I wasn’t very good at doing arts and culture in the country the past year. But here’s a list of the strange, the good, the surprising in culture for 2015, not at all a best or worst list because … see the first sentence.
First a critical aside: having worked as dramaturg for Kleptomaniacs and a bit with Tanghalang Pilipino in 2014 meant keeping the theater reviews to a minimum in 2015. I needed that time to let go of the little inside stories that I know, if not to forget the petty tsismis. Distance is a good thing, and one is glad when it is given.
This is of course to see the silver lining of a surprising dark cloud: the past year, for whatever reason, I lost the privilege of media passes for much of local theater. Now Atlantis has never put me on their list, but there was a time I could count on being invited to the press previews of Repertory Philippines, Trumpets, PETA, TP, Red Turnip, Necessary Theatre, and the smaller and university-based theater productions. This year there was no such thing.
One realizes that the press for much of local theater is handled mainly by one person, and so it takes just offending that person and you’re pretty much done. And in the petty cultural landscape of this country where kissing ass is expected, it takes so little — including refusing the sushalan and the patronage politics — to be written off a list.
I consider it an honor most of the time.
So #1. All that I enjoyed of the little I saw of local theater: Juego de Peligro (adaptation by Elmer Gatchalian, directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio), Time Stands Still (directed by Rem Zamora), Chuva Choo Choo (written and directed by George de Jesus). Not at all a measure of what was good in theater the past year though, as this is a fraction of what was actually staged. While I enjoyed the musical version of Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady, I did enjoy watching Bituin Escalante doing some comedy; as I did enjoy Arbol de Fuego for Jake Macapagal and Raffy Tejada.
A wish: that for 2016 I can afford to go to theater productions on my own steam, so that I need not be on some list in order to get to do reviews.
#2. Interviewed Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, and could not get over her kind of humility, her quiet, her sense of clarity about where she stands in the greater scheme of things.
Also finally wrote about Jonathan Tadioan’s body of work, something I had been working towards, I realize, until I finally met Tad and saw him work behind the scenes.
#3. Biyaheng Langit by Electrolychee, an independently published, glossy book in full-color! on jeepney art, that is also a mapping of folk artistic diversity. It’s impressive work because it cuts across various geographic spaces and one can only imagine the dedication it required, and the persistence.
#4. Independent publishing is alive and well, but also at this juncture when one cannot help but feel an amount of discomfort, even when I maintain such an affinity with and love for those who publish independently. One can’t help but feel like it is at a point when it’s becoming too cliquish for comfort on the one hand, but also losing the rakenrol on the other. Probably the most stark indication of this was Highchair selling some numbered prints of poems by its published poets, signed, and apparently meant to be framed, which just seemed like a page out of the book of the egotistical, self-indulgent writer that I thought we all stood against. Or maybe I just didn’t get it.
#5. Anvil Publishing shows its fangs against new writing, which was a revelation of the sad sad state of affairs of publishing in this country. And one couldn’t help but feel worse when at the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators conference in Manila in September, Anvil was front and center at the event, selling its books, like it had not just effectively silenced creativity and criticism by throwing a lawyer in the direction of a writer earlier in the year. And obviously, few writers have taken a stand against Anvil on this issue, and that might be the biggest disappointment of the year.
#6. Pinoy film, beyond the artsy fartsy indie. No to long five hour films! Yes to well-written, funny and refreshing films. Toto, which did not get enough mileage off of the MMFF 2015, but which discussed the American dream in all its complexity, without the drama and the judgments; Baka Siguro Yata, a hilarious rom-com that focuses on the male protagonist who is an anti-hero that you can’t help but root for. And of course: Heneral Luna, over and above the egos that the support it gathered revealed.
#7. Dong Abay’s got a new band, one that respects who he is as person and artist, and who knows what he needs as creative. One hopes for a new album in 2016.
#8. The OPM crisis continues, and in 2015 it was more discussed, revealed to be more complex, than just asking a Senator or Congressman to pass a law. This, while FILSCAP has yet to answer questions about how much money it has, but more importantly WHY it has all that money. There is also its inability to answer questions from artists themselves who wonder about why they get little or a lot in royalties for reasons that are not explained.
#9. Cultural work and how it is complicit in the system of labor that is oppressive and violent, and everything in between. Case in point: at the same time as the Tanduay workers’ strike, Derek Ramsey’s face and machismo became the dominant image for the brand, talking about tibay ng loob and taking a shot of the drink, giving a more dominant, more pretty picture, as counterpoint to the ongoing strike and the reports of labor abuses. And yes, that cuts across cultural institutions like GMA Network, too, given Talents Association of GMA (TAG).
#10. LAPIS is here, and I can’t help but be excited for what it can achieve, given its refusal to be easily pegged to be aligned with any given organization or ideological leaning. It’s also exciting because when one speaks to Gary Granada, there is a sense that it remains a work in progress, even as it is focused education and on the issues that matter.
#12. The insistence on building an artist welfare act or AWA, when what we need are artist unions that will truly protect artists, but also protect those who hire them from substandard work. Ah, but apparently unions are just as scary for the powerful artists and elders of our cultural spheres, so right here, a dead-end. AWA Part 2, AWA Part 3.
#13. APEC Manila 2016: Kris’s foreign affairs faux pas, calling Presidents’ wives by their countries instead of their names. Yes, like in a beauty pageant, at an official function that she hosted with her sisters. And who can forget that fantastic APEC show, that we spent taxpayers’ money on, and which on all counts was just the most horrid display of our talent, our creativity, our country?
#15. #AlDub. ‘Nuf said.