this year was the first time i even cared enough to go to Gawad Buhay, and that is really because of a good three things: my love for Tuxqs Rutaquio, my love of Layeta Bucoy, and my new-found discovery of and respect for the kind of hard work that Tanghalang Pilipino’s Actors Company stands for.
which is of course to wear my heart on my sleeve (obvious ba), and really to point at some of my good ol’ biases, the kind that i’ve always had and have never denied having. anyone who was reading my theater reviews from the beginning (i.e., 2009) would know that i had much respect for the work of Rutaquio and Bucoy (as director-playwright tandem), long before i came to know them as people (which was mostly this year). i had also done reviews of the work of AC’s Tadioan long before he even became the monolith of an actor that he has become.
i’d like to think these biases do not diminish my own thoughts about Gawad Buhay’s limitations, which i feel should / can be fixed at this point — democratization is the word i like to use — as a matter of actually and truly being about all of the theater community, and not just the few who are willing to become part of Philstage. yes, Gawad Buhay is not / cannot be a measure of the year that was in Philippine theater. because it is not looking at all of Philippine theater.
and so my notes start with that. and end with more, given the first experience of Gawad Buhay, which most probably will be the last (explained in the last note).
(1) Philstage is “the Philippine Legitimate Stage Artists Group, the country’s only organization of professional performing arts companies founded in 1997,” and therein lies its limitations. the goal when Philstage decided to do their yearly awards for local theater was to “expand the organization’s membership.” this was in 2008. but six years in and Atlantis Productions and Philippine Ballet Theater have yet to join Philstage; six years in, and one wonders how many great productions and performances Gawad Buhay has missed honoring just because of the limitations it sets on itself.
(2) the model for Philstage and Gawad Buhay is apparently
the Laurence Olivier Awards in London, which, as described in its website, is “run by The Society of London Theatre but are adjudicated by panels that are equally made up of members of the theatre-going public and experts chosen for their knowledge and professional experience.
but there are a couple of things missing in this self-proclaimed mirroring of the Olivier’s and the SOLT. for one thing the latter practically functions as a union for its members and member organizations, and that makes it crucial for most theater practitioners in London to be part of it. there is also the fact that the Olivier’s itself has been questioned for its default exclusions, given its rules and how it disallows off West End and fringe theater from competing with everybody else.
(3) and this is the thing: Philstage and Gawad Buhay are not looking at something as large as the London theater scene. in fact, the changes that are being demanded of the Olivier’s and SOLT is already doable here and now for Gawad Buhay, if it is to truly “embrace all of Philippine theater.” one takes from this criticism of the April 2014 of the Olivier’s:
And, even if it would be difficult to organise awards that embraced the whole of British theatre since no one can see everything, it would be good if the Oliviers at least acknowledged the rich diversity of London theatre. Instead of a single award for an affiliate theatre – won this year by the Tricycle’s Handbagged – why not a set of prizes that allow Off West End and the fringe to compete with the big bow-wows on an equal footing?
in this country and at this point, it’s not even about a fringe theater industry or “Off West End” kind of dynamic. it is merely and really quite simply about looking at the kinds of theater companies we have, the kinds of platforms within which theater is produced, and working with a spirit of inclusion and community, instead of the spirit of membership and community.
(4) membership imposes on theater companies a set of requirements extraneous to the kinds of productions and performances they actually come out with every year. inclusion means being able to grapple with most every theatrical production on any given year, and weeding out the best ones from there, creating categories if need be, revealing what exactly happened to local theater (let’s say limited as that is to the center that is Manila even), and working at expansion from there.
(5) the local theater scene is small enough for Philstage to be more inclusive, for Philstage to be more democratic about its rules and requirements. the exclusion of University theater companies because these are not considered as “professional,” or the exclusion of companies that have yet to exist for five years, are requirements that should be easy to revise. the theater scene is already so small, why limit the productions worthy of celebrating with such technicalities?
(6) and this is the thing: these rules are not at all about the performance or skill of actors and the members of productions. and in this country it seems important to recognize that professional actors and creatives work within University and smaller (and newer!) theater companies, and within these could / would deserve to be credited for work well done.
which is to say this: if Gawad Buhay is about awarding the best performances for a given year, shouldn’t that mean looking at individual performances regardless of whether it happens within a University theater company, or one as young as say, Red Turnip Theater? if we were talking about the best choreography, the best actress, shouldn’t those performances be the point, and not whether or not these happened in a Dulaang UP or Tanghalang Ateneo play?
(7) case(s) in point. Myra Beltran’s choreography of Tanghalang Ateneo’s Ang Oresteyas, and Delphine Buencamino’s Elektra for the same staging. Cris Villonco’s Fides in Virgin Labfest’s full-length play Pramoedya. Fernando Josef’s Pramoedya for the same. and for the one-act: Sherry Lara for Virgin Labfest’s Kapit, Lui Manansala for Imbisibol. Floy Quintos’s writing of The Collection (staged by Dulaang UP).
i think of it now and realize Gawad Buhay would’ve missed out on some pretty good work that deserved at least nominations too, from smaller production companies like Red Turnip’s set for Closer for example, and Cris Villonco’s and Bart Guingona’s performances for the same. there’s also just the thought that they might have missed out on Titus Andronicus altogether because it was staged by Dulaang UP in 2011. or on the performances of Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and Jett Pangan for Next To Normal, among many others that happen for Atlantis. Sa Wakas‘s musical direction just because it was by an independent production team.
or just in the first half of this year: the ensemble of Cock for Red Turnip Theater. Cherie Gil and the set of Full Gallop.
(8) now of course Philstage and Gawad Buhay can invoke no funds or time for the jury to see all the productions for a given year. i tend to think though that there is no romance to be had in not at the very least paying for the jurors’ transport and logistical expenses, especially if they are actually going through all of the theater productions with professional actors, across the metro.
(9) now of course Philstage and Gawad Buhay can ignore all these, and that would be fine. this brings me to the latter half of this list, one that wonders about the smallness that the awards night invokes, and how and if that bodes well for local theater really.
(10) because there was the whole idea of community and unity that this awards night was living off, and yet there was also a sense of division. TP and PETA and Ballet Philippines to one side, most every other (English) theater company on the other. i realized sitting right smack in the middle of that audience that this division did exist, and invoking unity or togetherness could not erase it.
(11) because there is a sense here of smallness, something that should be reason for anxiety. for certainly we are aware of how small we make local theater given our rules? and certainly we know that this smallness does not do justice to what local theater does year-in year-out, what and who it produces, the kind of talent it cradles.
(12) and in that smallness was the elephant in the room: Audie Gemora did not only win Outstanding Male Featured Performance in a Musical (for The Producers), his Trumpets produced The Bluebird of Happiness which won Outstanding Production for Children and Outstanding Original Musical.
Gemora is Philstage President.
(13) this is not to put down who has won and which awards were given. in fact i think Gemora so deserved that award for his performance in The Producers. but this is to wonder whether or not we diminish our own work by letting ourselves win awards while we are in a position of power within the award-giving organization.
(14) because the local theater scene might be small, but part of the anxiety should push us to create our own rules about how a real industry awards should be run. the smallness is reason enough to be inclusive, because it is doable. because it is what would do justice to the creativity and talent and skill that we see in local theater every year.
(15) because we can afford it. to be transparent i mean, wear our hearts on our sleeves, lay down our cards and biases. we should be able to do things differently from the dime-a-dozen film awards, the incredible music awards, on these shores. we can decide that no one needs to join anything just to be considered for an award. we can decide that given the smallness, we can include as many as we can. we can decide to democratize.
(16) which brings me back to how i started this piece: my own personal anxiety is one that’s about my own place as critic, working as i do now with TP’s Kleptomaniacs, and realizing that this can only change my position as someone who writes reviews. Tuxqs knows this too: when he started asking me to come watch his work, i would go in and walk out as quickly as i could, lest i had to socialize, which i never liked. i thought — i still do think — it places me in an uncanny position of kindness-by-default, and a conversation with whoever’s part of the production messes with what i actually already think of what i’ve just seen.
at the Gawad Buhay, the notion of community included the jurors-who-are-critics, and i thought that strange even as it reminded me of the many things we do not talk about because too difficult. are critics ever part of the community they function within? do we not in fact distance ourselves by default, put our own position into question all the time, given whatever relationships we might have with people who make theater (culture, art, literature) happen?
(17) it’s entirely possible this is all just me.