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Poetry

Three Love Letters Salvaged a Few Minutes After the Last Day of the World

Poems that I read at the Emerging Writers Festival 2018, Melbourne, Australia.

My dearest, tonight is the darkest deep. Sleep tight. Tomorrow this storm will pass. 
The flooding will subside. No one will be here. Tomorrow, the sky will burst and welcome 
the brightest day of our lives. Sunlight will pierce through the skin, will go through the sheath 
of this blanket. It will make everything pure. Our heart will then combust and the last to be consumed
by the flames will be our clothes and names and memory of this evening.
Perhaps, you and I will remember the reason why we were born and will die this way. 
Perhaps, a tear will fall and try to kiss gravity as all forms of water dissipate at this moment 
of love and death. Perhaps, I am with you, wrapped in your arms, my arms wrapped around your torso 
and we won’t feel the scorching degree of heat, unaware of the burning and yearning, 
as we begin to undress, skin to blood, bone to fragments, matter to dust.
And so, my dear, sleep tight, now that we are nearing the hour of the darkest part of night, 
now that we are being engulfed by this deep darkness, 
and as we wait for the final dreaming of this earth. 
Tomorrow, we will wake up a few minutes 
after this fever burning.
Is this what you call deluge, my love?
Fear is a breaking dam that has no warning signs on the restlessness of water
that will create a sea of passing, and amidst this, do we still think of where to go,
where to land, where to stay dry and safe once this flood reaches the upper part of the house?
You sleep like a baby, like an exhausted animal, and without any disturbance of this storm
and as I sleep and dream beside you after dinner, I have nothing but you as a life, vest, and body.
Well, let me cook you a warm dish, your most favourite food, chicken stir-fry in soy, ginger, 
and coconut cream with chillies. It is a bit bitter and sweet as there is a hint of burning
from the scorched flavour of the coconut milk at the bottom of the pan, a complex flavour.
And how about those who are outside, homeless and hungry people who shiver to death
now that the only way to survive this calamity is to huddle and bundle and hope?
How about the wealthy, the one with armoured mansions, and those with rafts ready
and sturdy, an unperturbed sense of privilege even by this most disastrous typhoon?
How will luxurious objects handle the flow of gravity and water, the most precious memory, a diamond
wedding ring, computers, smartphones, liquid crystal display, hi-fidelity speakers, and remote controls?
Are their thoughts like ours, same as how we breathe and wait and fear in anticipation?
We are trapped in this house though our love for each other is written in our poetry books,
tucked under the bed, embroidered in this couple knitted wear, worn on our skins as scars 
and scratches of our pet cat we buried a few months ago under a big acacia of our neighbourhood park.
What should be the right thoughts, ideas, and wishes while this storm is above us,
which objects and memories should be saved first while this city is no longer a safe place
but a watery womb and an extension of the Pacific, now that my thoughts are disturbed by the howls
and screams and the white static that I hear from noise of a black-and-white TV?
Maybe in the depth and stillness of your sleep, of our slumber after our dinner, an island will appear
and all my questions will be answered as I prepare the ingredients of this dish I am about to cook:
This is how we have been, this is us now, and this will be our future, a stillness and flow, 
love and scratches from the claws of a new pet, an evening dinner of a coconut cream-based dish,
only interrupted by this late century’s deadliest storm.
Please, wake up.
Tomorrow, I’ll invite you to a morning when the Sun has just exploded in what we think is the East.
Now that it is a supernova, all the deadly warmth and rays of the atmosphere will kiss our skin
and give us new sense and feelings. I’d like to have coffee with you on this early morning.
I will trace each moment, each surface, taste, depth, and decision, and the infernal possibilities
of melting bodies, evaporating air, combusting gaps and grasps and seconds of two organisms.
What would our conversation be? What will our biscuit, or toast, or jam, or jelly be? Will there be dew
and green grass? Will there be a crawling smog, or birds chirping, and persistent joggers?
I wonder how the noise will feel, how the sound will burn, how the light will enter our mouths
and burst like tickles or a flushed face. I imagine a very calm and silent morning amidst all the whirr and blurring.
It is then that I can finally say that you’re the first and the last person I’ve ever loved even if you never knew it.
I hope you’ll hear these words, ablaze. Fading in the whitest of white, blinding, burning, swirling from end to end.

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.

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(.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

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Examining Flow Through Auto-ethnography and Performance Studies: The Sinulog Festival in Cebu, Philippines

(Refereed and Published Article: AKDA, The Asian Journal of Literature, Culture, and Performance)

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ABSTRACT

The Sinulog Festival is a fiesta that happens annually in the city and island-province of Cebu, Philippines every December-January. It is a massive pilgrimage to the Santo Niño or the religious image of Christ figured as a child king and a tourist event full of dancing and festive performances. In this essay, I examine a small portion of this festival or the parade to interpret flow. The concept of flow in academic terms is fluid and multifaceted, having been construed in a number of ways in the social sciences and the humanities. Various studies have also cited flow as an explanation of mobility between transnational places. In this paper, I examine and locate flow not through global and transnational perspectives but within a localized and micro-perspective of performance studies and auto-ethnography. I suggest that flow in the Sinulog parade is an engaged participation and witnessing of people emplaced and performing in this event. This form of engaged participation and witnessing reveals a complex sociality by a performing public during a sacred and festive event within Cebu, Philippines. (full paper here: akda journal )

 

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Examining Flow Through Performance: The Sinulog Festival in Cebu, Philippines

(Doctoral Research, Monash University)

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This project aims to study flow through an auto-ethnography of performance of an annual cultural event. Every third week of January, Catholic devotees celebrate the feast of the Santo Niño, Jesus Christ figured as a child and king, on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. This religious event has been reinvigorated for more than three decades and is now called the Sinulog Festival. Sinulog, in the Cebuano language means to flow forcefully or move like currents. Events in this festival also evoke flow in the parades of dancing groups, devotees, religious icons, tourists, and spectacle. In this research, I describe the Sinulog from a number of perspectives and define flow as a multi-dimensional concept. My analysis explains flow not with a transnational view but at the micro-level or containment of performances at five different venues. These are the basilica, the streets during a parade and a religious procession, in a sports stadium, and inside an open area of a mall. My research suggests that a higher level of abstraction of this flow-movement emerges out of the participation of an engaged public as they performed a religious act or panaad. I witnessed this religious engagement as a massive and flowing performance of a mass-ritual, spectacular and pious processions, and a spectatorship of religious images within a shopping mall. Another form of abstraction comes from the witnessing of the dances and performances that served a commemorative function for a community during the Sinulog. Finally, flow can also be abstracted as a movement and engagement of people in an event through its live and mediated witnessing as shown by the celebratory dance of a local politician in a sports stadium. This research contributes to an understanding of flow or mobility within a local and grounded level, particularly in a festivity that occurs on an island of the larger Philippine archipelago. Link to the bibliographic entry at Monash University’s Research Repository: Examining Flow

Theatre Practice

IIC Promo flyer

“I AM/WE ARE”

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.

“HUGIS PUSONG POOT” (HEART-SHAPED RAGE)

> 2017 > Laverton, Victoria > Script and Stage Direction

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In line with Gabriela Australia’s 21st anniversary celebration, I have written, devised, and directed a short performance that essayed various understanding of rage and love in the context of migrant women’s struggle and movement in Australia. The 21 years of experience of the organisation Gabriela Australia in advocating the need to end domestic violence experienced by marriage migrants, as well as the forced migration of Filipinas to overseas destinations was the inspiration of this 30-minute performance of poetry, music, and movement. It also featured poetries written by the award-winning playwright and poet, academic, and well-known Gabriela Philippines member Ms. Josephine “Joi” Barrios-Le Blanc.

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“PAGSASANAY SA HEYOGRAPIYA” (Migrante Melbourne’s Tipanang Pangkultura/Cultural Gathering)

> 2016 > Uniting Church, Murumbeena, Victoria > Script, Direction, and Production Design and Management >

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(Photo by Yvette Zuniga)

My foray into Filipino Migrant Community Theatre started in 2012. However, the most recent project that I spearheaded was reinvigorating the Tipanang Pangkultura (Cultural Gathering/Event) of the Filipino organisation Migrante Melbourne in Victoria Australia. Tipanang Pangkultura is an annual project aimed at raising the consciousness of Filipino migrants on issues facing the community both here in Australia and back in the Philippines. This year’s Tipanan has a theme focussed on the Filipino migrants’ solidarity with the people in the Philippines as they try to attain peace, development, and long-lasting peace amidst the new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. As an emerging cultural activity, the Tipanan recreated an imaginary classroom and space in studying Philippine Geography through musical performances, poetry reading, short skit, dance, and video presentation. The cultural performance was hosted by two imaginary lecturers as the entire show showcased talents from the Filipino community, who are not professional theatre actors but part of a growing network of organisations and individuals who support the causes and aims of Migrante, including its political ends to raising the level of welfare and cultural development of Filipinos here in Australia.

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“ALUNSINA DESAP,” (ALUSINA’S DISAPPEARANCE)

> 2011 > University of the Philippines at Los Banos > Script

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Alunsina Desap is a theatrical performance that I wrote in 2011. Directed by Ronald Binas and Jeremy Dela Cruz, it was staged at the University of the Philippines at Los Banos (UPLB) as part of the UPLB’s Department of Humanities theatre and teaching program. Alunsina Desap is a modern re-telling of  a Filipino/Panay myth on why the sky and earth separated from each other during the moment of creation. However, the play also refers to other mythic characters and re-telling, including  Bidasari, a Mindanao/Malay epic; sarimanok, a legendary bird of the Maranao people; and the Tagalog’s creation myth  retold as the emergence of Malakas and Maganda from a bamboo node. But the main conflict of the story centres on a meeting of the Goddess Alunsina  after she flew from her husband’s anger as she was not able to fulfill the delicate task of cooking rice — with mortal characters (a humanities teacher, a mistress, a wife of a disappeared soldier, a woman-lawyer, and an activist) who found themselves in a time and space where the past, present, and future collide after a devastating earthquake. It is at this moment, of disappearance and being a desaparecido, that Alunsina discovered humanity through their weakest spots and at that point, she needed to decide whether to continue the task of creating the rest of the earth or not. A review of this play is found in this blogsite, written by a creative writing scholar, multi-awarded writer, and former colleague at the Univeristy of the Philippines, Prof. Vladimeir  Gonzales.

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“BAGONG CRISTO” (Aurelio Tolentino’s MODERN CHRIST)

> 2008 > University of the Philippines at Los Banos > Dramaturgy

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(Photo by Dennis D. Gupa)

Bagong Cristo is an early 20th Century play written by a radical symbolist and free-thinker Aurelio Tolentino. As a playwright and revolutionary dramatist, Tolentino struggled to create an independent real and theatrical Philippines. The play was said to have been inspired by small and subterfuge revolutions between 1900 and 1940 as the Philippines was under American Colonialism. As this point was still reeling from the 1896 Revolt against Spanish regime, a few brave Filipinos were championing an eventual Philippine independence from this new colonizer and imperialist. Tolentino’s contribution to this liberation movement includes his play about a ‘modern Christ’ who is preaching the gospel of change on streets, during parliamentary debates, and in places of worship and strife of the then colonial state and order. Bagong Cristo also hid in front of the biblical and religious narratives of Christ’s martyrdom as this period was rife with American censorship and laws that forbid assembly, free speech, and radical performances. This play, therefore, belongs to a tradition of Filipino revolutionary drama that heavily uses symbols and references to disguise radical meanings between characters and allegories, as artists and heroes were censored and killed during that period in Philippine history.

The modern version of this play was also experimental as its director Dennis D. Gupa employed various theatrical tactics to draw out the complex narratives and texts of Tolentino’s oeuvre. These include the usage of historical and contemporary meanings brought by my dramaturgical analysis on that period of American colonial history and the present political realities of the 21st Century Philippines. Another notable approach in the play’s theatrical and performative gestus was through the use of mathematical symbols –from geometry, algebra to trigonometry — in creating embodied movements or dance, the stage design, and multimedia projections. It was guided by another dramaturg, Prof. Alleli Domingo of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences of the University of the Philippines at Los Banos. For an academic reading about the play’s interdisciplinary approach through mathematics and theatre, here’s a paper  that was written by Prof. Domingo, which was read at a UNESCO conference in Bangkok, Thailand in 2012.

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“OH! MY! GULAY!” (OH! MY! VEGETABLE!)

> 2008 > Tayabas City, Quezon Province > Story Concept, Script, & Dramaturgy

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(Photo by Regina May Tiongson)

A Community Theatre set on the historical public centre of the City of Tayabas in Quezon Province, Oh! My! Gulay! is my first attempt to use applied drama techniques in the writing of a theatrical script. Together with colleagues from the College and Arts and Sciences at University of the Philippines at Los Banos, Social Workers from the group Sibikang Kabataang Pinoy, Inc. (SIKAP), and community extension experts from the College of Agriculture at UPLB, we developed a project aimed at increasing the awareness of the people in that community regarding the benefits of organic farming. OMG! was funded by the local government of the said city and involved community youth leaders of Tayabas. It is a simple story, a children’s story or musical theatre, about a young farmer’s dilemma between making his crops more sustainable or making profits as he encountered magical creatures: Pesticide, Fertilizer, Poverty, Sustenance, Health, several super vegetables, and a superheroine, Organiko. The story was a product of workshops and consultation with the young people of this community regarding their experiences about farming, community issues and beliefs, and their knowledge on inorganic and organic agriculture. These are some of the videos (123) of this project/community theatre.

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“PAGBULAS NG SIBOL” (Frank Wedkind’s SPRING AWAKENING)

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> 2007 > University of the Philippines at Los Banos > Story Concept & Dramaturgy

(Photo by Czaris Mendioro)

Pagbulas ng Sibol is a Filipino adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening. The script was written by an acclaimed poet and literary scholar, Carlos Piocos III. Together with the playwright, I co-developed the story about young people facing the challenges of puberty in a post-Second World War II rural Philippines. This age of awkward growth and misplaced reconstruction in the lives of these characters is also a theatrical metaphor on education and disciplining, following Wedekind’s dark exploration of juvenile curiosities in his original play. But Pagbulas, also evoked experimentation, not only through dramaturgical expositions of its characters, its absurd theatricalities, and the choice of context and mood but also through the innovative use of space that its director Dennis D. Gupa utilised for this adaptation. A chemistry building site that was partially destroyed by a gutting fire was transformed into an open-air theatre and became a fitting world for Wedekind’s young men and women in search of meaning amidst a dark flow of transitioning.

Gibbs Cadiz, Philippine Daily Inquirer’s resident theatre critic, wrote the following review on 6/11/2007: It’s springtime for Frank Wedekind’s scandalous 19th-century play, “Spring Awakening,” as the play’s musical version (with exhilarating pop-rock music by Duncan Sheik) continues to conquer Broadway, and locally, as drama companies bite their fangs into its sullen, melancholy heart. Late last year, Tanghalang Ateneo staged a gritty adaptation of Han Ong’s “Middle Finger,” itself an updating of the Wedekind original. This March, for six days, the play underwent further transfiguration when the Department of Humanities of UP-Los Ba¤os produced “Pagbulas ng Sibol.”Who knew that a play of such sensuous, fearless strangeness could mark the debut of a fledgling drama group? UPLB’s fresh thespians, led by director Dennis Gupa, writer Carlos Piocos III and dramaturg Reagan Maiquez, set for themselves a high bar by transplanting “Spring Awakening” to the woodlands of Los Ba¤os during World War II. Suddenly, this story of youthful sexual tension and tragedy shed off its Germanic prep-school setting and became a paean to a lost generation of rural men and women who grew up too quickly in the shadows of a world-shattering conflict. Their adolescent thrashing and wailing now dovetailed with the crashing sounds of the Old Order crumbling away. Gupa’s expressionistic direction, alive with rich pictorial touches, made full use of the al fresco space on which the play was staged. His actors were raw but engaged to the hilt. When candles were left flickering on stage in the end, symbolizing the young lives flayed apart by adult ignorance and indifference, one came away lit with awe at what UPLB’s untested theater group had presented: a fully realized, mature drama that deserved its own run in Manila.

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