A Game of Trolls: A martial law musical for millennials
MANILA, Philippines – In a world where the martial law era has been reduced to a mere “thingy” among millennials, impressing the gravity of that dark period in Philippine history on the youth is becoming more and more of a struggle.
It’s a struggle that the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) seeks to address in its new play, A Game of Trolls – a musical designed to speak to millennial sensibilities while talking about Martial Law.
A Game of Trolls is the story of a young man named Heck, who works as a keyboard warrior for hire at a “troll center” that runs an online campaign in favor of martial law. At the same time, tensions rise between Heck and his mother, a former martial law activist who is trying to reach out to her son. All the while ghosts of martial law victims creep out from the internet to haunt Heck, who is made to reevaluate his beliefs as he encounters them.
The musical is written by Liza Magtoto, with music by Vincent de Jesus, and directed by PETA artistic director Maribel Legarda.
According to Magtoto, it was not an easy play to write – millennials, after all, are a discriminating and fickle audience. Through focus group discussions, they were able to figure out what would appeal to a younger audience.
“'Yung millennials, mayroon silang ibang preference sa kung anong gusto nilang mapanood. So isa doon sa mga ingredient ng palabas is' yung love story, so mayroon ding ganoong aspect (Millennials have different preferences when it comes to what they want to watch. One of the ingredients we put into the play is the love story, so there is that aspect too),” Magtoto said in a press conference on August 22.
So far, adding millennial-friendly elements has worked. As Magtoto shared, when the play had a short run in April, the response from their target audience was generally positive.
“Na-gets naman po nila, tapos na-encourage nila ang isa’t isa na pag-aralan pa ang kasaysayan. Napaka-inspiring po na marinig 'yun sa kanila (They understood the message and they encouraged each other to learn more about history. It was very inspiring to hear that from them),” the writer said.
A Game of Trolls is perhaps even more relevant today considering recent and current events, particularly the extrajudicial killings that remain unchecked. As Legarda said, they adjusted the script to take the current political climate into account.
“We’re changing one of the songs, we’re making it more direct.' Yung original version, nagpaka-poetic pa kami. Ito, mas diretso (in the original version, we tried to be more poetric. Here, we were more direct),” Legarda said. “We’re trying to find a window to be able to speak about this.”
When asked about why she chose to address the current issues directly and not subtly, Legarda said, “It’s getting so palasak (common) already. If the government’s not vague, why should we be?”
“I think it’s too much in your face. What happened with the burial of Marcos is another example of the way power is being used now. I think we’re really critical about that, the abuse of power. It can be anybody in government. We need to be critical about that, there should be a conversation about it,” Legarda added.
A Game of Trolls is PETA’s way of starting that conversation.
“I am so glad a lot of plays are coming out these days about martial law. (There is so much ground to cover!)” Magtoto said in her writer’s notes on the play. “This is our humble contrivution. An antidote to historical revisionism. Continue to watch them and spread the truth.”