By Dennis D. Gupa, PhD Student Applied Theatre | Department of Theatre University of Victoria & YPT Scholar in Residence

When the clouds become gray, the question grows intense.

I arrived here in Victoria in September of 2015 to commence my PhD in Applied Theatre and am now in my second year of study. I often ask myself, why do I study applied theatre and the Philippines in Canada? At the heart of this unresolved question, I continue to wrestle with the perennial experience of cultural translation while thinking of climate justice, indigenous ways of knowing and ethical artistic explorations. By reading the works of theatre scholars like James Thompson (performance affects), Peter O’Connor (public performed resistance), Jan Cohen-Cruz (engaged performance), and Jill Dolan (performance utopia) I sense an opportunity to contribute to the future of applied theatre, especially in sites of indigenous oppression. I hope to return to the embodied ways of knowing that my ancestors practiced, valued and celebrated, while integrating scholarship and arts in my works for our communities.

Last summer, as part of my Directed Study, I was able to direct a performance in the Yukon Territory in collaboration with Tlingit First Nation artists, Filipino migrant workers and scholars from the field of cultural geography. Although the conundrums of intercultural work plagued us, our attempt to examine issues of settler colonialism and themes of belonging, home and identity through community bingo resulted in a joyous performance project.

As an artist who believes in the vibrancy of artistic engagement, I tried to acquaint myself with the community and the people in the Yukon Territory by listening to their stories every day. I felt honoured to hear the Filipinos’ migration stories and the Tlingits’ creation stories. Sharing my own stories turned out to be a valuable means for performance creation as well. Communal story sharing is, in effect, performance itself. It is a form of embodied knowledge. This experience ushered me to consider other activities in addition to storytelling like listening to songs, watching people cook, visiting homes, gardening, and being part of the ritualistic everyday lives of community people as a process of systematic and embodied theoretical formation within my doctoral project. Everyday life entwined with marked ritualistic performativity can engender collective empathy and an ethos of care.

In October 2016, my theatre company in the Philippines, Cope/with/Land Theatre Co. and The ASEAN Center for Biodiversity collaborated to work with high school science students in devising a performance on stories about climate refugees, pictured below. The performance proves that theatre is a vigorous creative exercise of eliminating the looming pessimism in the air.

While my scholarly training was spent in sites of Western academia both here in Canada and in the Philippines, it is my encounters with hidden communities and people on the margins that loop me back into clues and meanings of hope. A number of scholars (Philip Taylor, Anne Bogart, Jan Cohen-Cruz) have written insightfully about the role of the “engaged artist” who look upon themselves as instruments of change. They have offered us a wellspring of courage. The various functions of artists reveal the burden, but also the inspiration, of remaking the social, political, and cultural spheres of the crying world.

When Philippine President Duterte was sworn into office, he promised to eliminate drug-related problems in the country. Several months after he was enthroned, CNN reported that the president’s “war on drug” campaign resulted in the deaths of 5,927. Many of these people were suspected drug dealers and users, slain in a state-sponsored killing spree. In October of last year, the Indigenous Filipinos protesting for peace and order in their ancestral lands were plowed by a police vehicle in front of the US Embassy in Pasay City, east of Manila. The Guardian writes, “In front of horrified crowds, the van suddenly drove backwards then forwards twice over a space of about 20 metres, scattering protesters”.  The driver was a police officer. On top of these events, climate-related sea level rise and typhoons threaten many coastal villages in my country (Combest-Friedman, Christie, Miles 137).

I began my reflection here by posing a question of trans-nationality in relation to current scholars’ conceptions of applied theatre. When communities continue to confront the rampant power of impunity, the killing of citizens, the embezzlement of peoples’ wealth, the severing of ancestral lands and climate injustice, how can I proceed in my inquiry of applied theatre as an artist outside my country? I am called to return to the wisdom of my ancestors, traditional performance roots, memories of typhoons and the archive of (colonial) resistance as a proposal for a Dramaturgy of the Future.

References:

Bogart, A. (2014). What’s the Story: Essays about Art, Theater and Storytelling. Routledge: London and New York.
Cohen-Cruz, J. (2010). Engaging Performance: Theatre as Call and Response. Routledge: London and New York.
Combest-Friedman, C., Christie, P., & Miles, E. (2012). Household perceptions of coastal hazards and climate change in the Central Philippines. Journal of Environmental Management, 112, 137-148. Retrieved March 27, 2017.
Dolan, J. (2005). Utopia in performance: finding hope at the theater. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Manila, A.P (2016, October 19). Philippines police van rams protesters outside US embassy in Manila. The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Retrieved March 27, 2017 from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/19/philippines-police-van-rams-protesters-outside-us-embassy-in-manila
Taylor, P. (2003). Applied Theatre: Creating Transformative Encounters in the Community Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann.
Thompson, J. (2009). Performance affects applied theatre and the end of effect. St. Martin’s Press Palgrave Macmillan: New York, NY.
Wescott, B., & Quiano, K. (2016). Philippines President Duterte admits killing suspects. Retrieved March 27, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/14/asia/duterte-philippines-davao-killings/