I will be one of the playwrights for Colchester-based company Theatre Témoin project with the Mercury Theatre this first quarter of 2021.
NHS Yarns is “a collaborative project bringing artists and frontline first responders together to create rich, nuanced, and revelatory pieces of storytelling in partnership with The Mercury Theatre.” When I read their job posting last October I hurriedly submitted my application as the project is closer to what I was currently working then with Kanlungan Filipino Consortium and with Migrants Rights Network and affiliated migrant organisation’s: research on the experience of Filipino and other migrant workers working for the NHS.
Ailin Connant, Theatre Témoin’s Artistic Director interviewed me last December and they released the results within two weeks.
Since December I was reading about Theatre Témoin’s previous works and their aesthetics as a theatre company. One thing that excites me though is Theatre Témoin’s themes (and the processes!) of their works in past were almost the same with my practice back in the Philippines.
I am looking forward for exciting theatre pieces that will come out from this engagement and to learn something new from Theatre Témoin.
Miss Philippines as a full-length play tells the story of a slum community in Manila struggling to mount a gay beauty pageant in the middle of Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs’
Yes, Miss Philippines is stil running!
For those who are asking, the short play running in the festival is the opening scene of longer play-in-progress. This is actually my newest full-lengt piece on stage since 2015 when I wrote Mas Mabigat ang Liwanag sa Kalungkutan (Light Falls Heavier in Sorrow).
Just a teaser on what the full-length Miss Philippines looks like.
The play revolves around a story of a slum community in Manila in Duterte Philippines where only women are left to survive since their husbands, sons, lovers, and gay male friends are either killed through extra-judicial killing, fled, jailed, or missing (forced disappearance) in the bloody government campaign against illegal drugs since 2016.
In the full-lenght play, all the characters are women from different ages and backgrounds: a grandmother who survived the war in Mindanao during the Marcos Martial Law regime, a Filipina domestic helper who just returned from abroad, a nurse waiting for her flight to London, transgender women, a mother, a former Communist rebel turned street vendor, a lesbian journalism student, and a Muslim woman. All these women have three things in common: poverty, the absence of men in their lives because of state violence and persecution, and the various ways of coping with loss.
Mimi and Madame Stella are just the two in the ensemble of women struggling to mount a gay beauty pageant in the middle of the fascist Duterte regime’s ‘War on Drugs’ in the Philippines.
Miss Philippines is a play in three acts exploring the themes of loss, violence, beauty, and the power of collective resistance to a patriarchal fascist regime in the present Philippines. Under the Duterte government, extra-judicial killings of suspected drug pushers, users, human rights activists, indigenous peoples, progressive cultural workers, and members of the media are rampant and being normalized.
In a pageant-crazed Philippines, beauty contests are important cultural markers. Duterte‘s popularity is still unchallenged in the archipelago. His supporters call him Tatay Digong—‘tatay’ literally translates as ‘father’ in the Filipino language. The killings that he orders are seen as punishment of the ‘tatay’ to discipline his ‘children’. The violence and the culture of impunity in the Philippines is framed on a power structure that is definitely patriarchal.
The public presentation of a scene from my play-in-progress currently under development from Yellow Earth Theatre Company will performed by London-based actors Victoria Gigante (Mimi) and Vivienne Robles Lacson (Madamme Stella). Andrea Ling will direct the play.
Miss Philippines is my first play written entirely in English and the first production of work for stage since 2018 when Ang Mga Maharlika (The Aristocrats) and Mas Mabigat ang Liwagan sa Kalungkutan (Lights Falls Heavier in Sorrow) were performed in September in Manila that year.
The poster was designed by Manila-based artist Rombutan. It was revised several times after it was released to the public to promote the performances. It was banned on Facebook, the actors and the production (including me) received countless death threats and intimidation from the supporters and loyalists of the Marcoses and of course, Duterte. Ang Mga Maharlika was supposed to be toured in several venues that year but the production decided to cancel the shows.
Ang Mga Maharlika retells the story of the scandal of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his mistress, the American actress Dovie Beams.
I am posting this here for posterity. Freedom of expression and the freedom to dissent are long dead in the Philippines. Duterte and his fascist regime’s Anti-Terror Bill is awaiting for his signature to formalize and ‘legalize’ the death of freedom of expression in the country.
This is my first theatre-related activity in the United Kingdom and probably my first since the last production of my play Ang Mga Maharlika in 2017 when I was still in Manila. It was already a hiatus for someone like me who keep a scorecards of new plays written and produced in a year.
Before I left for London in 2018 I was supposed to write an adaption of Gogol’s The Government Inspector for a Manila-based theatre company, but for some reasons the project did not push through and there came the problems back home and I have to stay here in the country. I really missed the theatre – both writing a new play or being in the production as a playwright. Getting accepted in this program is a real rebound.
Writing plays always inspire me to be creative and productive in my other creative endeavors such as writing a novel or a short story.
Last February, I submitted my application to the second iteration of Yellow Earth’s Professional Writers’ Program. Luckily, my project proposal for a new play (in English, full-length) got accepted. I’d like to finish my new play while I am in this program – or, at least the scene treatments and pitch while attending the first phase of project until June.
What makes me more excited is I am part of cohort of professional theatre and film artists based in the United Kingdom. I will definitely get a lot of new perspective on their practices that could help me navigate the industry and continue writing plays while I am here living in this country indefinitely.
Yellow Earth Theatre Company is a London-based theatre company that provides workshops, conducts researches, and full production and promotion of works by British East Asians in the United Kingdom.