Russwin Francisco on Art, Creativity and Receiving LA TI DO’s 2019 Joel Markowitz Award

Russwin Francisco. Photo courtesy of LA TI DO.

LA TI DO Productions will present its second annual Joel Markowitz Award at LUCKY: A 7th Anniversary on January 28, 2019. Russwin Francisco, a film actor, producer and business owner, was chosen to receive this year’s Joel Markowitz Audience Appreciation Award. DC Metro Theater Arts had the opportunity to interview Russwin to learn more about his connection to LA TI DO and the local theater scene.

How does it feel to be receiving the Joel Markowitz award?

I am humbled and honored to receive the Joel Markowitz award. I am in awe, really.

How did you originally get involved in the DC theater scene?

I fell in love with the theater and the arts at a very young age. My family was very musical, my mother sang opera and my father idolized Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. My great aunt, who founded the Philippine Concert Choir, was my first vocal coach, I was a boy soprano. Soon, I was in musicals and community theater. I participated for the love of it. As an adult, my favorite outing is to see live theater, musicals, Broadway, independent films. I especially enjoy having a meal after and discussing with friends what artistic and creative thoughts, feelings got stirred by the show.

I started singing jazz in 2009. It is somewhat a healing exercise for me—this might seem strange coming from a Filipino—but jazz connects me to my dad, we are somewhat estranged by several thousand miles and emotionally. When I sing Sinatra, I feel closer to my dad.

Don Mike Mendoza, Russwin Francisco and Regie Cabico. Photo courtesy of LA TI DO.

From your perspective, what makes La Ti Do special?

I promise I won’t be too political here. In 2017, the Trump administration proposed a national budget that includes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA operates with a budget of about $150 million a year. This represents less than half a percent of the federal budget. I have done my share of protest, mostly by writing letters to our reps in congress and encouraging activism among my friends.

In this political climate, where the value of art is being debated among lawmakers, LA TI DO is a necessary platform to showcase how art enriches our lives. LA TI DO not only brings us joy and entertainment, it and other avenues of creative expression offer a reprieve from life’s burdens, perhaps even illuminate a way to understand them. Artists play a distinctive role in society. They create paths for thought exploration, broadening and deepening our perspectives. They help us challenge the status quo, rise against structures of social and political oppression. Art teaches us that all lives have value.

What is it about La Ti Do that keeps you coming back as an audience member?

I met Don Mike Mendoza and Regie Cabico in 2012. I happen to operate a jazz lounge at the time and wanted to make Monday nights standout from the available “things to do in town.” Don Mike and Regie’s enthusiastic cabaret idea where showtunes and spoken word collided was offbeat, inspired and bohemian enough for me to give it a go. Thus, the DC Filipino mafia was born. Seven years later and a few venue shifts, there is nothing in Washington that is like LA TI DO.

I keep coming back because it is fun. It is cutting edge. And it is crucial to support artists and the arts, especially when they are under attack.

Russwin Francisco. Photo courtesy of LA TI DO.

Are you involved with any other DC performing arts or production companies outside of La Ti Do?

I recently completed filming Nanay Ko, an independent musical feature by Mallorie Ortega. I had a walk on part but it was so satisfying to be a part of a watershed moment. Mallorie is a talented writer and director with a beautiful vision of Asian-American representation in film. She’s one to watch.

In December, I was in a one-act, Fantasy Roadtrip by Xian Mao, part of the DC Queer Theatre Festival. I shared the stage with Patty Pablo, a young talented actor. Don Mike Mendoza directed the play which dealt with issues of mental illness and gender identity as they occur in some Asian-American families.

Any closing remarks?

Joseph Campbell, who coined the phrase, “Follow your bliss,” once said, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

I believe this is why we have theater, art, actors and creative expression. They allow us to see who we truly are—a mere glimpse can be an ecstatic experience.

LUCKY: A 7th Anniversary featuring Russwin Francisco, the 2019 LA TI DO featured artists and DJ JDVBBS will take place on Monday, January 28th, 2019 from 7 pm to 12 am at Bistro Bistro Restaurant – 1727 Connecticut Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, go online.

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