Things are never what one expects at Fringe Manila. The recently concluded arts and community festival continued to champion alternative expression in the fields of music, dance, comedy, theater, and visual art, with over 80 distinct events, workshops, markets, and screenings from both Filipino and international artists. As part of the World Fringe Network, Fringe Manila presents a unique tapestry of arts and culture outside traditional commercial spaces, and validates works and performances that wouldn’t get much attention anywhere else. In this festival, difference is key.
Below are 10 memorable experiences Rogue had at this year’s Fringe.
Before being let inside, the audience at the PETA Theater Center was informed that ‘Night, Mother would not have an intermission—a practical reminder, but more a warning than anything else. There would be no opportunity to catch one’s breath after Jessie (Eugene Domingo) tells her mother, Thelma (Sherry Lara), that she will take her own life by the end of the night. A Filipino translation of Marsha Norman’s play, ‘Night, Mother played out like a cat and mouse game in real time, with Domingo and Lara circling each other amidst the clutter of their home, each woman slowly exposing their own psychological struggles. Aware of the toll that this material takes on an audience, PETA followed the curtain call with a debriefing session with mental health professionals, emphasizing that tragic fiction can always find a happy ending in us, so long as we take care of each other. —Emil Hofileña
Himala: Isang Musikal
By the time The Sandbox Collective and 9 Works Theatrical’s reinterpretation of Himala was over, the theater floor was soaking wet. Audience members seated on all sides of the barebones, arena-style stage were either too stunned to move or on their feet, applauding. None of the actors were smiling, some of them were crying, shaken by the experience. Somehow, without the help of choreography, lapel mics, or elaborate production design, director Ed Lacson, Jr. found a way to retell the classic story better than his predecessors.
Based on Ishmael Bernal’s 1982 film, which was adapted into a musical by original screenwriter Ricky Lee and composer/lyricist Vincent de Jesus, this new version of Himala fully immersed the audience by erasing the distance between actor and viewer. Audience members were no longer simply watching faith healer Elsa (Aicelle Santos) inadvertently causing chaos in her destitute town of Cupang. They were now complicit in the suffering occurring onstage. Questions of belief, authority, and human decency arrived with the immediacy that only theater can provide. In the show’s final moments, the mirror was turned back to the audience, asking: if we think we cannot find miracles, are we willing to make them ourselves? —EH
“Common”: street mural by Ralph Eya
Located outside the Poblacion café/bar Commune, Ralph Eya’s “Common” works as a clever piece of disruption. It consists of a black-and-white photograph of five people standing in front of a concrete wall, but with mirrors in place of their faces. The installation invites us to consider how similar we are to all the other people who can just as easily occupy the same space. But where “Common” becomes really interesting is its choice of location; Poblacion is known for its small businesses and social spaces, but it’s also a red light district with an unfortunate history of human trafficking. Eya’s piece then seems to be a challenge to Poblacion itself. —EH
Maylee Todd’s The Virtual Womb
Tellingly, the only way in (and out) of Maylee Todd’s The Virtual Womb was through a vagina—or an art installation made to look like one, anyway. “The womb is a place of gestation, meditation, rebirth, and deprogramming,” Todd said at the very beginning of her show, plucking a harp to an intimate blend of R&B, dance, and pop that makes up her album Acts of Love. And while the sentiments of love, peace, and rebirth could and should have been impenetrable, the stunning projections and psychedelic images that accompanied Todd’s music had a way of pulling you into a space where anything and everything is possible—with mesmerizing images of jellyfish swimming through a galaxy, of sleeping faces in the palm of one’s hand. “Consciously be reborn!” said the sign on the vagina, on your way out. What a trip. —Patricia Chong
Somnus: A Modern Circus Art Show
One would think that a smaller venue would limit the kinds of stunts a circus group would be able to perform, but that didn’t stop Legato Visual Performing Arts from evoking a sense of wonder in the audience. It also didn’t stop them from occasionally placing themselves in danger. Their two-night performance of Somnus ran the gamut from dance, to acrobatics, to aerial silk, and to light and object manipulation. And thanks to the audience’s proximity to the performers, it was clear that none of them were cheating—no safety nets, no wires, no padded floors. This was old school entertainment with highly trained individuals doing things the rest of us shouldn’t try at home.
But while Somnus started out as a story about a Reader (Matel Patayon) and a Librarian (Deo dela Cruz) opening the door to another magical world, it eventually became an exhibition among friends, cheering each other on as they started doing increasingly more difficult tricks. The sense of community among Legato’s performers is the best reason to catch their shows. —EH
Deus Sex Machina: My Dad’s Imaginary Castrated Penis
If you were expecting a thought-provoking examination of toxic masculinity and gender inequality from a musical entitled My Dad’s Imaginary Castrated Penis—well, props to you; that’s exactly what it was about. The show follows the tale of Dante, a young boy who loses his womanizer father at a young age and ends up with an imaginary friend personifying said father’s genitals. He quite literally navigates life in the martial law era at the machismo-fueled advice of a penis, and encounters the power imbalance that his good old pal has come to represent. With songs such as “His Dick” and “The Birth of Ian Veneracion” performed in a room full of priceless Amorsolo paintings, what should have been absurd instead became refreshing allegory, ending on this note: “There’s no need to be a real man—just try to be a good one.” —PC
Conversations: Club Discussions by Basic Movement Club
The first leg of Conversations by Basic Movement Club was an easygoing discussion with FDCP President Amina Aranaz, Vogue Italia Talents Carl Jan Cruz and Ken Samudio, Proudrace Creative Director Rik Rasos, and fashion influencer and model Kim Jones. Each coming from different walks of life, they offered their own insights on how to make it in business while maintaining the integrity of your craft.
On the topic of the romance of passion, they reiterated that it all comes with hard work and authenticity. Everything you put out for the audience must be authentic to you and your own definition of it. What we personally picked up here is the reminder that our art—in whatever form—is to be made for others. In a world that we believe revolves around “me,” Amina Aranaz said, in her parting words, “It’s not about you. You’re just an instrument. Everything is just going through you. Always be kind. Generosity and pureness of heart will get you far. Don’t let your ego get in the way.” —Alyssa Castillo
Bullet Journaling 101
What began as a workshop meant to introduce people to Ryder Carroll’s personalized organizing system (known as Bullet Journaling) soon became a refreshingly candid, intimate session for strangers to share their creativity with one another. Moderator Belle Mapa guided each attendee through the basics of setting up one’s journal, then let them go crazy with a whole lot of colored pencils and free stickers. But most importantly, Mapa demonstrated how bullet journals have increased her work productivity and helped her manage her own mental health self-care. Keeping yourself organized, it turns out, can actually save your life. —EH
Komiket: The Filipino Komiks and Art Market
While the image of a white-walled gallery may be the first thing to come to mind at the idea of an art market, Komiket has continued to provide an alternative over the past few years. It’s quite literally a market, with stalls upon stalls selling original and fandom-based zines, posters, postcards, stickers, and, of course, komiks—all by local creators. The more determined Manix Abrera and Hulyen fans will head straight to the artists’ stalls to get their books signed, but a walk around the space reveals plenty of interesting work, such as Egong Von’s history-inspired stickers (complete with a friar screaming, “HEREJE”) and Victoria Tadiar’s Filipiniana fantasy comic Sagala. —PC
Few experiences are as unexpectedly moving as being in a room full of people crying over a nature documentary. After watching Jeff Orlowski’s Chasing Coral, the prospect of losing something truly beautiful and essential to sustaining life became a personal matter for every attendee. The film follows a group of divers and scientists investigating the phenomenon of coral bleaching and looking for ways to convince the world of its dangers. At the same time, the screening’s organizers from Philippine Coral Bleaching Watch, as well as representatives from Greenpeace Philippines, used the event as a forum on the Philippines’ current environmental efforts, and on the little things we can do to help save the corals (and, in turn, our lives). So invest in metal straws, download the Philippine Coral Bleaching Watch app, and tell your diver friends to sign up. This is one event that shouldn’t end with Fringe. —EH