Awful banks

Awful banks
By Walter Ang
October 7, 2002
Philippine Daily Inquirer

When I got pick-pocketed earlier this year, I had to call two banks to have my ATM cards blocked. I was hoping I wouldn't have too much trouble doing so, but I guess I didn't hope hard enough. I called up Equitable-PCIBank first. The lady (I failed to get her name) who helped me was receptive and very quick. In less than five minutes, my card was blocked. I even asked her if she had the hotline number for another bank and she graciously looked for it, even if she didn't have to. I was very impressed and started feeling better already.

But when I applied for a replacement card at the Soler branch in Binondo, five days had already gone by and it still wasn't ready. I raised my voice and told them I wouldn't leave until they found out what was going on. As the guy in charge was making phone calls to the head office, one of the tellers started scowling (even though she wasn't handling my situation) and banged the phone receiver down in front of me when she also couldn't get through. Then she kept asking me in an acid tone, "Do you need to withdraw? You can withdraw over the counter!" I replied, "That's not the point!"

I waited another week to claim my card. By then, I was sure word had already gotten around the small branch and every single employee was waiting to catch a glimpse of the irrational, demanding client--me. A teller took one look at me, smiled with a knowing look and smugly asked, "Bakit ngayon ka lang? One week na kaming naghihintay." (What took you so long? We've been waiting a week.)

I kept quiet, claimed my replacement card and left. All banks in the Binondo area are notorious for having awful customer service. They have no queues and people just come in, flop their documents down on the counter and rely on the "I'll come back for it later" system. It's horrible.

Red tape
Metrobank gave me the most trouble. I couldn't find the hotline number so I tried my luck with any number I could get from the directory. I explained that I knew I hadn't called the correct department and asked if they could at least give me a number I could call. The guy on the other end of the line wanted me to call the branch (Roosevelt) where the account was opened. He explained that only the Roosevelt branch had the authority to block my ATM card. It was already 5:30pm and I was sure no one would answer my call.

I refused to call the Roosevelt branch and asked if there was any other way. As he was explaining my concerns to his officemates, I overheard a lady saying, "Ay, ayaw ko ng ganyan." In the end, they were finally able to block my card after all. God only knows why they couldn't just block my card from the beginning instead of telling me to do all sorts of other things.

If you've never been stolen from, you have no idea how terrible feels. No one reports a stolen card for the fun of it. I was already feeling horrible and then I have to get that kind of (non) help from the bank? Even if the employees weren't in charge of blocking cards, basic human decency dictates a certain amount of courtesy if you're going to talk to someone who's just been a victim of a crime.

When I called Metrobank Roosevelt branch manager Flor Kwan to confirm the blocking of my card and to relate my experience and all she uttered was a disinterested, "Okay." No explanations on why they don't have a centralized card blocking system. Not a smidgen of sympathy nor an offer to rectify the situation.

Due all the trouble they gave me, I decided to close my account. Imagine if I were unfortunate enough to lose my ATM card again! I certainly wouldn't need the grief they'd certainly give me.

The officer at the bank who entertained me didn't even ask why I was closing my account. The Metrobank Roosevelt branch doesn't care about their depositors enough to try and keep them. I don't care to keep my money with them. In fairness to the bank however, I have to say their Call Center's assistant manager Lucy Jorayeb was receptive to my complaints and was very apologetic.

I think banks everywhere should hire people who've worked in fastfood outlets. At least they'd be nicer, more courteous, faster and more efficient. They should just hire Human Resource trainers who've worked in the fastfood industry to give better training to their employees. If fastfood employees have to say good morning and smile and be quick on their feet, why can't bank employees? We certainly give them more money!

Touring with Ballet Philippines' "Shoes++" around the country

These shoes are made for dancing 
By Walter Ang
Aug. 18, 2002
Philippine Star Week Magazine

July 29 Thursday
I wake up at the ungodly hour of 4am so I can be at the Cultural Center of the Philippines by 6am. I'm lucky enough to be part of the cast (as the lone actor) in Ballet Philippines' National Tour of their highly acclaimed show, "Shoes++," and we leave Manila today.

By the time we get to the airport, it is raining hard and Artistic Director Denisa Reyes is worried. The menacing Manila weather has already given one dancer dengue fever. Having our flight delayed is the last thing anyone wants. We are relieved when they announce boarding for our flight. There are some first time airplane riders among the delegation that includes the dancers and they get a lot of good-natured teasing.

BP's last national tour was in 1997, so this time around, everyone is excited and raring to go. I grew up in the city so the travel to 6 different venues is appealing. And, of course, who wouldn't pass up the chance to work with one of the country's premiere dance companies.

We arrive in very sunny Cagayan de Oro and buckle down to work shortly after lunch. We are being hosted by the Cagayan Capitol College and we have our first Lecture Demonstration in the Gymnatorium (gym+auditorium). The Lec-Dem is a short program geared towards students that features the history of dance development from classical ballet to post modern dance.

In the question-and-answer portion, a little boy fires off a great first question: "How do you do it?" Reyes is amused and challenges her dancers to answer such a "loaded question!" She talks to the students with enthusiasm, pride and passion. It was great to see the students gamely asking about dance or dancing as a career. The one question that tickled everyone's fancy was if dancers were allowed to have "sweethearts." The much cheered answer is yes.

July 26 Friday
"Shoes++" features dances with different kinds of footwear like the usual toe shoes for ballet dancers as well as rubber shoes and get this, diving flippers. The last dance, "Tambok and Padyak," showcases bakya in fun, foot-stomping choreography. One truly interactive part of the tour is that we'll be having local kids dance in "Tambol" as part of the show. There are apparently more kids than originally anticipated and we have to buy extra pairs of bakya for them to wear. Thus, I spend the morning with Production Manager Dennis Maristany on a last-minute buying spree for materials we need for the show.

We arrive at the venue to see our set already in place on the stage. The staff and crew (sets, lights, sounds, and tour managers) work fast, are efficient and always try to make the venue as comfortable for the performers as they can. Reyes has great rapport and synergy with them and it's great to see them working together. No egos or tempers and they all work together to iron out kinks in the production.

During our rehearsal in the evening, everyone works hard to get used to the new venue, as well as making the local kids feel welcome as part of the show. Associate Artistic Director Alden Lugnasin had already made the rounds of all our venues a month before and he's had to choreograph the kids from each venue in preparation for our arrival. Reyes gives out copious "notes" after rehearsals to the dancers. "Put your leg up higher in this part. Lower there. Jump wider. Move to your left."

July 27 Saturday 
We had a great matinee and evening show today! One of our tour managers from the CCP Outreach Division tells us how the audiences were so overwhelmed and awestruck with the show that they find it hard to applaud. "They're so mesmerized!"

I can relate to the feeling because when I saw "Shoes++" for the first time last year, I had the same reaction. The show is a great way to introduce dance to audiences because it's not the usual classical ballet with leotards and tutus. Instead, it makes dance a fun thing to watch. Hopefully, it will make audiences interested enough to explore other dance forms as well.

For many of us who are on tour for the first time, we slowly begin to realize the great importance of what we're doing. Reyes has been constantly reminding us that bringing the arts to our countrymen is a very big deal. Now that we've actually experience doing a show for the tour, we finally know what she's talking about. It gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling all over to see the smiles of the audience's faces. There is a real and palpable hunger for the arts! I find it frustrating that so many people living in Manila City ignore the performing arts when they have access to the most choices.

Denisa recounts her own experience coming back from training in New York City. "I thought I was this New Yorker who knew it all, but when I went on my first national tour, I realized how wrong I was." She tells me, "I really want my dancers to go on a national tour before they go on international tours." She stresses the value of teaching and sharing with our countrymen. Sometimes we Pinoys think being nationalistic is baduy, but talking to Denisa makes you ashamed to even consider such a notion.

Taking her cue, I try to interact with the audiences as much as I can. We only have a short time in each venue before we have to pack up and travel to the next. After the shows, I'd go up to some of them and talk to them a little bit. It's always great to find out the different reactions audiences have to a show. Younger kids love "Tambol," while most teenagers are titillated by "Love Lies Bleeding," a sensual chair-dance with two dancers in jazz shoes.

July 28 Sunday
We leave early morning via a bus ride for our next venue: Central Mindanao University in Musuan, Bukidnon. After lunch, the dancers invite me to join their Pilates class and routine barre work and floor exercises. Knowing how much Pilates sessions cost, I gamely said yes for a free session! As for the barre work, the writer in me couldn't resist a chance to experience something new. (So this is what ballet dancers do!)

A few hours later: my abdominal muscles are still trying to kill me for putting them through that class. Thank god I'm not a dancer! We never realize how much work dancers put into their craft. They jump and twirl on stage like it's the easiest thing in the world to do. Joining them in their workout made me feel like a complete dork with two left feet. I couldn't even get my leg up the barre.

It really is inspiring to work with these dancers. They work hard and dance hard all day long (6 ? 8 hours a day at least). It gets incredibly hot on the tour since most of our venues are open-air and there's no airconditioning. But they dance anyway, sweat dripping from their bodies like the CCP fountain. And if you only knew how much they get paid, you would cringe. "Our office messenger gets paid more!" exclaimed an incredulous friend when I told her the amount. Despite all of that, their dedication and commitment really shines through. I've never head them complain. They show up for work and they dance. Amazing. Calling philanthropists out there to give to BP's Salary Grant Program, please!

Rehearsals with the local kids after dinner. I like this bunch the best so far. Some of the kids here have no formal dance training (some are children of the local farmers) but I like their energy the best. They're so excited and bubbly and eager to be part of the show. Whenever we feel tired, we just take one look at them to get our energy boost.

July 29 Monday
Another two successful shows down, even if I do say so myself. We have 4 free days following since one venue cancelled at the last minute. The past few days have been very hectic and intense with set- ups, rehearsals and performances. The break will give everyone a chance to settle down a bit and finally relish the experience.

After dinner, we view a videotape of the evening's performance where we go through another round of notes. Reyes rattles off notes for the dancers as well as the technical staff: "More lights here. Louder music there. Too dark! Too much echo!"

"It always feels weird to see yourself on video," said one dancer. But everyone knows the importance of improving for the show and the rest of the tour. We pay attention and make mental notes on where and how to better ourselves.

July 30 to Aug 3
The next few days are spent touring different places in Bukidnon including swimming at a resort. (Mental note to self: don't ever swim with dancers again. They all have flat stomachs and I look like a fat-pregnant cow beside them.) Oh but the food! Plenty of lechon for everyone and fruits galore! Reyes teases some of the dancers, "You have to watch your weight! Tikim lang! (Taste only!)" First time durian eaters (like myself) take the opportunity to learn to like the exotic fruit.

We spend evenings vegging-out while watching (sheepish grin) telenovelas. "She's the real daughter but doesn't know it yet!" After the dancers wash their own costumes, we have little chats where we get to know each other more. Apart from their common thread in dancing, they come from all walks of life and have such interesting life stories to tell.

From my conversations with some of the dancers, what becomes apparent is how vital the CCP's Outreach Program is in the search for new artists. Several BP apprentices and members were discovered through these kinds of tours. Whenever a BP choreographer or teacher sees talent in local dancers, they recommend them for scholarships to the annual summer workshop and it goes from there.

In fact, students usually come up to Reyes after the shows to ask for workshop and scholarship information. Clearly, there is a hunger that needs to be fed. So who says the CCP is elitist? When you see the faces of audiences lighting up because they're experiencing an art form for the very first time, the letters CCP spell an entirely different experience.

Aug 3 Saturday
We're boarding the WG&A Superferry 14 as we move on to our next show in Sigma, Capiz--excited, eager and raring to go.

"Shoes++" will also tour Tagbilaran, Tacloban, Ormoc and Baybay, Leyte. It returns to the CCP on Aug. 23 to 25.

Flying high with some help from Down Under

Flying high with some help from Down Under 
By Walter Ang
June 1, 2002
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Dancers in tutus turning pirouettes may have ballet audiences somewhat jaded. But things are about to change. The dancers will do more than just leap and bound. Apart from lining up an eclectic mix of material for its 33rd season, Ballet Philippines has also begun taking flying lessons. Flying with harnesses, that is.

The flying lessons are in preparation for an upcoming production about a stone-swallowing, flying-dynamo of a local heroine slated for next year. This new production is in line with BP artistic director Denisa Reyes' efforts to create new works that speak to the sensibilities of today's younger audiences. After all, enticing and capturing the young audiences today is key to establishing a long- term relationship with its audience.

The Australian Embassy had heard about Denisa's plan and recommended Gavin Robins for a possible artistic collaboration. Known as one of Down Under's leading movement directors, Robins has an impressive body of work ranging from choreographing pop-star Tina Arena's concerts to the opening number for the Sydney Olympics 2000. He has also been involved in straight plays and street performances. He has choreographed the aliens in the sci-fi TV series "Farscape."

Perhaps his most notable involvement is as performer and co-devisor of the Legs on the Wall Physical Theater Company. A short video featuring highlights of this company's previous works wowed recently the press with its impressive images of dancers flying and contorting through the air, suspended by wires and harnesses akin to bungee cords.

Not afraid to fly 
Robins' cutting-edge works in dance, acrobatics, ashtanga yoga and aerial theater, and BP's upcoming production were ingredients ripe for a blending. Things fell into place and with a grant from the New South Wales Ministry for the Arts and the Australian Council; the tall, buff choreographer arrived in May. His stay, the first of a series of visits, involves teaching the BP dancers on the use of different "flying" equipment.

The workshop is being held at the Sinag Arts Studio -- whose staff includes noted lighting designer Shoko Matsumoto. "You have to give dancers time to embrace a new physical language. We have a height of five meters (in the studio) to play with now," said Robins, "It's a good height to train with. Then we'll move onto the eight meters the CCP Main Theater has to offer."

The students have taken well to the techniques and equipment used in movies like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Spiderman" and "The Matrix." On their first day, the dancers were already "running up the walls and flying," said Robins, "from the little time I've spent with the Filipino dancers, they've displayed a dynamic risk-taking energy yet at the same time, an intrinsic notion of play."

Something special
A part of the workshop had one dancer walking along the walls much the same way Michelle Yeoh did in "Crouching." "Movies these days have changed the way we view theater. I'm looking to bring that kind of movement into theater. This is the kind of thing popular with younger audiences. I'm excited. We need to be a step ahead visually and push the boundaries."

Denisa Reyes is clearly delighted at the possibilities of this collaboration. "We will be creating something very special, very different. Our collaboration efforts won't be seen till we stage our show next year, but we want to prepare well for it," she said.

Albeit that particular production is still a year away, in the meantime, BP won't be leaving audiences on the ground. After all, there's a full season to look forward to. Ballet Philippines' 33rd season opens on July 5 with "Joie de Dance" -- a tribute to dancer Cecile Sicangco (yes, the lady in that milk commercial) after 15 years of dancing.

Sicangco's farewell performance will be presented as part of the French Spring Festival and she'll be dancing a piece specially choreographed for her by Guillaume Compain. "Joie de Dance" will also feature former BP dancer Ernest Mandap, now a principal dancer of Brumachon-Lamarche Company, who will return to perform Claude Brumachon's "Les Indomptes" (The Untamed).

Immediately following is the national tour of last year's smash- hit "Shoes++." With its wonderful showcase of different forms, funky pizzaz and a sazzy shoe-saleslady, "Shoes++" will visit Ilocos, Lucena, Batangas, Olongapo, Iloilo, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Bukidnon and Davao.

Alden Lugnasin's whimsical piece "Flippers" was a crowd pleaser last year (Who knew one could dance while wearing diving flippers?) and is not to be missed. "Shoes++" returns to Manila for a repeat run in Aug.

The season includes wholesome family fun with "Cinderella" in Dec. and ends with a homecoming of guest artists from around the globe in "Neo-Filipino: Balikbayan."

Ballet Philippines will mount "Joie de Dance" on July 5 at 8 p.m. and on July 6 and 7 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The performance is in connection with the French Spring in Manila. Call 551-0221 or -1003.

How I posed nude for painters and survived the ordeal

How I posed nude for painters and survived the ordeal
By Walter Ang
April 17, 2002
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The challenge: 2bU! needed someone willing to pose nude for a group of artists and then write about the experience. My response: Yes.

I don't know why the request sounded so appealing. Perhaps it spoke to my adventurous side. Perhaps it spoke to my ego ? the idea was tinged with glamour, "I will be immortalized as a piece of art!" I even suggested the final artworks could be titled, "Handsome Naked Young Man," but Lito Zulueta, the Arts Section editor, looked absolutely mortified.

Of course, I had some concerns. The whole world was going to see my, er, shortcomings. After all, you can't go nude without showing your, uhm, equipment. What if my equipment would start to "act up"? Sometimes those things have a mind of their own! I was also worried if the place would be cold since every guy knows what low temperatures can do to their equipment. Also, I am a fidgety person. How in the world was I supposed to stay still for hours on end?

Just do it
I arrived early at the house, aptly located in bohemian Malate, where the session would be held. The artists and their amiable manager, Delan Rebillos, filed in one at a time as his lovely wife, Jae, made introductions. I made small talk with artists Sam Penaso and Tres Roman as they showed me some of their works. Sam had done distorted human figures in his "Hubog" series that I really liked. People with a sense of humor, irony and whimsy would love Tres's series "Tribute to Frued."

I may not have any background on visual arts, but that doesn't mean I couldn't appreciate what these artworks had to offer. "And that's what our group "the artery", is here to do," said Delan, "To demystify 'art' and make it accessible to everyone."

Merienda was served but I had too many butterflies in my stomach so I had to decline while everyone else was happily munching away. We then proceeded to a room with a bed set up with white sheets. I disrobed with only a malong to preserve what little modesty was left. I was shown what pose I should take and, without no fanfare at all, I slipped the malong off. I never felt "exposed" or embarrassed because the artists immediately got to work and everyone was very accommodating, going out of their way to make sure I was comfortable.

Red wine was served and that really helped me relax. It was very quiet and all I could hear was the "skritch, skritch, skritch" of their tools (palette knife) or medium (oil, charcoal, pastes) on the materials they were using (paper, canvass, velour). I stayed as absolutely still as I could. I didn't want to compromise the artists' works.

The artists were very kind and kept telling me to let them know when I wanted to rest. Pretty soon, Delan and Jae started a conversation with me, which was a lifesaver since I was getting sleepy. Finding out that the model can actually talk while posing was the first of many discoveries that afternoon.

I was pleased at myself when he mentioned that 35 minutes had already passed. "I've been still for that long?!" I was so sure my muscles would be screaming murder barely five minutes into it. We eventually took a break and the artists did touch ups on their works while I shook off the kinks that were starting to form. I peeked at the different colors and shapes that were beginning to take form and was very excited.

After that first break, I was less rigid and would ask everyone all sorts of questions about their craft. What do artists feel when they give away or sell their art, don't they miss their works? Do they render works everyday or only when the mood hits them? They had pretty insightful answers and it was interesting to find out that, similar to writer's block, artists can get artist's block as well.

I did the first pose for another hour and took a look at the artworks. It was amazing. Some of them were able to execute two works with different styles from my first pose alone! To see all those different styles from these five artists was really inspiring. All those reds, blues and other hues in different strokes and lines really makes one think of the many ways one can view the world and how one thing (the model) can provide the impetus for new creations
(the artworks).

We took a longer break before I did my second pose since the artists were visibly drained. People may think artists have it easy "just painting" but it takes a lot of effort. You could see exhaustion in their faces. My second pose was easier since I was made to lie down. "So you can rest!" they all chimed in.

The artists and I both got our second winds and we were seriously back to work. By then, our conversations were about everything and anything under the sun. I got to find out the rate for nude models. It starts at P400 per hour for unknowns and as high as high as P2,000. I could have made P1,600 that day!

The next two hours flew by quickly. When we were all done and I stretched a little bit, I took a few minutes to gaze at all the artworks laid on the floor and table. According to Delan, the total worth of all five artists with one artwork each can reach P80,000. The total output that day was 15 pieces. You do the math.

But what it's all worth in money isn't even the issue. To have seen all the effort that went into it makes for a very interesting viewpoint and accomplished feeling. I kept looking at the works and it was a very strange, yet pleasing moment. Albeit I kept thinking "This is me?!" I was tickled pink with what I saw. I was exhausted and famished but I got that fuzzy, warm feeling all over me. And the muscle kinks disappeared.

Filipino student has exchange year in USA

The year of living away 
By Walter Ang
March 13, 2002
Philippine Daily Inquirer

AFTER my high school graduation, I spent a few agonizing weeks deciding if I should take a year off as an exchange student to the U.S.A. My father and I asked inputs from our relatives and got opinions ranging from skepticism ("You'll lose interest in going to school when you return because all your former batchmates will be ahead of you.") to enthusiastic encouragement ("It's a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity!").

I was fortunate enough to have already experienced a 4-week study tour stint in Seattle. That trip was already beyond my wildest expectations, so I hadn't expected repeating the experience on a longer timeframe. A one-year program was recommended to my dad and he confided that he was a frustrated exchange student and it was his dream to let his children experience it.

I was giddy, excited, scared and occasionally nauseous at the chance of spending a year alone abroad living with a host family. I'd go to college, meet people and "expand my horizons." Going through an agency would drastically reduce the cost versus doing the arrangements on our own, but I still worried about the cost since it wasn't simply like buying peanuts in the park.

Go west
We finally decided and a few months later, I was smack in the middle of Clinton City in Iowa state. Not yet quite a farming town but not exactly a bustling metropolis, it was an interesting change of environment for someone who grew up inhaling the noxious fumes of downtown Manila. All that big, blue sky unobstructed by tall buildings. And all those cornfields!

The first few months were a whirlwind of activity. Getting used to living with another family, meeting the seven other European exchange students who were in the same exchange program, adjusting to the school system and so on.

I hung out a lot with the other exchange students since we were all in the same boat. We clung to each other for support and constantly compared notes on our experiences. It got a little slow as the months wore on. After all, we were teenagers and got bored easily. The nearest mall was 45 minutes away (and that's going the maximum speed on the highway)!

And even though we had already been told the "real" America was nothing like "Melrose Place" or all those other chi-chi shows you see on TV, deep inside, you always kind of compare. I did have moments where I had to stop and pinch myself because living with a family of tall, blonde-haired, English speaking Caucasians did feel like I was in a TV show on certain occasions. It was very surreal at times!

Another life
But through it all, it was great fun to experience so many new things. I got to know my very amiable host-family, the Wheelers. We'd do a lot of things like go on trips or spend Thursday nights watching "e.r." together. My host dad Jerry liked to listen to classical music in his basement office-nook. My host sister Sarah and I would have fun conversations while she drove me to school. While host brother Noah and I loved to make fun of everything we saw on TV. My host mom Cheryl made me a wonderful blue quilt for Christmas that year and I still use it as a blanket to this very day.

I got to rake leaves during the fall (it smells ? er, different!). In winter, we'd sometimes wake up at the ungodly hour of 4a.m. to shovel snow off the driveway so we could leave on time at 6a.m. It was a little tough for me in winter because I experienced Seasonal Depression, although I didn't realize it at the time. I guess coming from a tropical country, not getting my fair share of UV rays from the sun affected me more than I cared to admit.

That same winter, the exchange students took a limousine to Chicago. The limo was cheaper with the bill split between us compared to buying individual bus tickets. Apart from being oh-so-glamorous, the service was door to door, not bus station to bus station! On New Year's Eve, we ate at a fancy restaurant complete with paper hats
("Just like on TV!") and forgot to tip the waiters. They ran out to the street after us!

Travel was just part of the perks in the program. We were "ambassadors of goodwill," forging ties and friendship in behalf of our respective countries. We were invited to speak at Ladies' Clubs, churches, and even with the local boy scout troop. "Do you have a moon in Europe?" someone once asked Anne from Belgium. "We have two! One of them is purple," she deadpanned, tired of being asked such silly questions.

I once got asked if Filipinos really ate dogs. To which I gave the prepared answer, "It's not good, it's not bad. It's just different." Sometimes I would add, "After all, cows are sacred in India and you guys love hamburgers."

Away from home
Transplanted from everything that you're familiar with gives you a chance to find out who you are without your old friends, without your family, without your usual arsenal of comfort zones. It's a great way to learn who you are and what you're capable of, even if you don't realize it at the time.

But in the end, it dawns on you that no matter where you are and where you're from, you're more likely to find similarities with people rather than differences. My host dad Jerry once asked me what kids in Manila liked to do in their spare time. I shrugged my shoulder and said, "Hang out at the mall." He laughed, "I guess teenagers around the world are all the same!"

We got our certificates of completion when school ended in May. I rushed back for the June opening of school here (the Europeans got to stay and travel some more). I became the only freshman student on "irregular" status on the first semester because I had some of my classes credited. But I had more fun that way because I got to meet more people instead of being stuck with my blockmates all the time. But that's another story.

An article like this is never going to be enough to recount all the wonderful, crazy, hilarious things that went on in my one-year stay away from home. I can't believe how many years have actually passed since. But I always remember it like it was just yesterday. I still keep in touch with my family in Clinton.

To all the parents out there, if you have the means to send your children away for an extended period of time, I strongly, strongly urge you to do so. It'll be a gift that's priceless.

Tanghalang Pilipino's Filipino version of Goldoni's 'The Liar'

Tanghalang Pilipino's Filipino version of Goldoni's "The Liar"
By Walter Ang
Feb. 2, 2002

Len Ag Santos-Siasoco as Cleonice
and Boby Garovillo as Leilo.
From Facebook page of Len Ag Santos-Siascoo.
Most people have a traumatic first time with the performing arts as they are required to sit through some heavy drama piece for school.

And if being a "captive" (literally) audience wasn't enough, they'd have to write a reaction paper (500 words, at least!) on who the playwright was (Brecht who?) and use highfalutin words to extol the virtues of what they just saw.

But watching plays and musicals does not have to be baduy and can be quite entertaining, enjoyable and even, gasp, fun. Especially if you give it a try without having your terror of a teacher twist your arm to go. Those who are feeling adventurous, or even just mildly curious, can give Tanghalang Pilipino's production of "Ang Sinungaling" a go.

Director Nonon Padilla "steals" conventions from Chinese Peking opera to stage this Filipino translation of an Italian play. How's that for starters? Different cultural influences are always a delight to see onstage, providing the audience with a fresh perspective on what could potentially be old and stodgy material. Just last year, the same company staged Shakespeare's Macbeth in an Asian setting, too.

A comedy written by Carlo Goldoni and translated by Ony de Leon, the play revolves around all the trouble caused by chronic liar Leilo, played by the Apo Hiking Society's Boboy Garrovillo. Leilo arrives in Venice, Italy and launches lie upon lie from his lips to woo the sisters Rosaura and Beatrice. The comedy comes in when servants, families, rival suitors and a dancing messenger/waiter get caught up in the complicated web of fallacies.

Sense of humor
Audiences used to watching productions in English need not feel intimidated by the language. Using Filipino as the spoken medium helps make the comedy bawdier and funnier since the silliness of the situations take on a more familiar tone. And who wouldn't be amused by the hilarious send ups of local personalities like FPJ, Kris Aquino and L.A. Lopez?

Chinoy fare is, as expected, up for jabs by the characters in the play ? anything and everything from funny accents, popular Chinese restaurants to Taipan-owned malls and banks. Fans of anime
(especially Dragonball Z) will marvel the Goku-type hair (big and all over the place) of some characters. Chinoys out there with a sense of humor and irony are going to love this show.

The deliberate use of Peking opera as a framework for the play is, as director Padilla claims, "a strategy ? to present to contemporary audiences a picture of Philippine contemporary life." Not strict in its usage of Peking Opera conventions, the production merely borrows and, on occasion, pokes fun of, the stereotyped movements of that form. But it's a comedy after all and all that really shouldn't matter unless you're one of the students required to write about it. Those unlucky students can probably get some ideas from the directors' notes in the programme--done in the size of a CD liner note and one of the most creative and slick programmes I've ever seen.

Kitschy decor
The atypical programme is only an appetizer to the visual treat the play has in store. In the Tanghalang Huseng Batute (the one in the basement) of the CCP, a red, black and gold checkered set designed by Gino Gonzales greets the audience as they come in. The design looks Chinese yet has a certain Italian flair to it as well (harlequin costumes come to mind).

Fashionistas with a sharp eye will catch familiar Italian designer logos interspersed into the set. The costumes (also by Gonzales) are rich in color and very tongue-in-cheek, including some ensembles that incorporate kitschy Chinese plastic decor that seemed to have been (and probably were) bought from the sidewalk stalls of Quiapo or Chinatown.

The actors company gave strong performances all around. The three female leads had good comic timing and the guys seemed to have fun hamming it up for the laughs. While Garrovillo certainly has a mischievous air about him, we wonder if a younger, more pilyo-looking actor might have been more suited to the charismatic liar role? Roeder, who portrayed Leilo's father Pantalone, could have switched roles with Garrovillo.

The material seems to slow down the action a bit in the beginning of the second act, but over all, the punchlines and visual gags keep the audience pretty much rolling in the aisles. Starting off the year with a good laugh would seem a pretty good way to go, and that's no lie.

Set and costume designer Gino Gonzales: Shaper of Things to Come

Shaper of Things to Come 
By Walter Ang
January 27, 2002
Sunday Inquirer Magazine

When Gino Gonzales was a child, he looked forward to processions. He just couldn't get enough of the pomp, the music, the assorted folk and costumes that lift such events from the doldrums of summer.

It would be this seminal "fascination for visual spectacle" that would ultimately shape his future as a production designer. Gino took up Communications at the Ateneo, worked in public relations for exactly two weeks and knew irrevocably that he "wanted to do theater."

In college, he had assisted renowned production designer Salvador "Badong" Bernal in several plays for the student theater group Tanghalang Ateneo and went on to his first professional stint: designing for the musical "Alikabok."

The curtain had since risen on Gino's career as he went on creating shapes, spaces, textures, silhouettes, colors and forms for actors and audiences alike. Constantly encouraged by his mentor Bernal to take up further studies abroad, Gino found that serendipity would eventually take him there.

While some Fulbright officials were in town, he managed to score an interview and subsequently a scholarship from them. When the Asian Cultural Council directors were visiting manila, he got an interview with them as well, clinching a grant for his living expenses.

So in 1998, with the blessings of his doctor father and landscape designer mother, off Gino went to New York University to pursue a three year Masters in Fine Arts Degree in Theater Design. Early on during his studies, one of his professors started literally ripping apart his scale model. "I kept saying, `No, no, no!" and all my classmates were laughing," Gino recounts with a smile. "He just did it ? no apologies, no explanations. He moved things around, and afterwards, the design seemed much better. It taught me to be more critical of my work."

The intense training was not lost on this particular student. "I feel lucky I was able to work with brilliant professors whom I trusted. Studying was a joy." The joy faltered a bit in the beginning when Gino found his course "tough and demanding." He was "ready to go back to Manila during the first semester," he confesses.

Gino's epiphany came when he caught an opera with a production design that made him cry. "It was the sheer beauty of it all. When it moves you like that, you realize what design can do to touch your audience. I wanted to do that." Of course, things are always easier said than done. "I thought the work I'd done in Manila would prepare me for working in the U.S. I was wrong. The work ethic so different," Gino reveals. "I had to prove myself."

This tall and lanky artist stuck to his (glue)guns, worked 18-hour days with his classmates, got to train with international theater personalities both off and on Broadway, was recommended by his department chair to design the costumes for the world premiere of Filipino American playwright Han Ong's "Middle Finger," and, not surprisingly, graduated with a prestigious Seidman Award and Meler Award under his belt. Whew!

Returning to the Philippines in September last year, Gino planned on taking a vacation. No way. Projects were waiting for him. First up, he was tasked to design the set for Ballet Philippines' well- received "Shoes." He filled the stage with plastic shoeboxes and turned it into a funky, pseudo-department store. Next, the Philippine Association of Theater Designers and Technicians (PATDAT) appointed him assistant curator for their "Hugis at Hubog" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum. This unique exhibit of designs form the performing arts showcases the creative output of the country's foremost designers and craftsmen in sets, props, costumes, and lighting.

In the exhibit, this 28-year-old's designs as presented in sketches and scale models are shown side by side with the works of the country's most prolific and renowned designers, among them Eric Cruz "El Camino Real"), Bobot Lota ("Rent"), and husband and wife team Benny and Liz Batoctoy ("Little Mermaid").

Selecting the best works from "hundreds and rows and rows" of sketches , photographs and other pieces for the exhibit was no easy task. "We decided to be brutal with our standards," reveals Gino. "even my pieces had to go through the same rigid screening." One easily sees how the same standards are applied to his working methods as well.

Gino considers research as essential in arriving at the desired final design that he feels is usually taken for granted in the local industry. "Anything you put into a design has to have weight. It has to mean something. It can't be arbitrary," he explains. Never sticking to just any one signature style, Gino constantly reinvents his approach to design by gleaning inspiration from whatever material he works with. "Depending on the show, I can be inspired by the text or the music or other aspects."

As the year begins, Gino is currently tackling the production design requirements of Tanghalang Pilipino's "Ang Sinungaling" by Carlos Goldoni. Despite his hectic homecoming, Gino is not complaining. "I'm committed to being back and being part of the driving force that will help the local industry," he says proudly. Audiences will surely have much to look forward to in the shape of things to come.