Martial law has seen an exhaustive wealth of exposure since its reemergence as a fundamental cornerstone of Philippine history. Although it has always been a part of our general education to learn about such a harrowing period, recent developments in politics, cases of historical revisionism and contentions over factual accuracy have spurred groups and organizations to fight the lack of awareness.
From the setting up of museums, art installations and stage productions, to the resurgence of conversations online and in the public sphere regarding the authenticity of claims, it would appear that the subject has been examined from every angle, all the way down to the nitty-gritty details. Given that countless forms of media have already expounded on the atrocities of the era with explicit care and precision, it’s almost reasonable to assume that a fresh take would be improbable, albeit not unwelcome.
Peta Theater’s “A Game of Trolls” would beg to differ. Set in the modern period, even going as far as to reference the very same date of the staging itself, the musical revolves around the life of a troll named Hector, whose indifference and neutrality make him the perfect “troll” on social media.
While those around him listen enthusiastically to the firsthand accounts of Hector’s mother, a martial law survivor, he, in contrast, weaves misinformation, ignorance and impassivity online, and makes attempts to erase the narratives of those just like hers, thereby invalidating their stories and his own mother’s past.
As a result, the “ghosts” of these people in history whose tales he’d dismissed appear to him and explain exactly why it was so vital that he be a responsible consumer and dispenser of information online.
Hector is at first staunchly against the notion, believing his work to be “just work” and nothing more but a means of income, but they convince him that his active tampering of information on martial law causes the public perception of the reality to become skewed; it also causes people to forget about the ones who were wronged during the era and smears their reputations after they once acted as powerful forces of reform.
The musical discusses a very sensitive subject that has now become integral to our society, given the rise in technology literacy and social media usage. Information is now accessible at the push of a button, summarized in the bytes of one webpage without fuss or inconvenience. The downside of this is that lies and errant data are easily peddled with the same expedience, making the public more confused as ever.
Hector sees this in plain sight once the said “ghosts” of martial law come to him with their intimate retellings of how life was for them during their time and how their sacrifice was what paved the way for the freedom those of his generation now enjoy.
It’s a sobering, hard truth that hits Hector at that moment. He believed himself to be just one small person in the grand scheme of things, making his contribution to the conversation irrelevant; but he soon realizes that every single voice counts.
As he slowly reconciles with his estranged mother, whose own sacrifice to fight for human rights had been riddled with horrifying experiences he hadn’t known, Hector finally acknowledges the injustice that prevails to this today, its victims whose heroic fight for freedom led them to harrowing ordeals that forced their traumatized minds to forget. But today that same nation demands them to remember.
The production utilizes pop culture references and modern-day technology to drive its point across and in essence, the moral of the story is shown through the lens of magical realism.
Hector is fortunate to have a band of spirits from the past to corral him into an acceptance of his own faults, but in real life, we are not afforded that same luxury. This is where the fiction ends and reality begins, as we realize that no one will police us in our apathy or in our falsehoods, except ourselves; if we want to see the specters that haunt those who lived in the martial law era, we must find them ourselves, and we must realize on our own why any of that matters.
The musical ends with a pragmatic open forum that invites the audience to stand up and speak or ask questions. This aspect of the show is special, in that it allows the crowd to unpack and process what they’d seen and observed, as well as share their own anecdotes.
In last weekend’s audience, I was fortunate to listen to an attorney who’d survived the time as a tagged insurgent, whose answer to the question, “Why martial law?” was incredibly simple: “Bakit hindi? (Why not?)”
Why not, indeed. Many others did come forward with the same sentiments; some to explain that the nonstop conversation was a way to keep the subject in the country’s collective consciousness, others to express passionately that their time has passed and now the youth carry the microphone.
A student in the audience bravely stepped up to draw parallelisms between the past and the events happening today, illustrating the importance of understanding history so that it doesn’t repeat itself.
Though older generations may feel a bit of a culture gap while watching the show, anyone, especially the young who have only begun to veer into the subject, can see this play as an introduction to martial law and the importance of social responsibility both online and in daily life.
Peta Theater is boldly known for its use of art and performance as a means of educating and provoking intelligent discourse on relevant matters. “A Game of Trolls” is only one of the projects in its new campaign titled “Stage of the Nation,” where more productions and educational programs centered on issues concerning our country are set within this year and next.
To learn more about “Stage of the Nation,” write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 7266244.