MANILA

In 2012, I had a conversation with playwright and festival director David Finnigan over Facebook that went something like this:

Me: Heyo, what are you up to?
David: About to head to Colombia with my brother to do a residency at a gorgeous plantation house. You should come. What are you doing in two weeks?
Me: David, I can’t come to Colombia. I don’t have three thousand dollars for airfares.
David: Yeah, but this might just be the sort of crazy decision that might change your life.
Me: Yeah, but I seriously don’t have that much money.
David: Damn. Okay, well, come to the Philippines next year then.

And that’s how I found myself being kicked out of a taxi in Manila at 4 am in typhoon-flooded streets, while David and Nick Delatovic tried to point out to the driver that the line ‘Oh, hey, so the 1000 pesos I said the fare would be is actually per person’ was a) bullshit and b) probably the most endearing way they’d been ripped off in a while.

We went over to work with Sipat Lawin Ensemble, a collective of performers and theatre makers who found sudden global fame in 2012 when their show ‘Battalia Royale’ started pissing off members of the UN and attracting audiences of over 900 to run amok, screaming for the deaths of the performers. They’re pretty fucking cool kids. Every time I was introduced to anyone, one of the Australians would mutter some crazy back story for them. ‘Hi, I’m Daniel’ (‘He won the Philippines equivalent of ‘Australia’s Got Talent.’ He’s a hoola hoopist poet.’) ‘Hi, I’m Julia’ (‘She’s a designer, but her day job is working for the World Bank.’) ‘These costumes were designed by Leroy. He’s a cool guy.’ (‘He designed costumes for Lady Gaga.’) I swear, every member of this company had a secret identity. Manila is Gotham. It was awesome.

I spent a whirlwind week with a bunch of the loveliest people in the world – Australians from Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney (dubbed ‘The White Legs’ for obvious reasons – you don’t get much pastier than theatre makers), and a crew of eminently excellent Pinoy folk. I wandered around saying ‘Salamat!’ to everyone for everything and trying not to be eaten by Yuki, the crazy dog with a dark past who hated every woman he met.

The show itself was chaos, even before it opened. Sipat lost their venue a week out from opening (‘Oh, so we just realised we’re having council elections in this abandoned school. No can do. Sorry’) and had most of their team literally trapped in their homes by flood water. In Australia, that would have been it. Everyone would have dissolved into their own floods of tears, cancelled everything and bemoaned the theatre gods. Not in Manila. Sarah Salazar, JK Anicoche and their crew just pulled up their socks and soldiered on. The show was pushed back a few nights, someone knew a guy who owned a resort. There’s now a giant pool in the major performance area. Whatever. Just reblock the whole show so that half of it is in the pool. Fuck it, put the audience in the pool. Bam. Done.

I’ve never seen madness quite like it. It was dangerous (water, fire – elemental anarchy), it was held together by tenacity and determination, and in the end, it was incredible. The audience became this bellowing, beastly unit, shifting between spiritual ritualism and sassy irony and back from minute to minute. They formed passionate loyalties in their assigned ‘God’ groups and became packs so fast it felt alarming. And at the end, as tango dancers were spiderwebbed with plastic wrap and hauled into the water, and Daniel Darwin performed a gut-wrenching piece of face-on-the-tiles-crying poetry while wrangling a fire hoop, there was the strong sense of being in the presence of something huge and mystical.

That’s how theatre should be. It should feel just born, thrashing its way into the world. It’s an important reminder. Art can – maybe even should – be violent. Keep fighting.

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3 Responses to MANILA

  1. chris ryan says:

    Awesome! Love your work … love your work!
    Hopefully we’ll catch up at some time again.
    Have fun and seek the joy!

  2. Pingback: Emily Stewart

  3. paschal daantos berry says:

    Beautiful. Exactly what I witnessed. Very exciting to see such a thrilling collaboration with Filipino and Australian artists.

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