California - North: Jeannie Barroga

Honoring Culture, Honing Craft

Wide low angle view of an elderly man doing calligraphy writing using a nib pen and ink

Jeannie Barroga has been called “a prototype of a new American playwright … writing from the hub of a hundred cultural intersections" (Robert Kelley, former artistic director of TheatreWorks). Barroga is a playwriting mentor through StateraArts, a champion of San Francisco Bay Area Filipinx theatre, and an award-winning playwright whose papers were recently preserved in the archives at Stanford University Green Library Special Collections. Her works are published by Amherst Press, Routledge Press, and more.

As her career got underway in the early 1980’s, Barroga established Playwrights Forum, a workshop for new work in Palo Alto, CA. In its first two years, she dramaturged and presented readings of sixty plays.

“As a new playwright, I studied everything. I would sweep theatres, run the booth, make sound cues, stage manage, and staff the box office. I wanted to learn every aspect of theatre to inform the plays I write.” Playwrights Forum led to employment at TheatreWorks. Barroga became their first Literary Manager, one of three women of color at that time in similar theatre positions in the Bay Area. She also served as the first Literary Manager for Oakland Ensemble Theater.

The Bay Area boasts many talented Filipinx and other actors of color. “I often heard the same excuse for not doing one of my plays: We can’t cast it,” Barroga says. “They can today. Over the years, other artists and I have encouraged theatres to hire specific people of color.” For subjects, Barroga focuses on Politics, Art, and Women and is gratified representing her Filipinx culture onstage. “There are so many worlds which audiences may not understand until they’ve seen them. Cultures are diminished. The stage helps people discover them.”

Barroga’s plays have been produced locally and nationally at theatres and universities such as BAPF, Bindlestiff Studio, Brava! Center for the Arts, El Teatro Campesino, Genseng, Mark Taper Forum, MIRA, New World, NWAAT (Seattle), Northside, Pan Asian (NYC), and Warehouse Rep. Asian American Theater Company produced Walls (recipient, NEA Access to Artistic Excellence Award). Walls’ message about war’s devastating consequences has affected audiences – especially veterans - from Amherst to the Sacramento Capitol Mall’s Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, and even at sea.

Barroga lights up when discussing her play Buffalo’ed, the story of Black U.S. Buffalo Soldiers sent to quash a rebellion in 1899, who defected to join Filipinx nationalists (recipient, Wallace Alexander Gerbode and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Foundations grants). The project sadly lost its producers. Barroga persevered. “The story is too important. Choreographer Alleluia Panis and I wouldn’t let it go.” Buffalo’ed premiered at San Jose Stage, and was produced again at Kumu Kahua Theatre (Honolulu). “Lately, there’s renewed interest in it.”


INSET (top): David Arrow (AEA); Amielynn Abellera (AEA) Buffalo'ed Premiere 2012, San Jose Stage Company, San Jose, CA.

Buffalo'ed 2017 production, Kumu Kahua Theater, Honolulu, HI:
L-R: Geph Albo, Jr.; Rodney Osorio; Viviann Kapua'ala; Danielle Zalopany; Michelle Umipeg; Max Holtz;
Victoria Brown-Wilson; Jason Kanda; Jonathan Clarke Sypert; "Q"; Joseph Kingsley

INSET (bottom): Jonathan Clarke Sypert; Joseph Kingsley; "Q"


She is currently compiling a book about Filipinx theatre artists in the Bay Area called Katatagan: Endurance. With her fruitful creative career, Barroga has “paid her dues” — including to the Dramatists Guild — till 2019. “I’m proud to have stuck around, can say I’m a playwright, and I’m now a Lifetime Member of the Dramatists Guild of America.”