Monday, June 29, 2009

Kafagway - Sa Saliw Ng Mga Gangsa

Excerpts from the openSpace performance during Session Road in Bloom, Panagbenga 2009.

Original songs by KM Altomonte, arranged by Ethan Andrew Ventura. The band, KMA (keyboard), EAV (guitar), EdgarBunying (bass), Josef Ventura (drums. Vocalists: Emerald Ventura, Eunice Caburao, Ro Quintos, Kelly McGurk, Robert Capuyan, Jr., Lloyd Celzo, Jeff Coronado, ROman Ordoña and Ron Ruiz.

Featured songs: "Sa Saliw Ng Mga Gangsa" (intro), "Kafagway", "Kasaysayan O Titulo?", "Sa Puso Ng Cordillera", "Ano'ng Plano?", "Taghoy", "Mithiin", "Sa Saliw Ng Mga Gangsa" - reprise.

openSpace plans to record these songs and release an album this September.

Friday, June 26, 2009

1984... Baguio... Thriller...

My son woke me up with the news that Michael Jackson passed on...

1984, a friend, Minco Fabregas, had just won a trip for two to Baguio at an Easter Egg hunt contest, he picked me to join him. At just 10 or 11 years old, we were quite surprised that our parents actually allowed us to go to Baguio for a few days on our own. But this was Baguio then, there were no nightly brawls at the Nevada Square or gangsters running after each other with knives in broad daylight in Session Road.

Photo as posted by nostalgiamanila in Photobucket
Transportation was courtesy of Sarkies Tours, and we were billeted at the Pines Hotel. Upon arrival, first thing we did was go on a boat ride at Burnham Park (where we left the wallet with all our money in a boat, we went back an hour later and luckily found the boat we took with the wallet still in it) and then blow half our pocket money at the pinball machines... half our pocket money for the next few days gone in a coupe of hours. Two nights at the Pines Hotel and then we moved to the Mountain Lodge for a few more nights...

Our days in Baguio that time were like this: Right after breakfast, we'd rent a bike in Burnham for an hour or two while waiting for Funhouse at the bottom of Session Road to open, though there were arcades too in Manila then, pinball machines weren't that popular. We'll be the first ones in Funhouse once it opened and all morning we'd play - pinball, Pacman, Asteroids, Space Invaders, Pong... Lunch would be at Shakey's on Session Road (until that day we finally blew all our money at the arcade, from then on lunch was at Mario's courtesy of Tita Mitos).

Photo by stevechasmar
as posted in his Flickr photostream
On our first night at the Mountain Lodge, while munching on our burgers, there was a special on Michael Jackson on TV - he had just won 8 Grammys that year and Thriller, Billy Jean and Beat It were all over the radio stations. We watched the special and later spent a good part of the night trying to duplicate Michael Jackson's dance moves.

The next morning, we didn't go straight to Funhouse, we just walked around Teacher's Camp and the Botanical Garden singing Michael Jackson songs, trying to see how many of his songs we knew the lyrics to (we also tried to freewheel on that scooter parked along the Mountain Lodge driveway, we crashed it on the first try. LOL. And managed to get ourselves a pack of cigarettes, I regret that day.).

Ahhh, 1984, that was a good year. I fell in love with Baguio that year. With Billy Jean playing in my head.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stream of consciousness... Attitude, aptitude, auditions, tales and stale coffee and solitude

Rehearsals... space not available 'til 7PM, we move upstairs, right on the stage.

Half the cast is late. That's ok. Short notice. Thanks for your patience, this production isn't a walk in the park. A couple of weeks ago, when the SM told some guy who came with his mom to the auditions to get ready with his audition piece, he turned to his mom and asked, "I have to audition?"

"It's ok, they just have to hear your voice so they know what role to give you."

I have to audition? Yes you have to audition. That's the thing with some of Baguio's actors... they do a couple of plays and they believe they've earned the right to be pre-cast and never to have to audition again. A couple of years ago, Ronnie and I went to couple of auditions for various film projects in Manila, nothing came out of it. But was lucky enough to be cast in Raymond's latest full length film. A cameo. Interesting.

Ethan worked on one of the musical's most vocally challenging musical numbers. One soprano tells me she's not sure if she can commit to the production. The three tenors have not shown up. Ethan does a great job with the lean cast. We pack up for the night as Baguio's most famous choir passes by - side glances, whispers.

We've decided to give way to the elders' production this first semester... we'll tell our story next sem.

No text from the producers yet. The car has been running on empty, cruising on neutral, but will soon be forced to grind to a halt as we approach an uphill climb. Winging it, as someone once said. May his soul rest in peace.

At the lobby, an official souvenir shop is selling official centennial souvenirs bearing the official centennial seal... you wanna consign some copies of your documentary?


We complain about the state of the local theater scene - partial or no government support, no venue, very little or no money... how much of yourself are you giving to your craft anyway? A partial income for a part time job sounds fair.

And then we were told, here are some solicitation letters, whatever you get, it's yours, let that be a partial payment of your respective honoraria. LOL. We want to tell stories, we don't wanna be told tales.

The song list says 40 to 41 musical numbers, 14 backing tracks done.

Then I ask myself, is this all worth it?

At the end of the day... a bunch of us smoke our one for the road. Someone says coffee, someone says yes, someone asks where, someone says there. Coffee sounds good, I could use a cup of coffee in the company of friends.

Invitors suddenly decline, half of them decides it's not worth it. That's ok. Sigh. Isang kape, please, sa baso. Deja vu. Haven't I been to this empty table before?

"Look around there's another mask behind you."

It's getting late, the coffee's stale. But it's good some stayed.

I wait in the car. He gets his dinner. She smokes by the window. He forgot his water bottle and she waits for him at the bottom of the road. The burger's cooked, I drive him home, I drive her home, and her too.

And then I answer myself, yeah, as far as I'm concerned, the dream is well worth it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Having/being a father

Fathers out there might say, “I know.” Well I didn’t know what a father was, and what a wonderful thing fatherhood was, until I became one.

I grew up with my mother, and would only hear tidbits of information about this photographer who happened to be my father when the grown-ups in our household would happen to mention him in their conversations. I never asked my mom, nor anybody else in the house, about him. I never really knew what I was missing: my mother raised me alone since I was born.

Though I would sometimes feel that something's missing, maybe a tinge of jealousy?, seeing a classmate’s father place that Boy Scout kerchief around his neck during investiture ceremonies, while I had a teacher do it for me. I was alone when I went through the very important Filipino rite of passage held during the summer months. And then once when I tagged along a bunch of young men on their way to the rice fields behind our house for their turn to become men , I thought the sight of their respective fathers holding their hand (and with the other hand, holding a bunch of guava leaves) was just, well, really nice. As a young boy of about 6 or 7, I gravitated towards an uncle who was, most of the time, too spaced out making the most out of the last couple of years of the 70’s to bother with me at all. I then gravitated towards another uncle whose attention was already divided between being a young father to his own son and earning a living.

And then I learned how to use the telephone, and my mother ‘s way of introducing me to my father was to give me P1.50 to call him on a pay phone. 503559. 503559. 503559. I would chant the telephone number like a mantra so I wouldn’t forget it as I walked the two blocks to get to the nearest sari-sari store with a pay phone. Sometimes a female voice would answer, at times a young boy (who, later I would learn, was my brother), sometimes he himself. It was awkward, of course – what does one say to a kid he never bothered to seek during the last 7 years, and what can a kid say to someone he’s never met?

And then I finally met him in person, I was fourteen. And just like those several awkward phone calls, I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. That day I learned that I got my height from him, then later I learned that he liked fishing when I bumped into him at the breakwaters near the Cultural Center of the Philippines where I was already starting my life on stage, and a few years later as a teenager living on his own, I learned that he had a cool job when I would visit him at his studio and I would find him in the middle of a photo shoot for a famous jeans or beer brand.

And then one day, I found myself about to be a father. A few hours before my first son was born, my father arrived. I was tense, like most fathers-to-be waiting outside the delivery room for their child to be born. He put his arm around my shoulder, held the lighter out for me when I pulled out a cigarette to calm myself down – it was overwhelming, I suddenly had a father and I was going to be one myself. The next day, as I picked up my first son for the first time and held that tiny human being in my arms, I thought about how good it felt having my father there for me the night before , and I whispered into my son’s tiny ears, “I will always be there for you.” He made a face. I was sure he heard me, it made me smile.

A long time has passed since that day and I now have five children. I have held the hands of my two sons during their ordeal when it was their turn to “become men”; happily scouted the neighborhood for guava leaves to boil to help them wash their wounds; I have obeyed my oldest son’s orders to ditch the sandals for once and wear something that covered my feet at his graduation; I have held my two daughters’ chins above water at a pool teaching them how to swim; I have become a hero to my youngest son when I finally fixed the broken doorknob that had him stressing about the possibility of the family being locked inside the house; I’ve had them dress up on Christmas Eve for a family portrait, gelling the boys’ hairs, tying the girls ribbons, and stayed up late that same night to fill up their Christmas stockings with goodies; I have sucked out mucus out of all five’s noses when they had colds and couldn’t breathe. And yes, I have fought with other fathers at the playground defending my children. And I cannot begin to describe how happy it makes me to let them know that I am there for them.

And nothing else in this world brings so much joy than your child giving you a hug in gratitude for something you have done for them – and sometimes all it takes is just to be there for them. Sometimes you don’t really
have to do anything, just be there at all, as much as you can. I try.

Tonight, as I do almost every night, when they’re all asleep, I would walk over to their beds and whisper “I love you” in their ears before going to bed myself. I am very happy whenever I get a sleepy, mumbled response, but even if my whisper results only in a sleepy grunt or a sigh, I’d be happy enough.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What are they there for?

Driving to the cathedral one morning where I usually park when I have errands in town, I was flagged down by a traffic policeman for a violation. I had no idea what the violation was. Was number-coding back? It couldn’t be because I was driving too fast. Was I going the wrong way because they’ve re-routed traffic again and I didn’t know? None of the above, it turned out. I was driving without a seatbelt. Perhaps prepared for the usual pleading from apprehended drivers for leniency, the police officer was even apologetic when I told him that I deserved the citation and that I’m glad that they’ve revived the campaign to promote the use of seatbelts. I needed reminding and if takes a whole morning of lining up and going back and forth City Hall and the police station to pay a fine to remind me, then so be it. I think it's well worth it. Oddly, it may seem, I was sincerely glad to be apprhended, but that didn’t last long for on my way out of the cathedral grounds, I was quite disappointed to see the same policeman standing at the same spot and ignoring several jeeps and private vehicles with unbelted drivers, add to that the sight of jeepneys loading and unloading passengers and No Loading and Unloading zones.

The citation I got was a fluke, and that’s probably why I, along with thousands of other drivers in the city, still forget to put on our seatbelt every now and then.

The seatbelt incident crossed my mind again when on my way to the market yesterday, I almost hit a pedestrian who darted out of nowhere to cross a very busy intersection right below the pedestrian overpass, right infront of several policemen standing at the corner right beside a police station.

It sounds so simple: the laws are there, all we need to do is to enforce them, without fear nor favor. It’s a good start in our effort to bring the old glory of Baguio back, something a lot of us have been whining about and pining for. So what’s holding us back from cracking down on those illegally parked along Calderon Street? These cars parked right infront of “No Parking” signs create a bottleneck in the area all hours of the day, and at times resulting in near-misses when cars going towards Session Road are forced to go into counter-flow to pass vehicles illegally double-parked next to illegally parked cars aided by illegal “parking attendants.”

Our law enforcers look the other way when it’s convenient and it’s probably the reason why a lot of motorists, particularly taxi drivers, continue to even speed up instead of slowing down when going through a pedestrian lane (crossing Session Road is a game of Patintero with fatal results if you lose the game specially against a taxi driver in a hurry to get to his fare on the other side of the crossing). Right across a police station a sign warns jaywalkers of being apprehended right where cigarette vendors appear out of nowhere as soon as the light turns red to do their business right in the middle of a major intersection.

It’s tiring to hear our politicians talk of grand plans for Baguio, especially those who are clearly wooing our votes in next year’s elections. Forget about the grandstanding, what the city needs is plain and simple: someone who has the political will and courage to implement the law. No ifs no buts. To those running for top positions in our city government next year - we don’t really need your groundbreaking visions and major plans for the city. We don’t need hallow multi-syllable catch phrases: our candidates spend so much time and energy thinking up witty slogans to catch our attention during elections. What we need is simply someone who’s an enforcer of the law - from major laws about city zoning to seemingly minor ones on jaywalking, littering, etc. That alone isn’t easy, but that alone will save our once great city from its freefall.

Isn’t that why our officials were voted into office? A council to legislate and city executives to execute those legislations? Otherwise, what are they there for?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Back to where it all began

The air was surprisingly cool at the Makati Park that afternoon. By sunset we were all there: While Yoshi and I were going through the notes of a Beatles song; Roman was running back and forth between the reception hall and the open area by the fountain supervising the caterers setting up the tables, the lights and sound people trying to make do with what they had; Delo had the toolbox wide open looking for an extra bulb socket he needed to light up the red carpet that ran from the back of the fountain to what served as the altar; Arkhe have started putting sand in the cute orange paper bags that Rose made that will serve as lanterns that will light up the whole area; Jojo was there to lend a hand to everyone.

At around 6 I drove back to Zari's house a few blocks away from the park, that's where the staging area was, where everyone took a shower and freshened up after the long 6-hour drive from Baguio. When I got there everyone was ready to go - the little girls were already dolled up (Kyra and Gabriela were going to be the evening's flower girls) and Aeneas looked sharp with his mohawk while wearing a Barong Tagalog. RL, Zari, Eunice and Rose had to prep themselves up in 15 minutes since the little girls' hair took forever to fix up.

It was already dark when we got back to the park, and everything was almost ready - the lanterns worked perfectly well, so did that extra par 38 spotlight that Delo nailed to a palm tree. The groom nervously asked for a cigarette while I was briefing the bride's brother, Earl, who was going to be the evening's emcee. We were all just waiting for the bride.

Earlier that day, the bride, Syrel, sent me a text message that something like, " I am just so glad to belong to the OSP family, thank you all so much for being there for me..." OSP is Open Space Productions, a Baguio-based theater group.

I looked at the street beyond and saw a white car with the blinkers on, that has got to be her already. One last "company call": Tolits will be manning the entourage's entrance, Eu will usher them to their respective seats, Zari, Rose and RL were part of the entourage, the OSP kids were already in line. I walked over to where the car was and there she was:

Two minutes, Kuya, she said, I just need to put on contacts. I opened the door for her two minutes later and escorted her to where she was supposed to wait before she makes her entrance. Roman stayed with her while she waited, and I gave the cue to start the ceremony.

RL and I, Godparents to Syrel and JP, walked down the aisle first. I escorted her to her seat and proceeded to where the keyboard was. "Piano/String", key of G, "All You Need is Love" by the Beatles and as Yoshi sang the first lines of the song, the procession began.

The bride's entrance was wonderful... the trees, the lighting, the paper bag candles, the wind, I just hoped the ABS-CBN crew who came to document the event on video caught not only what was happening on their camera, but how the scene of the veiled Syrel walking down the aisle felt. From all corners of the park, Jojo, Arkhe and Delo were clicking away, capturing the moment from different angles.

At the end of the long ceremony,during the photo ops, after the Bride's family and the Groom's family, the "OSP family" was called for a photo with the bride and the groom. At the reception, Roman has set-up his laptop and the LCD projector for the videos he and I made for the couple. Arkhe sang the Bride's requested song, Iris. Eunice sang "The Rose" during the cutting of the cake and the releasing of doves part.

And after a long trip from Baguio to Proj. 6 to Makati, a couple of hours' set-up, an unexpectedly long ceremony (the Judge who officiated the wedding got carried away), a couple of hours at the reception, Zari requested for a nightcap at Penguin Cafe. The women changed from high-heeled shoes to sandals, the Barongs were taken off, the kids back to their sandos and tsinelas, off to Malate we went.

Pinikpikan was playing that night, and there was a 150-peso cover charge, everyone agreed it wasn't worth it so we had our nightcap instead at the Oarhouse. Wilson the bartender was already lying down on the couch when we got there, I woke him up and ordered our coffees and beers. After a quick sip of our coffees and beers and a recap of what just happened, I brought everyone to the Remedios circle.

In the summer 1995, on an evening just like that one, I put up JC Live! right there in Remedios Circle. They've altered the circle's look since then, gone was the stage where Waling-waling, the Manila Youth Symphony Orchestra, Lolita Carbon, Raul Mitra, Jet Melencio, Julien Mendoza, MArgarita Gomez, etc., performed songs from the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" to raise funds for a shelter for streetchildren. Also gone now was RJ Leyran, my partner in putting that concert together. There are no videos nor photos of the first production, and with RJ gone, also not even someone to share the memory of that evening with.

I don't even recall the exact date of the concert, but as we, the OSP family, posed for a photo right in the middle of the circle, it felt like it happened on that evening, 13 years ago.

More than meets the eye

It tells of the story of a man who lived most of his life underground, masked and hidden from the rest of the world. A renaissance man: a “scholar, architect, musician. A composer. An inventor.” But before his escape from the world to live in his dungeon, the only recognition he received was for his disfigured face which, for a few loose change in a traveling circus, anyone can gawk at.

He was an artist and the telling of his story begins in the middle of a rehearsal for an opera, rudely interrupted by the arrival of the powers that be: the opera house’s impresario announcing his retirement and the introduction of the new owners of the theater. The managers arrive and they expect the whole world to stop for them, of course.

The new managers refused to acknowledge and compensate him for his work, despite the fact that through the years the man silently ran the theater, composed music, mentored young artists. Through the years he remained unseen, unrecognized, unknown to everyone else except to those who have experienced his work, his genius.

This is also the story of a young lady gifted with a beautiful voice, honed through the years by the masked man underground. But she’s not on center stage, she’s a chorus girl because she’s not as popular as the opera house’s resident diva. One day she got to play the lead, but only because the diva walked out of the production and the managers had to choose between canceling the performance and handing out refunds to the public, or keeping their money and making do with a chorus girl on center stage. And as expected, the managers, motivated only by their greed for money, decided to let the show go on with our unpopular heroine taking over the role that the diva abandoned. At curtain call, the audience rose to their feet to applaud the amazing talent of our chorus girl.

She has proven her worth, her talent, but as far as the managers of the theater are concerned, she’s only worthy of taking center stage when the diva is not available, or, at times, unaffordable.

Sure, our story is also a love story between the talented young lady and the wealthy patron of the theater. Sure, this production is one of the most popular and well-loved musicales of all time. But what really got me excited about directing this play are the stories it tells beyond the spectacle of grand musical arrangements and grandiose scenery and pompous costume pieces: for me, the real story is the struggle between art and commerce, the conflict between money-making and artistic integrity, the role of the moneyed elite as tastemakers, the plight of the unrecognized, unacknowledged, uncompensated highly talented artists.
I was offered to tell this story onstage, and last Tuesday I presided over the first production meeting. Infront of me were among Baguio’s best performing artists: Soprano Kay Balajadia, theater actors Lloyd Celzo, Jeff Coronado, Ro Quintos, Cholo Virgo, Emerald Ventura, Ursolino Enciso, Roman Ordoña, Jonarene Flores, production managers RL Abella-Altomonte, Eunice Caburao, Jojo Lamaria, Austrude Delo, among others, most of whom you may ask, who the hell are these people? Sure, perhaps you haven’t seen them on TV, in a commercial, and they’re not regularly featured in the lifestyle sections of national dailies, but you can meet them onstage in this theatrical presentation produced by the Soroptimists of Pines City, headed by Ms. Melle Biznar, on July 25, 2009 at the SLU-CCA Theater, as these Baguio artists take center stage to tell the story of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera.”
In that meeting, as I scanned the room filled with world-class local talents, I thought, this musical may very well be telling their very own story.