Don Mike Mendoza can be seen managing the internship program in the School of Communication dean’s office, but that’s just his day job. When he’s not busy in McKinley, Mendoza is hard at work curating acts for and performing in his very own cabaret.
Mendoza is an AU alumnus himself; he received his bachelor’s degree in musical theater and broadcast journalism in 2010. After graduating, Mendoza started working while also getting involved in the D.C. performing arts community. He was having trouble finding any substantive roles to showcase his talent for singing and performing. Most of the roles in musical theater for Filipino men were in the ensemble or simply stereotypical characters rather than what Mendoza describes as a real Filipino person.
“You have to find a way to showcase yourself because it’s not gonna come to you,” Mendoza said.
Instead of getting discouraged, Mendoza decided to take matters into his own hands.
In the summer of 2011, Mendoza started developing his own cabaret project, “La-Ti-Do.” Cabaret is a form of entertainment that features singers, dancers, poetry and drama. Cabarets are usually held in restaurants or pubs as performers do their pieces on the floor with the audience while people dine.
Mendoza was testing out his own show at various locations around D.C. while simultaneously performing in local productions when he met his future co-host, fellow actor Regie Cobico. The future co-founder of “La-Ti-Do” had an extensive background in spoken word. Cabico has been featured on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” as well as MTV’s “Free Your Mind” Spoken Word Tour. He has also won several National Poetry Slams and is published in various anthologies. The two men blended their passions to collaborate on a new project that combined music and spoken word.
“La-Ti-Do” officially debuted in 2012 and was met with critical acclaim by D.C.’s artistic community. Initially, Mendoza and Cobico had to scout talent and enlist the help of their performer friends to put together a show. After they started to gain a reputation, singers, actors and spoken word artists began approaching them for the chance to be a part of the weekly cabaret.
Unlike most performances in D.C., “La-Ti-Do” runs every every week rather than every month, which means Mendoza is constantly producing. No two shows are ever the same; each week different artists are featured as guests or spotlights and co-hosts. Mendoza and Cobico always set aside five minutes for themselves to perform a song or recite a piece.
“We're unique in the fact that we don't compete with theater or spoken word programming in town..."
“We don’t want to be on a pedestal away from our performers,” Mendoza said.
The purpose of “La-Ti-Do is to give artists the chance to showcase their talent to the D.C. performing arts community and network with other performers and producers.
“We book people on the principle that you are good, that you know your art,” Mendoza said.
As a performer, Mendoza understands the struggles of the business, so La-Ti-Do serves as his gift to fellow artists and performance lovers.
Even while working hard to put on an amazing show each week, Mendoza has time to help out at his alma mater. In 2014, Mendoza returned to SOC to manage the SOC Dean’s internship office. He is also the registrar for the World of Communication program.
Mendoza and his partner perform. Courtesy of Don Mike Mendoza.
However, this does not mean that he is any less involved in “La-Ti-Do.” In fact, “La-Ti-Do” started touring in New York City in 2013, using its alumni network to secure a venue and performers. Now the New York version is steadily building up its reputation while featuring Broadway actors, composers and singer/songwriters.
Mendoza said he hopes to grow “La-Ti-Do” into an organization with different chapters in major cities all over the country. Right now, he has his sights set on Los Angeles.
“La-Ti-Do” happens every Monday at 8 p.m. at James Hoban's Irish Restaurant & Bar. Mendoza encourages all aspiring performers to get involved, even AU students.
Mendoza also said he thinks many people in the musical theater and spoken word community believe “La-Ti-Do” fills a void because it is more structured than an amateur open mic night but not as highly professional as a staged production.
“La-Ti-Do” provides a place for artists to go to network with one another and showcase their work. It is so beloved by the community that last month when Mendoza and Cobica lost their space, artists and major theaters in the area all came together and, within five days, ensured that “La-Ti-Do” would have a venue, Mendoza said.
Based on the overwhelming positive response Mendoza has received over the past three years, his show has potential to make it very far. Mendoza said he hopes to grow the show’s partnerships with other local community organizations like Shakespeare Theatre Company and Studio Theatre. Eventually, he said, he wants “La-Ti-Do” to be the D.C. version of New York’s famed 54 Below nightclub.
“We're unique in the fact that we don't compete with theater or spoken word programming in town because we are multi-disciplinary, so we want to be a place where any and all artists and organizations can feel they can self-promote and also connect with others,” Mendoza said.