SLE brands itself as an edge-work site-specific theater company. Based in Metro Manila, the ensemble which is composed of young theater arts graduates of the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) and their collaborators, aim to develop through their works a shared urban community theater experience among artists and audiences inside and/or outside the four walls of the theater.
The company has been active since 2007, starting with staging reunion productions that could accommodate the mostly freelance PHSA theater arts alumni who thirsted for socially relevant works – something hard to find until now with the mainstream dominated by commercial productions, and an almost dead theater industry. Re-staging foreign productions has been rampant, films are more affordable than plays, and there isn’t a strong “theater-going-community” with majority of audiences usually made up of students merely ‘required’ by their schools to watch. While theaters have turned into mausoleums, the theater arts has become a luxury of the privileged, and a practice, on its own, incapable of sustaining the lives of average artists; and the agitated members wanted to change that.
In 2009, the company toured Pragres, their mobile adaptation of F. Sionil Jose’s short story Progress, and the 8-Inch Itch: a twin bill offering of David Finnigan’s To Heat You Up And Cool You Down, and Emmanuel Canteras’ translation of Martin Sherman’s Bent/Lihis – plays performed in bars around the Metro where actors were only eight inches away from the audience. That same year, some members performed Fragments at CCP’s Virgin Labfest – excerpts of plays done in alternative performance spaces (eg. bathrooms, lobbies, cafeteria) before, after or during intervals of main entries to the festival. By the end of the year, the company had a reputation for doing such site-specific performances, which proved that theater need not be confined to the canons of conventional staging (i.e. onstage and inside the theatre, and with classical acting methods) through imbibing the ideals of what Peter Brook called a “holy theater,” (Brook 49). With that, they were bent to push through with another production using the same style, but that of a more purposed attack – one that was strongly bound in theory, as they were to apply Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty.
Come 2010, SLE which was then under the wing of the newly registered non-stock non-profit organization Sipat Lawin Inc., launched its inaugural season billed Season 2000-X, which opened with Haring Tubul in March. JK Anicoche, the company’s artistic director, expressed during the first week of preparations that they were in great unrest with the promulgation of “dead or deadly theater” (the opposite of holy theater), and the Philippines in a state of decay with a passive nation that easily forgot, and was ruled by one rotten administration after another (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was about to pass the throne to one of the presidential candidates who were either weak in standing or stuck in controversy). Also the director of Haring Tubul, he said that the material and style of performance were intentionally chosen for a strong opening production that should serve as critique to both the sordid state of theater in this country, and the country, itself. Inspired by Artaud, he writes:
“Theater as a construct presents its superficiality, its raw physicality and does not conceal their material reality. For it is their minds, their fetishes, their context, that will fill the gaps of how they want to perceive/take stage realities. Then remind them that these are just constructs and that the power of imagination will persist, insist, even under the destruction of a prop, bursting of a costume, break on the archetypal characters they wanted to escape with. Then they will feel guilt, they will feel anger, they will feel pleasure, they will feel disgust. They will feel. They will begin to feel. And think about their comforts and discomforts which they can not escape from. Even in their own imagination. We don’t offer escapes, we impose confrontations.”
With four cast members and a team of collaborators, the rigorous creative process was head started by a series of tablework discussions that lasted for at least four weeks. These involved research and analysis on the original text – Jarry’s Ubu Roi, and the Theatre of Cruelty; and devising a narrative which wasn’t a direct translation of the original but an adaptation of the story, updated to better suit the conditions of the Philippines. The latter overlapped with the rehearsals that followed, as devising the play has been a continuous process, with changes, especially with the text, being introduced at every show. Before the run held last September, tablework discussions and rehearsals were done afresh as there is always the need to update the material according to the present conditions.
Peter Brook in The Empty Space (New York: Touchstone, 1968), 49