All the shows I did in Manila in May 2015

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:

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Gobyerno

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.

gob_adrian begoniagobyerno. image by adrian begonia

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gob02_jpgobyerno. images by jordan prosser

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_jp akfao, image by jordan prosser

Relationship Anatomy

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.

ra_jpisab 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.

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eise04_adrian begonia#EisE. images by adrian begonia

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.

Hectic, beautiful, fucked: Karnabal 2015

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I’m writing this in Sydney, in the late autumn chill (as chilly as it gets in this town) and I’m already withdrawing from the heat and humidity of Filipino summer. Landed in Australia on Sunday after two and a bit months in Manila, and I’m suffering some of the ‘reverse culture shock’ they talked about at the Asialink orientation session (‘You may find upon your return to english speaking countries that things seem too drab, quiet, orderly, sleepy and safe’). So I’m going to do my best to talk about what I was doing over there before it all gets too far away from me.

I’ve been in Manila working with the Sipat Lawin Ensemble, beloved collaborators and dear friends, and for whom I am a kind of ridiculous white sidekick. There were two major parts to this collaboration. The first was devising and presenting the first seasons of Gobyerno, a massive participatory performance in which the audience construct their own documentary of their ideal society. We (me, JK Anicoche, Ness Roque and Brandon Relucio) kicked off Gobyerno in Korea with collaborators Creative VaQi in April, and then brought it to Manila for a first season there. Secondly, I was there to help out on Sipat’s Karnabal Festival.

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Karnabal is Sipat’s curated festival of contemporary performance by Filipino artists from across the spectrum. 2015 was the second outing for the festival, and a huge step up in scale from the original in 2013. This year, as well as a huge program of performances by Filipino artists and ensembles (including some of my favourites like Anino Shadowplay and Issa Lopez), the festival was host to a whole stream of international artists: the International Exchange.

Speaking bluntly, it takes pretty serious vision / ambition / lunacy to program a major international stream into your completely unfunded festival, and it says a lot about Sipat Lawin that they were able to bring on nearly 20 participants from around the world. This is an exciting company to get to work with, an exciting community to be a part of, and people were up for the challenge. Anyway, I was in charge of wrangling the International Exchange component of the festival.

In a nice departure from usual programming models, the duo behind Karnabal (Sarah Salazar and JK Anicoche) didn’t want the international artists to come in and dominate the lineup. They wanted to keep the focus on the local artists and the exciting things happening in Manila right now, while still being part of an international conversation. So with that in mind, the internationals came along not to present their own work (with one or two exceptions) but to attend the festival, participate in talks, events, give workshops, and most importantly, collaborate with local artists on new projects. Each international artist was paired with a local artist, and that duo worked together over the festival to begin the development of a new project, of some kind.

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A lot of my focus throughout the festival was on the international artists, and the crew that came were pretty wonderful. Some of the Whitelegs from Australia returned, there was an awesome trio from Yokohama (Team Japan!), two Baltimorean New Yorker Americans, Creative VaQi from Korea, and visiting artist/producers from Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Tokyo.

We were all scattered around Teachers Village in Quezon City, stumbling between venues (Vargas Museum in on the University of the Philippines campus and Teatro Papet Museo on Mapagkawangawa street), rolling up and down Maginhawa, Malingap and Matalino street, and half of us crammed into the delightful-if-overcrowded Yuj Inn. And it was chaos. That intense white-heat focused madness of festival time combined with that bleary non-stop urgency of Manila, for two weeks. It was sweltering hot, traffic crammed, hectic, beautiful, fucked. I coped. Everyone coped. It was gorgeous. At a point I think I stopped feeling tired no matter what time of day it was. At another point I think I stopped feeling anything.

And there was beautiful art, and amazing shows, and some of the most lovely performances and creations I’ve ever seen, in the midst of the rushing. And I was especially proud because, on the last day of the festival, each of the international exchange participants presented a 15 minute work-in-progress sharing. And it was absolutely amazing, the variety and the energy and the possibility within all of them. And so that was delightful.

05_Hiyas Baldemor Bagabaldoimage by Hiyas Baldemor Bagabaldo

And then the day after the festival, myself and a bunch of others gave a brief workshop as part of Project Banig to some of the kids involved with Project Pearls, a wonderful shambolic experience. And then Jordan and I got on a plane to Palawan, and we had three days of decompression in the weird backpacker purgatory that is El Nido and the beautiful ocean paradise that is El Nido.

In amongst all the rest of that, I presented four shows as part of the festival: aka Too Many Shows. But that is a story for next time. Meantime, here’s a little of what the fest looked like, courtesy of Jordan Prosser:

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