Convention dictates that the best and the grandest of shows be held in the glitziest of stages. But theater, like all forms of art, is all-encompassing. It transcends the walls that attempt to contain it. It always finds its way to the places people less expect it to be—like the streets.
The unpredictability of the streets is enough to intimidate anyone. But with their spontaneity, talent, and sheer will, this plucky group of performers is more than a match for the task. The LaSallian dives into the life of street theater performers Marcus Basilio, Bunny Cadag, Aldy Cadupay, and Quiel Quiwa.
Intimacy in the streets
The cacophony of voices and sounds in the streets blends into the back of our minds. Street theater, however, is a different kind of voice. It screams amidst the fray. It assaults the senses on all fronts, bathed in the unforgiving sunlight or pelted by dreary rain. It couldn’t be further away from the comforts of air conditioned auditoriums.
When asked how he would define street theater, Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) Polyrepertory coach and long-time theater performer Bunny Cadag simply says that street theater is performing in the streets or in public places. They are inspired by the stories they get from their surroundings.
Poised and dressed in black, Aldy explains, “Kung paano manganak ang isang tao sa totoong buhay, ganoon din namin siya ipapakita sa [mga] tao.”
(In street theater, when we show a woman giving birth, we depict it as close to reality as possible).
Reality is the rock upon which they have built their street performances. Getting inspiration from marginalized communities for their tales, creating characters that resonate with the common people, and performing with little to no lights, sounds, or spectacle—the street strips them bare.
A staple of PUP’s Sining Lahi Polyrepertory, Aldy is no stranger to the tempestuous nature of street theater. He describes the never-ending changes during street play runs. Last minute changes are not unheard of, each run different from the last. The fast pace leaves them bare in more ways than one, pushing them to new heights by revealing more of themselves to the world despite the constant risk that the audience will not even pay attention. In some instances, people just pass by them. Nevertheless, they rise to the occasion every time.
Aldy, a proud member of the LBTQIA+ community, finds himself in the pieces he performs. Most memorable was Divine, which highlighted the discrimination that the LGBTQIA+ community faces daily. According to him, the raw vulnerability that street theater demands from its performers liberates them. And he performs—bare for the world to see in every performances he does in the public sphere.
An unforgettable shift
Their love of performing may have prompted them to easily answer the call of the stage, but theater in the streets is another matter entirely. For their beloved coach Bunny, it took years before venturing out of the auditorium. Although, the person who performs in the street isn’t exactly Bunny—but Vera Maningning.
As Vera, he is faceless, covered in white lace cloths. He was with the University of the Philippines’ Repertory Company at the time, and in a hub in Maginhawa he stood for 24 hours singing songs. No sleeping, no eating, and no stopping. But for Bunny, Vera is more than just an empowering persona—she is his offering.
His performance was a reaction to Ferdinand Marcos’ burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani two years ago. “Parang sinabi ko na ito lang ang mai-aalay ko, 24 hours of my life—of Vera Maningning’s existence para sa libong namatay at hindi itinanghal na bayani, samantalang ang isang diktador ay itinanghal na bayani. So ito lang ang maiaalay ko para sa inyo, kung hindi pa ito sapat ay gagawin ko ang lahat para maalala ko ang inyong mga kaluluwa.”
(I said, this is the only thing I can offer—24 hours of my life—of Vera Maningning’s existence, for the thousands who were killed and never hailed as heroes, while one dictator was proclaimed as one. So this is the one thing I can offer for them, and if it is not enough, I will do what I can to remember your souls.)
Quiel Quiwa, who hails from Ateneo ENTABLADO, shares that street theater challenges him to understand social issues more. Knowing these issues isn’t enough, one must understand the context as well. These performers are no stranger to using street theater as a platform to showcase social issues after all.
Marcus Belisario, another member of PUP Polyrepertory, vividly remembers one instance where he witnessed the profound impact of street theater on people. He narrates, “I was standing, and while the other performers were wailing, I was reciting the accounts of the EJK victims: their names, the hour of their deaths, and how they died.” He recalls that most of the watchers were taking pictures and videos, which is why one person stood out to him that day. The onlooker knelt down on his spot in the crowd, moved and grieving as well—and this onlooker was not even a Filipino; it was a Colombian exchange student. And it was something that surprised him greatly.
A challenge for an advantage
Street theater aims to be out of the ordinary, away from the predictability of the stage, conveying their messages out to the world instead of just inviting the world to listen in a limited space. Bringing the stage into a whole new environment does entail numerous challenges, however.
With conventional theater, the seats are open to like-minded viewers who are intrigued by the performance, but bringing the theater to the masses would expose the performers to a more mixed audience. Aldy confesses that there are those who do not see much meaning in their art, or are open to the messages they voice out. “Whenever it involves students from [a] science course, sometimes they question ‘What is that?’ Sometimes they laugh at us.”
On a positive note, Marcus explains that in street theater, you can tell who is truly interested because you can see who stops and watches. His enthusiasm showing his preference to street theater due to the audience’s transparency that conventional theater cannot quite capture.
In the eyes of the performer
Despite the passion they feel for street art, they understand that many are apathetic. Aldy explains that they do it not because they want attention but because they feel strongly about the issues they are tackling. “We are doing this because there are things happening and people need to listen,” he says.
With a decade of theater performances under his belt, Bunny puts an emphasis on the impact of street theater on the performers in terms of social discourse. But as Marcus puts it simply, the theater is not just for the performers, but for the rest of society as well. Asked how he sees street theater, Marcus answers, “It’s a common ground for everyone—artist and non-artist—to communicate and to interact.” But most importantly, he says, “It is a safe space where economic capacity is not measured. And that becomes the beauty of street theater—within reach for everyone to see without any barriers.