The Folding Wife
Words written could be acted out. When scripted words turn into flesh they could metamorphose into theatre. Now we’re talkin’!
Shadow knows, so goes the saying. Shadow cast can’t help but reveal element that obliterates or filters source of light. Now behind material that cast shadows is impressive cast of Filipinos and Australians who fed us a very nutritious culture burger in form of small yet awesome theatrical production which I saw last week at newly-refurbished Blacktown Arts Centre.
The Folding Wife is title of play by a young Filipino-Australian writer and dramaturg Paschal Daanton Berry from Adelaide (I did his caricature above). His work came to life via Urban Theatre Projects and Anino Shadowplay Collective. Didn’t have any idea what to see but I got excited by some shadowy stirrings inside the dimly-lit theatre room. The play has already begun even as people were just streaming in. Lots of techie gear in front of audience There was a lone yet energetic female performer, Valerie, sister of Paschal. Siblings are artists and often collaborate in their creative works. She interacted with a non-static background screen that forever danced with a menagerie of textures and vintage black & white images. The visual artist guys responsible for this clever and highly-creative screen projection are Datu Arellano and Andrew Cruz (see below for more info). They are quiet, young men who I’m sure are bound to create tremors in the cultural scene.
Days before the show I caught up with Paschal. He’s a nice, young man who spoke with
a gentle smile.
EA: The Folding Wife , a very intriguing title - is it about origami?
PDB: Ha-ha – not quite – but very similar ideas.
EA: What’s the intention of the play?
PDB: The Folding Wife is an exploration on the idea of people folding into a either the situation or folding into a new culture – it spans across a few years - about 3 women from the same bloodline. It starts off with the grandmother, mother and daughter and it spans across 20th century Philippine history and then migrating to Australia – to the outback.
EA: Obviously, all stage actors are of Filipino lineage?
PDB: It’s actually a one-woman show. Valerie Berry – who just happens to be my sister – is playing the 3 roles – and members of the Anino Shadowplay collective from Quezon city – are here to do the design.
EA: So you are from..?
PDB: I am from Cebu – I got double Waray parents – my mother was from Leyte and my father was from Samar. and I was born in Cebu so I’m very Visayan. I’m 34.
PDB: Ahmm, a lot of people. I’m really inspired mainly by visual artists to tell you the truth – and that’s why I was so attracted to working with the visual artists from the Philippines – and that’s why Anino is here. So in that sense I’ve fallen in love with images more than I do with other writers’ works.
EA: Do you enjoy it more when you combine it with stage acting?
PDB: Yes, I do, absolutely, because I think other people do naturalistic theatre very well but what I’m interested in is the idea of glimpses of images as opposed to what you call linear narrative.
EA: So back to The Folding Wife, really excited about watching it this Saturday so can you give us a nutshell idea – is there angst there? Bitterness? Tell me more please.
PDB: For me it is a very personal work you know for me it was a reaction to my mother’s death in 2001 (sorry about that) and my mother was I guess your classic Filipina migrant. I was just really quite inspired by her I guess her journey to Australia because we came here and lived in the outback (when was that?) in 1984 and I found it very interesting how it is to come from a sort of very conservative background (when you say outback where is it woop-woop) It was one of the last towns in South Australia before the Nullarbor plains.
EA: So there’s tedious details that were injected in the play about outback culture?
PDB: No.. how we dealt with that is we kind of just given glimpses – it’s about girl-selected memory – and it is up to you to fill in the gaps – what she says is you know - its and hour and quarter show so – its experiences are synched.
EA: Would it be a pleasant experience for the viewers? Will there be a residual feeling or aftertaste?
PDB: It’s hard to say being the writer, but in terms of the way I feel about it when I watch it, I think it is a bittersweet experience, because if you are the child of any migrant you definitely resonate with a lot of the sentiments. There is a bittersweet element to being a Filipino – you know – one moment it’s very much about laughter then the next it is about the grand drama of our history
PDB: I started as a visual artist – I went to an arts school first in South Australia and then I moved on to study acting. And once I actually started acting I just decided I didn’t want to do it.
EA: What are your plans for this play? Is it gonna tour Australia?
PDB: It depends. It’s an awkward one because of the fact that we have overseas artists involved and it’s very costly and so it up to a really good producer to sort of find the finances to sort of give it a longer life. But in saying that I think it’s a very highly tourable show.
EA: Is this genre still very effective despite YouTube?
PDB: Ha-ha – well you know like it’s interesting ‘cos my collaborators from Anino Shadowplay are very much part of that YouTube generation. It’s really interesting when we were sort of looking at it - because they work on designs in the Philippines – we were communicating through YouTube – so in a sense you can’t deny the fact that technology and the short attention span is a challenge for many audiences. I think it’s time to watch beautiful plays on stage.
EA: So - it’s not elitist at all just because you have a limited audience – but how would you balance things up? Sounds like the play is poignantly down to earth and touches on deep-rooted cultural conflicts. You want to share it right?– but don’t you think popularizing it thru plays are quite limiting?
PDB: Look I think there’s a lot of challenging things in the play – in terms of politically – but I think it is well balanced with the idea that with – I mean it’s like anything that you see in the Philippine – you are very much exposed to extremes. One minute you are looking at tragedy and then the next minute about comedy. It’s a deeply Filipino thing and I think we kind of ride that balance.
EA: Do you act yourself?
PDB: I used to – but not anymore.
EA: So you let other people do it for you! :-) After The Folding Wife, any 0ther project in your line of sight?
PDB: Yeah, I’m really interested to sort of develop my relationship with Anino you know – I find them a very exciting collective of young visual and theatre artists – I got really inspired – I got into Asialink, and then Urban Theatre projects also supported me in going to the Philippines to just develop the work. And what I really love about the Philippines is that there’s this freshness and a new approach – a different approach into visual arts. I was there all in all 4 months within a year – first time after a long time.
EA: What do you think of our Filipino-Australian community here - with regards to how they appreciate stage plays?
PDB: For me it is a kind of litmus test – in a sense that I really wanna expose this and this is the reason why -you know this was such an attractive offer from Blacktown Arts Centre because of the fact that the Filipino community is so concentrated in Blacktown and I’m just really interested in that discourse between Filipino artists and the Philippine community because I think we kind of need to communicate.
EA: Any significant awards or feathers in the cap that I should see?
PDB: Ha ha – I’ve been writing for 10 years and I first got my break by winning the Bellboy Young Writer’s award, that was ages and ages ago – seems like a lifetime ago (oh it doesn’t matter) and I think I’ve been given a lot of good opportunities in terms of to be able to develop in the last 10 years as a writer.
EA: Thank you very much - we would be very excited seeing the stage play this Saturday and we hope to see you there – we know you’re a good writer – otherwise you wouldn’t be here would you? :-)
Was about to end the interview but I was with my partner Menchie and she can’t resist to ask a few more questions for Paschal.
MM: I was looking at a new voice company but the Anino Shadowplay was the very first one to get in contact with me and it’s been the most amazing accident. They’re just incredible. So they’re a group?
PDB: Yeah, a collective – based in Quezon City. Two of them came over but in their group it can range from about 8 people to about 20.
MM: So they’re not really actors?
PDB: They’re visual artists – very much from different fields of training - a lot of them are UP grads, a lot of them are Ateneo and other universities.
MM: You got music scoring here?
PDB: Yes. We decided to use scores from very recognisable sources – like we’ve used for our opening Pilita Corales – because it’s my childhood memory of the Philippines and we’ve also used – at some point a Filipino choir - can’t remember which choir – it’s a version of Ili-ili which is you know, region-specific again – so. When I was in Manila, I got exposed to Pinikpikan members so I was very inspired by the music. The female vocalist is quite fantastic.
MM: Any inspiring words for the Filipino youth here in Australia?
PDB: Be visible – I kind of feel that a lot of us Filipinos tend to sort of hide out and do our works in our corners (closet artists) – and I feel like it’s time to - I’m very glad I’ve had a mother who was very inspiring in terms of really – all of us – 3 out of 4 of us are in the arts - and she really encouraged us to have a career in the arts – there was the initial worry about not having enough money for the rest of your lives but when do you ever have enough money?
EA: Art is the only way – do you agree with that?
PDB: Yeah, absolutely – personally yeah.
Enjoy the show
EA: I’m sure we will.
Paschal’s work include Jerusalem Syndrome, The Great Tale, Found Objects, Triptych, Ancestry of My Eyes, Conversations Through the Wall, Defecating Jesus and Querida. Awards include Belvoir Street’s Asian Australian Young Playwrights Award (1996) and a London Royal Court Residency (2000). His work has been presented for Radio National, Griffin Theatre, Australian Choreographic Centre, Belvoir Street, Performance Space, ATYP, Multicultural Theatre Alliance, Platform 27 and Canberra Youth Theatre.
Briefly, Datu Arellano of Anino is a prolific artist—visual and electronic. He’s also a musician and guitarist for the band Dirty Kitchen. He’s had solo exhibitions at De La Salle, CCP, Ayala Museum, Siem Rep at Ankor Wat and numerous others. Visit his site at: http://www.datuarellano.com/
Valerie Berry is sole performer of The Folding Wife. She trained as an actor at the Centre for the Performing Arts in Adelaide. Born in Cebu and has performed with Sydney Theatre Company, The Bell Shakespeare Co., and Urban Theatre Projects among others. Her television and film credits include A Difficult Woman (ABC), Big Sky, Matrix Reloaded and The Great Raid.
Andrew Cruz began with Tanghalang Pilipino and appeared in Dulaang UP, Okasaki Theater Project and Musical Theatre Philippines. He has performed in Uyayi ng Ulan, Mariang Sinukuan and Florante at Laura playing the role of Anino (the narrator).
published Bayanihan News, Sydney, May 2007