Erica Cawagas was one of 17 recipients of the 2017 Cultural Diversity in the Arts project grant, as announced by the Edmonton Arts Council (EAC) last February. This project grant was established by the City of Edmonton through EAC “to recognize that artists from all parts of the world enrich Edmonton’s cultural scene. Grants will support the activities of individual, Edmonton artists for a specific time towards a specific project.” Erica’s grant is in support for “Emma - the Musical” of which she is the Musical Director and will premier on July 7, 2018 at the Myer Horowitz Theatre.
As the daughter of piano and rondalla teacher Roujea Cawagas Cates, it was inevitable for Erica to be caught in the music world. She started with the piano but it was only when she got hold of a guitar that she found this sense of rightness, of finding her soul instrument, the medium that would express her feelings and thoughts that she dared not express verbally. She also discovered that she could play by ear. Since then, Erica has played with the Filipino Canadian Saranay Rondalla group, and participated in Kiwanis Music Festivals. For post-secondary, she studied Music Composition at the Grant MacEwan University with the intent of performing in cruise ships, as a means to travel around the world. This shifted though when during the course of her studies, she discovered that she would much rather compose than perform, and was enthralled in the process of putting together different instruments. Erica describes her music as complex, melancholic and contemporary but influenced by the romantic period.
Right after finishing her Music Composition diploma, Erica went to Manila. There she did musical scoring for UNICEF children’s books, with Anne Curtis doing the live reading; and for the MathDali show under the Knowledge Channel Foundation. It was during this time that work on the Emma - the Musical commenced.
Emma - the Musical is based on Erica’s great grandmother’s stories on the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Written by her aunt Chie Floresca with music by Erica, Emma was originally intended as a mini-presentation for their great grandmother’s 95th birthday. Unfortunately, she passed away before her birthday. As a way to honour their matriarch, they resolved to make her stories a full-length musical. And this is where Erica has been devoting most of her time these days till its premiere here in Edmonton in July.
For someone who right off the bat declared that she does not do well expressing herself verbally, a face to face interview must have been uncomfortable, at the very least. In conversations, Erica tends to focus on facts and details, and appears hesitant to open up about emotions, fortifying her initial declaration. This is how you appreciate what her music is to her and how important a role it plays in her life. Music is her shield. “People can listen to my music and they can say what I want to say for me.” This hesitancy to verbally communicate, however, may be the only place she falters. For Erica is a person with dogged determination. With her music for Emma, in particular, she was able to galvanize a group of young singers/cast, long before the rest of the production aspects came into play. Working with her in my capacity as artistic director of the musical allows us artistic leeway, with musical arrangement requests being done right on the spot. Her sheer determination to mount this musical lead to her assuming a producer role on top of being a musical director. And her ambition enables her to acknowledge the necessity of overcoming her introvertness.
Erica is at the cusp of her music journey. Emma - the Musical is her biggest and most personal project so far. It is an ambitious project that not only benefits her artistic career but contributes to the Edmonton repertoire of Asian musicals. With Emma, she not only wants to share her great grandmother’s stories, but to bring to the forefront a period of Philippine history that is not often talked about. And for Erica, there will always be the aspiration to tour the musical to different cities and to stage it in a greater magnitude, with full orchestration. These, hopefully, may just become a reality soon.
Tickets for Emma - the Musical are on sale through Ticketfly. For more information, check the Emma - the Musical Facebook page. Emma - the Musical is under the Artistic Direction of Ida Beltran-Lucila, with Choreography and Musical Staging by Jojo Lucila, Script by Chie Floresca and Musical Direction by Erica Cawagas. The musical is presented by the Filipino-Canadian Saranay Association.
This article was published in the March 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.