The last time I went to Manila to work with the Sipat Lawin Ensemble I had one of the best weeks of my life, both creatively and personally. When JK and Sarah from Sipat asked me to be part of a festival they were running, Karnabale, I said yes immediately, despite not knowing what Karnabale was or what I would be expected to do.
It eventuated that I was being invited to take part in a international exchange platform. I would be partnered with a Filipino artist from the first day of the festival and we’d have two weeks to devise something and then present it on the last day.
Partnering with a stranger was already a daunting challenge (although one I was way up for) but as a card-carrying Glutton For Punishment/Opportunist I was quick to ask if I could also do a performance of Bomb Collar as part of the festival. My fellow over-commiter Dave Finnigan was co-ordinating the exchange platform and generously said yes.
My performance of Bomb Collar was on the first weekend of the festival so I didn’t have too much time to worry over it. I’d had just enough time before I left to relearn and re-tweak the script and have Adam make some improvements to the lighting effects. I had a very nice reception from the crowd but not a lot of in-depth feedback. I have strong suspicions that it might be the sort of show that’s acceptable to most but loved by few, which might just be the inevitable pitfall of making something that’s such a specific synthesis of my personal interests. It’s certainly developing me as a performer and I’ll certainly keep touring it; now that I finally have space to bring Adam and Paul in as creative voices (rather than just prop designers) it might well find another level with crowds.
Anyway, the bulk of my time was spent on the exchange platform. I was partnered with Ariel Diccion, whose intimidating CV was sent to me ahead of time. Ariel is a lit academic with an extensive and varied theater background and is a member of Spit, the premier improv group in Manila. He comes from a conceptually rigorous space and I knew I needed to be on my game.
Luckily for me Ariel is the most generous, welcoming and open person alive and within ten minutes of meeting him I was determined to forge a long-term long-distance collaboration with him. We have a ridiculous amount of overlap in our interests, both artistic and existential, and in our first week we developed entirely too many ideas to fit into our Karnabale show. Which was no sweat, because we’d both resolved that this piece would be just the first salvo in a multi-year (maybe even multi-decade) collaboration.
So what did we present at the end of the fortnight? Long story short, the one idea that remained central to our devising is a Tagalog word that Ariel introduced me to, Tanda. This word can mean injury or the broader idea of being marked, it can also mean the state of maturity (sorry if I’m butchering the nuance Ariel!). I was immediately taken with the way that the concept was so physically inculcated. In my mind it instantly related to performance, and Ariel contributed some extremely fresh thoughts on the nature of social performance within individuals. Like I said, there’s a lot of places that Tanda will take us in the future, some of them quite heavy.
Our Karnabale piece was quite silly and fun, with some confronting flecks here and there. It was a heavily participatory work, which is still a newer thing for me but second nature to Ariel (I was leaning on some script whereas he improvised his entire performance, running rings around me). Our show was a mock marketing presentation, where we treated the audience as potential frachisees for a ten-minute workout system. The ‘workout’ was a mix of intense exercise and character creation challenges. We challenged people to create their own superhuman identities in 5 minutes, in a way that satirized rugged individualism, self-help courses and cultural appropriation. We used a very goofy structure to get people to confront their own experience of Tanda in a frantic environment where there was no time to ponder deeply. We then ordered the crowd to present their new identities to each other and assert their superiority, a thing that got surprisingly emotional reactions from some of the participants.
Like a lot of pieces I work on it threatened to be over-stuffed, but thanks to Ariel’s performance chops (and a very up-for-it audience) it played coherently with a good amount of artistic meat. As always, there were elements of it we could push that you could never get away with in Australia, and that alone will keep me coming back to work with Sipat Lawin for as long as they’ll have me.
All Photos by Jordan ‘Lucky Lens’ Prosser