The primary Stages Off-Broadway Oral history Project

Celebrating the visionaries who created New York's vibrant Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater.

Ralph B. Peña

Ralph B. Peña

Founding Member Ma-Yi Theatre Group, Director, Playwright, Actor

Interviewed on: Thursday, January 26, 2017
Location: Primary Stages Offices
Interviewed by: Casey Childs
Interview #89
"The key thing here is, I got to connect this idea of theatre as a social instrument, of engaging people in conversation and getting them to mobilize, getting them to act…we were out to shatter this audience-spectator relationship. It was never a passive thing…and we did it with no money."
Ralph B Peña Highlights
Video Length: 3 Minutes, 54 Seconds
Ralph B Peña Interview
Video Length: 1 Hour, 41 Minutes

Ralph B. Pena, a Philippine playwright, director, actor is a Founding Member and Artistic Director of Ma-Yi  Theater Company. Ma-Yi, created in 1989, currently produces Philippine playwrights nurtured from its membership.  Among his plays are: ALAMAT, CINEMA VERITE, FLIPZOIDS, LOOSE LEAF BINDINGS, PROJECT:BALANGIGA  and, THIS END UP. In New York his work has been seen at Lincoln Center, NAATCO, La Mama E.S.T., NYSF/The Public, across the country and the Philippines and Romania. He received an OBIE for directing Lonnie Carter’s THE ROMANCE OF MAGNO RUBIO. He is a member of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab, and Ensemble Studio Theatre.

Pena, born in Manila, grew up during the Marcos regime. While in Catholic school he questioned the doctrines of the church, leading him to seek like-minded people outside of school. He helped found a street performance group called Bodabil [renamed Peryante] with Chris Millado. They did ‘relevant theatre’ using the news headlines or classical playwrights whose work reflected on the times, like Jarry and Brecht. Fritz Bennewitz, of the Berliner Ensemble was teaching in the Philippines at this time, and worked with the company.  Pena now saw theatre as a social instrument mobilizing the audience. He witnessed the assassinated body of Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. being brought into the Aquino home and realized his life as an activist put him in peril. In 1984 he moved permanently to California, where his father already lived. 

Mentioned in Interview

Loy Arcenas, Fritz Bennewitz, Eric Bentley, Lonnie Carter, Terese Hayden, Warren Leight, Lisa Peterson, Ellen Stewart, George C. Wolfe, Blue Heron Theatre, Circle in the Square, Classic Stage Company, Judith Anderson Theatre, La Mama E.T.C., NYSF/The Public, Theatre Communications Group, Theatre for a New Audience, ALAMAT, BIKE AMERICA, CINEMA VERITE, DOG EATERS, FLIPZOIDS, JESUS IN INDIA, LOOSE LEAF BINDINGS, NO FOREIGNERS BEYOND THIS POINT, PROJECT: BALANGIGA, THE ROMANCE OF MAGNO RUBIO, THE SQUARE, THIS END UP.