Theater-in-a-backpack brings Orwell to the streets

Theater-in-a-backpack brings Orwell to the streets
By Walter Ang
November 22, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

"Imperio Animalia," despite sounding somewhat scary, is actually meant to be "an engaging and highly interactive children's play and installation art piece." It's the title of Sipat Lawin Ensemble's adaptation of George Orwell's "Animal Farm."

Orwell's allegory tells of barn animals that revolt against their human master to establish a utopia where "all animals are equal." The plot turns when the pigs start changing the rules and stealthily espouse, "but some animals are more equal than others."

SLE plans to stage its production in "nerve centers of the metro." So far, their line-up includes Market!Market! Mall (in collaboration with the "Arts in the City" program), Intramuros, UP Diliman and UP Los Banos.

In order for the group to achieve its goal of performing on the streets "for free and open to the public," SLE is seeking support, financial or otherwise, for its "theater-in-a-backpack" brand of artistry.

The troupe was formed in 2007, though its members had been performing together in various productions since 1999 under the tutelage of Herbert Go, former artistic director of Tanghalang Pilipino and former faculty at the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA).

"He left the country in 2006 and we were left with nothing but ourselves and our desire to continue creating for the theatre," says SLE artistic director JK Anicoche. The group then staged a twinbill using their own resources. "Bring your own props. Bring your own costume. We mainly did it all for the love of theatre."

Thus was born the idea of making theatre readily available. "We want to put up shows where all we need to do so should fit in a backpack. This includes costumes, props, sounds and lights," he says.

All over the place
These PHSA alumni (Theater Arts majors) took the name of their school's more than 30 year old resident theatre company, Dulaang Sipat Lawin, and evolved it into Sipat Lawin Ensemble.

"We became a non-stock, non-profit organization geared towards promoting culture and the arts by involving the audience through site-specific, open space, public theatre performances," he says.

The group's works have been staged in bars, galleries, gift shops, living rooms, and, yes, public comfort rooms. "These are our playgrounds, our battlefields, in line with our vision and mission of developing an urban theatre community experience," he says. "We want to engage larger audiences in different places and make theatre relevant to the lives of more Filipinos."

Recent works include a collaboration with Australian playwright David Finnigan in "To Heat You Up and Cool You Down," a national tour under Tanghalang Pilipino of National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose's "Progress," and a work that mixed elements of theater, opera, film, contemporary dance and music titled "Strange Pilgrims."

There are plans to stage their version of the cult Japanese movie "Battle Royale" (where a classroom of students are stranded in an island and forced to exterminate each other) next year involving 12 university theater groups. SLE has also been holding "Theater-in-a-Backpack" workshops, teaching theater throughout the country.

Meanwhile, as a progression of "Haring Tubu-l," its adaptation of Alfred Jarry's absurdist play "Ubu Roi," staged earlier this year as a commentary on the mid-year elections, SLE chose to adapt "Animal Farm" to "investigate the promises and foundation of democracy amidst post-elections Philippines."

Disguising Orwell's story as a fairy tale is deliberate. "People can relate to fairy tales," he says. "When, at first look, they see magic and spectacle, they'd be engaged to watch. Then they'd want to find out what the performance is about and what it wants to say."

Assistance needed
The group has much to say and they're saying it in a unique way. Unlike most Tagalog translations/adaptations, "Imperio Animalia" has no single translator. The troupe employs a collaborative process where all actors have inputs in the development of the text and staging devices?a method they used with success for "Haring Tubu-l."

"It's a challenge to bring theatre to middle-class and grassroots audiences who don't usually step into theaters," he says. "We create works that aren't usually supported by corporate sponsors. We want to bring our work to more people, for free if possible, but still addressing the financial needs of the production and our actors.

"We're asking if you could pledge to spare some cab fare and take the jeepney or bus instead, just for a day, or maybe miss one venti-size coffee and drink a 3-in-1 sachet for breakfast, or save on extra rice. Perhaps you can share your little extras for us to be able to bring this work into the streets. Simple gestures, little risks, and small contributions can amount to a big impact in changing people's consciousness."

"We really feel that we have an important story to tell, ideas to share, images to show. As artists, we play an important role in today's society, in creating our new history," he says. "Now we have to change the way how we create theatre."

To donate in cash or kind to Sipat Lawin Ensemble, contact 0917-500-8753. Imperio Animalia aims to run from November 2010 to January 2011. 

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