Walang pera sa pagiging artist! How often do you hear that from parents telling their kids to be doctors or engineers instead. And yet you hear from Filipino writers that artists are in a better station because they earn much more moolah than them. And, yes, I know of more millionaire artists than of writers.
Visual artists have more opportunities, more room for exploration, and, now more events and huge fairs where they could pursue their vision and showcase their works.
Pardon me if I equate the success of artists with the money that they earn. That is how the world rates and compares careers. In our country, auction events do not put up a novel or a collection of poems or essays for stratospheric amounts where the author could come out building a mansion. We do not have doors for a J.K. Rowling.
The late F. Sionil Jose, the only Filipino author to date whose novels have been translated into several languages, will tell you that Filipino literature as commerce is in a dead-end street. But he will tell you that writing has a purpose. And, as far as he is concerned, to tell the truth about the Philippine society and how the poor are becoming poorer.
A friend, the late Bimboy Penaranda, imbues writing with sublime purpose. Writers piece all those words because of ikigai – the reason for being. And that is it. He says that “the writer becomes committed to a way of life not commonly equated to successful careers that produce wealth, power of fame.”
What is important, he says is the act of creation, revelation, and evocation. These are what define them. Bimboy walked the talk – take deep breaths, greet each morning with a smile, and tell about life experiences through words.
Well and good. There are writers who are survivors, I suppose. Write what is truly in their heart, while doing jobs like biographies or coffee-table books. There would be times that they might not like the latter undertaking but they do these just the same in order not to just put food on their table, but to travel the world and be chummy with worldly indulgences.
There are writers and there are writers. And then there are the playwrights, whose works on paper is just a passage into a larger, sometimes monumental, presentation on stage. Playwrights, like plays, are not as appreciated as screenwriters and screenplays or movies. News about Ricky Lee being bestowed the Order of National Artist is understandably more viral than Bien Lumbera getting his as a dramatist.
The more popular genre of plays are musicals and, nowadays, you have to have the scale of having a helicopter hovering, burning barricades and sewers, or an opera house on stage. The bombardment of multi-media has affected the way people mount and look at plays. That is not to say that there are no pockets of resistance to this.
May I cite an assessment in the Internet: Contemporary playwrights in the United States (if we assume it has more sophistication when it comes to cultural products) often do not reach the same level of fame or cultural importance as others did in the past.
“No longer the only outlet for serious drama or entertaining comedies, theatrical productions must use ticket sales as a source of income, which has caused many of them to reduce the number of works being produced.”
With musicals becoming more the de rigueur of Broadway and even Off-Broadway productions, playwrights are struggling to earn a living in the business, much less being able to engage in ikigai. We go back to the position of a passion as a livelihood. Of course, that is America where worth is wealth or the take-home pay is the predominant barometer.
So, it becomes a bright morning greeting that the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) is holding its Playwrights Fair on June 17 – July 3, 2022. To be held mostly in the Tanghalang Huseng Batute, the Playwrights Fair is part of the CCP Virgin Labfest (VLF), the convergence of untried, untested and unstaged plays.
The Playwrights Fair is under the direction of Rody Vera and coordination by the CCP Intertextual Division.
VLF returns to live stage with 12 new works slated on June 16 to 26. This is free and open to the public. There will also be a menu of very interesting panel discussions onsite and online during the VLF which is now on its 17th edition.
Among the topics are Playwrights in the Academe; Adopting Literature/Fiction to Stage; Folklore in Playwriting; Playwriting for Children and Young People, and yes; Writing Musicals. The Fair will also pay tribute to Rene Villanueva, a prolific and multi-awarded writer who was involved not only in stage plays, but in television, and children’s literature. For more information, you could check CCP’s or the event’s official Facebook page.
I guess Filipino playwrights are a gritty bunch, like comics creators are. The world may be shouting that their platforms are dead, but the deeper purpose of life beckons. For this year, VLF aptly has the theme “Hinga” to “underline the need to breathe, to be present and feel alive.”