To say that Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) keep not only their families but also the Philippine economy afloat is an understatement. In 2016 alone, the hardworking OFWs were recorded to have remitted a total of $26.9 billion. If that’s not astonishing enough, the amount actually made up 9.8-percent of the country’s gross domestic product for the same year.
However, behind this winning figure are the disheartening predicaments of OFWs—danger in their workplace, unjust wages and threat of racism and sexism, among many others. As such, these workers coming home in awful situations—both physically and emotionally battered—are not unheard of.
It is in this light that the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) has partnered with Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to present the special run of “Caredivas: An Original Pinoy Musical.” Running until July 30 at the Peta Theater Center in Quezon City, the musical pays tribute to all OFWs or, as rightfully labeled, the present-day heroes of the Philippines.
Portraying real heroes
In the heart of the disarmingly funny and candid musical drama are five transgender OFWs in Israel who work as care givers in the morning and transform into glamorous drag queen performers at night. There’s the kind and loving Chelsea, the often-sarcastic group leader Shai, the ditzy Thalia, the bubbly Kayla, and the ill-tempered Jonee.
The audience is introduced to Shai, the leader of their performing group, D’ Nightingales, who is always haunted by the image of her mother who expects so much from her. Kayla, meanwhile, is always transferring employers and has become an illegal migrant worker.
Then there’s Thalia and Jonee who join the group to perform in small time joints just so they can release their creativity. At the core of Caredivas is Chelsea, who seems to have it all—a very tolerant and kind employer and a potential lover.
With these divas’ eclectic mix of characters, the audience can only be guaranteed of a riot on stage. They have the funniest lines, the most comic nuances and even innuendos that once the audience catches, make the theater holler.
The chemistry between Melvin Lee (Chelsea), Vince de Jesus/Ron Alfonso (Shai), Jason Barcial (Thalia), Jerald Napoles/Gio Gahol/Ricci Chan (Kayla) and Phil Noble/Thou Reyes (Jonee) was evident that even during scenes where they have to improvise, their banter remains seamless.
Beyond acting, Caredivas has the recipe of a box-office hit, thanks to the outstanding original music of de Jesus—the actor who also serves as the musical’s lyricist, composer, arranger and musical director—and the expertise of Leo Abayas (set designer), Jonjon Villareal (lighting designer), John Abul (costume designer) and Carlo Pagunaling (costume assistant designer), Carlon Matobato (choreographer) and Gimbey dela Cruz (vocal coach).
Heart of the musical
But remove the comedy, the music and the visual spectacle and what remain is the sad—and often overlooked—struggles of OFWs.
By definition, caregivers, also known as home health or personal care aides, give assistance to people who are sick, injured, mentally or physically disabled, or the elderly and fragile. As such, caregivers must be compassionate, possess stamina and must be very conscious of time management.
Their job descriptions include bathing and bathroom functions, walking and light exercise, plan and prepare meals, feeding, grooming and taking medication. But because OFWs will naturally go the extra mile, they go beyond their job description to give comfort to their patients and the families they are serving. They go as far as accomplishing housework like making beds and change linens, dusting and vacuuming, laundry and ironing.
Problem arises when their employers take advantage of their kindness, or sometimes, in the case of illegal workers, their statuses. As a result, they are made to work overtime, they are paid with barely minimum wages and are threatened to be reported to immigration officials after resisting or making the tiniest mistakes.
While it maybe comforting to think that their plights are fictitious and are presented onstage only for the purpose of the show, these problems are real for the country’s heroes.
Truly, Caredivas is a roller-coaster ride for the audience—they will laugh, they will cry; they may leave the theater with punch lines they can definitely use in outside conversations but they too may get up on their seats with heavy hearts.
Watching the Caredivas may not immediately resolve the problems of caregivers, of OFWs in general. However, taking time to watch the show and filling the venue to the brim hopefully makes them realize that people back home actually care to hear their stories.