Crafting plays about Rizal and Shakespeare

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Yay! My article on Ron Capinding's current works as a playwright was used by Philippine Daily Inquirer for its Sept. 12, 2011 issue.

Due to space limitations, the editors lopped off several lines. But worry not, for I present to you all, the fully restored original version! (Restored lines in green.)
Crafting plays about Rizal and Shakespeare
By Walter Ang

Theatergoers are familiar with Ronan "Ron" Capinding as an actor.  He's been in productions for Tanghalang Ateneo (Iago in "Othello"), Dulaang UP (Mary Stuart) and Virgin Labfest (Suor Clara).

What they may not know is that he's also a playwright.  Capinding has devised two productions that aim to make two different "classic" figures and their work more accessible to younger audiences: Philippine Educational Theater Association's "William" and Tanghalang Ateneo's "Para Los Jovenes: Mga Kuwentong Pangkabataan ng Nakatatandang Rizal."

Rap, hip-hop
Capinding is no stranger to Shakespeare's work as he's played lead characters from Romeo to Shylock.  For Peta's 44th season opener, he uses this experience to craft a play that uses rap, hip-hop and fliptop to introduce the Bard's immortal characters to young audiences.

"William" (referencing Shakespeare's name) is about a group of high school students who are forced to study the Bard and later realize the beauty of his works while discovering themselves through his characters.

"Rap is one of the closest simulation of delivered poetry," he says.  "Fliptop, a fiery debate in rap, is the modern version of Balagtasan (verse duels), and it's very popular with teenagers, as revealed by the hits in You Tube."

"One of the main objectives of the play is to present how these Filipino-speaking youngsters reconcile with Shakespeare's English.  It also touches on themes of adolescence, parents' unconditional love, and friendship. It advocates a love for reading and appreciating literature - Shakespeare or otherwise."

Video games, mixed martial arts
For his "home" theater group, Tanghalang Ateneo, he's written (in a similar vein to Wiliam) about a group of college students who start off complaining about having had to study Rizal's novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in high school, which they contend are not for young readers.

They then present four of Rizal's children's stories and execute them "in forms that appeal to the young of today like game shows, talk shows, reality shows, mixed martial arts, anime, video games, sexy scenes, violent scenes, musical a la-Glee, etc."

The title Capinding has coined is deliberate in its contradictory stance of using a foreign language to describe "stories (that are supposed to be accessible by and) for the youth" and serves as an overview of how his play questions preconceived notions of Rizal's stories.

"I'll be staging the stories in a way that aims to disturb and provoke teenagers and young adults.  Hopefully, the styles of presentation will most likely rouse audience's appreciation for Rizal. And, also, their guilt of needing to be babied."

Eschewing labels
Because of his long-term involvement with TA (where he is resident director, actor, translator, choreographer and workshop instructor), Capinding has had more experience in translation of classic plays.  He notes that his work in translation has helped him "significantly in understanding how the classic and celebrated plays work."

He's written several one-act plays that have been performed in-campus, though not yet staged commercially/professionally.  He has devised the scripts, in both English and Filipino, of "Recoged Esta Voz (Tipunin Itong Taghoy)," a play that used Miguel Hernandez's poems, and "Sepharad: Voces de Exilio," a play inspired by the novel by Antonio Munoz Molina.

"I've always been a 'deviser'--devised plays being ones that owe most of their lines to other previously existing texts; scripts that need to cite many sources," he says.

"Devising is more in the realm of directing, when a director uses a non-play text to come up with something dramatic and worth watching. The director can use and translate into performance the text of a telephone directory, a cook book or a lab report, and, by his capacity to bring out the irony, organic unity, dramatic arch in the performance of these texts, he produces a play."

"But this doesn't mean that the authors of those non-play texts have accidentally and unwittingly become playwrights or play devisers.  Those who intend to write plays for directors to stage, whether they use existing sources or just their intuition, are playwrights."

"I just write plays.  I bring out things that I've gathered through experiences, conversations, studying, and/or research. With my experience as an actor, I see and hear the characters as I am writing them.  I also know what lines roll well in the tongue.  With my experience as a teacher, I am very conscious of my audience.  I know what line or picture or action will move them, make them laugh, make them think.

"I usually write my thoughts randomly until I feel irritated by the mess and organize them into cohesive scenes.  Then I set a whole day or night to complete a first draft.  Then I'll read it again and again, put improvements here and there, as long as I am allowed to.  I think I can forever improve a play; it's only the deadline that makes me stop.

"I always print hard copies so I can write notes in the margins, underline things, encircle parts, transfer portions with arrows, revise word choices, anytime, anywhere. Then I print the revised version, and the process goes on.  I love 'interacting' with hard copies."

For both these plays, Capinding added a step to his usual writing process: testing it on his own children.  "The stories I used for 'Para Los Jovenes' are stories that my kids loved.  My 11-year old daughter loved 'William' when she read it but my seven year old son still would rather play with his toy cars."

Peta's "William" runs until Sept 25, 2011 at Peta Theater Center, 5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City. Contact 725-6244 or 410-0821, 0917-5765400 or 

Tanghalang Ateneo's "Para Los Jovenes" runs Sept 21-24, 2011 at the 3rd floor of Gonzaga Hall, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City. Contact 0927-752-2027.

Also published online:

What do you think of the process of devising? What do you think of these two productions? Share your comments.

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