‘Here Lies Love’ actor Jose Llana on why the dark history of Philippines’ martial law must be shared

‘Here Lies Love’ actor Jose Llana on why the dark history of Philippines’ martial law must be shared‘Here Lies Love’ actor Jose Llana on why the dark history of Philippines’ martial law must be shared
via Here Lies Love
When veteran Broadway actor Jose Llana walked into the audition room for musician and writer David Byrne’s musical “Here Lies Love,” he declared, “I’m the blood of two major anti-Marcos activists, and I’m here and I would like to play your Ninoy Aquino.”
Llana, 47, entered with such bravado and authority that the creative team likened the personality to that of former Philippine president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos
The immersive musical with an all-Filipino cast narrates the rise and fall from power of the Philippines’ former First Lady Imelda Marcos. The Marcos regime’s rule is considered one of the darkest chapters in Philippine history after its 14-year period of martial law from 1972 to 1981. During this period, the administration engaged in a series of human rights abuses in targeting activists, journalists, religious workers, political opponents and citizens.
Llana, who was born in the Philippines in 1976, fled to the U.S. when he was 3 years old along with his parents, Florante and Regina, and his older sister to escape martial law. According to Llana, Florante and Regina were part of the First Quarter Storm in 1970 as college activists who protested on the Mendiola Bridge. His mother was fortunate to be offered a job at UNICEF in New York and later a job at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC. Their family eventually moved to Northern Virginia, where Llana was raised in a tight-knit Filipino community. 
“I’m very grateful that my mom and dad raised us with a full understanding and knowledge of why we left and who the Marcoses were,” Llana tells NextShark. “And I remember being 7 years old with the image of [Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr.] on the tarmac in ‘83 really burned in my brain.”
via Jose Llana
Aquino, who was a senator of the Philippines, helped form the leadership of the opposition against Marcos. Aquino was arrested during martial law and was incarcerated for seven years before he was permitted to be exiled in the U.S. But as the country’s situation worsened, Aquino decided to return despite numerous threats. Aquino was assassinated on live TV upon his return on Aug. 21, 1983. His death revitalized the opposition to Marcos, leading to the EDSA People Power Revolution and Aquino’s wife, Corazon, emerging as the 11th president of the nation.  
“[‘Here Lies Love’] is a piece of our country’s trauma that unfortunately, a lot of people don’t want to talk about,” Llana says.

“And I think that’s the trap. Because not enough people talk about it, a lot of misinformation is out there that it never happened or it was some kind of glory time in the Philippines. And that’s how people get elected. They create these myths about this ‘glorious time.’”

via “Here Lies Love”
Llana’s passion for singing and performing in high school eventually led him to the world of musical theater. He was inspired by Lea Salonga’s Tony win in 1991 for “Miss Saigon,” which put Filipino artists on the global map. He has starred in Broadway’s “The King and I,” “Rent,” “Flower Drum Song” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” The veteran actor also joins Salonga on the “Here Lies Love” stage, where she marked her producer debut and first Filipino role in a Broadway musical.  
Although Llana did not get the role he initially wanted, he said he is committed to presenting an authentic narrative about the Marcos regime and its consequences. He has dedicated his performance to his family and to the thousands of lives lost before the People Power Revolution. He believes that the Broadway show serves as a platform for educating and encouraging people to delve deeper into the history and current administration of the Philippines, where Marcos’ son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., currently serves as the nation’s president. 
via “Here Lies Love”
Llana says that the immersive aspect of the “Here Lies Love” show is intended to engage the audience actively in the story, allowing them to experience the events as if they were living through them. He encourages audience members to think about their role in the events playing out in front of them, which can vary depending on whether one is standing on the floor or sitting in the balcony.
He also discusses the audiences’ interpretations of the show and its connection to political beliefs, saying that people often see what they want to see and may choose to ignore certain aspects of the performance. 
“I remember someone came up to me afterwards and they said, ‘I want to thank you for making Marcos so sexy and lovable,’” Llana shares. “It was a lesson that people see what they want to see and if they’re seeing something they don’t necessarily want to see or listen to, they will literally block it out or they will ignore the last five songs of the show. And that’s true for politics.”
However, he hopes audiences understand the importance of differentiating between fact and misinformation, particularly in the age of social media. He mentions that journalist Maria Ressa‘s book, “How to Stand Up to a Dictator,” played a crucial role in his understanding of the effects of social media on information dissemination. 
“I think the trap that’s happening with social media in the Philippines is that people are clicking on false stories and it’s replacing history and it’s replacing what really happened,” Llana says. “With politics, they’re so polarizing in Manila and everywhere in the world. What’s important is for people to understand what the truth is and to make sure that the decisions you’re making about voting are based on the actual truth about what happened.” 
While Llana stresses that “Here Lies Love” may not provide the most detailed history lesson about martial law and the Philippines, he says that “we have to tell the story to make sure martial law doesn’t happen again.”
Llana takes pride in the show’s significant achievement of reaching 20% Asian American attendance in August, which is a substantial increase compared to the average AAPI attendance of a little over 1% for Broadway shows. “It shows to the broader producing Broadway public that you can tell an Asian story and people will come see it,” he says. 
While reflecting on the lack of Asian role models in the 90s, Llana encourages young Asian American actors to persevere and tell their own stories in the entertainment industry. 
“No one empowered me to tell me you don’t just have to play other characters. You can write your own story,” Llana says.

“I’ve never felt more proud to stand on a stage with fellow Filipinos and to tell our story proudly and then to go home and have a message from my mom on my phone saying that a friend of hers had seen the show that night and they had a long conversation about it. That just means the world to me, you know, especially in the in the Filipino American community. It means the world to me and that they can get a little closer to their heritage and their history because of our show that created that need for conversation.”

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