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September 2, 2019

Workshop Summary: Day 3

Workshop Session 7: Abigail James

Ghosts are often used by playwrights for several reasons, said Layeta Bucoy in a craft lecture about using such characters as narrative agents in drama and theater. She urged everyone to take this into consideration in the discussion for Abigail James’ Birhen, a play about a 22-year-old albularya in Bukidon, 1994.

Birhen tells the story of Nina, a contemporary albularyo seen by society as a “Birhen ni Satanas,” who is often visited by the ghost of her grandmother, herself an albularya.

Malou Jacob immediately hinged on James’ characterization, showing interest in the negative connotations attached to the albularyo. “If you look back, the point of view—na Birhen ni Satanas ang albularyo–nag-start lang sa Spaniards. Before that, they were revered.”

Jacob suggested for James to intensify the contrast between the way people used to treat albularyos and babaylans to the way they are treated now.

The characterization was also discussed by both the panelists and the fellows. James was urged to explore the albularyo character further, and to deepen the play’s discourse about the culture of folk medicine. She was also told to look closer into her main character, with her co-fellow Andrew Estacio noting that aside from being an albularyo, the protagonist had no distinct identity.

James was also questioned about her use of heavily Hispanic names. “Maging ang pangalan ng karakter, may sinasabi tungkol sa pulitika ng isang dula,” Vim Nadera, who joined the workshop as a guest, commented.

Going back to Bucoy’s craft lecture, James was also told to maximize the use of the ghost of Elena (Nina’s grandmother) as a character. “Ang multo, merong unfinished business. Meron gustong sabihin.”

To cap off te discssion, workshop director Luna Sicat-Cleto voiced out her thoughts on the play touching themes of reproduction, abortion, virginity, as well as the divinity of the babaylan, telling James to delve deeper into such issues to further enrich the feminist reading of the text.

Workshop Session 8: Nicko de Guzman

Dennis Maragisan delivered a lecture about building characters and the importance of giving them their own traits and goals, right before launching into the discussion on Nicko de Guzman’s Bagahe.

Bagahe follows a dialogue between a Filipino couple living overseas. They have grown old in the States, where they spent 30 years of their life, and the play centers on an argument that springs from the husband’s decision for them to move back to the Philippines. The couple is later revealed to be a pair of former activists, seeking refuge overseas amidst the political turmoil in the country.

Woven with political issues of the present, tied back to those of the past, Bagahe was categorized by the panelists as a memory play. However, Bucoy commented that there was a lack of immediate conflict in the dialogue. “They’re just talking about the past.”

Both fellows and panelists shared similar sentiments, noting that the play seemed to rely heavily on the conflicts of the past.

With so much of the play focused on only two characters, de Guzman was urged to pay more attention to the relationship between the characters. He was asked: At what stage does their relationship currently lie? Answering the question would affect the dialogue, the characters, and the trajectory of the story, they said.

De Guzman was praised for his attempt to weave the characters’ personal issues together with bigger socio-political issues. However, the characters’ actions and decisions were put into question, so he was asked to go over particular details to justify their choices.

Workshop Session 9: Graziel Latiza

Moderated by Sicat-Cleto, who delivered a craft lecture on “The Roots of Action,” the workshop session for Graziel Latiza’s Lab Day kicked off with an observation from the renowned fictionist. “Laging pinagtatagisan ang mga babae bilang magka-away,” Sicat-Cleto said.

Lab Day is a one-act play centered around women living in the same apartment complex, fighting for space in the small laundry area every weekend. The characters banter with each other, seemingly in a constant competition over which of them is living the better life.

Kwesi Junsan made comments about the play coming off as uninteresting because the scenarios portrayed are seemingly ordinary and commonplace. He also brought up the use of comedy in the play, saying he did not find it effective.

However, some people thought otherwise. In response to Junsan’s comment, Norman Ralph Isla said, “Comedy siya kasi lumalabas ang mga elements na parang primetime teleserye.” Others also noted that much of the play’s humor works because of the irony it adds to the narrative.

Vladimeir Gonzales, however, agreed with Junsan. “Yung humor niya, bukod sa nasabing may [pagka-sit-com] siyang vibe, parang seeking permission siya na magpatawa–na lalong di nakakatawa. Walang bahid ng pagka-unapologetic na kailangan sa comedy.”

To solve this, Jacob suggested for Latiza to consider the form of social satire, urging her to exaggerate the mundane problems that the characters face to emphasize the “ridiculousness of the very, very ordinary situation that they are in.”

The space in which the story takes place was also brought up during the discussion. “Sa sobrang domesticated na space na paglalaba, magandang espasyo siya para sa pagbabangayan at pagkakasundo ng mga babaeng karakter,” said John Daryl Alcantara.

Isla also commented: “Gustung-gusto ko rin ‘yung paggamit ng space na masikip. Lagi silang nagbabanggaan. Ang sikip sikip ng espasyong ginagalawan nila–ang sikip sikip ng buhay nila.”

Other topics brought up in the discussion were about specific points of improvement for the characterization and the plot–both of which, Herlyn Alegre said, say a lot about what statement the play is trying to make.

Workshop Session 10: John Daryl Alcantara

The last session for the day was preceded by a craft lecture about incorporating beats into a play. Alegre led the discussion and facilitated a brief impromptu exercise for the fellows. She moderated the discussion for Alcantara’s Bayong, a play that follows the story of a urban poor family living as informal settlers, led by a single mom who does everything for her family to get by.

The story focuses on the mother, Jona, who is asked to commit arson for money by a mall developer to force her fellow informal settlers to relocate.

The dialogue made use of crass language, which was one of the things discussed over the session. Some noted that the play tried yet failed to be funny, while others said the dialogue comes off as repetitive and expository because the characters often joked about their lives as informal settlers.

“Na-de-desaturate yung feelings ko [para sa kanila] dahil ulit-ulit nilang sinasabi ang kanilang sitwasyon,” Ye Corpuz said.

However, Jacob disagreed with the previous comments. “Despite the crass and shocking language, I like it. In fact, I think it’s effective. Even the repetitiveness–ramdam mo yung internal conflict niya,” she said, praising Alcantara for his language and world view.

Bucoy, on the other hand, urged Alcantara to reconsider some of the details of the story. “Wala talaga akong problema sa sinasabi [ng dula]. Ang hinahanap ko lang, yung believability at yung kung paano mo sinasabi ang gusto mong sabihin. At this point, nakukulangan yung pagiging poetic ng play.”

Alcantara’s co-fellows and panelists also suggested for him to humanize the characters in the story. “Triple oppressed si Jona. Female, poor, sex worker. She’s the characteer one is supposed to root for, but it’s hard kasi we can’t see her values,” said James.

Carlo Vergara, who joined the session as a guest panelist, gave some pointers on using comedy in writing. “Ease the audience into the comedy, rather than throwing it at them pagbukas palang ng ilaw.”

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