Saturday, October 30, 2010

Crazy in love

It’s the morning after but their voices are still ringing in my ears. I like it.

Baguio Apaches Rudy Paraan and Rae David  / Photo by Jojo Lamaria
Of course we got the usual quips like, are these guys from Manila? It’s really so annoying, and sad, when our performers get asked that after a show. But you really can’t blame the people who do that for more often than not, institutions in the city ignore local artists and turn to Manila whenever they need performers for their events. That’s why it’s no surprise when they see something good onstage in Baguio, they instantly think the artists must be from elsewhere but here. For those who have been following Panagbenga’s new tradition of staging grand musicals at the Burnham Lake top-billed by Manila artists, last night’s performance was no Phantom nor Camelot on the Lake, as far as grandiose sets and costumes and production budget are concerned. But sheer talent and artistry more than made up for it.

Raye Baquirin / photo by Charm Simbajon
It was during the frenzy of Session Road in Bloom when couples Rey & Deb Bautista and Dammy & Bing Bangaoet opened Marien Platz at the basement of La Azotea earlier this year. While most patrons came and saw a cozy little café that served German sausages and beer, we in Open Space, a group of performing artists in Baguio, saw a potential performance space.  While the idea of having performances there has been brought up from day one, which is expected since the owners have been at the forefront of the local arts and culture scene all their lives, elections and the later the daily struggle of local artists to make rent and put food on the table got in the way of conceptualizing, planning and putting something together. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, we came up with the idea of an evening of songs from hit Broadway musicals, but there were still logistical and technical concerns to tackle: lights and sound equipment, budget, performers’ availability, etc.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally decided to just go ahead with it with eyes closed and fingers crossed – I sent text messages to the group to ask if they would be willing to perform in a musical revue at Marien Platz. Merely minutes later, I received favorable replies from three artists. Within the next hour, I have come up with a design for a poster which I posted immediately online, and a tentative repertoire of about a dozen songs. By the end of the day, eight have confirmed their participation, and more songs were added to the repertoire. By the time we had our first meeting, we had 12 performers and 30 songs to rehearse. We agreed on a rehearsal date – a couple of days before the show, and by the end of that rehearsal, four more songs were added.

Robert Capuyan, Jr. / photo by Charm Simbajon
Pardon me if I’m gloating about local artists again, I know I do that a lot here. And they deserve it. Their dedication, professionalism and love for the craft never fail to amaze me. At rehearsals, after convincing everyone that we can pull off a rendition of “One Day More” from Les Miserables even with only one rehearsal, Lloyd Celzo showed up with handwritten notes for everyone at rehearsals. Jeff Coronado’s passion for singing shone when he opened the show with “Love Changes Everything.” The Cats suite had Eunice Caburao surprising even herself with a masterful performance of Macavity; Ryle Danganan hit those notes in “Memory” effortlessly; and Roman Ordoña delivered an engaging performance with “Mr. Mistoffelees.” Raye Baquirin, who arrived in Baguio just the night before, conquered the stage with her first solo of the night, “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” while Open Space veteran Russell de Guzman sang “Sunset Boulevard” with utmost sincerity. The audience hushed as Ro Quintos beautifully sang the first lines of the duet, “All I Ask of You,” which Lloyd Virgo complemented with his powerful baritone. Lloyd Celzo, as expected, flawlessly breezed through “Music of the Night.” Dennis Gutierrez sang “Rain” from “Once On This Island” with much power and conviction. Arkhe Sorde Salcedo and Robert Capuyan, Jr. brought the house down with their “Jesus Christ Superstar” solos, while Claude Danganan had the group of Baguios Apaches Rey Bautista, Rudy Paraan and Rae David dancing and singing along with his rendition of “Hair.” 

Last night, the audience filled every inch of space in Marien Platz. Later, as we were packing up the sound system that was generously lent by our musical director, Ethan Andrea Ventura, for the show, and after a few glasses of wine and beer and chicken liver kilawin, after singing a total of 35 songs, we all took a deep breath and decided, yes, we would love to do this again.
Photo by Jojo Lamaria
See, we’re just a bunch of people in love… we all fell in love with this crazy world called theater, and as Jeff Coronado sang that night, “Yes, love, love changes everyone. Live or perish in its flame. Love will never, never let you be the same.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Free admission

The group has been known primarily as an independent theater group based in Baguio. For the past 14 years, we told stories – from that very first production of a performance art piece called “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll” in 1996 to last year’s paean to the City of Baguio called “Kafagway, Sa Saliw Ng Mga Gangsa.”

In between telling stories onstage, we’ve shared what we can with children from various communities in the Cordilleras to help them tell their own stories.

In recent years, as our family grew with the entry of artists from other artistic fields, we’ve branched out to other forms of creative expression – photography, music, film and literature. We’ve put together a portrait of Baguio with “Portrait of a Hill Station,” a documentary on this beautiful city’s history,  a compilation of original musical compositions with “Pag-ibig Sa Tinubuang Lupa,” several photo exhibits, and a few feature articles and original scripts. We’ve made ourselves available to fellow theater artists who needed and asked for our support, and performed for the love of Baguio (as most local impresarios would call it when there’s no budget for professional fees).

We’ve performed to an audience of 5,000 excited, boisterous students at gymnasiums. We’ve performed to an audience of five serious, supportive, critical peers in an art gallery. We’ve told our stories in Baguio, Beguet, Ilocos, La Union, Pangasinan, Batangas and Manila; through plays, music, photographs, moving pictures; at conventions, anniversaries, weddings, festivals, exhibit openings and book launchings.

We treated each storytelling opportunity the way whether it’s a big budgeted production or gratis, that never mattered, perhaps the reason why we lasted this long.

We believed in the Baguio artist, and we did all we can to put them on a pedestal, to honor them, respect them, help uplift the local performing arts scene for them, for it broke our heart every time we see them forced to set aside their God-given talents for nursing or call-center jobs. And with this group, admission's free - the door has always been wide open to anyone who believed in him or herself, and who’s in love with this wonderful thing called art.

Now, almost a year since the last curtain call, we’ll try to get together once again for an evening of more stories, we’ll try to gather as many storytellers as possible, and we’ll tell as many stories as we can. For the truth is, we can’t help but think every time we go up on that stage if there’ll ever be another opportunity to tell another one tomorrow. Nothing big on the night of October 29, 2010 at Marien Platz at the basement of La Azotea Bldg. on Session Road, just a lot of songs and laughter and love. And a lot of songs.

So what is this group called Open Space? A theater company?  A production outfit? A studio? A workshop? Since I first decided to make Baguio my home in 1996, making it Open Space’s too in the process, we have always ended our written communication with, “in our journey to provide an alternative form of entertainment that consistently presents relevant social and cultural issues, we shall remain, yours sincerely.” Open Space is a concept, a family of artists, a venue for artistic expression. What we do is simple - we agree on an idea, we gather like-minded/hearted souls and together, we go out there to express idea that we believe must be communicated to an audience.   

And for most of the last 14 years, we performed mostly for the sake of performing. Why? Sometimes, I believe, to borrow from a monologue from “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll,”  ‘just to make sure we’re really alive.’
So one more time, with feelings – October 29, 2010 at Marien Platz along Session Road: “Broadway Session.” That’s a Friday night. Admission’s free.      

Lost and Found in Natonin

The saddest thing is that when I first came here six years ago, the roads were in exactly the same condition. It took an hour to cover 10 meters six years ago, it took us an hour, or so, to cover 10 kilometres now. The good thing is that the place itself looked almost exactly the same as it did 6 years ago.
We arrived in Paracelis, Mt. Province, on our way to the next town, Natonin, last night after close to ten hours on the road from Baguio. We were advised by friends at our stopover not to even attempt to bring the same van we arrived in on to Natonin, there’s no way it can make it. We first thought of going against their advise, but luckily we heeded it in the end, and hired a tried and tested local jeepney to take us to our final destination.
To cover a distance of a little over 22 kilometres, it took us three hours. Four of us from our entourage of academics, artists, journalists and NGO workers sat on the roof. But of course. So in the darkness of a Mt. Province evening, we made our way, over rocks, mud, rushing waters and in the case of us on the roof, protruding branches. 
I joined the trip mainly because of our NGO worker-friend, an adopted son of the town who’s been working hard to help in the town’s development, and who’s been raving  about the town for the past few months. I dragged another friend to help me document the trip on video and in photos. We arrived late at night so I still had no idea what our friend has been raving about. After a hearty, albeit incongruous, dinner of paksiw na bangus, we hit the sack, hoping to wake up at the crack of dawn.
Dawn cracks rather early in these parts that by 6AM the sun was already brightly shining. I asked around for the best spot to get a panoramic view of the town, and we were accompanied by a good Samaritan to a place called To’or – a hill right in the middle of the valley. We could see that hill from where we were staying and I figured it couldn’t be that far – perhaps a 10-15 minute walk. But there are no straight lines here, so the winding uphill trek to the view deck actually took an hour or so, and this Baguio City slicker hasn’t been on a trail in a very long time – I think it took longer to catch my breath than the actual trek.
But it was worth it. Still and video cameras and tripods on our backs, we reached the top of the hill and there, in 360 degrees, the beauty of Natonin unfolded before us. It wasn’t the thought of another hour‘s trek that made me prolong this fool’s stay on top that hill but rather the golden morning rays on brilliant shades of green painted on mountain sides, rice terraces, tree tops, occasionally interrupted by huts that housed the land’s bounty. So this was Natonin, perhaps among the Cordilleras’ best kept secret havens.
The walk back to the town center was much more pleasant. The people we said good morning to on our way to the hill were still where they were on our way back: the mothers sunning their babies; the store keeper who was preparing her shop for the day earlier was now attending to the day’s first clients; the man shovelling dirt out of the way on the road was now taking his first break chewing moma under a shade. We were particularly amused by the numerous lost and found signs on the walls of several sari-sari stores: lost and found money, lost and found bag, lost and found pustiso. Yup, someone must have left his false teeth at that store the previous night.
I figured, nothing gets lost here. In Natonin, whatever it is you lost, it will find its way back to you. I would love to find my way back here some time again soon.
And I think I wouldn’t mind if things remain as they are here for the next six, or 20 years.

Friday, October 1, 2010

“But even enemies can show respect”

They say it was bold, creative, fantastic, funny, brilliant. True. But it was also wrong. Pardon me for not jumping on the bandwagon praising famed storyteller/tour guide/performance artist Carlos Celdran’s  daring coup at the Manila Cathedral when he barged in during a mass dressed as Jose Rizal and holding up a placard that simply said, “Damaso,” to protest the Catholic Church’s stance on the RH Bill issue.

from PDI: Holding up a placard with the word Damaso on it, tourist guide Carlos Celdran screams at the clergy to get out of politics during Mass at Manila Cathedral. Damaso, an abusive Spanish friar, is immortalized in Rizal’s “Noli me Tangere.” EDWIN BACASMAS
I believe, though, that the Catholic Church, or any other church for that matter, has no business dipping its long and many hands into politics (besides, they have enough of that within their organization already). The constitution prohibits that. The Philippines is not a Catholic country (even qualifying that statement with “predominantly” may not even be accurate anymore). I believe that the Reproductive Health bill should be passed – I’d rather have health professionals and educators introduce our children to reproductive health and sex education instead of pop songs, internet porn and TV shows and commercials.

I also believe that Celdran should be released, not even be charged – it’s just wrong for him to be in jail while Romeo Jalosjos isn’t; while priests found to have committed pedophilia are merely suspended by the church or transferred to another diocese. The government has pardoned a plunderer, it cannot justify keeping someone like Celdran incarcerated.  But…

…see, some of those inside the Manila Cathedral that day were simply to pray, get closer to God. Perhaps one or two were praying for forgiveness, for the soul of a departed loved one, for salvation. Not everyone inside that church that day were either pro or anti-RH bill, some of them perhaps don’t care about it at all, so I will play the party pooper and stand by my opinion that while the cause is a very worthy one, there are other ways. Lest I be accused of not seeing the bigger picture, I just want to say that that bigger picture does not justify the blatant disrespect for others' religious beliefs and their right to practice those beliefs and worship in peace. Not all Catholics support their Church's stand on the RH issue, in the same way that not all Muslims participated in or supported the 9/11 bombing of WTC and other acts of terrorism perpetuated by extremists.  Barging into a mosque wearing a Salman Rushdie mask and holding up a placard that says "Khomeini,” or wearing a ski mask with a placard that says “Abu Sayyaf,” isn’t right too. Nor is having an animal rights activist gate crash an ongoing cañao dressed as Bambi to protest the slaughter of dogs for meat. Ok, now that’s ridiculous. Or is it, really?

The RH bill is a big deal, and religious freedom is too, and Celdran’s freedom to express his beliefs ends where the freedom of another to practice his or hers without being harassed or violated begins. Considering all churches and Catholics fair game in one’s advocacy against their leaders is no different from persecuting all Muslims for the acts of extremists, or all Americans for their government’s atrocities, or all Filipinos for that botched hostage rescue attempt at the Quirino Grandstand. Oh wait, that’s already happening in Hongkong and mainland China, right? And didn’t we cry foul?  

I posted these thoughts on a social networking site and got this reply: “religion ang umpisa ng lahat ng gulo dito sa mundo... f**k them all.” Be careful now.

As Priam said to Achilles in the movie, Troy, “You're still my enemy tonight. But even enemies can show respect.”