In their late 20’s, Rizal wrote Noli Me Tangere, Luna painted the Spoilarium and Bonifacio started the armed revolution. Those of us in our late 20’s today, what are we doing with our lives? We go on Facebook and Twitter, we chat, we over-pay for our coffees, we drink and party. A lot of us are forced to work in call centers and other outbound services that pay a tad better than other workplaces. What are we really achieving?
This musing is paraphrased from and inspired by an Ambeth Ocampo quote that spread in Facebook some time ago. I can’t remember his exact words. But it went on something like that. I am in my late 20’s. Though I have never worked in a call center or any corporation for that matter, I understand the sentiment. It’s not just because young people want much money that they go to those workplaces, sometimes (or most times), it’s just the work that is available. At least it is the work that is largely available with a good pay. I’m a teacher and I also have some research projects, I have to say that friends in corporations have more financial stability compared to myself. In today’s society, we do need money to survive. To get money, we need jobs, and the jobs that are widely available are in fact, call center jobs.
Maybe someday, the government will help Filipinos in the creation of jobs. No, not outsourcing from foreign companies but developing local industries for our citizens. They can develop local agriculture in the provinces. We can think of ways to create jobs, so we can stop exporting Filipinos; and start to create a self-sustaining Philippines. Maybe when this happen, we can have more time, energy and resources to develop the arts. Maybe then, we can inspire more people to be like Jose Rizal.
We commemorate Rizal Day every December 30. There are a lot of arguments on his being declared as a National Hero, as well as the colonial agenda behind it. Nevertheless, his words are imprinted in us. He wrote the great Filipino novel, yet to be surpassed. I found a Facebook post once, computing the costs of Rizal’s education and travels; it is substantial, to say the least. But his relatively comfortable life and his opportunities to travel the world and educate himself does not make him any less of a hero. I have great respect for the revolutionaries, of course. Yet, there is something about fiction that immortalizes an age, just like what Rizal did with his Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Through his text, his writings, his letter and his poetry, we shall never forget. What he left us should be substantial enough to remind us of our history.
We should nurture the arts. Jose Rizal is proof enough of it.
This reminds me of the last event I attended for 2011–2HOG: tula-dula-musika-pelikula last December 14 at PETA Theatre. Renato (Butch) Santos, as I find out through Google is a retired banker turned Palanca-winning poet. He pushes and explores the Filipino language in the creation of poetry. Though current usage such as jejemon and text renditions makes a lot of us cringe, he manipulates it into his poetry and makes it relevant to the Filipino youth. This is the challenge of art today, how can we make it relevant for Filipinos today?
2HOG is not just poetry, but inter-media performance. PETA called it cinepoetry or moving poems. The poems were written by Butch Santos while the performance was directed by Maribel Legarda. The visual inter-play was no doubt on the theatrical side–the movements, voices and general acting is larger than life. Such performance will not be out-of-place in a theatrical space. It feels like the actors and the poetry are trying to break out of the screen into the on-looking audience.
Though there are quieter moments in the short performance, it is not made to be subtle. This is among the events that I wish I was able to show my students. Poetry has become detached to the Filipino youth, hearing it and seeing it move would help them appreciate the experience. Uploading it to YouTube is also an excellent idea. As a teacher, I know how difficult it is to get a printed text and convince a student to actually read it. But if it’s in YouTube, it can certainly be a different conversation entirely. (See the cinepoems in Youtube here.) Butch Santos even announced the link during the event, his username is Ewanlangatbpngkuwan.
Yet, the experience of being there, despite the smallish crowd is something else entirely. The mood, the live music, the inter-play of the senses cannot re-created online. At least, not yet. I think that we need more performances of this kind to inspire the youth. Creating and performing should re-claim its place in the spotlight. Rizal was killed for his daring. Today’s artists are killed by a lack of support. If these performances could be made widely available, the public may then re-evaluate the role of art in their lives and perhaps may inspire them to think of what they can do for our country.
Butch Santos was a banker for most of his life, but it did not stop him from being a poet. Neither should the call center industry stop our youth from being artists. As seen numerous times before, the internet is not a place to be limited, rather, it is a place to push boundaries. It was a struggle for Rizal to publish his work, it is no struggle for us to publish ours now. Granted, the accepted avenues may still be difficult to get to, but the advent of internet technology helps us break that barrier. The challenge now is to create something of value with the medium we are provided. 2HOG is just a start.
Here are some photos that I have taken during the event.
I still hope we can create more spaces for the arts, as well as nurture artists and future artists, so more events like this can be possible for more people. In time, we can see another great Filipino novel of Noli Me Tangere‘s proportion. It may not necessarily be in print but in inter-media such as this.
I realize that I have been neglecting my blog for a little bit. Sometimes, life just overruns us. Though we should not make a habit of letting this happen. There are simply too much to write about and we cannot afford any more slacking. The most touching, endearing and bothersome series of events is on children. There are days like today, where you would like to become a child again. You would love to just snuggle in bed and celebrate the cold days of Christmas. Then again, looking at the state children suffer from today, you would wonder how much is wrong in today’s society. It’s not always ice cream day for children.
I keep on getting inspired by Google Doodles a lot these days. The most recent one to inspire me is on Mark Twain’s 176th birthday. Again, it’s very nostalgic. Growing up in the 90s, I often went home to Tagalized cartoons, including Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. As a child, the depth of these stories were lost to me. I only saw the fun and the jokes. Growing up, I realized that these stories say a lot more than children’s fun and games. It’s a fight about slavery and oppression. The most recent issue faced by these novels are on the sanitation. The early cartoons I have seen are already sanitized, we do not have the word nigger in Tagalog. But, if you take that word out, how can you teach the implication of that word? How would you feel what they suffered by sanitizing the bad things? Children, early on, should be made aware. That’s why these novels are so effective, the discourse is carried out by children, but the issues are not necessarily youthful. Children may be young and innocent, but they are not stupid. Removing the word nigger is not protecting them, it is making them unaware about sensitive issues that they are actually capable if handling, if they are taught well.
But then, there is the issue of teaching our children well. Mark Twain’s birthday coincided with Andres Bonifacio’s birthday. Sadly, his birthday is not as well celebrated or talked about as Jose Rizal’s. Yes, November 30 is a holiday. But, really, it did not trend on Twitter, there aren’t that much on Facebook and I’m the only one who brought it up in my Google+ network. Barely any of our children are taught our revolutionary leader’s true story. True, his life is taught, yet, it is an incomplete and sanitized story. Jose Rizal is a hero, I am not saying otherwise. But Andres Bonifacio is just as great, if not greater. He also deserves our attention. The fact that the his heroic life is ended in murder is heart-breaking. Then, for this story to remain untold is painful.
I cannot claim to own these accounts, but here is a video posted in Youtube about The Story of Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo as well as the written accounts on The Assassination of Andres Bonifacio and Antonio Luna. Power corrupts. Then and now. A colleague tried teaching this topic in an international school and she got into trouble because this side of the story is not published in official textbooks. Again, our children’s education should not be sanitized, instead, they should be more aware in a level that they would understand.
This reminds me of a play that I recently saw at PETA. They re-staged Rated: PG from their 42nd Season. On the way, Cy and I were already talking about the world children live in today. There is something very wrong when you here a little girl voice saying rather loudly, “Putang ina mo, para kang tanga! Punta ka nga dito!” It has been bothering me for quite some time, it’s an innocent little girl voice. Then, again, we talked about education (Cy, taking an MA in Math Education). He says that there are circumstances when teachers swear inside classrooms, and there are circumstances when those things are necessary. A few years ago, I would be vehemently against that, until I saw and heard children in informal settlements.
What can we do for them? I, for one, have lived in a very sheltered environment. Of course, my mother brought me up to be independent, thus for most of my adult life (even college), I have been living outside of the family home. There were times that I needed financial assistance, but it never stopped me from living on my own. My mother is very supportive of that. But that is not necessarily the case for most children. Some, though raised, lacked independence. While others, are not even taken cared of well. Can we ever create a “safety zone” for them? This conversation is almost the perfect set-up as we, once again, took a tricycle to PETA.
Children should feel safest in their own homes. But that is not the case for a lot of them. These issues were hashed out in numerous levels in Rated: PG. It is a particular conflict in the Philippines. Our parents were mostly brought up by the stick. In our society, it was normal to hit, slap and beat children. It has been accepted as a routine form of discipline. It is an incredibly violent concept and for the first act of the play, they hashed out all these issues. For a while, I was actually wondering how they would resolve all the issues that they brought forward (not exactly, but they tied it well, eventually). These are sensitive issues, and though most of the youth are open to the concept, a lot of adult in the audience are still firm believers of punishment.
It’s a good thing that I saw the play with an education major. He educated me about the progressive school. I can’t be sure if the writers and producers of the play are informed about it, but they echo it throughout the play. They talked bout the issue of rewards and punishment, as it applies in the Filipino setting. How will lessons take? Through rewards? punishments? beatings? Or as they settled on–through talking, lots and lots of talking, and on education. Having a progressive school is nice, but of course, it would be difficult to achieve in reality.
The Filipino family set-up is also explored. Often, children are left with their grandparents while the parents are working. The treatment, though, is problematic, as the grandparent is given a negative light. Yet, there is truth in the narrative. Using myths and lore to discipline children is quite unique in the Philippines. But, it is not just the grandparents who does that. As Filipino parents are displaced through diaspora, they become increasingly dependent on the extended family. Thus, the treatment of the grandparent rubs the wrong way.
There is also the issue of the dynamics between mothers and fathers and their roles for the family. Though it was not entirely resolved, there is the solid attempt. The Filipino family is still balancing the fluid and changing roles in contemporary life. Again, the progressive school is strong. Hopefully, children, when they grow up may attempt such philosophy and move away from the reward/punishment model that the Philippines have. They encourage the voice of the children to be heard and in the end, that is one of the most important things.
One of the really unique aspects of the play that I enjoyed is the debriefing at the end. They made sure that they got the message across, especially as the majority of the audience are minors. As I said earlier, children are more open to adult concepts, and many adults are not. Several adults insist on pamamalo, still, which is incredibly sad, especially after watching a play like Rated PG. And still on a sadder note is a child that was made to stand up and say that “it depends” on the situation. Then, his mother, claiming to be a teacher, monopolized the session, saying that beating is justified given certain circumstances. Of her monologue, the worst aspect is her justification of violence as punishment–that because the child committed the “wrong” repeatedly, that they did it in the bedroom, that they prayed after and the child understood that it is right by Jesus, and that her child still enjoys her company more than his friends. Unwittingly, she taught her child that violence is good, that Jesus justifies violence and that parents are better than friends. Making her child compare the love of parents between the love of friends is very wrong, given that in the future, the child will need his friends more than his parents (in certain circumstances). That the love should not be compared, that it should be given. Unfortunately, we cannot change everyone, but certainly, we can be the change that we want to see.
I saw this image in the list of the Most Powerful Images of 2011:
This may be taken as a propaganda photo, yet I still like it. Cliche, yes, but children are still our future. We should simply treat them and educate them well. It may be through Mark Twain, Andres Bonifacio or theatre that we educate them, but what we do, for the most part, educates them. Being a child does not necessarily mean eating ice cream, playing and waiting for Santa Claus. Many children are deprived on the childhood we often get nostalgic about. I am no expert, I don’t even have a child. But I was a child once, and my childhood is one of the very fortunate childhoods. I had my own sufferings, but my environment and my loved ones helped me get through it. I healed and I had fun. Not every child can say that. I was very lucky. In my own way, as I write, I hope I can spread the luck some more.
**I hope to write a series about this issue. I was among the netizens fighting agains WW on the issue of child abuse. This now evolved into Para sa mga Bata group and movement. Then, I am also a believer in fairy tales, no matter how gruesome their sources. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write another part in this story.
Contradictions. What can you expect when you merge street music and Shakespeare? Do you even consider it? What I discover is that there are gems in contradictions. My friend (Cyrus) and I should know. We arrived in style (so to speak)–a rusty tricycle ride to a clean, white and elegant facade of PETA Theater in New Manila, filled with nice cars no less. But no matter, the adventure of contradictions thus began.
William, a play that was much reported and written about is an exciting revelation. Shakespeare has been done so many times, in innumerable ways, that it is rare to be surprised by just another interpretation. But that’s just it,William, is not just another interpretation. Rap, hip-hop and flip-top are the dominating forms, but these are seamlessly combined with Shakespearean plots, that an unaware audience might not notice. This is a gem for the Bard’s fans, as the stories and references unfold right before their eyes. William spoke, both to the high schoolers that needed a Shakespeare 101 and to Shakespeare aficionados in the audience; no one was left out, there is something for everyone.
Filipino life and Shakespeare? Yes, definitely. William, both the bard and PETA’S play is anything but predictable. Who would have expected that Shylock’s monologue from The Merchant of Venice, could help express the sentiments of Richard Austria, a gay teenager who is newly “out” in society? Or that Claudius’ guilt from Hamlet would translate into the jock, TJ Domingo’s guilt for “outing” his friend Richard and his sufferings from his abusive father? Another surprise is the appropriation of Marc Anthony‘s famous speech for the campaign of the push-over nerd, Erwin Castro, as he also tries to redeem is gay friend Richard. Famous monologues from famous plays appropriated in unique ways to reflect issues from the Filipino teenage life.
Easy to miss but jewels when you catch them are plot references from Shakespeare’s famous plays. The main love plot is very reminiscent of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as two pairs of couples find each other through the help of fate. The play also ended in a party, A Midsummer Night’s Prom that tied down the play neatly, as well as reflecting teenage life. Everyone ended up with their respective partners in the end. Also, the play will not be perfect without its mean, yet lovable, hip-hopping villains. Again, easy to miss, is its reference to the the three witches of Macbeth. Bugoy, Buchoy and Strawberry are the villains that would tie-up or open-up a scene with their hip-hop and flip-top. These three love making fun out of everyone, especially of the nerd, Erwin and the newly-”out” gay, Richard.
One memorable song is a hip-hop rendition of What’s in a name? Instead of the typical love story of Romeo and Juliet, the play focused on Juliet alone, and not in finding romance. Instead, Juliet finds herself, independent of any Romeo. Sophia Reyes, the Juliet of the group, started out as a nouveau riche, love struck teenager. She grew up and grew to love herself, embracing her romantic Juliet but going beyond the romance and reaching a transformed independent Juliet, who loves her own name, her heritage and even her countryside accent.
William, surprisingly, for a play meant for high students, also delivers a very strong position against gender discrimination. Though set in high school, without any overt sexual connotations, the play dealt with gender positions, again, very reminiscent of the Bard’s style. Mentioned before are the frustrations of Richard in a high school setting as he is bullied by his classmates because of his gender. The usage of some Shakespearean characters, though could be a bit anti-lesbian on some parts, still challenges traditional gender roles of society, just as the Bard did in his own time. Portia’s cross-dressing to defend Basanio from Shylock in The Merchant of Venice as well as Viola’s story in Twelfth Night were referenced as the characters look into their own gender positions. Though the term lesbian was thrown about in a bit unflattering tone, the basic message against gender discrimination cannot be missed.
The role of Shakespeare in education is very important for everyone. The very core of the play is education, and educate it does. Ms. Martinez, the weird and theatrical teacher struggles to bring Shakespeare to her students. From the boring and incomprehensible iambic pentameter, she shows her audience how Shakespeare can be made relevant to everyday life. The play itself shows how valuable Shakespeare can be in the analysis of Filipino life. The Bard, crosses language and nation as his works are interpreted and made relevant to everyday life. At the end, everyone is infected with “Shakespearitis” and every event in their life is referenced to the Bard’s work. Its an eye-opening transformation for everyone.
It is a rare event, that I can experience laughter and cheers in a small, intimate theatre, filled with high school students and a few adults and aficionados. The audience, clapped and reacted at almost every scene. They gave a number of “awww”s for romantic moments and even dead silence during the heavy monologues. The applause in the finale must have been heart-warming for everyone, especially coming from students that rarely reads Shakespeare in the contemporary technological world.
Transformation. As the background changes into a pop-art version of Shakespeare’s portrait, the finale wraps up William in another hip-hop song. Mostly, in the Filipino language, it expresses the relevance of the Bard in everyday life, and how much the youth of today can still learn from him. The Shakespearean topic has not been exhausted, even after all this time. PETA’s William is a proof of that. Shakespeare is relevant to students, teachers, theatre fans and practically everyone. If you look close enough, you can find William in your everyday life and, yourself, reminiscent of Shakespearean characters.
Once again, I am staring at a blank sheet of paper as I struggle with the topic I am working on–psychoanalysis and phenomenology. Neither of the two are my favorite. I certainly do not want to unearth the writings of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, again. As an undergrad, encountering their perception of the world for the first time, I was very impressed. I found it fascinating to read. I was opening the world of psychoanalysis, something I have never encountered before. Familiar, in a way, of the story of Oedipus, and having Oedipus Rex as the first play I have watched by Dulaang UP, I was enthralled. I thought it was a viable theory and even fooled myself into believing that it was an explanation for sexuality, behavior and representation. I had feminist leanings as a teenager as well, so encountering Laura Mulvey‘s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema was a revelation. I found myself writing more and more about psychoanalysis and visual perception, I even remember my paper on the image-formation of Filipino women in cinema using Mulvey’s paper as a theoretical framework. Fortunately, I outgrew that perception of the world.
As I grew up and grew more critical of what I am reading and writing, I find psychoanalytic theories too encompassing, without consideration for other people and other cultures. Certainly, not everyone in the world can be the same? As fascination for a new concept fades and criticality begins, Freud’s Oedipus Complex and Jung’s Electra Complex became more and more ridiculous. I now find the concept of a son hating his father and desiring his mother, and a daughter hating her mother and desiring her father, in the way of their psychosexual development, absurd. Of course, in time, I knew that various points of their arguments were also disproved. The five stages of psychosexual development is no longer accepted. Yet, these are the starting point in the discussion of psychoanalysis. Certain theoreticians still adapt and appropriate these theories in their analysis. It is also a good beginning in the discussion of consciousness, particularly of the concept of the sub-conscious. Still, I struggle with the fact that, I just don’t want to write about this again.
I watched PETA’s production of William last Saturday. I have to say that its a very good play, a combination of Shakespeare 101 for students and ‘identify the reference’ for Shakespeare fans. Its a different feeling when you get to witness a theatre-full of teenagers laugh and applaud a Shakespeare-inspired play. Looking at this from a psychoanalytical point of view, the play could go down the road of over-reading and absurdity. There are various parent-child relationships in the play, notable ones are the relationship of TJ Domingo and Estella Marie Carandang. Their relationship with their fathers (played by the same actor but with different characterizations) display more or less the Oedipal and Electra Complexes. TJ Domingo, the rebel, aggressive jock has a violent relationship with his father. His father, a dominant and aggressive man is abusive and tends to beat-up TJ, whenever TJ fucks up. TJ of course, resents his father. The absent mother is never mentioned, but he looks into Estella, the mature mother-image of the group, to help him out whenever he was in a bind. He also grew to love her in a romantic way. Sounds familiar? Looking into Estella’s parental relationship, on the other hand, she resents her mother greatly for leaving them and is very close to her father as a result. The father tends to be over-protective of Estella and Estella adores him greatly. Again, familiar right? So, maybe Laura Mulvey wasn’t too far off in her essay, even though the narrative here is in theatre form. If my main focus is on the psychoanalytic aspect of the play, it would focus in these two parent-child relationships and its representation. There are two other characters with fathers (again played the same actor) with the same dynamics. A little bit different, though, is Erwin Castro’s relationship with his father. Even though he is male, he has a good and gentle relationship with his father. But the thing is, though Erwin is not gay, he is, in a way, effeminate. He is very gentle and soft-spoken, almost the common characterization of a woman. He is not aggressive, so there is no competition for dominance or for being the alpha male of the family, unlike in TJ’s case. Here, there is no struggle for power. Erwin, to a certain point, is a mediocre push-over. Using the psychoanalytic perspective will go far in any narrative, but I have grown up enough to know that it is often not enough, that there is something more to the perception of the world than psychosexual and power relationships of gender and consciousness. Or more to the point of psychoanalysis—the sub-conscious. Though this theory does not lack in merit, I still feel that there is something else, something more.
This is where I see phenomenology coming in. Instead of just focusing on the universal sub-conscious that psychoanalysis seem to imply, I want to explore art as we experience them. I want to point out the self-consciousness of the audience rather than the psychoanalytical dispositions and secret sexual desires that the audience apparently has no control over. Looking into Merleau-Ponty, when we perceive something, we also perceive ourselves, that we are also visible. He says that, “The visible can… fill and occupy me only because I who see it do not see it from the midst of nothingness, but from the midst of itself; I the seer am also visible. What makes the weight, the thickness, the flesh of each color, of each sound, of each tacile texture, of the present, and of the world, is the fact that he who grasps them feels himself emerge from them by a sort of coiling up or redoubling, fundamentally homogenous with them, he feels that he is the sensible itself coming to itself” (113-14). When you watch a play, you do not just see the play, you also locate yourself in the play. Part the popularity of William is the easy self-identification with at least one of the characters and recognizing other characters as someone one have encountered in everyday life. Very suited to the teenagers as the characters are mostly teenagers themselves, most adults can also relate as they have played such roles earlier in their lives. Often, the tendency is to relate to one character and remember people encountered in life that embodies the other characters.
There were five main characters in the play, the five students–TJ Domingo, the popular, basketball player, jock; Sophia Reyes, the nouveau riche, social climbing, beautiful, shallow, romantic girl; Richard Austria, the gay guy “outed” during the course of the play; Erwin Castro, the mediocre, push-over, quiet-type geek; and Estella Marie Carandang, the plain-looking, know-it-all nerd. These are the five stereotypes of the typical high school classroom translated into students learning about Shakespeare from their weird, passionate teacher Ms. Lutgarda Martinez. When viewing these characters, it is not a simple identification of the high school stereotypes but also self-identification with previous experiences informing and affecting the perception of the play. Paul Crowther further explores Merleau-Ponty:
“There are two aspects to this (though Merleau-Ponty does not always clearly separate them). First, as we have seen, things define themselves as styles brought about by our body’s modes of orientation towards the world. Our perceptual contact with the world is expressive, in so far as the body is constantly taking up new positions and launching itself into new projects. This means that the stylizing and expressive foundation of perception is of general validity. Each human has the same broad range of bodily capacities and will, therefore, tend to see and do much the same things (i.e. share the same styles of perception) as other human beings. However, it is also true that as individual embodied beings we each retain our particular view of the world” (108).
Aside from recognizing the Shakespearean motifs in William, the audience also recognize themselves as they experience the play. As Merleau-Ponty says in Eye and Mind, ” Things have an internal equivalent in me; they arouse in me a carnal formula of their presence. Why shouldn’t these (correspondences) in their turn give rise to some (external) visible shape in which anyone else recognize those motifs which support his own inspection of the world” (60). There are several layers of recognition that may happen. At first, the easiest one is the characterization of the high school stereotype that an audience may relate to. Next, is the Shakespearean references that such characters represent. Another layer is the Shakespearean play or sonnet that the character is acting out, whether straight-up recitation (Shylock’s monologue from The Merchant of Venice) or appropriated to a more Filipino context (Marc Anthony’s monologue from Marc Anthony and Cleopatra). Yet another layer that may affect this identification is the actual knowledge or experience the audience have of Shakespeare. Though some are easy to identify as it is explicitly stated in the performance, some are not, and only those who have some previous readings and knowledge of Shakespeare may recognize. Such identifications may happen in different layers within the embodiment of the play. Each person will have a different sense and layer of such embodiment. A necessary condition for such embodiment, is self-consciousness, as Crowther defines it, “To be self-conscious is to be able to ascribe experiences to oneself. It is to be a person” (150). In order to examine the consciousness and embodiment present in William, I want to go beyond the consciousness and sub-consciousness of Freud and consider the phenomenological proposition of Crowther in Art and Embodiment, from aesthetics to self-consciousness:
“The first of these I shall call attention. By this I mean our capacity to be receptive to sensory stimuli. It is a basic orientation or directness bound up with our body’s position in relation to that world of sensible items and events with which it is causally continuous. The second necessary capacity is that of comprehension. A self-conscious being in one who must be able to organize the stimuli received in perception by discriminating sameness and difference amongst them. This capacity is powerfully enhanced by the third necessary (and complex) feature, which I shall call projection. A being can only be self-conscious if it can posit situations other than those presented by the immediate perceptual field. The chief projective powers are memory and imagination; the former enables us to posit situations in which we have previously been, and the latter enables us to posit alternative possibilities of experience to those which are immediately accessible to us in perceptual terms. The projective powers, of course, are the very flesh of any sense of having a personal history” (150-51).
I will take into consideration, the most powerful performance delivered in William, the character of Richard Austria, the gay guy. His story embodies Shakespeare’s Shylock, the Jew from The Merchant of Venice. Richard was a closeted gay, “out” only to his closest friends. A fight with TJ caused him to be “outed” in his entire school, resulting to his persecution. Richard, the hard-working class representative was suddenly mistreated and harassed by his fellow classmates. Thus, he delivered Shylock’s speech, as they both embodied persecution, “He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction” (Act III, Scene 1).
In the manner of Crowther’s self-consciousness, the layers are attention, comprehension and projection. In Richard’s arch and almost every other performance, the most obvious part in experiencing it is by paying attention, in order to be receptive of the performance. Next is to organize the stimuli received and basically understand the performance–what is happening, why it is happening, what are the the Shakespearean references made, what is the plot, what does the plot pertain to in Shakespearean plays, etc. But the most notable part in Crowther’s self-consciousness is projection, the actual embodiment. The relationship of Richard’s character and performance and the memory or imagination of the audience will come in to play. Do you need to be gay to be able to feel for or project the performance of Richard’s character? Not necessarily. Because even though you do not have the memory of being a discriminated gay student, you still have the memory of others as well as your own imagination that enables you to project yourself into the performance. Through an effective performance, one can project the self into it through memories and imagination–feel the frustration, the pain of betrayal, the hate of discrimination and the release into freedom after the resolution. The phenomenology in experiencing and projecting into a performance could be achieved in that manner. This projection will also have another layer, as the audience will not only project themselves into Richard, but also into Shylock as he is embodied by Richard. The pain of persecution and the desire for revenge is something that would be powerful in the memory and imagination of the audience. The layers of embodiment enriches each other, as the character (Richard), the character reference (Shylock) and the audience affect each other and enrich each other in the phenomenological and aesthetic experience, and transcend this relationship into the projection of the self.
Another interesting character is TJ. He is initially presented as a stupid jock, a bully and a villain. As the narrative goes further, he was humanized as his relationship with his father was explored. He was also redeemed towards the end as he apologized publicly to Richard. Again, looking at it from Crowther’s self-consciousness and embodiment, one does not necessarily need be in TJ’s situation or have a memory of experiencing such event. The imagination of the audience will help transcend the performance from attention and comprehension, well into projection. With such imagination, the audience may project on to the humanization of TJ, his reasons for being a bully, his eventual redemption. The viewer may not only comprehend the meaning of redemption but also characterize and embody the feeling of being redeemed. This gives the ephemeral character of a performance lasts in the imagination of the audience. Just like in Richard and Shylock, the layers of embodiment is also there. This time, the relationship is between TJ, Claudius and the audience. One does not necessarily be a betrayer to feel the pain of betrayal. The use and enhancement of memory and imagination will come into play as the humanization and pain of the villain is represented. The viewer transcends into the character of TJ and into the the character of Claudius from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
“O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will:
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offence?
And what’s in prayer but this two-fold force,
To be forestalled ere we come to fall,
Or pardon’d being down? Then I’ll look up;
My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder’?
That cannot be; since I am still possess’d
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
May one be pardon’d and retain the offence?
In the corrupted currents of this world
Offence’s gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft ’tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law: but ’tis not so above;
There is no shuffling, there the action lies
In his true nature; and we ourselves compell’d,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence. What then? what rests?
Try what repentance can: what can it not?
Yet what can it when one can not repent?
O wretched state! O bosom black as death!
O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,
Art more engaged! Help, angels! Make assay!
Bow, stubborn knees; and, heart with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe! All may be well.”
(Act 1, Scene 3)
This is the aspect that William does well in terms of engaging the audience. The main intention of the play is to enrich the knowledge of the audience, particularly the high school students, of Shakespeare. They do this, phenomenologically. The audience are given so many layers in the engagement, depending on the depth of their self-consciousness. As mentioned earlier, the easiest to identify with is the high school students. At one point or another in the audience’s high school and teenage life, they embodied a form of these stereotypes. Next is the embodiment of the character of another characters, those of Shakespeare’s. They transcend space and time as they bring to life characters hundreds of years old and embody them in their characters. The audience then, is given another layer of story and characterization to project themselves into. While all these is going on, the audience are projecting both their memories and imagination into the complexities of the characters performing. These workings on the aesthetic experience and the embodiment of the self into the artistic production enriches the performance as well as the viewing of the performance. It does not work in one way. There is the interchange of the phenomenological experiences between the audience and the performers as they project their own uniques selves—previous experiences, memories and imagination, into each other.
This dynamics in the art, not just in the theatrical performance, needs to be further explored, rather that being stuck in the rut of the sub-conscious. The theory of the sub-conscious, at least for me, is imaginative, too imaginative that the theory robs the imagination from the audience and the viewer. It is in the psychological couch that all imaginations are sucked in, never to be shared into the world. Self-consciousness, on the other hand, is far richer than the sub-conscious that the conscious realm cannot control. Self-consciousness, at least can be enriched. A person, through their own choosing, may enrich their own experiences, dig deeper into their memories and use their creative imagination as they experience things around them—particularly art, such as the theater. It has become so easy to rely into more “scientific” theories that the realm of imagination has become limited. The audience have the option, the choice, in using their memories and imagination—they become the proactive actors, rather than being mere victims of the psychosexual development and sub-conscious desires. Self-consciousness and the embodiment of aesthetics may evolve, develop and may enrich—it does not limit a passive recipient. Instead, aesthetic embodiment, in a phenomenological sense, may enrich, both the audience and the performance. It is a consistent transcendence of memories and more importantly, of the imagination. It is not just the artist who may imagine, but the audience and the viewer as well.
Crowther, Paul. Art and Embodiment, From Aesthetics to Self-Consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Legarda, Maribel, dir. William. Philippine Educational Theater Association, September 2011.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Phenomenology of Perception trans. Colin Smith with revisions by Forrest Williams. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Visible and the Invisible trans. Alphonse Lingis. Evanston: North-western University Press, 1968.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, ed. Terry Eagleton, 1985. 158-166.
Shakespeare, William, Hamlet. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2008.
Shakespeare, William, The Merchant of Venice. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2008.