Celebrated theatre artist and Palanca Award winner Mars Cavestany recalls his pioneering initiatives for the LGBTQI community and salutes the new crop of Filipino talent - from dancer-choreograher Victor Valdez to production outfit Flagcom - for continuing the advocacy efforts.

VICTOR VALDEZ to me has become one of the leading exponents of, and verily a guidepost to, the general state and panoramic purview of the artistic and cultural milieu in NSW with a focus on the Filo commune in all its magnificent vicissitudes and erratic behaviourism.

Essentially delighting in dance (like the Greek mythological Terpsikhore, one of the nine Muses/goddesses of dance, music and song), he is likewise most-sought-after as an all-rounder- mover- choreographer apart from being a distinguishably arresting regular dancer himself often partnering his one, alluring, true Muse in the person of Ms. Mellie Valdez.

Thanks heaps and love lots. It was only Victor who took time out to sound me off and invite me to their group's latest outing - tripping the light fantastic, to use a cliché, as they rocket through another multicultural, eclectic, super-charged beauty pageant in time for this year's worldly-wide-awaited Sydney Mardi Gras enshrining the theme "CREATING EQUALITY."

Although I am no longer an active contributor-participant to the present state of the arts in our community at large, I am behoved, as a far more senior artist to wish Victor and his gang from Flagcom Australia - ALL THE BEST!

What is more, and in return to Victor's felicitously courteous gesture, I have written this paramountly relevant and special article accompanied by a repost of their latest project on my precious FB-timeline. Truth to tell, this is the very first time, since my semi-retirement, that I am actually promoting a primarily Filipino-spearheaded cultural event in our community.

I am doing this precisely as I intend this to serve as a warm embrace as much as a gentle tap on the shoulders of the collective batch of much younger, perhaps more militant, and infinitely endowed creative gay artist-leaders who have come after me -- such as the likes of (Not necessarily in proper artistic pecking order of a billing, this!) - Alberto Dimarucut (currently back in Manila teaching at UP and finishing higher studies), Albert Prias (the famous Albie Pri who steers Flagcom), Charles Chan, Brian Lorenz and Marcus Rivera, amongst others.

Intoning President Duterte's "I hate drugs" campaign, I too detest the concept of a beauty pageant per se. Thus, I have steered away from such "kabakyaan" (no English word captures such a Filipino expression unfortunately) in running FILIPINAS-PETALS, the first formally constituted artist's collective composed largely of professional and semi-professional actors-singers-total performers within the Filo commune in NSW which had its heydays for a decade or so from 1994 to 2006. We concentrated on serious theatre -- staging legitimate, original Filipino plays and adaptations as well as musical theatre productions, including meaningful co-productions with various Filipino organisations.

Many of these co-production ventures were "beauty pageants" in nature, but in principle, I opted to revolutionize the concept to make them more relevant to the times and attuned to the prevailing realities and burning issues of the day not to mention the world of a difference in terms of staging in the highest standards of professionalism and acceptable theatre norms that I as an Artistic Director has been drilled and diligently trained -- both in terms of higher education and matching over 40 years of professional theatre practice.

Thus, I know whereof I speak. in theory and practice.

I recall three major beauty pageants with-a-difference, which I introduced in NSW. Firstly, there was "LUZVIMINDA", which I baptised in Wollongong under the aegis of the Illawarra Women's group using Dr. Merlinda Bobis poetic verses laden with women-and-other politically-infused issues plus Freddie Aguilar's classic "Anak" song in a pastiche of speech choir-cum-music theatre, costume fashion pageantry, talent quest competition that involved the women-contestants more intelligently than just the usual catwalks and senseless Q-A portion, challenged as they are, to research and deliver short talks on matters of earth-shaking importance.

Secondly, there was the blueprint exemplary model for my first and only purely gay-themed and participated "Search for Outstanding Gay Models, staged in situ - or what I believed was the right and proper venue at Midnight Shift, Oxford Street -- the home, heart, and soul of the so-called LGBTQI (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, queer and intersex) communities.

Thirdly, and finally, the most recent "2005 Search for Miss Australasian" (that has evolved into the "Pageant of the World 2016") where I authored the concept and laid out an example of production techniques in staging a brisk, distinctly different, and an eminently unforgettable (both on the part of contestants and audiences alike) beauty pageant anchored on the Trinitarian mottoes of excitement, enrichment and engagement.

In ending, I wholeheartedly endorse Flagcom's untiring efforts in showcasing diversity, ethnicity, and specificity - highlighting the condition of gays, bisexuals, transgenders, queers, and intersex people's being peculiar individuals and of rallying the audiences at the same time catalysing changes in areas in which we are still NOT TREATED EQUALLY.

For my parting shot, I wish for Flagcom Australia to shine its spotlight even more brightly on the ways and means you can work together to totally eliminate discrimination and prejudice in all its guises and forms most especially within our very own Filipino community.

Mars Cavestany is a PhD scholar in theatre arts and founding Artistic Director of Filipinas-PETALS Community Theatre Ensemble, operating in NSW, Australia.

Images from Facebook: Mellie Valdez, Irvin John and Bob Reyes.

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