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

From my Field notes: Entering the Community, Re-imagining the Future, and the Pulse of Applied Theatre

My doctoral project focuses on climate change, indigenous knowledge, and sea rituals in coastal communities in the Philippines. I am interested in how community members particularly local elders who inhabit the coast tell their stories on the impact of strong weather events in their lives and their practice of traditional ecological knowledge. The research methodology that I am using is applied theatre-as-research, which is an innovative process of engaging the involved informants and the communities. It employs cutting-edge technique in executing a research that is both artistic and highly collaborative.

In the process of doing this research, community members will potentially be my on-site volunteer-collaborators and will be engaged in storytelling, poetry performance, and music improvisational workshops to foreground the memories of typhoon and strong weather events in their communities. I began my preliminary field research in April this year in Tubabao Island, Eastern Samar and was generously accepted by Mrs. Erlinda Yodico whose ancestors were the first settlers of this island. She introduced me to her father, Tatay Abuyen and her uncle, Tatay Doning Abuyen who are my possible key informants. Her husband, Mr. Robert Yodico assisted me in organizing my applied theatre workshops that intend an initial exploration of the performance-based-research so that I would be able to explain to the community what applied theatre is in relations to the topics that my doctoral project wish to engage. Both of them are elementary school teachers in Barangay San Pedro, teaching for over a decade now. Through their assistance, I met the community members and public school teachers who eventually participated in my applied theatre workshops concerning their experiences on living in an island community and surviving Typhoon Yolanda.

Dennis Gupa

I first visited San Pedro village in Tubabao Island last April and with the assistance of local government of Guiuan Eastern Samar staff I was introduced to Ma’am Erlinda Yodico and Sir Robert Yodico. They gathered school teachers for our preliminary introductory creative workshop that aims in introducing myself, my collaborator and my project in applied theatre as we prepare in returning next year for the full field work and final performances. In this picture, participants enjoy our applied theatre games.

Applied Theatre was a new idea for the teachers and when they learned about my workshops they eagerly joined me and my collaborators. This workshop also helped me in explaining to the local elders what I intend to write for my dissertation. In one of my field notes, I wrote about our experiences in staging an applied theatre performance as a way of introducing myself, my collaborators, and my doctoral project to the community on and about typhoons and their ideas of ecological stewardship.

April 20, 2018. 3pm

The performance took place inside a classroom.

The afternoon rain had already stopped. It was good timing. All the participants, mostly public elementary school teachers, are in their costumes. It is the day of their “big performance” as one teacher declared. Just before the actual performance, some of them have found a quiet spot inside the other classroom memorizing their siday, or poems. After a week-long applied theatre workshop that I conducted with the help of my collaborator, Marie Angelica “Angge” Dayao, we are ready to share our devised performances with the community members of Barangay San Pedro.

Barangay San Pedro is a small village located in the Tubabao, Island Guiuan Eastern Samar, Philippines. When Typhoon Yolanda made its landfall in Eastern Samar, Guiuan on November 8, 2013, Tubabao Island was flattened. This typhoon and the presence of the ocean in the lives of these teachers were the themes of their artistic output. Disasters and struggling to survive catastrophic events have been part of our lived realities and imagination as a people. And my everyday engagement with the people of Tubabao Island has gifted me stories of survival from calamities that have similarities with the plots of our myths, legends, and creation stories.

The teachers have written their siday as a poetry of memories that also describes their experiences with the deadliest typhoon that struck their province in 2013. Some siday explain the importance of ecological stewardship. These poems were performed inside the classroom that we transformed into a performance site.

On the day of the performance, we saw how the audience members entered the classroom cum theatre with a sense of wonder. The audience composed of fishermen, women, and school children camped inside a 7.0 meters x 7.0 meters classroom large enough to accommodate thirty members of the spectators. They found several objects lying on the floor as theatrical properties. These items belonged to the teachers, which they used as subjects in constructing their siday. Tatay Doning was our guest of honour. Upon seeing his story come alive, his eyes glisten with curiosity and wonder. Outside the classroom cum theatre, there are school children watching from behind the large grilled windows, in the cool breeze coming from the sea. For many of these community members, it is their first time to see an applied theatre performance. The sound of the sea from outside the classroom and the rhythms of the teachers’ siday converse like undulating waves that invite a willing audience member to take part in this ritual of gathering one afternoon after as the rain dies down.

In entering the village to introduce ourselves, Sir Robert gathered community members that included public school teachers and youth in Tubabao Island in a week-long performance making workshop.

Angge practices her pintigan instrument for our initial creative workshop while elementary students gather around her curious about the music that these bamboos can produce.

The workshop was an innovation of the earlier mentioned applied theatre-as-research method that we employed in crafting our performance on strong weather events for the communities in the municipality of Guiuan. We did this because we wish a community engagement that will build trust and empathy as we pursue the completion of my field research next year.

We began the performance with a bamboo orchestra composed of the teachers and assisted by volunteer young musicians from the community. They improvised rhythms using bamboo poles that Angge and Sir Robert harvested from the backyard of one of the community members. Angge called this performance “Pintigan”, the root word being “pintig” or “pulse”, a noun. “Pintigan” is a verb that means, “pulsating” or “sensing the rhythm with mindfulness and sensitivity.” The engagement of the community in this week-long innovation allowed them to create a space where they could fully express themselves while sharing their “pintig”. Their “pulse” was the metaphor that guided our collective creations. The metaphor also stood for the ethics of relating to each other not just among the participants but also relating to objects found in our surroundings, which we used in creating the sound and music that emerged from the process. Pulse sharing is an apt way of entering the community with respect, humility, and love. One listens to the heartbeat of the community in order to learn about one’s own and the beauty that is theirs.

Improvisational sound that uses objects of ‘mundanity’ is a device of rich musical potential. For example, the bamboo is an ecological gift for the Tubabao community members. It is used to install bridges, erect houses, craft panggal or fish traps, katig or boat balancer, and upon closer encounter it constitutes some hereditary sound geniuses. While Angge was testing the bamboo musical instruments, out of the blue the children in the community gathered around her, and joined her in playing these instruments. It was a joy to see them demonstrating their inherent creativity.

My initial engagement with the community has inspired many of us in re-imagining a future filled with social justice, and empathy for disaster-battered communities and that embraces an empathy and for all life-forms in our environment, including those we can only feel but cannot see.

I left Tubabao Island with much gratitude to the community for welcoming me and with pintig of anticipation of returning next year.

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Acknowledgement

In executing my applied theatre workshops and performances, I would to thank the The Slaight Family Foundation, Young People’s Theatre (Toronto) and Vanier SSHRC for giving me the opportunity in exploring the possibilities of applied theatre and reflecting what social justice means in coastal communities in the Philippines where the impact of strong weather events are devastating.  My gratitude to the local elders, Tatay Frank Abuyen, Tatay Doning Abuyen and to Mr. and Mrs. Yodico for assuring me of “a place in their home” when I return next year and for their generosity of welcoming me during my preliminary work in their village.  I wish to also extend my gratitude to the academic and government institutions in Canada and the Philippines for helping me in connecting with possible field sites, University of the Philippines’ Center for International Studies, Leyte Normal University, Sirang Theatre Ensemble and the Mayor’s Offices of Balangkayan and Guiuan, Eastern Samar, Eastern Samar State University, University of Victoria’s Center for Asia Pacific Initiatives and the University of Victoria’s Theatre Department.  Sending a heartfelt thanks to my artistic collaborators, Jon Lazam, Angel Dayao, Francis Matheu, Arjay Babon, Carlo Pagunaling, Lito Amalla, Mark Villas, Lara Aysal, Lucas Simpson, Marco Lao and to my supervisor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta and to my mentors and teachers Warwick Dobson, Allana Lindgren, Taiaiake Alfred, Jina Umali, Apo Chua, Belen Calingacion and Chim Zayas. Lastly, I am sending love and gratitude especially to my Tatay for sharing our ancestral stories and to his apo, David for caring lovingly of Tatay Buena.