Back in ’94 I had three caricature shops in Sydney Chinatown where I’ve posted each of my children and their mob of friends (mostly children of Chinese merchants) and via mobile phone they’d ring me ”Dad, a customer here in Pailou building, etc.”
One weekend Jerry Salvador , Pinoy musician, came and introduced me to Mars Cavestany. Right there in the building where I did my business on stage was his group of actors that performed as part of an Asian Theatre Festival initiated by Belvoir Theatre. That was the last time I saw of Mars.
Recently Krip Yuson, writer friend, emailed me to meet a couple of friends coming to Sydney as they were looking for a building to buy to set up an art gallery. I promised Chuckie Arellano and Nola Cayadona to put them on to people who knew about real estate and setting up art galleries.
First person in mind was Mars and so he met and took them to whirlwind tour around real estate Sydney and even saw the Consul. (Sorry guys, can’t get out of studio to see you! Mars was my saviour!)
And to further push my luck I asked Mars for an interview, I missed the guy and often heard of his theatrical performances but not a chance to talk to him. I really wanted to do rock opera/theatre projects with him but didn’t know where to start.
I learned his parents were itinerant theatre artists (his description) and he practically lived and breathed theatre as a way of life. Under the rule of strongman Ferdinand Marcos (1967-73) he was as he said a precocious 14-y.o. pubescent person under the tutelage of Cecile Guidote Alvarez of PETA (whom I met in Manila as director of our Araullo High School ('63-'64) play where I was one of actors in play Mir-i-nisa).
Mars is kindred spirit. I love theatre and for me its stage is a big 3 dimensional canvas where people can either be brush or paint.
At 16 he was awarded the PALANCA (our equivalent to Pulitzer) and was cum laude Major in English and Drama in 1981. Then he was appointed Artistic Director of Dulaang Bayan , got involved in Dreams Academy, nominated for TOYM award, wrote theatre-film reviews (Light from Mars), got a EMMY in 1991 and medal from Patnubay ng Sining (from which Lea Salonga got one, too for her Miss Saigon gig).
Here in Sydney, Australia he was recipient of highest Australian Postgraduate Award towards a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies (UNSW and La Trobe in Melbourne) and worked with International Young Playwrights Festival. As well, he wrote and voiced episode of ABC tv’s Oceania and ABC’s radio Rita’s Lullaby. He was active member of Sydney Carnivale Fringe Festivals and prominently figured at Australia Museum and Belvoir Theatre’s projects.
In May 2005 he had his dramatic staging of his one-man theatre Peregrination: Unzipped, Unmasked, Unbound which he meant to be his swan song (suffering an almost fatal stroke on stage)
Mars’ list of achievements can’t be all contained in this blog entry so I grabbed him over a speaker-phone landline:
EA: How are you Mars matey? Last time I eyeballed you, you were with Jerry in 94 or 95 and you were doing a sort of a theatrical performance in Sussex Centre building?
MA: Good Edd. Yeah long time..and yeah that was part of festival by Belvoir theatre. As you know, it is famous for Mel Gibson, Cate Blanchett and other Australian award-winning actors.
I started opening the performances to others Asian migrant artists and I was one of those who came in. So I put up this group called Pilipinas PETALS (Philippine Education Theatre Arts League Sydney), that was eventually featured as part of the Asian festival. But at that time it was just a fringe benefit that was given to us because we were trying to get a foot in the door so to speak.
Unfortunately the Belvoir Theatre got the axe in 1997 before I moved to Melbourne, because of funding.
EA: What’s up? Really getting curious here.
MA: I have just came back from the Philippines where I staged Peregrinations, my last new work. It generally means a voyage, like a journey through life. It takes on about a philosophic outlook because it’s actually focused on aesthetics of human beings, especially us Filipinos in Australia. It zeroed in on the life of a migrant who becomes HIV positive and in the process weaves himself through the community and lives a normal life.
EA: Are you always in touch with our Filipino community?
MC: Ha-ha, of course, because of my work as interpreter and my avocation as an artist.
EA: Do you think theatre is significant cultural scene of Filipinos here?
MC: Definitely, it is the last bastion and field of a periphery of ideas..it is in the theatre. That is why it is unfortunate that it is not active in the community. The kind of theatre that we have is pop art, the popular concept that you see. You pay $150 to see Gary Valenciano..after the show you don’t go home bringing ideas that will be meaningful in your life, it’s all just momentary kaligayahan(fun). With something deeper in life, you carry it with you and it becomes part of your life, that is the message of theatre, what we are doing. Ha-ha, ano kaya? Parang ayaw ng mga Pilipinong mag-digest ng anything serious(Filipinos seem to dislike digesting anything serious).
EA: I believe you are one of the vanguards of Pinoy culture around here.
MA: There are very few us Edd.
EA: Is there a chance for some Pinoy artists, like say Pinoy rockers or folk singers to work in a theatre project here in Sydney?
MC: Yes for sure, with the likes of Heber Bartolome, to give people opportunity to appreciate their work.
EA: Are you fuelled by nationalism?
MC: It is the notion of nationalism that I question. Ang common notion natin ng nationalism comes only when there is an Independence Day – yan ba ang nationalism?
EA: Regarding genre of theatre Mars, would you consider zarzuela analogue - what is now digital equivalent? Is it mind-blast digital audio, laser lights and computer-controlled mechanical stages?
MC: There is no such thing as traditional theatre for me because theatre always takes on new forms. All of this electronic media would have its offspring of the past. So they just take on new forms but technically the essence remains the same. The concept of musical arts, if you’ve watched Miss Saigon, everything is digital arts – so remove the digitally-generated airplane, Juan is still singing to Pedro about love, 2 lovers who parted because of cultural differences; something like that.
EA: Aesthetically, don’t you think that a black and white classic film will be better digitally enhanced in colour without jeopardising the quality of work or the message?
MC: I believe in an artist’s perception or perspective, maybe we could see different things in different times but we’re all shaped by cultures of past. We came from a different culture and today’s culture is different so we have to be flexible enough; not meaning we’re much better than them; it’s just we’re all different. For me art remains art as long as it is meaningful to perspective and life of anyone.
EA: I agree, vive le difference!
MC: If it ceases to be art, then it is just pure ejaculation, nagpalibog ka lang nang walang kahulugan.(may I just please translate that to self-gratification:-)
EA. Do you think theatre would be more effective here as compared to TFC’s programs? Is there a chance for serious art to thrive in our community?
MC: I lament over the fact that it is – while I welcome the idea that TFC is bringing home the concept of kapamilya in a far-away land where Filipinos are, I am not happy with the notion that yung mga kabakyaan ng mga Filipino nadadala, nata-transfer dito sa Australia, pati values that they watch on television (not happy with “silly” Filipino values brought in here). So there is no intellectual sophistication at all. That is what I don’t like about ABS-CBN. I refuse for my children to watch ABS-CBN the whole day – because that is going to give them the wrong values.
EA: You got keen powers of observation, Mars lander better than Hubble telescope? LOL. Well I don’t take that as discordant; maybe a constructive one for those concerned. Err..what can you say about the community – from your standpoint as a performance artist?
MC: I was talking to the Consul General earlier, she was asking why I am not involved with the community. I told her “I will be honest with you, I refuse to be associated with the shenanigans around you. I would rather do my art.” But I welcome the opportunity, that’s the best way to improve ourselves, tingnan kung may nagagawa tayo (see what we can do), improve our metier.
EA: Do you have a website or a presence in the internet?
MC: My students wanted to gift me with a website, but I am conservative in that way, I don’t want to publish my writings in the internet for some reason. I believe in research, gusto ko yung hinahanap ka, read up. All my writings were published between 1982 – 1992. I was teaching literature. Before I came here, I was directing a TV show Balintataw, from 1986-1993 when I decided to migrate to Australia. I was writing a column called Life from Mars with Philippine Journal. I edited Magazine. Manny Duldulao published the first coffee table book, some of my batchmates were Krip Yuson and Butch Dalisay. The top directors I have worked with at my time were Joel Lamangan, Soxy Topacio.
EA: Har-har..you’re a veteran!
MC: I am 54 Edd!
EA: Anything to say to our young Filipino-Aussies here?
MC: It will take a whole generation of this young people, they’re hope of our community; our generation is going downhill (Nalalaos na tayo). Firstly we don’t have as much opportunities anymore. Their only problem is they lack concept of being a Filipino, who do you blame? I remember when we running a language school, they weren’t taught the language by their parents! You teach language when they are young, it’s better for them.
EA: What in theatre inspires you or can inspire others close to this art form?
MC: With theatre, I am able to be a mouthpiece. My experience in Manila was great. You know I have a daughter, and ex-wife who’s vice-president of a bank, also an actress, with a reputation to protect. I also had a reputation to protect. I battled that when I went home, that was the only way to weather all of this.. to go home – and face everybody. That became my mission and vision. My first appearance in public, my students did not want to come near me, you see that misconception? After the show, they were hugging me and asking for my signature, as if I were Nora Aunor.. that shows how successful my performance was.
EA: Well who says you are not successful? You’re a great warrior of the Arts, Mars like your namesake – the Roman god of war, and I pray you have a long, creative life and continue to advance Filipino theatre anywhere your peregrinations may take you.
MC: Salamat Edd. Mabuhay ang Pinoy!
EA: Salamat Mars, Mabuhay ka!