Rage, the Filipino, and Battalia Royale

Disclaimer: I am a Sipat Lawin Ensemble Player and oversaw Press Relations of Battalia Royale. The views below are my own, and do not reflect that of Sipat Lawin Ensemble, Battalia Royale, and its affiliates. Feel free to discuss, debate, or even disagree with my commentary. Let the material live through discourse.

When I watch the crowds cheer on the performance at Battalia Royale, pump their fists to the air when they decide to play to endgame, or roar their approval in deciding to kill Timothy during quarter time; I wonder if this is what lies beneath Filipnos being so-called the “happiest people on earth.”

I have friends in psychology who confided in feeling that the phrase has become nothing more than PR. The underprivileged smile because it’s all they have. It’s free. But it’s a shallow grave for the real grief of the day-to-day. The cliches still ring true: rich get richer, poor get poorer. The system is quaking. People are angry at change that isn’t happening fast enough.

Or it could be because I’m in Battalia, that the every day violence is all the more emphasized.

But this was the local news as Battalia Royale unfolded:

It’s not unusual for teachers in public schools to throw chalk or even chalkboard erasers at sleepy or delinquent students. If you’re not so lucky, it might be the desk. Then you hear of students actually getting beat up by teachers, during class.

A Dad turns a gun on his son’s classmate, when the classmate accuses the son of bullying him.

Meanwhile, in Cebu, an 11 year old girl finally kills her Dad after years of seeing him beat up her Mom.

“Why stage this when we’re surrounded by violence every day?!” Exclaims a colleague, upon seeing the show.

One man even made a statement on walking out when the audience voted for the remaining 13 or so students to kill each other at halftime, “Theater is a rehearsal for life.” he declares.

The first comment, after being shared on the BR page, a fan of the show accuses him of being an overly-righteous git.

Picture taken from Battalia Royale on Facebook.
Rough (and very bad translation):
Caption, top: “I walked out of Battalia Royale because I felt that was expected of me from the show…”
In Photo: “I walked out of Battalia Royale 3 because…”

On the flipside, one fan of Battalia Royale said the show helped him process his rage after having survived a kidnapping in Mindanao. Another viewer, a preschool teacher (one of many) said it was “refreshing” after spending days of repressing the aggravation of dealing with kids every day.

A few more who have raised a ruckus during the show, who cheered at every death, would think about the show a day after and feel guilty about the choices they’ve made.

Many, many more have decided to give other theatrical shows a try. They liked the reminder of thinking and feeling, when they’ve taught themselves to carry on and just do their job.

These are the things that aren’t picked up in the media, and only briefly mentioned in one BR article. It’s a sign that at least, for now, the rage is tempered.

I know and hail Battalia Royale as a sacred space for rage. But I wonder, as the headlines ring even more alarms, if it’s indicative of a tipping point for Filipinos. We’ve smiled long enough. We’ve lived with the worst long enough.

Has our countdown to endgame begun? And how much time do we have?

Recommended reading:

Otaku Champloo: Battalia Royale Beyond Battle Royale

Writings belong of David Finnigan: Being in Manila, presenting Symposium Royale

Battalia Royale Interactive


For the love of theater: Happiness and Blood

Lots of change in the air. I got back in the swing of production with Sipat Lawin Ensemble‘s Battalia Royale, and managed to catch 9works Theatrical‘s’ You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.

I. “Happiness Is” – 9 Works Theatrical’s You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown

For those who followed the Charles M. Schultz Peanuts serial, with kids you want to pull away from screens, do catch You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. It’s an entertaining and thoughtful show, made of children’s thoughts on childhood, happiness, and a dash of “philosophy”. As someone raised on the Peanuts holiday specials, it was just the break I needed from the humdrum of work. As an adult, it’s easy to lose sight on what it means to be ‘happy’. You could see that the cast had fun with it, and the fun is contagious.

To see just what I mean, here’s that classic clip of Kristin Chenoweth’s “My New Philosophy” with the bows version of “Happiness” from the Tony Awards 2000. Promise, the Philippine cast is just as good.

You can still catch the last few shows this weekend – March 2-8pm, March 3-330pm & 8pm. Call 557-5860, 586-7105, 0917-554-5560, or email info@9workstheatrical.com.

II. “A Sacred Space for Violence” – Sipat Lawin Ensemble’s Battalia Royale

It was through hell and high water that I made time to help with Sipat Lawin Ensemble’s Battalia Royale. It has been worth it.

Inspired by the Japanese cult series, “Battle Royale”, the story follows a batch of hijacked high school kids then made to fight each other to the death in a deadly game. Only one survives and “wins” the game.

The impact on the Philippine audience was an afterthought – even amidst largely conservative views on sex and violence. While I knew that it would gain a “following”, I did not expect a craze, a clamor for the show. As of writing, tickets for the March run have sold out. I remain amazed, even shocked, at the demand.

In the performance, several scenes play out to accommodate a 40+ member cast. As a crew member I found the show in the audience.

It was the last show during it’s CCP run that I caught part of a phone conversation from one audience member, “You have to come over here!” He was urging in Tagalog, “They’re shooting each other! They’re dying! They’re making out! It’s bad-ass, man! SO BAD ASS!”

The show brings out the little monsters in all of us. On the last night of its CCP run, it seemed like one big monster was made out of the 900+ or so people who came out to watch. They even voted to kill off one student during halftime (on the first two shows, that student was spared), and gleefully clapped as he fell to the floor.

But there is no prize at stake, just the show.

Also consider: the student most popularly rooted for is Kakai, who lies and seduces her way to survival. In the confines of classrooms, offices, any group of friends, a Kakai-type would be “ahas” – a snake. A manipulative slut who stops at nothing to get what she wants. But in this game, she’s considered cool, a hero.

So why the craze? I suspect, in a society where it’s all the more important to represent the good and proper, this is the only show where you can let your demons out. After all, the blood is fake. The deaths only last for as long as the show. It’s become sacred space to let it out, without any judgement.

Rage becomes the best weapon in this game. It can make something as basic as a bag of marbles into an instrument of murder. In the end, it’s what saves even the most peaceful and pacifist.

The show isn’t for the lighthearted. Watch if you dare.

For more information on Battalia Royale, check out their facebook.

Of catfood and songs

The Catfood Fiasco

[Read on the Rafa Santos catfood fiasco here]

Thing is: that isn’t the first time I heard the catfood analogy to theater pay. I’ve heard it before, from someone else in rehearsal room banter. That’s really what makes the difference: there are jokes you tell your friends, then there are the ones you don’t print or show.

Remember, remember, Joan Rivers and the eat your dog joke. It’s equivalent to the N word: fine and fun among friends, but it’s a media grenade onscreen.

While I’ve accepted his apology, and I do hope all the best for Rafa Santos, I also hope the community considers the repercussions of the statement. It takes guts to wade through the theater and freelance creative industry, especially one in a developing country. So far, I’m amazed that we continue to churn out talent and shows. We’re only as good as the gigs we get, and we’re very thinly protected by the labor laws.

For the most part, it’s a wild, wild, world out there. What I wish is that it gets us thinking of a standard for all engagements and companies to follow. We have the passion, we just need the regulations to allow us keep working at it.

Off into the world we go

Speaking of regulations, from what I know from working the trenches of the stage, I can take a guess as to why they imported a cast for the Songs of Andrew Lloyd concert. Abby wrote about the concert here, which also sums up my sentiments.

So, why the import? Let’s just say that just say that some companies didn’t abide by the fine print way back when, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

It’s a pity though, I remember before Miss Saigon got staged in Manila they’d frequently stage even grander revues with Philippine talent.

I enjoyed the show, but I firmly believe Pinoys could have done it better. I’m also slightly miffed that they got bigger showbuyers for it when they could have gotten a full show of equivalent, if not better caliber, for a competitive price.

Call me naive, but for all our accomplishments in the theater scene, I daresay we can market ourselves. It just needs the right push, and I haven’t seen that push in a long while.

Louder than words

 “The sound you are hearing is not a technical problem. It is not a musical cue. It is not a joke. It is the sound of one man’s mounting anxiety. I… am that man.” -tick…tick…boom!

I remember a 60 year old woman who sat in our poetry class back in college. The woman – for the life of me, I forgot her name – spent most of her life abroad as a nurse.

After her retirement, she decided to go back to painting and literature, passions she put on hold when she pursued nursing and raised a family. She sat in different lit classes around Ateneo, soaking up everything from lit theory to poetry to creative wrting.

“You will always have time,” she once told me when I divulged anxiety about not having the time to achieve everything I wanted. ” look at me, I’m doing all this and I’m already 60!”

In time, I remind myself as I go through my schedule and tick off my to-do list.

In time. I have to think as I grit my teeth and tackle the drudgery that comes with a job.

In time, I sigh, as I struggle to put together the rhythm and lines I once weaved with ease. It will come, I tell myself, to shoo away little mental vampires that cackled in glee at the scrawls on my paper. Emily Dickinson’s poems were valued more after her death.

I remember Johnathan Larson’s “tick…tick…boom!”. Over time, it has spoken more to me than “Rent”. My sister criticized “Rent” for embellishing a life of deliberate poverty, of featuring spoiled “hipsters” who thought honest living was much too mainstream. tick…tick…boom! was more honest, I believed, having had the chance to see both shows. In tick…tick…boom! lay the moral lesson of making the most out of our talent, and the choices we make around them. Even if it takes us away from them.

“the tick tick booms are softer now. I can barely hear them, and I think if I play loud enough I can drown them out completely.”

You can read more about it at the show’s wikipedia page.