Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Which would you rather have--an original Filipino musical done badly, or a Broadway ('foreign') production staged competently?

A question I recently posted on my Facebook (here), and so far the thread has generated 54 comments, one by no less than (namedropper alert!) National Artist for Theater Salvardor Bernal himself. The opinions expressed are mostly insightful, nuanced and provocative, avoiding smart-alecky posturing or lazy cattiness for a genuine desire to think substantively and purposefully through this complex, hot-button issue. I thought they deserved reposting elsewhere, so here they are verbatim (along with my take on specific comments)--read and reap:

Manuel Pangaruy: If I have to choose, I'll go for the original Filipino musical. Kahit pangit, it still encourages us to create and do more (with improvements, of course). At least we know how to recognize an "original". Ibig sabihin, to justify if it's original, we've seen other productions din na hindi conceived locally.

Richard S. Cunanan: I'd have to go with the competent one. Incompetent theater doesn't inspire me, it makes me make fun of people. There are SOME people who say "Put on a show! Pour your heart into it and good or bad it's worth it!". And that sentiment works at, you know, like a office-party or grade -school level. Past that, though, you gotta take the viewpoint that if it's worth doing -- and SHOWING -- it's worth doing well.

Allan Matute: i dont think nationalism/patriotism/love for country should be an excuse for incompetence or shoddy work.

Exie Abola: The two choices aren't equal. An original musical done badly has farther to fall. Everything has to be originated. Whereas an imported musical that has already succeeded abroad doesn't take as much effort to bring to the stage, so doing it competently is the bare minimum you would expect. Of the two I side with the first just a bit more, only because it takes more risks.

Richard S. Cunanan: Interesting, Exie, I'd like to comment on that. The reason that imported shows have succeeded abroad is because they've been put through the wringer -- as painful as that process is, the whole point of staging, revising and assessing a show is to see what works -- and what doesn't. Those risks GET taken by the people mounting the plays(and it's expensive indeed, which is why so many Broadway plays seem formulaic. They are: they're formulated to make money). The ONLY ones that make it here are, naturally, the successes. And the big successes at that.

Here, perhaps because such money is not available , a musical is essentially only ever seen in its first form. If you like, it's being exposed to the public at a much earlier stage in the process and usually the process stops after that. Sure, maybe it's not the fault of the creators, but the truth is, the play gets shown to a public way WAY before ANY kind of critical assessment happens. And, like it or not, once you expose it to us the audience, we have the right to judge it.

Teatro Expedicion De Filipinas: Foreign "MATERIAL" to be staged with an ORIGINAL FILIPINO APPROACH.

Dan Asa: no to mediocrity!... isang malaking kahihiyan at insulto ang gumawa ng hilaw na filipino original musical sa mga manonood. mas dapat pagtuunan ng pansin ang bawat detalye kung gawang atin dahil ito'y pagkatawan sa ating kultura't kakayanan sa larangan ng entablado. matatanggap ko pa ang mababang kalidad na pagtatanghal ng banyagang musical dahil ito'y hiram lamang. gayunpaman, lahat ng pagtatanghal, orihinal man o banyaga, ay nararapat nasa antas ng pinakamataas na kalidad at maisasabuhay ang bawat kaganapan di lamang makapanindig-balahibo at sa halip tatagos hanggang sa hibla ng iyong laman...

Ralph B. Peña: I agree with what Exie said, but I thought of something else. The question, in the bigger scheme, obliquely leads the reader to take a cultural bias. It’s not just original musical versus play revival, but also Filipino versus foreign. Being asked to choose between good and bad is a non-starter. We all want good in any denomination. As for original versus remount, there are compelling arguments for either. On the one hand you want to expand the canon, on the other, extend the life of a play. So it comes down to Filipino against all others – and that’s where it gets messy because a meaningful comparison between the two must invoke contexts and histories – apart from the variances in production hurdles Exie mentioned. There isn’t enough space here to launch into that discussion. The short of it is, it’s not easy to answer your question. To paraphrase a line from Marvin's Room, my feelings for this is like a bowl of fish hooks, I pick one and the rest comes along with it.

Vince De Jesus: I agree with Exie and Ralph. Uminom tayo ng kape para sa mahabang usapang ito. Much better kung over wine. :-)

Gibbs Cadiz: ralph--quite nearly the things that bump in my head all the time. how to balance those competing interests--the need to encourage expansion of the canon versus guarding against shoddy work that subsists on noble intent alone. how not to forget context in looking at productions whether original or 'foreign,' but, on the other hand, making sure context and the peculiarities of the local condition do not lead to, or justify, what bush speechwriter david frum had called (and i can't believe i'd be quoting the shrub!) 'the soft bigotry of low expectations.' where to place original filipino musical material that, while in the native tongue and mining native circumstances and scenery, are--in form, feel, structure and spirit (okay, even poster design!)--more like devout imitations of the broadway musical template--and who can blame them when the default impulse is not only to hew to the tried-and-tested, but also to employ our natural affinity for the western song-and-dance tradition?... vince, yep, this does call for bouts of coffee/wine drinking. but since i'm neither much into both, goading you all into unloading your thoughts here, and adding to the perspectives that keep me thinking hard all the time, is the next best thing. :)

Von Totanes: whether filipino or broadway, original or not, competent will always trump incompetent. encouraging words are good, but a spade needs to be called a spade... except when apples are being compared to oranges.

Salvador Bernal: we're quick to say pinoy musicals are bad. western musicals are honed, polished to a level of success. they're tested in places to be good, a hit. so when locals stage them they have high percent of succeeding. blue-chip na.

Gibbs Cadiz: MR. BERNAL! thank you for your comment, glad to see you here. yep, unfortunately, we don't have the out-of-town tryouts, the years-long gestation periods, the weeks' worth of paid previews that foreign producers use to refine the work before it's officially presented on opening night. there's context staring one in the face.

Exie Abola: That's the rub, Gibbs. I was commenting based on your original choice. The original Pinoy musical vs the imported one don't start at the same point: lamang na yung isa. So my heart pulls for the former. And yet, you don't do it a favor by lowering your standards... Say when and where, and I'll bring wine. :)

Gibbs Cadiz: on the other hand, exie--and this is another complicating skein--we do know from experience that even the best broadway material, the ones that have emerged the most polished, viable, etc. after the stringent process they employ there, can still get a poor staging hereabouts. obviously, quality of material alone--its pre-ordained viability given what it's gone through abroad--is not sufficient to assure a good local production. do i begin ticking off the names here? haha. but--the opposite can happen, too, once in a while--middling show abroad, but once tackled by local talents, emerges looking better, more deserving of consideration. tama nga ata talaga si william goldman: in the business of show, ultimately, nobody knows anything. :) but that's art, i guess--refusing to be pigeonholed.

Oggs Cruz: I'll go for the former. The fact that the material has already been made, whether its done sloppily or shoddily, gives way to it being done again and being improved upon in the future. The pleasures of the latter, whether it turns out to be the best local production, is only momentary.

Nor Domingo: I want to ask first what you mean by "original filipino musical"? Would you consider a musical original and filipino even though the theme, treatment, language, music etc, etc is completely western?

Gibbs Cadiz: nor--at its most basic--original script, music, lyrics, libretto. pwedeng foreign ang source--is there any question that rama at sita is an original pinoy musical even if the source material is an indian epic? basta the basics are all homegrown. or foreign-influenced ang music--the motown soul of vince dj's zsazsa zaturnnah, but all the rest of it, especially its core camp sensibility, is pinoy. can be english-language, too--rep's miong, about the life of emilio aguinaldo. all-pinoy material, talents, staging, etc. even if it's in english and the music is clearly derivative of the broadway idiom. or, an even trickier mix--english-language libretto/music, based on a foreign material--trumpets' the lion, the witch and the wardrobe. cs lewis story, but everything else in the musical was done by pinoy talent.

Nor Domingo: Reading through the comments again, i think nasabi na ang lahat. Each side make very good points! Personally, if I paid for to see a show I would prefer to see a competent staging, particularly those by theater companies specializing in mounting Broadway hits. Kasi mahal ang ticket I deserve nothing less. Pero kung walang usapang pera, I prefer to see an original pinoy musical, in english or filipino simply because we NEED to create them.

Victor Velasco: Great reads, very revealing of the reasons and passions of practitioners. Now, I'm curious to know what comprises this "canon" that needs to be expanded. Is it a canon of "Filipino materials" against which new "Filipino materials" AND foreign adaptations are/will be measured? Or simply a collection of materials that have been re-staged over and over and over? How have they been canon-ized and who did the canonization? And what of materials done by Filipino-identified writers/directors/actors that were critically successful outside Pinas (off-off, regional, etc) but not so IN Pinas? Just curious.

maybe another parallelism can be this: how do we re-stage fast successes until they form -- informally -- this canon vis-avis how does broadway/west end do it? just very recently, john doyle's re-imagining of company was so far removed from what made it initially successful in terms of production and even orchestration. and wasn't the les miz that you saw in west end re-imagined as well? nowl, how about the countless re-staging of dalagang bukid, walang sugat, noli-fili and recently, larawan and zsazsa? what risks were taken -- and overcame or not -- to set the bar higher -- for both material and audience? do we have new crops of tinios who dare stage traviatas with a mosquito net?

so in terms of Original Filipino Musicals, maybe another question is this: do we want the reassuring familiarity of good old stuff or the unfamiliarity and risks -- even if failures -- of something new?

Rody Vera: Gibbs, i prefer to have all of them. pag pinalabas, tsaka na lang sabihin, Ay ito pangit, ay ito maganda. Kakaunti na nga lang ang nagpapalabas per se. the important thing right now is for every theater company in this country to just keep producing plays, musicals, for audiences and for themselves. the important thing is for more theater companies to be born and NOT FOLD UP (like the musical theater philippines--di ba mas malungkot?)


Rody's comment, which capped the discussion (for now) on a reassuringly expansive note, had me replying with an emphatic "Korek!"

You--what's your opinion? Join the chat!


Crystal said...

definitely go for a well-done foreign production. if we're going to make something, we have to make it the best it can be. yes, filipino musicals will encourage more productivity, but if it will end up badly, then i'd rather that they hold out for something that will have quality. revise and revise. just to be fair though, i've had my fair share of local productions of broadway musicals that were done quite badly. hahaha. in addition, i feel that this situation is extreme. there's a whole spectrum in the middle. i understand this is just a debate question of sorts, though. :) just my two cents.

erasmusa said...

great topic here. there's also a difference between which i would rather watch (foreign done well, para hindi mapunta sa panghihinayang ang pero ko) and which i would rather be in (original, to stretch you in more ways than you can count).

Anonymous said...

I look to a day when theatrical productions will not be judged by the color of their creators' skin, but by their contents and characters.

Anonymous said...

as a "consumer", id go for the one competently staged. whenever i see a production that really naman is of bad quality whether broadway material (case in point into the woods, spring awakening), or pinoy musical (isang panaginip na fili, or st louis), talagang i walked out. isinusulat ko na lang sa tubig ang binayad ko. if i stay pa and watch pa kasi,masasayang lang ang oras at mas madami pang pangit na makikita.

Anonymous said...

off topic, sondheim's bbc proms concert already out has torrents. downloaded mine two days ago...

Anonymous said...

as a regular theater goer, bakit nga ba nawala bigla ang MTP? very curious ako about this? sayang, i mean DUP is still there naman

Anonymous said...

alert alert!!!! saw sondheim birthday concert available at gelo musicales blogspot. just find gelo musicales at yahoo search and lalabas siya. somebody posted the number with audra mcdonald (miller's son), patti lupone (ladies who lunch), donna murphy (leave you), marin mazzie (loving you), b peters (not a day goes by), and elaine stritch (im still here). ang galing galing!

Anonymous said...

Sa akin, as someone who works for the government, nakakasama ng loob kapag nakakanood ako ng mga plays that got government support and funds, pero sobrang pangit. parang nasayang lang ang pera. sana tinulong na lang sa mahihirap. and hindi mura iyon ha. sa isang production sa UP, a production can cost at least 500,000. So kung pangit iyong productio, tumataginting na half a million wasted iyon.

Anonymous said...

half a million to stage a play? a classic? wow. thats huge.

Ken said...

Why not aim to do an original Filipino musical staged competently?

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