SIPAT LAWIN ENSEMBLE as featured in ROGUE MAGAZINE
MAY 2012 Issue.
Text: Mara Coson
Guerilla theater ensemble Sipat Lawin Ensemble has exited stage right and headed out into the streets, using basketball courts and abandoned high schools to draw its audience into a performance that they can’t help but play a lead role in By MARA COSON
IMMENSELY COLLABORATIVE with both its audience and surroundings, Sipat Lawin Ensemble is a young theater company that forgoes the fourth wall for the thrill of an audience made vulnerable. Started in 2010 by The Theater Arts Alumni from the Philippine High School for the Arts and its collaborators, Sipat Lawin shuns traditional sit-down plays and incorporates pulses of current discourse into its theater adaptations, to which the audience responds with a refreshing self-reflexiveness. The company has had successful runs of such shows including Imperio Animalia, based on Orwell’s Animal Farm, and their latest adaptation Battalia Royale where audiences, gathered in an abandoned Cubao high school, participated not only as voyeurs but accomplices to jeering, murder, and discovering their own barefaced humanity. Rogue sits down with their artistic director JK Anicoche as he explains Sipat Lawin’s saying: “We don’t create plays, we create experiences.”
Your last show Battalia Royale almost completely demolished the “fourth wall” (which you don’t seem intent on rebuilding). Some of your audience might be feeling a bit of “stage fright” with that. Any advice you can give to relieve their anxiety?
The idea is not to provide comfort like that of conventional performances. In discomfort, we are provided with confrontations: our inner demons, our fears, our preferences, etc. One has to understand that everything in the “game” or in the performance is a conscious undertaking, everything has a reason: be it blatantly shown or craftily hidden in winks of the eye.
“Changing the landscape of theater performances in the Philippines” is a big mission. How does Philippine theater stand now, and where can Sipat Lawin Ensemble take it?
The goal is to create relevant works, and to develop a contemporary community theater shared among artists and audiences. When we talk about developing audiences, one must understand that Philippine theater is still reliant and thriving mostly on its student-market where companies target schools, [who] integrate the work into their curriculum, and (often) require students (buses and buses of them) to watch the show and write reaction papers upon viewing. Theater in the country still keeps its regular patrons, a limited few.
It’s Sipat Lawin’s aim to engage more audiences, bring the performances closer to people, and make theater a palpable form again in different communities, a potent medium that can ignite, spark, fuel discourses and discussions about humanity: how we live and how we should live together. We still haven’t engaged much of the urban and rural grassroots, our call-center communities, nurses, and engineers. I bet there’s still more work to do.
The works of Sipat Lawin are manifestations of possibilities in creative endeavors that are not tampered or hindered by cost and/or conventions. We seek for new modes of production: from crowd-sourcing, crowd-funding, pay-what-you-can performances.
Your experimental theater style suggests very selective influences. Orwells’s Animal Farm. Jarry’s Ubu Roi. How do you know what will work for SLE?
As an “edge-work” site-specific theater company, we always survey, question, and challenge existing modes of production. We immerse in our immediate communities, learn and understand the audiences’ “language”, and develop the work in relation to the political, economic, and cultural realities of times. Haring +ubu-l, Jarry’s UBU Roi devise adaptation was born out of discontent, frustration, and defiance against the then-present regime and the upcoming 2010 elections. “Nothing is more vulgar than the present regime,” we declared. We changed language as we next did a children’s play that questioned ideas of equality in present-day society in Imperio Animalia (Animal Farm adaptation) together with kids and kids-at-heart. Rm30w’s Jhul3z was performed in barangay basketball courts to engage teens in these communities, timely because of the SM shootings at that time. Battalia Royale is for a more nuclear undertaking.
We always question our own processes as we bring our works and lead the performance to the edge of consciousness, [the] edge of theater-making.
What shows are coming up for the rest of the season?
Our third season, Season Apocalypse (2012) was just launched in April. R’,30w Luvz Jhul3z(Romeo and Juliet) Barangay Fiesta Edition will be back this summer starting in May, as an inter-barangay sagala, basketball liga, hiphop and Fliptop showdown, along with the classic storyline with new text. Battalia will return in September. Reenactments is our next big new work launching in November and a devise-work festival later this year. We are also releasing Bahay na Masigla, our children’s show webisodes, on the ‘net and a lot more. We’ll keep changing faces and phases. Catch us if you can.
*Photos by Kamole Orense.
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