Interview Jana Lynne Umipig of “The Journey of a Brown Girl”

Article By Andrew Edward Reyes
Phots credit: Chauncey Velasco

A native of Hawaii, Jana Lynne Umipig spent her childhood traveling back and forth between Honolulu and Stockton, California before attending UC Irvine as a Theater and Humanities major with a concentration in Asian American studies.  She received her Master’s from NYU’s Steinhardt Educational Theater Program, and continues to integrate Theater with Activism in New York City, as a self-styled “Art-ivist.”  Her experimental theater piece, “The Journey of a Brown Girl,” tells the story of her Filipino ancestry and speaks to issues of race, identity, and sexual politics.  “It’s not just a theater piece,” she says, “It’s a Movement.  I wanted to make sure that it was empowering to anyone who touched it; that it would serve a greater purpose that’s connected to who they are.  So, I started calling it ‘Brown Movement’ #brownmovement.”

“The theater itself is not revolutionary; it is rehearsal for the revolution” – Augusto Boal

Jana Lynne describes “The Journey of a Brown Girl” as a piece that grew out of conversations with Pinay wom*n, as part of her practicum in Educational Theater.  “I interviewed with mentors and leaders on what it means to be Pinay,” she says, listing individuals like Rocky Rivera and organizations like DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association, and the Center for Babaylan Studies: in particular, Leny Strobel, Letecia Layson, Baylan Megino, and Perla Daly. These conversations informed her process of creating a sisterhood building space, where Pinay wom*n could access the idea of becoming true leaders, and centers of community. Her current incarnation of “The Journey of a Brown Girl” features an all-Pinay cast and production team, including Production Manager Kirklyn Escondo, Assistant Director Renee Floresca, Costume Designer Inez-marie Galvez, Choreographer Leslie Hubilla, Lighting Designer Tina Cocadiz, Marketing Designer Karoleen DeCastro, Publicist Kristina Rudolfo, Set Designer Vanessa Ramalho, and Performers Precious Sipin and Karen Joy Pangantihon.

“I see myself in you, as you should see yourself in me, and we are one” – meaning of “kapwa”

Lynne’s work on “The Journey of a Brown Girl” and #brownmovement center around the idea of kapwa, or “togetherness,” the idea that we are all shared beings, one and the same.  This idea extends to her performers, who relate not only to the character that they’re playing, but to every character in the entire piece, and from the characters they play to all the wom*n previously interviewed, and the sisterhood circle that came before all the way back to their ancestors.  “I believe that we contain within our own vessel the traumas and triumphs of our ancestors,” she says.  “We carry our ancestors in our bodies.  When you relate to me, you also relate to my ancestors.  And if I look at every individual as a reflection of their ancestors, and the thousands of ancestors that came before them, then I can connect past with present, present with future.”

Modern Babaylan

Babaylan: A Visayan word for an indigenous Philippine religious leader who functions as a healer, a shaman, a seer, and a community miracle worker or a combination of any of those.  “That word helps me to stand taller in the person I want to grow into, the way I want to live,” says Lynne. “I carry the Babaylan with me.  As I become aware, I become intentional; I begin to take full control of the creation of my life, and as I delve deeper into finding out who I am, I deepen my connection to my ancestry of Babaylan.”

“The performance is only a piece of it,” she says.  “Everything that leads up to it and everything that happens after it is just as much a part of it.  In that sense, this performance aims to clear out the core limiting beliefs of the self, to allow the performers access to those images of wom*n that we all look up to, and to open themselves up to the community as empowered wom*n.”  She emphasizes that we can create change through intention, and that art can inform that intention.  This performance serves as the setting for creating a sustainable space for the performers’ mind, body, spirit, and pocket, as all the ticket sales go right back to the people who worked on it.

“This is the herstory that we will create for our daughters, to give back to our mothers, and pay homage to our ansisters, whose spirits dance in our words.  From brown girls to empowered Pinays, our voices will be heard.” – Jana Lynne Umipig, The Journey of a Brown Girl

“The Journey of a Brown Girl” runs March 14-16, 2014, at the Actors Fund Arts Center, 160 Schermerhorn st., Brooklyn, NY 11201. For more information, please visit:

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