There can only be one Ms. Titaverse. In between humorous sketches and parody songs, audiences are left to wonder: which Filipina will be the winner?
Ms. Titaverse is a musical comedy revue that incorporates its songs and sketches into the framework of a beauty pageant. The comedians compete for the title of “Ms. Titaverse” while they poke fun at Filipino quirks — like how aunties believe that Vicks VapoRub solves everything or how we all love boba tea.
I originally had tickets to Ms. Titaverse during their Fringe run earlier this year, but due to my busy schedule and a TTC mishap, I missed it entirely. I was excited to hear they were bringing the show back for a one-night performance at the Comedy is Art. Festival, run by The Theatre Centre and curated by liza paul.
The Tita Collective (Ann Paula Bautista, Belinda Corpuz, Ellie Posadas, Alia Rasul, Maricris Rivera) knows how to put on a show. Their handmade props and garish costumes augment the silliness of each skit, including a full plastic bag dress highlighted in a parody of Katy Perry’s “Firework.” The collective gives their all on stage, whether it be a Pride and Prejudice parody or a reenactment of LiveJournal diary entries. They dance, they sing, they scream, and more importantly, they answer why they should win the coveted title.
For me, a Filipina-Canadian woman, most of the humour is derived from how these comedians can accurately capture situations that hit close to home. In one sketch, a devout group gathers for mass to recite psalms from the Bible. As they pray, they reveal the psalms to be lyrics of popular karaoke songs, including Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All,” a song I know by heart thanks to karaoke. Filipino families often act like karaoke is sacred, and this comparison had me laughing out loud.
In another sketch, Rasul sings about how she wants a friend with a cottage. Frequently, children of immigrants yearn for the benefits of generational wealth and make jokes about befriending people with access to these benefits. I had similarly lamented about wanting a friend with a cottage to my roommate just the other day. The Titas’ reflection of this sentiment reminds me that these feelings are culturally shared.
There are many skits I love, but like any sketch comedy show, there are a few I don’t. Some sketches go on too long, or have an unsatisfying conclusion. In the aforementioned “Firework” parody, two of the comedians wave hand fans to keep a plastic bag in the air. While initially entertaining, I found the bit tiresome by the end.
There were also a few technical difficulties on this specific night of the festival. At certain times, mics did not operate, meaning audiences could not hear punchlines. The five people on stage dance and sing at the same time and I can only imagine the amount of lighting and sound cues the show must involve. In any event, the collective won me over with their charm and commitment to each bit despite the issues.
I can’t end this review without mentioning how much I appreciate the show being constructed around a beauty pageant. This structure adds an extra layer of irony and meaning.
The pageantry industry dominates in the Philippines. Young women are encouraged to fit beauty standards that are steeped in a colonialist history. Straight hair, thin bodies, and pale skin are all common traits of women who win these competitions. The industry also promotes a toxic, competitive culture, since there can only be one winner. And the person who can fit the image of the ideal woman is the one deemed the best.
The Tita Collective takes the concept of pageantry and smashes it into a million pieces. The Titas come in a range of sizes and personalities, and they work together to lift one another up, not tear each other down. They go against what it means to be a “perfect” Filipina. Often, I am self-conscious about my own shortcomings in relation to the idealized stereotypes. I am not thin and graceful. I am bumbling and clumsy. I am not quiet and proper. I am opinionated and annoying. I am not the spitting image of the perfect Filipina. But I am a Filipina, all the same.
In the end, the Titas announce an unconventional winner (no spoilers!) and celebrate with an audience-wide sing-a-long. As a Filipina-Canadian, I feel like I’ve also won. The Tita Collective pokes fun at some stereotypes, and breaks others completely. And through Ms. Titaverse, they teach us that, unlike what pageants want us to believe, when one Filipina wins, we all win. And we love to see Filipinas winning.
You can learn more about Comedy is Art. here.
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