It’s not everyday that a theater group announces on Facebook that it’s looking to borrow an aquarium for one of its events. But then, Sipat Lawin Ensemble has never really considered itself a “traditional” theater company; and reaching out to its audiences in every which way is just part of how it rolls.
In fact, it no longer wants to be called a theater company.
“Sipat Lawin Ensemble is now a ‘theater community,’” says artistic director JK Anicoche. “We’re composed of artists and audiences, which are one and the same. Audiences are artists themselves: They also shape tastes, discern aesthetic merits, think, like and dislike.”
He adds: “SLE is merely acknowledging their role in the process of art-making and at the same time inviting them to use these platforms that we are providing. We want them to acknowledge their power as audience-collaborators.”
SLE focuses on staging “actor-devised” material in non-theater spaces such as living rooms, parks, bars, bathrooms, etc. The group was founded by alumni from the Philippine High School for the Arts and shouldn’t be mistaken for PHSA’s resident theater group Dulaang Sipat Lawin.
The group has been developing a strong following for its immersive style of staging works that involve audience interaction.
Last year, it premiered “Battalia Royale,” an adaptation of the Japanese novel-turned-movie-turned manga about a group of 40 schoolchildren in a dystopian setting forced to kill each other until only one survivor remains.
Audiences had to move around with the 40 or so actors as scenes unfolded in every nook and cranny of venues such as the driveway ramp of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and, at later stagings, equipped with flashlights and glowsticks at an abandoned school compound in Quezon City.
(The abandoned school compound is also where the group has set up its headquarters, wittily called Pugad Lawin Studio.)
The rest of its 2012-2013 season didn’t see any new works from the group, but only because it kept extending the run of what proved to be a very popular “Battalia.”
That season concluded with restagings of past hits: “Haring Tubul,” a devised adaptation of Alfred Jarry’s “Ubu Roi” (King Ubu), for the CCP’s 4th National Theater Festival (November 2012); and “Imperio Animalia,” another devised adaptation of the George Orwell book, for Ateneo Entablado’s Street Theater Festival 2013.
For their 2013-2014 lineup, SLE will involve audiences/the public even further, opening with “LoveNot, a.k.a. Love: This is Not Yet a Musical,” targeted for staging in August.
“This will be a performance based on our shared experiences on love. ‘LoveNot’ will be devised from open-call contributions. It will be a crowdsourced production. We are collecting monologues, poems, songs, slideshows, dances, photos, videos, memes, etc. from the public,” he says.
The production will be the group’s attempt to create a single theater piece with the most number of “playwrights.” Events such as open-mike sessions where audiences can contribute inputs will be held, leading up to the main devising period in June.
In November, SLE is scheduled to host “Karnabal: Devised Works Festival.”
“It will be the Philippines’ first open- call festival of devised works-performances that emerge from mediums other than a written script,” he says.
For “Karnabal,” SLE will stage Vladimeir Gonzales’ adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984” and “Reenactments,” works devised from news footage and popular media of recent national events.
This season’s theme is “F(l)ight.”
“We’re playing around the ideas of fight, light, and flight—a flight to reach communities, a flight towards possibilities. We’re even extending the audiences’ involvement in determining the price of the shows.”
Jumping off from its previous stagings of “Haring Tubul” and “Battalia” that had pay-what-you-can performances, SLE is implementing a Blank Ticket Concept this season.
“Each audience member will be given a blank ticket and they will decide how much they will pay for the show. We want to extend our relationship with our audiences as shareholders to a point where they will see that they are directly involved in determining the sustainability of our practice,” he says.
SLE does not only create works for adult audiences. This year it’s also launching its Children’s Wing.
“We’re creating for and with children, developing works and ways that address their specific needs,” says Anicoche.
Activities under this program include advocacy works done in partnership with Museo Pambata to encourage storytelling volunteerism in underprivileged communities nationwide.
Available for bookings by schools, offices and organizations throughout the country are SLE’s Book on the Spot Caravan and the musical comedy “Pragres,” which is based on a short story by National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose that satirizes lazy government employees and government bureaucracy.
“‘Book on the Spot’ involves our actors acting out a book as our way of storytelling. It can be brought to schools, communities, even birthday parties,” says Anicoche.