How might we better look out for the health and welfare of local performing artists?

Jungle Gym is building a workshop for collective inquiry on the role of mental health, care culture, and trauma-informed approaches in performing arts. To get a grasp on what conversations, questions, and efforts are currently circulating within the community, we asked a varied sample of practitioners for their thoughts.

These are the responses of J-mee Katanyag, Regina De Vera, Dominique La Victoria, Rolando T. Inocencio, Axl Fernandez, Joshua Sasi, and Jamie Montserrat.

“Ang ginagawa kasi ngayon ay looking back on what we could have done (better). Sana pwede rin na sa umpisa pa lang, malinaw na agad ang mga relationship, roles, limitations, boundaries. ‘Yun dapat ang oryentasyon natin sa paglikha—pakikipagkapwa. Para alam natin ang responsibilidad natin sa kwento ng iba. . . Hindi ako mag-iimpose. Hindi ako magpapaandar.

Hindi naman tayo nandito para magtalbugan o para lang sa sariling artistic skills natin.

Lumilikha tayo para sa kapwa.”

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J-mee Katanyag
Writer and Teaching Artist

“This question makes me a little nervous, because I cannot speak for the entirety of Philippine Theater—a diverse culture in itself—but only for my own. I’ve performed in university-based Manila theater from 2006-2010, and Manila professional theater from 2010-2015 prior to leaving the country to get my MFA. The rehearsal spaces I’ve been in felt as if they were based on maximum output with minimal expense, limited resources and compensation.

To set boundaries were perceived as arrogant and selfish. It was as if to push through the work in suffering was heroic.⁣ ⁣

We can start by integrating a habit of checking in and asking for consent in rehearsal instead of assuming that everything we ask of each other is without emotional cost. We might also want to reconsider the ways our sense of urgency comes at the expense of each other’s psychological safety. Lastly, we can begin acknowledging the ways in which we ourselves might’ve caused harm to others, whether intentionally or not, so we can begin by holding ourselves accountable and taking appropriate action to amend our behavior for future collaborations.”

Regina De Vera,
Actor, Director, & Intimacy Coordinator

“In rehearsal spaces in the Philippines, I can see care being practiced on a personal level. Often, you find yourself working with friends, people close to your heart, people who you would spend time with outside of productions and rehearsal spaces. There definitely is a level of care being practiced that is found in the camaraderie between artists—there is a desire to make sure that everyone’s voices are being heard, that people are safe. I think, on a community level, we are on the right track, even though things can definitely improve and be better in terms of the emotional boundaries we set with each other—we are definitely heading in the right direction. However, on an institutional level, care-based practices are found wanting, and unfortunately that tends to bleed into the rehearsal space. When schedules are tight because there are multiple stakeholders, profit is at stake, and the institution is being run as a product-based business, then the care that the community practices with each other in the rehearsal room might have to take a back seat. I say “might” because even though I don’t believe profit-drivenness and care can peacefully exist alongside each other, I could be wrong.

I believe fostering a culture of care in rehearsal spaces should go beyond personal, empathetic care for each collaborator and move towards how the institution, the organization is structured—that care for the artist and their process should be of significant consideration.

Producing a good show can coexist with ensuring that artists have felt safe and fulfilled throughout the process. Perhaps it’s changing our mindset on the production process, that we can be more process-oriented than product-oriented?

Because if there’s a focus on process, then ensuring the safety and openness of the rehearsal space will really take priority.

Dominique la Victoria,
Dramaturg & Director

“I think this concept of Care in the rehearsal (work) place (space) is a recent development in light of openness [regarding] mental health. I experienced working with old school directors who may have crossed the line. I have never viewed their actions as personal. But we are not robots. Things can get volatile; emotions will run high and even get personal; egos will be bruised. Theater practitioners nowadays are more mindful of each other perhaps but that curtain has to go up as well.

I am all for a caring atmosphere in a rehearsal workplace. Perhaps, we can determine what constitutes care. Office people work 9-5 with outputs determined by time-&-motion, for example. Do we imagine performers being any different?

What constitutes a just working hours for performers whose tools are their mind, body & emotion?

Should performers/actors take psychological exams to know if they are of sound mind to take on a role? Should we set up an “HR” dept to address grievances? Actors, performers are a different breed. While we want to promote mindfulness, we don’t want an output that is dull & lifeless. Through us, people experience catharsis. But certainly, care in the workplace is a new thing that is worth discussing & exploring.”

Rolando T. Inocencio

“ Isa sa mga common methods na talagang ginagawa namin ay ang pag-check in at check out ng bawat tao sa production. Hindi lang siya nakakatulong sa paglabas ng kung anumang nasa saloobin ng aktor/staff/crew patungkol sa produksyon kundi

pagbibigay-alam din sa kanila na ang produksyon ay isang safe space para sa bawat isa.

This does not only improve the psyche of those people working in a creative space, but also to the atmosphere of the workplace.”

Axl Fernandez
Stage Manager

“Bilang isang teatro, mahalaga na alam ng bawat isa kung paano ang sistema at proseso ng isang produksyon. Sa ganitong paraan kasi natin maipaaabot ang ating pagkilala sa mga likha at partisipasyon ng bawat isa.

Maituturing na may laya sa isang espasyo kung ang mga makakasama mo rito ay may pagpapahalaga sa iyo at sa iyong kakayahan.”

Joshua Sasi
Choreographer & Stage Manager

“Our community became more caring than it used to be. Especially coming from our generation, I can see and feel how each and everyone thrives to take care of one another. May it be through checking in, providing support, and even making sure that the rehearsal spaces are safe for the artists to be vulnerable.

Rehearsal practices become more caring when you make sure to ask each and everyone how they are before and after. Rehearsals become more humane when everyone is considered holistically.”

Jamie Monserrat
Young Theatre Actor

These are all rich and valuable insights that can guide our artistic practice to new and exciting directions. Thus, we want to keep the conversation going! If you have additional wisdom nuggets, stories, or burning wishes about our local performing arts culture, we welcome them anywhere you’d like to leave them.

Let’s leave a trail of kindness and inspiration for the next person who’ll come along.

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