In what ways can we be more playful with our performance-making?

Jungle Gym is building yet another workshop — this time for a collective inquiry on playfulness, creativity, and the reexamination of performance-making norms in the Philippines. To get a finger on the pulse of these conversations, we asked a few play-makers these key questions:

What counts as “mainstream” and “alternative” performance-making in the Philippines?

Based on your experience, what are ways we can be more playful with our performance-making?

Here’s how Karl Alexis Jingco, Laura Cabochan, BJ Crisostomo, Pat Maliwat, Siglo Pecho, and Gentle Mapagu responded to the call.

Photo by Tom Fisk from Pexels

“The moment you start believing a “Space” can be a “Theatre Space,” for me, already counts as “Alternative Theatre” — a space of safety, communication, collaboration, experimentation and discovery.

How to be more playful with performance-making: No filters. Create conversations. Laugh. Fail together. PLAY. PLAY. PLAY!

Karl Alexis Jingco

“The answer to this question varies depending on who you ask and what lens they’re using. One example: collective creation — or its trendier term, devising — is how some of our communities have been making performance even before it became popular in academic or professional theatre spaces. Hence, what’s ‘alternative’ for some is ‘mainstream’ for others.

Another way to approach these terms is to look at them through a Western lens. ‘Mainstream’ ways of theatre-making can be associated with a top-down structure wherein the director primarily calls the shots, while ‘alternative’ ways are associated with relatively more democratic approaches, like devising. The terms can also refer to form — ‘mainstream’ as partiality to realism while ‘alternative’ as defying it, i.e., abstractness.

‘The Bunny Rabbit,’ a three-day immersive educational theatre experience for young Chinese immigrants in Queens
Conducted by Laura Cabochan and Jessica Cermak

This will sound redundant, but bear with me:

Any performance-making approach — whether it’s ensemble-led, director-led, or whatever other configuration exists out there — can be playful when play is prioritized over things like prestige, popularity, procedures, or capital return.

Prioritizing play involves valuing exploration and appreciating the creative process. But most of all, to me, giving play importance means understanding what it means to play with others. Everyone — the creative team, the cast, the crew, the audience, etc. — must make an effort to be on the same page and to care for each other to have that fun, playful experience.”

Laura Cabochan
Teaching Artist

“Theater-making is fueled by economy. People need to eat. Venue owners need to make their ROIs. Props, costumes, set, and ideas cost money. Perhaps this is the mainstream route to show-making, but there are independent groups who do not have a substantial financial backing in order to comply with these demands.

That is why, for better or for worse, they result to the ‘alternative’:

Site-specific performances, non-theater venues, one actor playing multiple roles, gonzo technicals, symbolic rather than realistic properties, devising or performing original pieces, seeking compensation through passing the hat payments, renegotiating performance spaces…

The list of alternative practices go on, but it’s safe to say that necessity — or in this case scarcity, is the mother of invention.

But theater is most playful when its collaborators are mindful in the preproduction process. So don’t take the formula for granted. Reconsider what the basic terminology such as ‘actor,’ ‘rehearsal,’ ‘script,’ and ‘audience’ mean. Keep the playbook in mind but be open to the infinite possibilities outside the norm.

BJ Crisostomo
Director, Playwright

BJ Crisostomo as a Co-Production Manager for the Mulat Artist Movement

“For me, mainstream theater is composed of shows that are sought after by a wide number of audiences. While not everyone may be able to watch such shows, its name is still widely known by almost everyone whether they are a theatre enthusiast or not.

Alternative theatre on the other hand caters to a more specific/niche audience rather than it being part of popular culture. It can also be in other forms aside from shows such as applied theatre, workshops, etc.

And as someone who’s been exploring with devising as a way of performance making,

I see this process (devising) as a way to be more playful because there are no limitations.

You get to choose which as aspect you will devise or focus on, and you may even keep on experimenting until you find one which works whether it be based from the text, your actors skills, your set, and others.”

Pat Maliwat
Young Theatre Director

“In this day and age where access is curated by algorithms, I think what separates the ‘mainstream’ from ‘alternative’ is [how] we reach theatrical performances, lectures, workshops, gatherings, [and] festivals, to name a few. In this light, the mainstream and alternative [seems] blurred, as it also becomes a personal act of which shows — among those you know you can reach — you are willing to support.

But a space that empowers and encourages is the most conducive for collective and collaborative play.

Theater can be seen as bayanihang-sining, a very welcoming kind of jam, if we allow it to be, if we encourage it to be, if we consciously empower it to be. Let us not leave safe spaces and brave spaces in the realm of hopes, but rather activate them as an embodied space in every engagement possible.”

Siglo Pecho

Siglo Pecho conducting a shadow play, behind the scenes

“In a marketing lens, ‘mainstream’ theater functions under a standard operating procedure of both traditional and modern marketing strategies. Just like launching a new product, it goes through pre-launch, launch, and post-launch. It goes through what marketers say as ‘hard sell’ where marketers use several strategies, as in a business. It’s up to the person if they will find value in this production or not, or if it appeals to them.

‘Alternative’ theater breaks MOST of that. It’s often lowkey and have minimal (but strong) strategies. The ‘hard sell’ of alternative theater is at the heart of its advocacy that resonates with people, and is oftentimes the criticism of mainstream theater.

To be more playful with performance-making is to actually PLAY and be devoid of grown-up rubbish.

Mainstream theater grown-ups tell us to play chess in an open field where we’re supposed to be playing football. Or play golf in the wild forest where we supposed to be climbing trees.”

Gentle Mapagu

Photo by Allan Mas on Pexels

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 on our socials or anywhere you’d like to leave them.

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

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