So so so so so so so, Karnabal Festival in Manila. As well as helping Sipat Lawin produce the International Exchange platform for the festival, I was involved in four productions that took place as part of the festival.
Previous experience (particularly with the first You Are Here fest) had taught me that being an artist in a festival you’re producing is possible, but not ideal. A little bit of performance is fine – as per the Teen Makeouts shows in YAH 2012 and 2013 – but trying to do a big full-length new show is not. Trying to do four separate shows is ridiculous.
In the end, all four shows happened and worked, more or less, but I am left with the stinging feeling that I could have done better, in every instance, if I’d had more focus.
Anyway – this is what happened:
image by adrian begonia
Total hubris here – when we ran Gobyerno in Korea with Creative VaQi, we were doing our best to pack everything into the two hour slot we’d been given. Here at Karnabal we had two two hour slots again, and we had way more material we wanted to test. Our solution was to break the shows in half and do two completely different performances, with totally different material. Effectively, we ended up presenting two completely different shows over the two nights.
On the first night we did the State of the Nation address, where the participants created their own ideal speech from a leader, discussing the issues they felt most strongly about. The first half of the show is the audience discussing and debating their ideas for the country’s new direction – the second is them preparing and then filming the leader’s speech, complete with journalists, cheering crowds, angry protestors and full orchestration. Brandon had proposed doing a long trick shot for this scene, which I thought was completely ridiculous, but ended up being utterly brilliant. The whole show was a crazy ride, and it felt like everything landed really nicely.
The second night we did Urban Planning – in which participants designed and debated their ideal city, creating a massive floor map of it. In the second half of the show they create a filmic journey through the city. This was lovely, but the audience this night was way bigger – up to 60 from 35 the previous night. With only four artist/facilitators, the structure of managing the crowds started to buckle and sway, and when we brought the whole crowd together, it almost completely fell over.
This show is a pretty exciting proposition on so many levels, but also a powerful challenge, because of JK’s basic desire that it is an interactive participatory work that happens at scale. He wants at least 150 participants in the final version. I think that’s an incredibly hard task. Which is part of why I’m involved.
gobyerno. image by adrian begonia
Appropriate Kissing For All Occasions
This was a nice one, maybe the easiest of the bunch. Isab Martinez and I had already collaborated on this back in 2013, and this was a reboot with some edits and additions. It was incredibly satisfying to see it up close and personal – Isab is a really sharp comic actor, totally able to hold a crowd, and totally owns the arrogant TED-speaker with the gaping emotional wounds at her centre character. And her criticism of people’s kisses was outstanding. This was just a joy to watch, really.
akfao, image by jordan prosser
This was a little newer and a little scarier. Isab and I collaborated on a new work which took the form of a group therapy session. Essentially, Isab’s character was seeking advice from strangers about her relationship, which is slightly shaky and on the rocks. The guts of the work are a facilitated conversation with the audience around their opinions on relationships, what are the key elements, when is it time to call it quits, etc. This is pretty delicate territory, and we were unsure of whether we had something that quite worked.
We presented the show three times. The first time, it sort of worked, if you squinted hard enough. The second time it completely crashed and burned. The third time, it landed beautifully. Three different audiences – different ages, different backgrounds, different numbers, different attitudes, different settings – as an experiment it was ideal. We learned a lot. It was fascinating to see what different groups decided. And there was one really satisfying theatrical moment, where if the audience decide that the relationship is dead in the water, Isab calls the guy up then and there and dumps him over the phone.
My favourite moment, though, was when Isab asks each audience member to describe their ideal partner as an object, and why. Some of the most beautiful images I’ve ever heard stemmed from this moment. A book with the covers torn off. A forest. A circle. Yes.
isab and me, pre-relationship anatomy. image by jordan prosser
Everything is Everywhere
The joint work of myself, Jess Bellamy, Siobhan O’Loughlin and Ira Gamerman. We joined forces after spending a fortnight together in New York last year, and out of that stemmed this project. Over three weeks up to and during Karnabal, we produced a whole raft of new stories, scenes and monologues, and wrapped them together in a framework in which the four of us competed to take over the Philippines.
The basic breakdown had to do with our specific makeup as a company – two men / two women, two Americans / two Australians, two Jews / two Irish Catholic atheists. The resulting show saw us play against each other in three rounds, trying to score points by convincing the Philippines that we were uniquely qualified to understand and engage with them.
In the end, Jess won the contest (because of her UNBELIEVABLE score in our bonus round) and became leader of the Philippines, delivering this acceptance speech (courtesy of Ness Roque):
“Mabuhay! Hindi ko alam ang sinasabi ko. Ako ay isang puting papet. Tingnan niyo ako! Nagsasalita ako pero wala akong alam kung anong sinasabi ko! Ang saya saya! Kekembot ako. Sasayaw ako. Pinagtripan lang kami ng Sipat Lawin. Kekembot ako. Sasayaw ako. Mukha na ba akong tanga? Pero hindi ko alam kung bakit. Maraming salamat po! Maraming salamat po! Mahal ko ang Pilipinas!”
Mahal ko ang Pilipinas indeed.
Okay so that was my artistic input into the festival, which, again, probably shouldn’t have been there. But I think I can say, I’m grateful it happened?
I’m grateful to everyone who lets me make art.