Commentaries

MAE PANER PERFORMING “TAO PO” (PHOTO COURTESY RAFFY LERMA/NEW MANDALA WEBSITE: https://www.newmandala.org/deadly-answers-a-review-of-tao-po/)

In a stunning and well-crafted storytelling through performance, the Tao Po (Is Anybody Home?) monologues examine Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war and its fatal consequences. Beyond its capacity to provoke the audience, Tao Po can make us ask compelling questions.

Actor, activist, and researcher Mae Paner (also known as Juana Change) tells four stories formed around the actual lives of characters serialised in an hour of bare spectacle. These include a photojournalist who captured the drug war’s iconic Pieta image—a woman embracing the body of her summarily executed partner. Another monologue featured a Zumba instructor who witnessed the death of her husband and son during a drug-related police raid in their slum community. In the third segment, Paner portrayed a police officer/hired killer who is pushed to the limit and against his will in ensuring the killing of persons involved in illicit drug trade. Finally, we see the drug war through the eyes of a child, an orphaned girl who detailed how her parents and drug-dealing suspects were killed in front of her.

In narrating these lives, the medium is theatre and the actor’s body and performance and the minimal set transform the audience to witnesses, as if a jury hearing testimonies. Nevertheless, Tao Po is no different in telling, revealing, articulating, and marking the tales of these marginalised, often vulnerable, Filipino families at the centre of the drug war, just like histories, documentation, testimonies, academic research, or witness accounts embedded with stories of extrajudicial killings.

The performance at Melbourne’s Footscray Community Arts Centre provoked the audience, some of whom were sympathisers of Duterte. Many were emotionally triggered by this part-testimonial, part-theatrical, and part-documentary theatre. There was a general sentiment of anger after the show in that intimate blackbox theatre.

During the Q&A after the performance, emotions were rising as some of the audience members questioned the veracity of the large number of drug-related killings claimed by human rights advocates. Overall, there was a consensus among the people in that room after the performance that what is happening back home in the Philippines is truly disturbing.

Beyond sentimentalism, I see another value in the creative narration of the lives at the heart of the drug war, in this age of fake news and dysfunctional democracies. The monologues capture different perspectives and conflicting values that can make us ask difficult questions. I think that is the core of the four stories.

Extra-judicial killing is one of the obvious themes of this social-realist theatre. Yet, the theme does not offer simple answers to questions of accountability (Who is at fault?) or justification (Is it a reasonable battle? Is it justified to kill the source?). The artists behind Tao Po offered complicated answers by presenting the perspectives of untimely death through the lives left behind by the deceased. This not only relays a deep agony through the power of storytelling and theatre, but it can also ignite more deadly questions regarding this war on drugs.

Originally published at https://www.newmandala.org/deadly-answers-a-review-of-tao-po/

Poetry

Book: Ilang Sandali…Makalipas ang Huling Araw ng Mundo, University of the Philippines Press, 2019

As we witness and experience an unprecedented global event brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought of my poem from my book above, about the plight of daily wage earners in my poor country and the privilege of a young kid as he himself was having breakfast and being told to be careful of going outside. The following is a lose translation of the work that reflects what seems to be a desolate scene of this ongoing apocalypse.

Epidemic

            In a room a child was listening to the radio

while her mother prepared for his lunch at school:

rolls of pandesal with cheese and fruit juice in tetra pack.

He might be lucky, he got a lunchbox, but he was thinking

of his luckier classmates. Instead of bread and cheese and sugary

drink, they got some coins for their small wishes: salty junkfood,

a colourful toy gun, a bunch of hogplums, or boiled plantains.

His mother told him not to talk to any stranger and never, must never

go out of the classroom up the time he will be picked up.

            Satanists are said to be kidnapping children for their blood

to be spilled on a bridge being constructed in Dagupan. He was told never

to buy anything from the streetside vendors though in fact he was given

a five-peso coin, the foods there are dirty, her mom told. Oh well,

what’s the point of this coin, the kid thought. So he was thinking of siopao,

later from Aling Paring, the school’s unofficial food vendor

every nine am’s recess, who roamed around to sell her meals.

He was hoping Aling Paring would have Chinese pork bun that day. He then

imagined in his palm that lightweight heaviness and moist heat from that bread.

            In that vendor’s house, her four children had their breakfast, boiled sweet potato.

They were all given two-peso coins each in addition to their lunch of rice

and fresh carabaos’s milk. All the children bid goodbye to their mother

without the usual smile though with respect as they would need a five-kilometer walk

towards San Miguel Elementary School. Upon leaving, their mother would feel

her stomach churning and the white parts of her eyes reddening as if a dust piercing.

            In a few minutes, she would feel dizzy and lethargic. Thinking though

of her daily income and to provide food for her children, she would need to go through

despite this ill feeling. In a rush, she dropped one of the buns on the floor. She picked it up

and put it a single-use plastic bag and felt that her skin was warmer than the bread,

and her heart had that stabbing pain like a golden dagger piercing it while

she looks away at her four children walking slowly from their small thatched hut.   

EPIDEMYA

          Sa isang silid nakikinig ng radyo ang isang paslit

habang inihahanda ng kanyang ina ang baon sa paaralan:

pandesal na may palamang keso at juice na nasa tetra pack.

Maswerte sya, may baon sya, ngunit inisip nyang mas maswerte

ang mga kaklase. Imbis na pinalamanang tinapay at maasukal

na juice, me barya silang pambili ng kung anuman: maalat na chichiriya,

makulay na laruang baril-barilan, o ‘di kaya’y sinigwelas o nilagang saba.

Pinagbawalan sya ng ina na wag makipag-usap sa estranghero

at wag lalabas ng paaralan hangga’t hindi sinusundo.

          Laganap na naman ang Satanismo, nangunguha ng batang

iaalay sa bagong ginagawang tulay sa Dagupan. Wag na wag siyang

bibili ng anumang pagkain sa bangketa, kahit pa meron syang dalang

limang piso dahil marumi ang mga iyon, bilin ng ina. Para ke anupa’t

binigyan sya ng barya sa isip-isip nya. Kaya’t naisip nyang bumili ng siopao

mamaya ke Aling Paring, ang maglalako na umiikot-ikot sa paaralan

tuwing alas nuwebe at recess upang magbenta ng mga kakanin.

Sana ay may siopao na benta si Aling Paring. At tila naramdaman nya

sa mga palad ang magaang bigat at mamasamasang uri ng init ng tinapay.

          Sa bahay naman ng maglalako nag-agahan ang apat niyang anak ng nilupak.

Binigyan sila ng tig-dadalawang piso ng ina pandagdag sa baong kanin

na sinabawan ng gatas ng kalabaw. Nagpaalam ang mga anak sa ina

nang walang ngiti sa mukha ngunit may galang dahil limang kilometro ang lakad

pa-San Miguel Elementary School. Pag-alis ng mga bata, mararamdaman ng ina

ang pag-ikot ng sikmura at pamumula ng puti ng mata na tila may pumupuwing.

       Maya-maya pa ay makakaramdam siya ng pagkahilo at panghihina. Kailangan

pa rin nyang maglako at buhayin ang apat na anak kahit masama ang panlasa.

Sa pagmamadali nahulog ang isa sa mga ibebentang siopao. Dinampot nya iyon, inilagay

sa plastik na supot at naramdamang mas mainit ang kanyang balat kaysa sa tinapay

at sa kanyang puso, may tila isang ginintuang balaraw ang tumarak, habang masid niya

ang apat na anak na naglalakad palayo nang palayo sa kanilang munting barong-barong.

Prose

Morning New(s): Daily Blog, Digest, Reflection, and Whatever in between

24 March 2020: Sociality and Distance

How far should we put a gap between each other?

The protocols for each encounter, right now, is unprecedented. With this infectious disease  preventing us from mingling with each other, we are reminded of our greatest weakness as social beings. We can no longer enjoy the moment of being together, at least physically, including the prevalence of touch and intimacy and surface tension between each skin and friction. 

Social distancing, a new word invented for this duration, has been enforced in legislation, in speeches, and procedural interaction amidst this contagion. No more big weddings and grand banquets, carnivals and rituals, Sunday brunch or a good morning walk with children going to kinder classes. We are now reminded, in fact, forced to, distance ourselves, a metre and a half apart, from each other. Most of us, now, are working from home, connected and wired to devices, networks, intranet, call/video capable platforms while fidgety and distracted by other domestic worries. We don’t enjoy the usual moments with friends or lovers, dates and initial encounters, a horror flick or a stroll in the mall, lunch with co-workers or Friday night drinks and neon walk.

And for much many, this means hunger and inability to hustle and peddle and juggle casual shifts or bartend. This means a loss of gig, or that party as a clown or caterer. Events cancellation leads to not only a disruption of a wedding or a funeral but those precious work hours for the blue-collar and daily wage earner. The intimacy that exists today is not only limited to that relationship that leads to an offspring or a domestic and inclusive partnership. We now also exist in forming relationships around work, neighbourhood, political and community affiliation, ethnic or racial identity, school culture, family, religion, and networks. 

The virus and its contagion will force us to restructure the way we deal and transact and form a connection around these multiple groups and encounters. Or perhaps, it will force us to go deeper and see this configuration and eventually, will let us choose, which is the most important and enduring at times of crisis and social breakdowns.   

Research

Between Theatre and the Environment: The Experience of Cope/with/Land Theatre Co.

Published at GPS: Global Performance Studies (1.2), a peer-reviewed, online and interdisciplinary journal by Performance Studies International.

Figure 4

(.gif animation by Kulay Labitigan)

Excerpt:

In “Planetary Performance Studies,” Felipe Cervera proposes planetary thoughts around the historic and global diffusion of Performance Studies (PS): from its paradigmatic interdisciplinary origin and the growth of Performance Studies international (PSi), to Fluid States, a more multiple rethinking of the field through various localities, coordinates, and GPS (Global Positioning Systems / Global Performance Studies, referring both to the satellite technology and the journal). Cervera’s reflection on the field, brought about by his participation in PSi’s decentralized conferencing in 2015 (Fluid States — Performances of Unknowing), refers to the terrestrial, fluid (read: oceanic), and extra-terrestrial possibilities of PS as it veers away from the “narrative that perpetuates the discipline’s [anxious] history of behaving expansively, instead bringing forth in its place a narrative of multiple origins” (Cervera).

Indeed, a planetary perspective within or through PS, which borrows from ideas in critical humanities and thinkers like Gayatri Spivak and those mentioned in Cervera’s essay, should propel a PS that responds to global issues that affect very local, at times insular, communities. Planetarity extends the notion of “global” beyond socio-scientific and political models that produced the analytical frames of globalization and culture, earlier used by Arjun Appadurai (1996), and articulated as global and technological performances by Jon McKenzie (2001). We agree with Cervera’s point that multiple locations enact multiple views on globalization, theory production, and narratives, especially through networked, viscous, oceanic, orbital, and archipelagic metaphorization around frames of performance, performance studies, and PSi.

However, beyond these extensions of metaphors and allusion to a (perhaps, dying, catastrophic, or distressed) world, we would also like to think, in another planetary way, about how performance through theatrical acts reveals planetary dimensions and critical interventions beyond the obvious concerns of a world in crisis, destruction, and reconfiguration. Dramaturgically, we propose another mode of unravelling the aesthetic, creative, and highly critical role of theatre and performance through questions flagged by Elinor Fuchs. We do not need to go far, extra-terrestrially, beyond the orbits of a satellite to produce a map, or a highly advanced Global Positioning System, to visualize the planetary aspects of performance and theatre. The work of performance, once considered an activity within a planetary thinking, and as a scaled-down planet itself, could be the source of a very local experience that can contribute to a critical understanding of a global (eco)system and issues such as climate change.

Elinor Fuchs’ short essay, “EF’s Visit to a Small Planet: Some Questions to Ask a Play,” was originally written as a guide that she used to teach “Reading Theater,” a critical writing course at Yale University’s MFA Dramaturgy Program (Fuchs 5). It is divided into five thematic enquiries that examine a play. Within the first theme, “The World of the Play: First Things First,” she asks about the “world of the play,” either as it is read and imagined by a reader, or as it is seen by an audience. She wants a student, reader, or spectator to describe the physical world of the play, the space of the play, the inhabitants of this world, the climate, atmosphere, mood, physical characteristics, time, tone, and emotions found in this world (Fuchs 6-7).

In the next section of this essay, “The Social World of the Play: A Closer Look,” Fuchs enquires about the planetary makeup of a play through social constructs (class, historical milieu, conflicts) and ways humans perceive the material and biological world through interactions between people, people vs. animals, and humans vs. nature. She then asks how the world of play is constructed through language, reason, logic, metaphors, and forms of representation that make up culture (Fuchs 7).

Fuchs, in the third section, “What Changes?”, emphasizes the need to probe deeper into the changes that happen in that world/play, thus giving weight to the constant mobility, fluidity, looping (of an ecosystem), and movement within a networked and/or physical dimension of theatre, whether as an imagined narrative or a viewed spectacle (Fuchs 7).

Additionally, in “Don’t Forget Yourself,” Fuchs includes in her dramaturgical questioning the changes that happen to the viewer, reader, or spectator of this play, as well as the reflections and refraction created by the theatrical world of a play, thus emphasizing the connection of a specific world of a play to other possible worlds, or, as a fictional world may refer, to a “real” world (Fuchs 9).

Finally, in the section “The Character Fits the Pattern,” Fuchs ends with a stress on looking at patterns created either by the character of the planet or as the planet creates a pattern into which a character may fit (Fuchs 9). For us, this is another way of looking and locating a narrative, person(a), or performance in a complex world or planetary ecosystem. Thus, it is another way of creating a Global Positioning System through a dramaturgical examination of a (theatrical) performance.

It may sound basic, but Fuchs’ questions about the world of the play, such as what climate or atmosphere you imagine, or what is represented by the entire theatrical performance, augur what Cervera proposes as a planetary perspective in analysing a work of art, theatre, or performance. This is another way, map, or positioning that focuses on the dramaturgical analysis of an act, theatre, or performance, or what, for us, is a planetary examination between theatre and the environment.

In the next section of this essay, we examine a world/theatre that we created as a small and community-based theatrical company in the Philippines. We will use Fuchs’ basic dramaturgical questions to elicit answers as to how performance is used to reposition and examine a planetary locale. At the end of this essay, we would like to propose that — aside from obvious planetary concerns, issues, and metaphors fuelled by terrestrial, fluid/oceanic, archipelagic, continental, or globally systemic positioning — a scaled-down, or zoomed-in, view of performance could be a planetary mode of thinking and doing through theatre and performance. Furthermore, we argue that this mode generates ideas, narratives, and data that can be used to examine a problem such as global climate change through a very specific and local theatre experience. In the following section, we will narrate our short history and place as theatre-makers, and then dramaturgically examine three community theatre productions on the environment at various locations.

Read the full article here: GPS

Theatre Practice

IIC Promo flyer

“I AM/WE ARE”

Script, Direction, Development, and Production

I AM/WE ARE is a community theatre project that examines the often unrecognised lives of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities of the Western suburbs of Melbourne.  As part of the Inclusion, Identity, and connection program by the City of Wyndham, this one-a-half hour of storytelling through theatre and performance will connect us with the lives of migrants, refugees, young people, women, workers, students, and next generation Australians who consider this country a new, temporary, or permanent home.

Presented by Migrante Melbourne Inc. in cooperation with ALPA Melbourne, Australia Asia Performance Community Inc. (AAPC), Australian Karen Cultural Association Inc., African Family Services, and supported by Wyndham City Council and Arts Assist.

2 June 2018 at Laverton Community Hub @ 3:00 pm.

The production coordinating team composed of Filipino and Karen organisations.
Production meeting that lasted for a six month development of the project.
Rehearsal at Wyndham’s Youth Resource Centre.
Rehearsal at Wyndham’s Youth Resource Centre.
Rehearsal at Wyndham’s Youth Resource Centre.
Rehearsal at Wyndham’s Youth Resource Centre.
Performance from the Filipino community.
Singing of a Philippine Indigenous Song about Self-Dertemination, “On Potok.”
The story of the Karen People, their displacement and arrival in a new country like Australia.
Karen dancers performing dances in between storytelling.
A young performer telling the story of strife, struggle, and perseverance of the Karen people.
Two performers telling the story of the African Diaspora globally and in Australia.
Young Africans singing a community song in between stories of hope and settlement of migrants and refugees.
The meeting of the three stories and storytellers of ‘I am/We are…”