Nov 30, 2006

Thank you, Christine

Over pizza and beer at a little past midnight, we talked about how it's probably becoming some kind of a trend already to make one's presence felt with a power outage soon after one passes away: it happened when Santi went, it happened last night soon after Christine passed away.

Padma called last night just as we were having dinner - Christine was at the Notre Dame Hospital and wasn't doing well. I had to end the alread prolonged stand off between me Aeneas about slinky and how to take care of her properly and rush to the hospital.

It wasn't easy seeing her struggling with every breath, I closed my eyes and tried to picture her the way I knew her...

It took a while for me to get comfortable around Christine, I only met her when I moved to Baguio ten years ago. She wasn't really sociable - she wouldn't pretend to be anything she's not. It was only later that I would admire her sincerity: sitting at the Cafe by the Ruins' office laying out the menu. I remember us laughing it off when I made that typo error on one item in the menu - something that I think should've cost 70 pesos but I mistakenly typed 270 and yet that item still got ordered a lot. We joked about splitting the extra profits. I would be her computer geek for the next couple of years - how does one send an email? Make attachments? Open attachments? How to play the Baguio scandal video?

She'd try to watch all our plays, and I particularly remember the time when she brought Andre, who was I think about 7 or 8 years old then. The play was Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, a performance-art piece overflowing with cuss words and provocative scenes... when I saw her the next day at the Cafe, the first things she said was, "Gago ka talaga!" Said with a big smile on her face. Then she complained about having to spend all night explaining a lot of things that Andre saw in that performance that same night. I believe Christine Arvisu liked the show.

And then we had Leon. I was really touched by how much she loved Leon and the way she showed this - the way she took care of him when he's at her house, or when he spends the night there for an all-night PS2 binge with Andre. I loved bringing Leon to her, and Leon loved being around her: he just felt so welcome and at ease with Christine and in her home.

Yup, we became friends, I can say that now; we became really good friends, I believe that.

Thank you, Christine, for not saying hi when you didn't feel like it, and asking how we've been when you really meant it, when you sincerely wanted to know how we've been. Thank you for all the happy moments Leon and the rest of my children had with you and your family. Thanks for being a real friend, and being there for us no matter what, and for having us as your friends. Thanks for being a part of our lives. And thank you for showing us what courage was up until your last moment with us. And forgive us if we bothered you a bit too much last night by disturbing the beginning of your journey out there with our hugs, kisses, and words of love: though we knew it was time, it just wasn't easy to let go of a friend like you.

On our way home last night, after a few pizzas and a beer with Mitos and her kids at Volante figuring out if the power outage was city-wide or just downtown, but being so sure that the blackout was your way of letting us know that you're ok, that you're well on your way, peacefully, quietly, RL showed me a text message you sent her last month: Take care guys. Be happy.

We'll do all we can, Christine, thank you. And we love you too.

Nov 28, 2006

Take a walk

First, they applauded the it, until someone allegedly slipped on it and injured herself. So they distanced themselves from it, condemned it, threatened to destroy it, until it started getting good reactions from the community, so they started commending it again...

... until someone came up with a great idea: Replace those mosaics on the sidewalks of Session Road (brainchild and the work of concerned local artists who acted on their own since the city government wasn't doing anything for the longest time to patch up the holes on the sidewalks along Session Road) with our version of Hollywood's walk of fame and have hand-prints of famous showbiz personalities dot the sidewalks all over the Central Business District, beginning with, oh man - Mother Lily's. What does she have to do with Baguio except that some of her productions were shot and eventually, sadly inevitably, shown here? Educate me please.

Since apparently this idea is being endorsed by certain powers-that-be in the city (and we all know that when anything has the approval of the city's powers-that-be, no matter how stupid the idea is, be it a flyover at the BGH Rotunda or a concrete pine tree or a pay-parking ordinance it happens), here's another suggestion:

Why not also pay tribute to and include plaster casts of the faces of JDV; Raul Gonzalez; GMA; Dubya; certain current city officials whether appointed, career employees or elected; a lot of past city officials particularly those itching to make a come back to save face; Rogelio and Norma Tan... you get the drift.

(Oh, and don't forget to also include the faces of those who came up with this idea and are pushing for it).

This would surely make walking along Session Road a lot more interesting... but you better be a lot more careful when you do - you wouldn't wanna step on some shi*t.

Nov 10, 2006

Reclaiming Session Road

Dancers during last June's Independence Day Parade.

Nov 2, 2006

How can I?

So there we were. Ten years later, running around hours before the concert, hauling lighting and sound equipment 5 floors up to VOCAS, buying cases of beer to be sold at P40 each during the show so we can have free booze for ourselves at the end of the performance, xeroxing copies of the repertoire.

Ten years later we didn't have to rent everything we needed anymore - though our very own sound system still wasn't enough for the concert, we didn't need to rent lights: we had to make do with our dozen or so par 38's and 8-channel dimmer board.

Ten years later there are a lot of new faces, and a few old ones, but the last few months blurred the line between the two - everybody felt like everybody's old friend.

Ten years later, half of the cast came in an hour late for the 3pm call time, so our sound check started at 4:30. That's ok.

Ten years later, and a few days' rehearsals later, we were ready to begin, so I went up the stage and asked everyone to rise for the National Anthem. And then, the opening remarks...

Halfway through, someone interrupts my speech from the backrow, I looked for the culprit and found him seated at the steps, looking really wasted. Ferdie got up, excused himself for being rude, and came straight up on stage. I gave him a mic.

"F*ck you, I'm not a drug addict... sorry I had to interrupt you tonight... here's the situation: I need your money... I could have a knife up to your throat right now, but I don't wanna do that... the only difference between you and me is that you're on the ups and I'm on the downs, underneath it all we're exactly the same, we're both human beings... I am a human being... I say f*ck you, I'm not a drug addict..."

For a while the performers onstage were worried that I was gonna lose my temper and maybe just drag Ferdie off the stage, until they saw me mouthing the exact words Ferdie was saying. It was from "Grace of God", one of the monologues in "Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll". Our very first production in Baguio, back in 1996.

Ferdie ends his bit, I continued with my speech. Ethan hands over the acoustic guitar to Arkhe who in turn hands it to me... we opened the show with one of the very first songs I composed, "Awit sa Bata," from the play about children's rights I wrote in 2000. We also did "Taguan" and "Dakila Ka" to my amatuerish guitar playing with the help of Ethan on his electric guitar.

And then there was the "Pangarap" suite... followed by "Once on this Island" and "Jesus Christ Superstar." For our encore, the group sang "Why We Tell The Story" from "Once on this Island." After ten years of telling stories, it felt really good singing that song.

Rewind performed a set of Reggae songs afterwards, and I just had to join them on the conggas, and in a moment everybody was on their feet dancing. Later the gongs came out and so did Kawayan who started a bonfire in the middle of the dance floor.

Ten years, a few cases of beer, countless bottles of GSM Blue, lots of handshakes and hugs and kisses... How can I possibly get out of this insane, noble, harsh, wonderful, magical, infinite world of artistic possibilites that is theater?

Opening remarks

The anniversary concert went really well... thought I'd tell the audience that night a brief story about Open Space... this is what I told them:

One night, more than ten years ago, actually, I was in Malate, standing in the middle of Remedios Circle, a few paces from the famous Penguin Café. I was with a good friend and a great actor, the late RJ Leyran. We were a few nights away from JC-Live, a benefit concert for Bahay Tuluyan, a shelter for streetchildren in Malate which was in danger of closing down at the time due to lack of funds. The concert featured music from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar to be performed by various artists like The Manila Youth Symphony Orchestra, the band Waling-waling, Pablo Molina, Bernardo Bernardo, Lolit Carbon, Jett Melencio, Raul Roxas, Paul Morales, and many more. We have convinced the artists to donate their time and talent for the cause, and, to be able to convince sponsors to support the event, we needed to be representing some kind of a group, a theater group, a performing arts group, a company. We needed a name. Standing there in the wide open space of Remedios Circle, it came to me… Open Space.

That was 1995. And even though the sponsors decided to ignore the event, a sign of things to come, the concert was a success… and Open Space began to officially exist.

A year later, I was in another café, 5 hours away from Manila, a few paces down the road from here… in Rumours café. My wife, RL, introduced me to one Ferdie Balanag, theater artist, director, actor, lighting designer… I mentioned to him a play I’ve been wanting to stage, a play called Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll – a series of monologues about present-day survivors – I described to him the characters in the play – a panhandler denying his drug addiction, a philandering yuppie, a has-been rock star trying to make a come back, a paranoid artist (aren’t we all?) - and we agreed to stage the play in Baguio.

In October of 1996, Ferdie and I would meet every single day in an abandoned school in Campo Sioco, sneaking past the building caretaker with our scripts, to rehearse the play. And Sex, Drugs Rock & Roll opened at the BCF Theater, and eventually had a run at the UPCB Theater, and I decided that here, in Baguio, is where Open Space Productions will take root and hopefully, bloom.

I envisioned a theater group that would explore all artistic possibilities in presenting an alternative form of entertainment that will consistently present relevant social and cultural issues. A theater group that would not be stuck to a particular genre – we staged whatever hit us right here – there was Craig Lucas’ “A Prelude to a Kiss”; the trilogy “Mga Ina ng Bayan”; we wrote our own plays, “Taguan, Habulan, Patintero”, “Manifest Destiny,” “Pangarap;” coming from doing intimate productions due to budget concerns, we became ambitious with the musical “Once on this Island,” and later, a dream play; “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

We have performed at the BCF Theater, at the UPCB Auditorium, at the SLU-CCA Theater, at the Dap-ayan of the University of Baguio, at the Griffiths Theater of Brent School, at the gallery of the Workshop for Creative Survival in Guisad, at the CAP auditorium (the one in CAP Building near the post office, and not the one in John Hay: at P100,000.00 a night, we can never afford to mount a play there), at the CCDC Theater in La Trinidad, more recently in Kabayan, Benguet, then down in Tayug, Lingayen and Dagupan, Pangasinan, in San Fernando, La Union, all the way to Candon and Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur. Once we found ourselves way down south in Daet, Camarines Norte. If we weren’t performing, we’re conducting workshops in some school in Baguio, or in Ilocos Norte, or for some community theater group in Ifugao or Benguet. We dipped our fingers in all sorts of things – we were introduced to multi-media and started incorporating this in our performances, and eventually even produced independent works on video. We tried various approaches to play production as in our experimental production of Rene Villanueva’s “Tonyo,” a multi-sensory theatrical performance that was designed for the visually-impaired.

And more than a hundred curtain calls later, here we are.

In those hundred or so curtain calls, through the years, we’ve worked with established artists, aspiring ones who’ve either moved on to Manila to pursue their theater careers there or work in a call center or have gone abroad in search of greener pastures, so to speak. Can’t blame them, being an independent theater group in Baguio is not easy. Our reputation, or reputations, precedes us – we’re the ones who hold open forums at the end of each show, the ones who’d stop a performance when the audience becomes unbearably noisy and rowdy, we’re the ones who opened a play an hour late at one time, half an hour in another, we’re the ones who had a lousy sound system, and, the one that perhaps sticks out above the rest – we’re the ones who are always broke. We owe this lights and sound provider, this and that artist, at times we pay in kind – a TV set to a guy we rented lights from, a watch to an actor we owed. Our house belongs to a much bigger family beyond me and my wife and our children – it’s a set and props construction space, a rehearsal venue, a photography studio, an editing room, and a lot of times, a halfway house for runaway artists.

The stories go on and on, and with all the struggles, the hurdles, we’re still here, after ten years. One might ask why.

As a line in “Why We Tell The Story,” a song from the musical, “Once on this Island” goes, “life is why, pain is why, love is why, grief is why, hope is why, faith is why, YOU are why....”