It was in the early months of 2015 that Joel Griffiths (III, ADV) started writing a screenplay about two friends on the cusp of change. Flipping through Facebook, he came across a poster for Crossroads 12, a festival of student theater production in DLSU-College of St. Benilde, with the theme Autopoiesis, auto meaning “self” and -poiesis meaning “making” or “formation.”
“When I heard the word Autopoiesis, a story came into my mind. A story I’d heard before. Yung mga storya na kinekwento lang ng mga kaibigan ko,” he says. Months of hard work and a few desperate moments of staring at the white walls of his condo later, Joel produced A Friend of Mine, in which the title does not pay homage to the plot, but to the inspiration of the story itself: the life story of his friend. It bagged numerous awards, including best play and best playwright in the said competition.
“When I write I don’t base it on myself, because when I write a story, I feel like I know these characters,” he shares. Joel compares the process to taking groups of cards from numerous decks and putting them together. “In the end, it’s still the same deck,” he quips.
He takes inspiration from the people around him, sharing, “I see every person as someone who has a story.” He began by interpreting such a story, one belonging to his close friend. In doing so, he tackles a solipsistic question: Does change make way for self-creation, or is self-creation the driving force of change?
A spark of inspiration
Joel wrote every night, after exhausting hours in class for an entire term. He recounts juggling schoolwork with this essentially off-the-books project, and feeling as though he we were taking a risk by constantly shifting his focus to the play. Despite that, what troubled him more was that his worked never seemed enough. “I realized, nakalimutan kong balikan yung taong nagkwento sakin,” he shares. He went back to the person whose life A Friend of Mine was based off of, and revived the spark of inspiration he’d had back when he’d first thought of writing the play. “If you want to be an artist you must learn how to kill your ego. To see the point of view of other people,” Joel explains. Going back to the people whose stories inspired the play, he remembered the reason he’d wanted to write it in the first place: to be “a voice, an ear, [and] a pen for others.” Amidst all the deadlines and formality of college life, he’d almost forgotten that.
Sensitivity to stories
Before he could even begin to ask such questions though, he remembers, “Ever since I was a child, ever since I was in grade school, I’ve always dreamt of being a filmmaker. I always wanted to hear stories, I think this goes down to my Lolo.” Growing up in Kidapawan, North Cotabato, there was a certain mystique to the locale. “Every night we’d share stories in my Lolo’s house about what happened that day. We went to a single hut, ang tambayan ng lahat ng tao ‘dun. Because of that, I got sensitive to the stories I heard. I had a craving for stories.” With a bottle of tuba and a single lampara, amidst an ocean of stars, the town farmers would share stories about being chased by santelmo.
Now a COB student, displaced from his Kidapawan roots, a certain mindset had been drilled into Joel: “You have to focus. Time is money, and you have to invest your time on things that will benefit you in the future.” With that mentality, he found it difficult to spend time and effort on creative outputs such as A Friend of Mine. His craving for stories, however, helped him though this, and allowed him to absorb advice from other people. “There was a time every prof I had seemed to say things that made me feel I was on the right path,” he shares, eventually coming to the conclusion that “hindi ka mabubuhay kung di mo ginagawa ang passion mo.” He let this revelation broaden his perspective on his chosen course. “After this project, I appreciated COB more. Not just making money, not making profit out of anything else, it’s doing the best out of yourself,” he shares.
A friend of mine
A Friend of Mine is a far cry from the mythical stories of his boyhood and became instead what resembled the reality and movement of the people around him. It revolves around Cait and Lili, roommates and good friends for years, who share one last conversation in their condo before Lili leaves to study in another country. Joel meticulously unfolds his characters through the recollection of past memories and casual mention of future plans, creating an illusion of the mundane: we see Lili packing up her books and clothes, Cait enjoying a cigarette and spilling ashes on her part of the bunk bed.
In fact, because it is set in the confines of Cait and Lili’s condo, the whole play runs like a conversation we’re not supposed to be privy to. Joel defends this by saying, “I have wanted to tell untold stories. Stories that are present but you are not aware of. Stories that do not have a voice, that need to be heard.” It is this illusion of hearing the unheard of, of witnessing those moments of harshness and tenderness in the mundanity, that we come to recognize both Cait and Lili as ourselves as well. There is no answer to the relationship between self-creation and change, because these lines blur in the face of every day. We wake up one day just not recognizing ourselves, not recognizing the people we thought we already knew. The play rises and falls to this exact melody.
But unlike the real life story, Joel has dared to create what reality could not provide: an ending. “Writer lang ako, inaabsorb ko lang lahat, sinusulat ko lang para sa kanila,” he explains. As thrilling it was to encode a certain convenient conclusion, Joel felt it was his duty to create one that echoed his friend’s reality the closest, thus, “Napunta ako sa phase na nakatingin lang ako sa white wall, [but] I put myself in the character. I became the character. That’s how I ended the story.”
“Out of all my projects I ever made, this was my favorite because I worked with a family—not a team.” During the development of A Friend of Mine, Joel got to work hand-in-hand with the production team, forming a real bond with them. He says he’s looking forward to more projects like this, and is currently working on one with a similar self-creation theme, although he teases that his new project will contain much darker tones.
When asked if he’d ever consider writing a play inspired by his own life, Joel replies, “I don’t really care about myself when I write. I feel like water lang ako—nagfo-flow. Binabase ko lang sa characters, not from me.” He believes that there are far more stories worth telling than his. He does, however, admit that his voice bleeds into his writing sometimes, saying, “There’s always a part of you in everything. Even in a plain reflection paper, there’s always a part of you in there. [As a] human, you always want to share your insight, in that insight is experience, and that experience is a part of you.” In the process of creating stories based on others, Joel perhaps finds the truest way to create oneself is to acknowledge that although every person has a unique life story, we are the same in that we carry relationships and memories that break and reform all around our lives, sometimes slowly, sometimes as abruptly as in one ordinary night with an old friend.
You can catch the rerun of A Friend of Mine on May 6 at the DLS-CSB School of Design and Arts’s Blackbox Theatre at 4 pm. No admission fee. You may sign up for the guest list here: http://tinyurl.com/FOMguestlist