Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Losing my religion

It was supposed to be a routine spring cleaning of the machine... back-up files and save the drivers from the main drive in another drive, reformat, install the operating system, re-install the drivers... but in an age where almost everything is disposable, the wrong drive was reformatted, and in the click of the mouse, 10 years of production files, 6 years of photographs, articles, ideas, scripts, libretti... gone.

I spend hours everyday pounding on this keyboard, clicking this mouse, telling stories, composing images, making music... this has been my altar ever since that Pentium 300 13 years ago... I should've lost my mind, blown my top, cried even.

But I surprised even myself when I just shrugged it off and told Arkhe, a friend, inaanak and colleague whom I asked to help me overhaul the computer, the one who cliked the fateful click, to just forget and not worry about it... we'll just have to stack up a new digital pile of production files, shoot new photos, write new articles, come up with new ideas, write new scripts and libretti...

The bulk of the files in that drive were openSpace files... photos from performances staged more than a decade ago to ones staged just a few weeks ago... poster studies, property plots, checklists, stage managers' files, attendance sheets, budgets. I think I have a few of these production files saved on DVDs somewhere, I think I'd get a couple of scrapbooks today and start putting together hard copies of production books... with everything the digital age is, still nothing beats ink on paper.

It's ok, because, it's about time we purge some of the group's baggages. It's ok because there's more where all those lost files came from. It's ok because maybe it's time to move on with a clean slate because I believe openSpace is entering a new phase, stage, age... after all those years of trying to find our footing, I think we finally did. And on top of everything that fell into place in the group's last two productions, I believe what worked for us were the absence of malice; sincerity; the presence of everyone who were ther for one thing: to tell a good story and to tell it well, first and foremost. If a poisonous seed was planted, it was ignored or killed instantly. No hidden agendas, everything was out in the open. No whispers backstage (everything was said out loud), no second-hand information (nothing alterred, everything as it is and should be). There were no core groups, secondary groups, outsiders, newcomers, old-timers: there was only ONE group, there were only artists united by a vision: explore all artistic possibilities in communicating ideas.

Another friend sent me a program via email that can attmept to retrieve the files... I haven't opened it. Do I really need to? Do I really want to?

Tomorrow I will be sitting down with two colleagues to discuss the feasibility of a multimedia studio and what to do the rest of the year.

The status quo's fine with me for now.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

This was Session Road in bloom

I kept on saying it over and over that morning, and I'll say it again here now: last Wednesday, April 22, 2009, also known as Earth Day, was truly Session Road in bloom.

I was even feeling a bit guilty that morning that we had to drive to town, but having three energetic kids in tow does not make for an easy commute from where we live to downtown Baguio. So off we went, I dropped the whole family off at the top of Session Road and parked at the mall where I had to do some errands. Half an hour later, I joined them.

Walking down from the mall and still a good distance away from Session Road, and there was already a different feel to the area. Session Road sounded different – without the sound of car engines, you hear the laughter of the people more, the sighs, a man clears his throat, a blind man playing a tune on his battery-powered electronic keyboard.

I entered Session Road, a quick glance at the hideous concrete pine tree, and looked for my family - and there were my children on all fours telling their stories with colored chalks. My eldest son Leon spelled out the word EARTH in various colors and forms while my youngest Aeneas drew what looked like tree-lined road. My daughter Gabriela tried to draw earth, but as she tried to add more bright colors to it it started to look more like a sun bursting with colors. In the end what she had was a simple kaleidoscopic orb.

People smiled, said hello, people breathed(!), in Session Road(!). It wasn’t a sunny morning, in fact it was quite overcast. But the feeling, yes Session Road felt so different that morning, was warm, it was nice. Baguio, on that gloomy Wednesday morning, felt like Baguio again. There was a different sense - a sense of community, something that seems to have been missing in recent years. Something that was totally missing the last time they closed down Session Road to traffic.

What is it with wide open spaces that our honorable (for surely, these are honorable men, and women) powers that be just can’t seem to stand it that they just have to mess it up. Last month they closed down Session Road for a whole week of crass commercialism, it was insane. And some have even claimed that this was among the best Baguio Flower Festival celebrations ever. Sorry but I just don’t see why anyone can be proud of being responsible for the rape of Session Road, or Baguio for that matter. For a whole week last month Session Road was a picture of greed, of senseless materialism, it was an orgy! For a whole week people squeezed in between other people and commercial stalls, shouted over loud speakers asking them to buy this and that not knowing, or caring, that for every item sold a piece of the city’s soul was sold with it.

And at the end of the day, this was how they measured the success of this year’s Panagbenga: how much money the city, and some people, earned. None of them cared how much of the city’s soul was lost. But that’s the thing about abstract concepts such as a city’s soul – you can’t put a tag price in pesos on it, and the honorables just don't get it.

It's not about power, remember? It's not just about money, right? And then there was that Wednesday morning on Session Road: both children and grown-ups down on their knees making known their hopes and dreams for Mother Earth, for the environment, for Baguio; last Wednesday, it felt like we were once again one community, working together to make the world a better place. That, dear honorables, that's what it's all about.

And then the heavens acknowledged a community’s prayers and let down the rains, and the colors and stories on the pavements merged and became one. Last Wednesday, Session Road looked, smelled, sounded, felt different. Again, without the madness, without the pollution and noise, Session Road was truly in bloom.

In the afternoon they let the cars in again. They gave that orgy known as Session Road in Bloom one whole week, and they couldn’t make that beautiful Wednesday last a even just whole day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Under the stars

If this paper's editor-in-chief has forgiven this column's month-long absence, this piece will see print under a new column title. "Session Road Blues" is being recalled to serve as the working title of a new theatrical piece that our group, Open Space, is putting together that we hope to unveil later this year.

The reason for my absence here, in a nutshell, is this: four weeks, one concert, a couple of public screenings, three performances of two musicals in three different venues. We're coming from providing technical direction to the Panagbenga spectacle that was the "Phantom on the Lake," followed by screenings of our documentary on Baguio, "Portrait of a Hill Station," and a concert featuring original songs about Baguio. Soon after the last hotdog and corn was sold and the last complimentary cigarette lighter was handed out during Session Road in Bloom, we began putting together two musicals, one of which was the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice classic, "Jesus Christ Superstar."

Our mayor, Peter Rey Bautista, encouraged by the response to the Phantom performance at the lake, requested that we perform our production of Webber's rock opera for the community during the Holy Week. The original idea was to perform it on the stage built in middle of the lake, but after finding out that was already removed we suggested that we instead put it up at the Baguio Convention Center and Rose Garden for technical and aesthetic reasons: The BCC for the convenience of a roof in case the rains come on Good Friday (which it did), and the steps that lead from behind the bust of Arch. Daniel Burnham towards the lake provides an amphitheater-like feel, surrounded by trees and pocket gardens filled with roses, and it's been our group's dream to perform there.

The cast and staff of about 70 people met for a production meeting which was soon followed by daily (and nightly) rehearsals at the Baguio Convention Center. There were Open Space's resident artists, a hip-hop dance group Baguio Amplified in their theatrical debut and the AVP ensemble, an informal group of musicians and singers, vocalising, arranging, blocking, choreographing... giving life to the written text. Behind the scenes, other members of the group were all over town with the City Mayor's Office's endorsement letter requesting the support of some friends in the private sector.

The first to respond was Dr. Reynaldo C. Bautista, Sr. of the Rural Bank of Itogon, one of our group's ardent supporters. If we had any doubts at all if the production will really push through due to sponsorship concerns, those doubts were erased as soon as RBI threw its support behind the endeavor. Smart Communications' pledge soon followed, and we knew at that point that there was really no turning back anymore. The next thing we knew, we had Victory Liner's, The Manor's and the University of Baguio's logos on our posters. Later, Beneco pledged its support too and Alabanza Meat Store sent food our way during our second performance.

The reason why the group's very enthusiastic about this production is because it proved that given the government's endorsement, the support of the private sector is sure to follow, enabling us to stage free cultural presentations making the arts more accessible to the community.

This while providing a venue for our local artists to express themselves. This while being able to present great stories that present relevant social issues. This while perhaps reinforcing an alternative reason for tourists to come up to Baguio: its arts and culture scene.

During the second performance at the Rose Garden, on the grassy area on either side of the steps, families laid out mats while the children ran around waiting for the performance to begin. The steps began to fill with both locals and tourists wondering what the stage, lights and sound equipment set-up were all about.

Even the ambulant vendors set their wares aside for a night at the theater: under the stars and out in the open. And both the performers and our supporters agreed: let's have more of this.