Philippine theater

Dulaang UP’s ‘Sidhi’t Silakbo’ Q&A: The wild woman awakens

Lé Baltar

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Dulaang UP’s ‘Sidhi’t Silakbo’ Q&A: The wild woman awakens
'Sidhi’t Silakbo' is Dulaang UP's first attempt at mounting not only a production but an entire season dedicated to and led by women

“Usually women are [deemed] crazy if they express intense emotions, or should be silenced and nice and pleasant all the time. So this time we wanted to feature stories of women that are expressing extreme emotions. It came from the idea of the wild woman awakens. Because we wanted to break all the boxes and labels that usually limit women,” said Issa Manalo Lopez, artistic director of Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas (Dulaang UP), when asked about staging Sidhi’t Silakbo for the company’s 46th season. 

Since Dulaang UP’s inception in 1976, Sidhi’t Silakbo is the theater group’s first attempt at mounting not only a production but an entire season dedicated to and led by women. The staging, steered by Lopez and Virgin Labfest co-director Tess Jamias, features monologues uprooted and reimagined by playwright Maynard Manansala from classical plays, including Antigone, Medea, The Trojan Women, and The Suppliants — works about women but were all written by men from the West. The show also boasts an all-female cast, namely Shamaine Buencamino, Chic De Guzman, Uzziel Delamide, Wenah Nagales, and Adrienne Vergara.

But apart from unearthing these stories from beyond the grave, which plenty of theater groups and productions have done before, the artistic team opted to sidestep from faithful adaptations, situating such narratives in the contemporary Filipino experience.

“When we locate [these stories of women in] the contemporary Filipino experience, it breaks away from how men see it, how men write it. You get to have a context of the reality of that woman. She’s not just writing down the stories of these men, she’s rewriting the stories of her own experiences. In the end, we break away from those stories and we start talking about questioning what is the experience of a woman,” Lopez told Rappler.

There is the story of Medea, which parallels the plight of Filipino migrant workers, or that of Antigone, whose narrative is interrogated in the context of then-president Rodrigo Duterte’s Oplan Sauron, the state’s counterinsurgency effort which saw a spate of killings in Negros Island. Antigone, in this retelling, is among the children of those who were murdered.

“It’s really about breaking the boxes of narratives of women that these classical texts have put women in. We’re not vehemently saying that we’re inhabiting the stories of these women, because we can never do that. We can never inhabit the stories of women and say that, ‘Oh, we’re portrayed onstage.’ But instead, we’re breaking through the process of devising these classical texts, so that our audience alongside our actors get to see that, ‘This is me. This is happening.’ It’s not an alien classic, untouchable text. It’s accessible to everybody, and it can even get worse than what Medea, I think, has experienced,” said dramaturg Jonas Gabriel Garcia.

Lopez added, “That’s the trajectory of the whole piece until it’s decided that these classical texts, these classical women can be rewritten by women. The actors, apart from putting on the characters and embodying the characters, they’re saying they can change the characters according to their experiences of what being a woman needs to be.” 

Prior to the show’s recent opening and in anticipation of its next runs on December 1-2, 2023, I sat down with Lopez, alongside actors Vergara and Buencamino, during one of their rehearsals to talk about reuniting with Dulaang UP, devising as a technique in theater, and continuing to care for women and younger artists in the scene. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Maynard Manansala worked on the script. How long did that take? We also know that it’s different to reimagine these classical texts and adapt them on the stage, so how difficult was the process? 

Issa Manalo Lopez: We read the scripts, the chosen pieces with Maynard in the beginning. And then he translated them. And after the translation, we started with this ensemble of actors and directors and dramaturgs. We started mounting the scenes already. And then as we were mounting the scenes, we changed the lines according to how the lines become real in scenes. Then Maynard will come back and he will look at how we put the material together and then he will mold it so that it’s not too off-tangent.

It’s hard because we have to rearrange the sections several times. Because they are fragments. So you’re taking fragments of text and finding a way to weave them together. And the current frame is going back to the body of the woman and the actor and how that body puts on or embodies a different life or a different character. That’s why we’re playing with the idea of dressing and undressing. Because especially for women, a lot of people say how you should dress, how you should be looked at, or how you act in society.

Adrienne Vergara: Una, ilang centuries na ‘yung nilaktaw, kumbaga andami nang nangyari from the ancient Greece. Iba ang estado ng lipunan noon. Iba ang estado ng mga babae. When it was written, puro lalaking audience. Aside from the actors na lalaki, pati audience, lalaki. So it was not easy enough to do such topics or to tackle these topics. Tapos ngayon na nilalapat siya, doon ako actually unang nag-struggle, especially for Medea. Actually, ‘yung unang pag-devise nitong Medea monologue, may actor’s voice, tapos dun ko talaga vino-voice out na ang dami ko pang judgment sa character. Well, kasi nga it was written by Euripides. 

Tapos hindi naman talaga totoong pinatay ni Medea [‘yung mga anak niya]. Parang kaya ba talaga ng nanay na pumatay, eh may mga existing news pala na capable [pumatay] ang babae o ang nanay. ‘Yun ang parang gusto ko ring unawain. Of course, Medea is a very extraordinary woman, pero ang dami rin niyang pinush in terms of kung ano ‘yung pagtingin [sa babae]. So parang mas nilalagay ko na lang sa ganung frame para lumapat siya. Pinagpupuyatan ko ‘to, especially nung undas. Haunting siya. And to think na wala akong [lived experience], kailangan ng bonggang-bonggang imagination. To give birth ‘di ba, and then you’ll kill them.

You mentioned that this is Dulaang UP’s first season dedicated to women ever since the production company’s founding, so I’d like to ask why it took that long to stage this kind of production.

Issa Manalo Lopez: There were female stories before but never a season dedicated to that. Because mostly our directors are men. Artistic directors. Meron dun, si Professor Josefina Estrella, si Banaue Miclat. They started coming in but much later on. Our founding artistic director was National Artist Tony Mabesa, and his vision before was to bring classics, the world classics to the Filipino stage. So what UP did before, there was English translation and Filipino translation. And because you’re looking at classics, they’re usually written by men. So, iilan lang ‘yung babaeng playwrights. Kaya ‘yung perspective, hindi doon sa pagbibigay ng espasyo para sa babaeng kuwento.

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How is it doing another project with Dulaang UP this time?

Adrienne Vergara: Actually, ang ganda this year na bumalik akong umarte sa theater after the lockdown kasi the whole time I was directing online, tapos wala nang projects or chance na makabalik ng stage. Parang third production ko na [ito] tapos parang homecoming din [ito] in a way dahil ang last kong Dulaang UP was 2004, noong college pa.

Shamaine Buencamino: It’s been a long time since my last production with Dulang UP, if I’m not mistaken, about two years before the pandemic pa. And it’s always nice to come and then to play for UP because it’s always a reminder that theater is a learning situation, especially because it hardly pays. So it’s imperative that you always learn when you’re doing a production as far as I’m concerned. And because it’s UP, it’s like a training ground, talagang eskwela.

How important is it to be working with fellow women not only in the cast but also behind the production? 

Issa Manalo Lopez: Ako, personally, wala akong fear. Dati lagi akong may fear na napapagalitan ako. Sila ‘yung masusunod. Kung ano ‘yung sinabi ng direktor, dapat ‘yun ang susundin namin. And now, because the group is in a different shape, rather than the call coming from one person now, because it’s devised, everyone has a voice, you feel like it’s safe to say what you think or feel, that it’s safe to give an idea. Or if you don’t know what to do and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, this is a mistake,’ you don’t have the fear of being attacked. Because you see that you’re going to help them. And you will understand each other. It’s a big deal that you understand each other even if you don’t talk to each other. Or while you’re watching a scene or a story about a woman, you will trust how she will execute it because she also has a certain way of understanding you.

Adrienne Vergara: Amazing kasi ‘di ba sabi ko the last time I performed for Dulaang UP, 2004 pa, which I was happy kasi under Ma’am Jose [Estrella] ‘yun. And ‘yung time na ‘yun it was dominated by male professors. Kasi ‘yung time na ‘yun si Ma’am Jose ‘yung babaeng nagdi-direct. Siya lang dun sa buong faculty na nagdi-direct na babae at trailblazer siya. Nung time na ‘yun, wala pang term na devising. Everything she did was new. 

Nakakaligaya ng puso na bumalik, working with women directors. Si Ate Issa nagkaabot kami niyan sa college. Mga two years older siya. And then si Ma’am Tess naging director ko rin siya before. And gamay nila kung paano mag-devising. Of course, si Ma’am Tess, tawag niya machinating. Ang saya to be in a room na safe.

Actually, noong first reading namin, may binigay sa amin na agreement or reminders. Andun ‘yung isang section doon, for the first time sa Dulaang UP, na in case na you don’t feel safe, or may abuse, sexual, verbal, physical, dumulog lang kayo sa amin, and then we’ll act on it. Sobrang revolutionary siya kasi hindi ‘yun ang Dulaang UP na nakagisnan ko. 

Maraming horror stories pero ito na ‘yung panahon na masaya ako na kabilang ako sa ganitong production na may pagpapahalaga [sa mga babae]. First time nagkaroon ng intimacy and safety workshop na nag-facilitate si Missy Maramara, and parang, ‘Oh my god, I just wish may ganun kami nung bata pa ako, nung time namin.’ And even my kasintahan, nabugbog siya dito, backstage. 

All those horror stories, all those tyrants nung mga panahon na ‘yun. Masaya ako na hindi na sila ganun ka-powerful ngayon. And people are really doing their best to make it safe for everyone. And at the same time, nagre-reflect din sa rehearsals. Mas may laya or free kami na mag-suggest or mag-try ng mga bagong way ng paglikha. Kasi ‘di ba before very director-centric eh. Kung anong sabihin ng [nasa] taas, ‘yun [ang susundin]. Grabe ‘yung hierarchy. Ngayon, nakikinig at pinag-uusapan. Mahaba-mahaba ‘yung negotiations palagi sa rehearsals pero alam mong solid ‘yun.

What do you hope for the audience to get after seeing this production? And how important is it that we continue to nurture this kind of environment dominated by women, especially for younger artists in the scene?

Issa Manalo Lopez: One of our dramaturgs said that today there’s a way of looking at women’s experience through the lens of seriality. Ibig sabihin, ang bawat kuwento ng bawat babae ay iba-iba. At valid siya at authentic siya. Pwedeng babae ka pero fascist ka. Pwedeng masamang tao ka, pwedeng mabuting tao ka. Pwedeng matapobre ka. Alam mo ‘yun, ang daming mukha ng babae. Hindi lang siya palaging iisa. Kahit magkakasama kayo, ‘yung individuality niyo ay valid at dapat pakinggan.

Adrienne Vergara: I think nung simula talaga ng pandemya, it made us go back to care for people again. In a way, kung meron mang magandang naidulot ‘yung COVID, ang laki ng cultural shift na ginawa niya talaga. Actually, nagpapasalamat din ako dun sa bagong generation ngayon na mas vigilant sila. Mas assertive. At least may nagko-callout na at alam mong may reresbak sa ‘yo. Of course, marami nang gumawa ng mga classics na ‘to pero I’m really hoping na meron kaming mai-offer na bago, wala ‘yung feeling na male-left out. Kasi ‘di ba ‘yung mga babae, bawal talaga sila manood. ‘Yung sa Spanish theater nga, para silang may kulungan kasi nireregla, feeling nila madumi daw. Sana umabot na rin sa point na wala na ‘yung babae, lalake, LGBTQ+, kumbaga tao sa tao tayo maglilikha together. Of course, hindi pa naman natatapos ang mga laban. Pero at least getting there.

Shamaine Buencamino: Well, I’d like them to think about the plight of women, the women in their lives, how similar they are to the women of the past. Have things changed? Are women still oppressed? Have they gained new freedom with supposedly our new society? What’s happening now that women are more empowered and men are more willing to give some power to women? And yet realizing that on so many levels, from the poor people to the rich people, really women still suffer violence, they still suffer the same things that they were suffering before. –

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Lé Baltar

Lé Baltar is a Manila-based freelance journalist and film critic for Rappler. Currently serving as secretary of the Society of Filipino Film Reviewers (SFFR), Lé has also written for CNN Philippines Life, PhilSTAR Life, VICE Asia, Young STAR Philippines, among other publications. She is a fellow of the first QCinema International Film Festival Critics Lab.