“The play aims to humanize the struggle of the urban poor. They do not just fight for the sake of resisting the police come demolition day.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – If he were still a student now, 19-year-old San Roque resident-turned activist Larry Villareal would, much to his chagrin, possibly not accept the lead role in a stage play and act in front of a huge audience. He described himself as “mahiyain” (shy).
But in the heart of an urban poor community in Holy Spirit village in Quezon City, Villareal rehearsed his part for the upcoming play titled “Gapok” without the slightest hint of being the shy person he described. Along with his two other co-actors, they listened to their director Edwin Quinsayas and they repeated particular scenes as needed until they have perfected it.
“I thought I would just be part of the ‘background,’ do a minor role, or play as an alternate. But I was given a big role,” Villareal told Bulatlat.
Gapok is a short one-act play about an urban poor family’s struggle as they face eviction. It is the first play that would be staged by Sining Kadamay’s theater arm, Tanghalang Mulong Sandoval, named after Romulo Sandoval, a revolutionary poet who hailed from Bauan, Batangas.
Villareal will play “Jesse,” a son of an urban poor activist who joins the demolition team in high hopes he would be “absorbed” and become a regular employee of the real estate company that is shooing away his own community. This is his only hope to uplift his family’s living condition – his father ill in a hospital bed, his brother without a steady job, and his girlfriend expecting a baby.
Asked where he draws emotions to act, he answered, “from my own experience, of course.”
Villareal is a resident of San Roque in Quezon City, a community under threat of demolition for the past five years to give way to a big real estate company to build a so-called Quezon City Central Business District. Unlike the character he would give life to, Villareal is among the many residents who became activists to fight for their right to housing and livelihood.
Villareal’s fellow actor Dianne de Mesa, who will play as his mother Lourdes, said the plot is inspired by no less than the stories of urban poor families they meet in various communities in Metro Manila.
“The play aims to humanize the struggle of the urban poor. They do not just fight for the sake of resisting the police come demolition day. As simple and as ordinary people as they are, they can commit to a cause no matter what the repercussions are,” Gapok’s playwright Terence Krishna Lopez said.
Lopez said demolition also destroys family, the basic unit of society as portrayed in Jesse’s character. However, he added that Jesse is not a villain, but a simple person who wanted a better life for his family.
‘Recycled’ props, mobile theater
Erwin Villareal, one of those helping set up the stage design, said most of the materials were “recycled” from the two plays that were earlier staged – both on the life of urban poor icon Carmen “Nanay Mameng” Deunida.
These include every wood used for the stage design, including the post where the light was installed. Even the costumes that the actors would wear were used in the two plays.
“Since most of the people here also participated in the past stage plays, they know the hardship involved in seeing this through, from the rehearsal to the actual staging of the play,” he added.
De Mesa said they go on with their rehearsals several times a week even if they do not have budget for meals. “As long as there is coffee,” she added in jest.
The play “Gapok” is designed to be staged in various urban poor communities, and Erwin said they used nuts and bolts to ensure that their stage design is collapsible.
Its director, Quinsayas, who also co-directed the two Nanay Mameng plays, said the mobile theater is distinctly different from what he experienced in conventional plays. He said the play is not just to provide entertainment, but “towards arousing and mobilizing” the audience for social change.
“It calls on the people not to allow the cycle of poverty, trepidation, and fear, stop them from joining a genuine movement for change, especially now that it is election time. It is a good opportunity to raise political consciousness about election, which should be more than just changing the people holding public office,” he said.
Quinsayas has high hopes that Gapok would be just the first of many plays that would be staged by the Tanghalang Mulong Sandoval. After all, he said, “Cultural plays and productions should be part of the mass movement. Hindi ito dapat ambon na panaka-naka (It should be more than just the occasional drizzle).”
“Gapok” will be first staged in San Roque, Quezon City on Feb. 12 to 13. It would also be staged in other urban poor communities in Camarin, Caloocan and in Payatas, Kasiyahan and Holy Spirit villages in Quezon City. For more information, you may contact Terence Krishna Lopez at 0947-5874497.