t like to let anyone push us around, we speak our minds. So, when the time comes, and I come at them with a “Hey don’t do that” they get almost startled. What’s worse is when others think it’s cute, so they don’t take what I have to say or do seriously. Luckily, that doesn’t happen very often. I don’t want to say that it makes me want to give up, but it has definitely chipped at my confidence before.