May 4, 2008

Curtain Call


Looking back at over twenty years of life in theater, I heave a sigh, unsure whether its one of relief, happiness or to exorcise regrets and other demons. From performing in front of crowds aiming at bringing a dictatorship to an end in the streets of Manila, to the glitzy, chandeliered theater lobbies of the capital’s various cultural centers, to obscure towns in the boondocks and lowland town plazas, I have dedicated a good part of my life to telling stories on stage.

A good story hits you, and it won’t let you rest until you’ve shared it with others who share the same passion for telling stories, and you gather round over cups of strong coffee and cigarette smoke to plot how to share this story to a much bigger crowd. For weeks on end you get together, slowly bringing the characters of the story to life, painting backdrops and making hand props, sewing strange looking clothing, “…AND ONE MAN IN HIS TIME PLAYS MANY PARTS.”

The high of hitting upon a good idea and everyone agreeing that it is so, or of finally moving on to work on the next scene after struggling for so long with the previous one. The joy of putting that script down for the first time and delivering lines with your hands free making gestures to add color to the literature –
fingers slightly bent as you reach out to the light up ahead, arms spread out to let it all out, or wrapped around shoulders to keep it all in.

It has brought me hundreds of kilometers from where I learned about it and where I grew up to a highland oasis that I now call home. There are no fancy cocktails on opening night, just the excitement of finally completing the art process by presenting it to those who believe that the collaborative effort was worth taking time away from the rest of the world and sitting in the darkened hall of multipurpose building to listen.

After a decade or so since that very firs
t walk on part, it inspired to form a ragtag group of kindred souls, Open Space Projects, a group that struggled no matter what to get it to opening night every time that that one good story came along. The vision of the group can be expressed simply: A good story must be told, and told well, so let’s.

From rehearsals in the comforts of my living room to cold rainy nights in different covered areas of the city’s public parks, a theater brimming with students required to write a paper on the presentation, or one with more people onstage than in the audience, we journeyed from one good story to another.

The lives of the characters in the script intertwined with the life of each storyteller, and each storyteller’s life intertwined with another’s, where at times it forms a strong bond or, at other times, a tangled mess. We shared laughter, cried together, loved each other, and at times walked away from one another with nothing more than a shrug and a cold shoulder.

We’ve told the strange beautiful story of enduring love, of heroism, of a young girl’s tragic journey to seek her one true love, of passion, of children’s right to happiness, of one man’s dream to go beyond what society expects of him, of an actor’s nightmare, or an artist’s lament, and every single time we thought we all agreed: art for art’s sake.

But every now and then I wake up realizing that the group never changed from the day it was formed: it still stood firm for the principles on which it was built upon, but the individuals’ faces have changed time and again through the years: I did what I could to nurture the group and make it grow by taking care of every single person in it, and now I realize that that may not have been the right way: though the group endured, it stayed as it was and always has been: a ragtag group, and though the philosophy, the guiding principles, the aspirations of the group may satiate the souls its members, it won’t fill their stomachs, and choices and drastic decisions have to be made.

Open Space has a vision, nay, it is a vision, one that will remain for as long as there are those who believe in it. That vision does not have ups and downs, good times and bad times, unlike people. And if the people who make up Open Space aren’t there primarily for what it stands: then it ceases to be.

I say thank you to those who, at one time or another, then and now, journeyed with me and Open Space Projects. It’s been rough, but no regrets, it was good while it lasted.


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