Mar 30, 2008

Theater rush

The multimedia bug bit me early last year, and bit me hard. A good part of the past year was spent behind and infront of the camera, and it's been a while since I last went on stage, or brought something onstage, and then suddenly in the last two weeks we were rehearsing two productions to be performed only a week apart.

Despite the very limited/limiting budget, Jesus Christ Superstar, the rock-opera classic by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, went onstage last Good Friday at the entertainment center of the mall up there. It was our group's first time to perform in that kind of set-up and it was quite an experience. We had no idea how the audience would react to something like JCS, a rock opera, and performed on a Good Friday at that. The group had only a full week to prepare, but with musical director Ethan Ventura's discipline, no time was wasted during music rehearsals. Though not being able to do a full dress rehearsal at the venue was quite a challenge, it took only the sight of a good crowd and the warmth of the par 64 spotlights to get the performers going. By the time Ethan made his guitar sing the first few notes of the overture, the stage was overflowing with energy, and the passion and dedication of the performers broke through the so-called fourth wall of the stage, and the audience responded very well.

Just a couple of days later and we were back at rehearsals, this time for the re-staging of our production of Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll for the Cafe by the Ruins' 20th Anniversary celebration. This production was what brought me to Baguio, actually, when I first staged it in 1996 together with local actor, Ferdie Balanag. Then, we rehearsed the play in some abandoned school building in Campo Sioco without any promise that the play would go on stage at all - we weren't sure how the audience would react to a play with such a provocative title, and content. But after a couple of weeks of line-throwing and blocking, we got a call from then BCF Arts and Sciences dean, Sonia Dao-as, who wanted to feature the play in the school's golden anniversary celebration. With a cast of two and a staff of three, we performed the play to a couple of full houses before bringing the play to UP Baguio for another run. Since then, Ferdie and I would perform the play in various venues including the cafe's 10th Anniversary in 1998.

And last Thursday, ten years later, we were back there, not sure if we can still pull off performing the characters in the play: 10 years does a lot to one's eyes and waistline. Again on a tight budget, and given only 1 hour to set up everything: band instruments, sound and lighting system, props: our group went in and did the usual dance of pre-performance preparations. Stage managers Freida Fernandez and Mai Fianza were at the Cafe's gazebo finalizing the sequence guide and the props, multimedia artist and costume mistress Madelyn Calventas was stapling trash bags for Ferdie's "Dirt" monologue, technical guys Andre Soriano, Boybi Sarmiento and Astrud Delo were laying out the wiring for the improvised par 38 spotlights, and Ethan began tuning his guitar. Production manager RL Altomonte and photographer Jojo La Maria prepped the cameras for the documentation.

And then we were on, in front of old and new friends who patiently listened to our stories for almost two hours. Kidlat de Guia gamely laughed when his name came up in one of the monologues, and filmmaker Mark Gary and choreographer Denisa Reyes couldn't get enough of it, and an hour or so after the last monologue one man whose name I can't remember anymore still didn't know what hit him: and I thought, great, that's what were here for: get you out of your comfort zone and throw that truth pie in your face - wipe it off or lick it up, it's all up to you.

No unnecessary issues, no unnecessary tension, nothing but pure passion for the craft: it was one of those nights when the first thing almost everyone asks after the curtain call is: what's our next story?

Ahhhh, theater, what a rush.

(A repost of my column, Tales From A Hill Station, in Cordillera Today March 30, 2008 issue)

Mar 24, 2008

Sigh

The sight of a group of policemen standing by the road, knee-high boots, Ray-ban sunglasses, holstered gun at the waist, the nobody-messes-with-the-guy-with-a-badge swagger, motorcycles leaning at the curb, never fails to startle me. Immediately I would feel for my wallet where my license is for fear that I have left it at home, try to remember if I have registered the car, look around for any traffic signs that I may have missed. As I get nearer, my heart beats faster, and will only slow down if they don’t flag me down as I go past them.

And then, after passing them uneventfully, I’ll realize that I didn’t have my seatbelt on. Which almost always makes me wonder, whatever happened to the seatbelt law? I remember when it was newly introduced – taxi drivers would refuse to move if you refused put on your seatbelt, jeepneys and buses installed seatbelts in their front seats, and the government made a killing apprehending violators. I remember the complaints of drivers of public utility vehicles, how cumbersome that darn seatbelt is, how they went out of their way to loop that seatbelt over their shoulders at the sight of a traffic cop to avoid being given a ticket, but never lock it in place, which would have taken them two seconds to do. Once I sat in the front seat of a jeepney and automatically reached for the seatbelt. As I looked for the clasp to lock the seatbelt in place, the driver, without even looking at me, said, “ipatong mo lang sa dibdib mo, ok na ‘yan, hindi na tayo huhulihin.” I wanted to tell him that I also wanted to be safe while riding his jeep, but I thought better than to argue with the man on the wheel while sitting in front without a seatbelt on.

The seatbelt brouhaha lasted a few months, a year perhaps at best. And now it’s forgotten. And it’s practically the same thing about most of the seemingly small things that are supposed to make our city, nay, our country, maybe the world, even, a better place. I wish I were exaggerating.

Take those signs that dot the barrier along the length of Magsaysay Road – “No Jaywalking, Violators Will Be Apprehended.” I wonder how many jaywalkers, those who are too lazy to climb the steps of the pedestrian overpasses, those who put their own and other people’s lives at risk by playing patintero with the swerving jeepneys and over speeding taxis and arrogant drivers in giant SUVs to cross the street, are apprehended. There must be a lot, since I it never fails to amaze me to see jaywalkers doing their thing right in front of policeman on stand by mode. In the same way they just do nothing about the motorists along Session Road, especially taxis, who play tag with pedestrians that actually use the pedestrian lanes to cross the road: you get tagged, you’re dead. Seldom do we see a car slow down as they approach those stripes on the road, a lot of times they actually go even faster.

I know that this community fought hard to uphold the law that says the streets are beyond the commerce of man, driving out an arrogant pay parking corporation slash milking cow in the process, but it breaks my heart every time I see old women carrying bilaos of vegetables being chased by operatives of the city government for illegal vending, while an ambulant cigarette vendor lights up a cigarette for a policeman as they brazenly go about their trade right in front of police substations.

Trancoville and Aurora Hill jeeps idling right in front of “No Loading and Unloading” signs behind the post office (again, right in the face of policemen). “Parking attendants” directing motorists to park in front of “No Parking” signs (again, right in the face of policemen). Cops on big bikes and delivery men on scooters going through a red light, and making u-turns where they’re not supposed to. All seemingly trivial, negligible, inconsequential infractions, perhaps. But how can we expect the community to respect our laws when they know these are not really being enforced? How can we expect the community to obey more abstracts concepts like saving the environment through garbage segregation when we can’t even enforce simple rules on crossing the road?

The law enforcers don’t care, the public stopped caring, and the policemen standing by the road, knee-high boots, Ray-ban sunglasses, holstered gun at the waist, the nobody-messes-with-the-guy-with-a-badge swagger, motorcycles leaning at the curb, didn’t care when I passed them with my seatbelt unfastened. I heaved a sigh of relief, then after a brief afterthought and images of illegal vendors on the road, garbage on the streets, smog in the air, I heaved another sigh, one of a different kind.


(A repost of my column, Tales From A Hill Station, in Cordillera Today March 23, 2008 issue)

Mar 17, 2008

ahhh, the world wide web

I entered Rumours on Session Road one early evening last month and saw the usual familiar faces. Local photographer Jojo Lamaria was there with some friends and among them Natz Navarro whom I've known for quite some time. Went over to her and gave her a hug and they I realized that though it's been a while since I first “met” her, I've only know her in the virtual world of Multiply.com (http://natznavarro.multiply.com), a social networking site on the web. And just this morning, I said hello to a woman named Villia whom I've known for a year or so now at Cafe by the Ruins only to realize that like Natz, I've only known her through the thoughts, ideas and photographs she's posted on her Multiply site (http://villia.multiply.com).

There's this virtual neighborhood on Multiply composed mainly of artists in Baguio, and every single day we are given frozen moments and bits and pieces of life up here as seen through a photographer's lens or painted by a poet's pen (or keyboard). Photographers Rudy Taborra (http://ruditabora.multiply.com) and Boy Yñiguez (http://boyyy.multiply.com) constantly whet our appetites with their series' “Mangan” and “Kain Na”, respectively: hunger inducing photos of local dishes.

Multiply also hosts the sites of Jojo Lamaria (http://jlamaria.multiply.com) and Harley Palanchao (http://smallopening.multiply.com), two local photographers who capture anything and everything that comes infront of their lenses.

Even those of us in the performing arts find little use for the traditional printed posters to promote our latest productions these days: Multiply has offered us a virtually free venue to make our productions known, and with a seemingly wider reach too. I remember a few years BM (Before Multiply), our posters would be up for a couple of weeks already with hardly any feedback from the public. But now a few hours after posting an event online, we get inquiries and the day after a performance, we can expect to see a review somewhere in the world wide web. And since most local theater productions run on a really tight budget (sometimes no budget at all), our posters back then would be limited to photocopied monochrome layouts to cut costs, but now we can go crazy with as many millions of colors as your next-door internet cafe's monitor would allow. Since our productions usually cater to local students, we usually conduct an open forum after each show and now those fora extend for weeks after the last performance on the web, and these interactions often catch the attention of people from all over the world giving more color and interesting perspectives to the conversation.

News travel faster in this online community: when I wrote about a nasty experience at the Baguio Country Club (http://altomonte.multiply.com/journal/item/127), for the next couple of weeks I'd bump into people who read about it online asking me for details of the story. When wrote about my sentiments about the recently concluded flower festival (http://altomonte.multiply.com/journal/item/130), it triggered an online forum with insights coming from the different parts of the world.

Among the recent additions to my virtual neighborhood is local videographer Francis Paco (http://francispaco.multiply.com), whose site features interesting explorations in digital animation, which renewed my interest in that field. I learned a lot from Kidalt de Guia's adventure in Mindanao with his blog entry on his site (http://kidlatgulat.multiply.com/journal/item/3/Ganda_ng_Mindanao). Jack Cariño's site rivals the History channel with intersting tidbits of historical footnotes in phogoraphs and video (http://jackcarino.multiply.com). And I'm quite sure this virtual neighborhood played quite a role in U.S.-based Baguio boy Jessie Mina's decision to invest in a better camera (http://jrgamina.multiply.com) to be able to take better pictures to post on his site.

I recently got an invitation to join another virtual community: Facebook. But after a couple of weeks in it, I was slowly getting bored. All it is are stupid quizzes and hundreds of unwanted applications. I was just about to close my Facebook account when I received a video post from someone in my network (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU8DDYz68kM). It was a video taken by a group of tourist presumably in Africa of a group of lions waiting to punce on an unsuspecting buffalo. The shot panned from the approaching herd to the waiting lions, and when the herd settled near a creek, the lions sprang up and went for the usual victim: the weakest in the herd, in this case a calf. They pinned the poor calf down while the herd tried to run away from the attacking beasts. A couple of lions rolled and rolled with the calf who was trying so hard to free itself predators' jaws. They rolled too near the river's edge where a crocodile was waiting, which bit into the rear end of the calf - and a tug of war between predators ensued. The lions won the battle, but what happened next they probably never expected to happen at all, not even in their wildest lion dreams. The herd of buffalo came back to rescue the calf. At first the lions would simply roar in their faces and they would step back, but it only took one brave buffalo who perhaps thought that a tiny calf's life was worth risking its own: it charged towards the surprised lions and soon the whole herd was chasing the predators away.

And I thought, the predators amidst us these days better watch out, it only takes one angry, brave buffalo to rally the herd to chase them all away. I decided to give Facebook the benefit of the doubt, for now. And I realized, this story was really what I wanted to write about when I sat down infront of my computer.

Ah well, among the banes of the world wide web, there's just too much information going around that it's easy for one to be distracted.

(A repost of my column, Tales From A Hill Station, in Cordillera Today March 16, 2008 issue)

Mar 13, 2008

Keeping it simple: back then

In ’97 we were there, a small bunch of artists, a couple of benches, a box-full of tapuy and an ice chest-full of sodas, a basket full of tuna and chicken sandwiches, and several hand drums. We positioned ourselves somewhere near the post office steps – next to us were other artists with their hand-painted shirts and prints and paper beads – we don’t remember having to pay tens of thousands of pesos to sit around all day banging our drums and sharing sandwiches and good tapuy with both familiar faces and friendly strangers.

Then, no, we didn’t have to wake up before sunrise to set up our sandwich stand, which was actually just an excuse to have a place where kindred souls can gather and celebrate life in Baguio, there was no hurry nor jostling for prime spots along Session Road: anywhere on the road was a prime spot. And when we found our spot taken over by another group the next day, we only had to move a few meters down from where we were the day before: a small price to pay for enjoying the tapuy a bit too much the day before and waking up late the next morning.

Then, those who participated in Panagbenga’s “Session Road in Bloom” seemed a lot, but still leaving enough space for people to walk up or down the road without having to squeeze themselves in between other people and merchants and merchandise. There was enough space for Session Road to breathe, and people cared enough not to abuse the plants on the island in the middle of the road.

Then, it seemed to be truly in bloom.

Then, we didn’t earn that much money. In fact, we didn’t earn any. That’s ok, we danced and laughed a lot for a few days, and that’s priceless. And after having too much fun and much too little money by the third day, we decided that the rest of the tuna and chicken sandwiches would be the food at our tables at home for the rest of the week. Fry the tuna spread and it’s a mean tortang orilles. But we didn’t stop going to Session Road the rest of the week – there was always some space somewhere where we can lay our mats and play our drums.

And today, so what if one makes millions cramming as many commercial stalls as if there’s no tomorrow along Session Road, when you have as many people hating the experience? Why sacrifice the integrity of what was supposed to be a beautiful and sincere community effort by allowing the pretty costumes to be blighted with corporate logos and slogans just for a little extra money? Who wouldn’t hate hearing commercial jingles during a parade instead of the music that come from the hearts of the people of Baguio?

Back then, I guess the organizers didn’t make as much money from the flower festival, but it was those first few festivals, the ones free from crass commercialism, the ones free from too much politics and misplaced egos, the ones that had the spirit of Baguio painted on every smiling face: those were the ones that made the Baguio Flower Festival live in the hearts of people from all over the country and the rest of the world.

Surrendering and being slaves to crass commercialism: millions of pesos, and one’s left with nothing but an empty experience.

Keeping it simple yet meaningful: priceless.