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Writer’s Recap: Apat Dapat

The so-called “big four”—in no particular order—University of the Philippines (UP), Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), De La Salle University (DLSU), and University of Santo Tomas (UST). Ever wondered how they’d be like as people on an online date?

UP Manila Dramatista premiered their live online production, APAT DAPAT, free to watch on their Facebook page last September 25. APAT DAPAT is based on the popular stereotypes associated with the universities’ students, personified by the four central characters. The play uncovers the witty, albeit exaggerated portrayals of students from the four schools through an online blind date setting. Expecting to find a possible “quaranfling”, the characters instead end up finding themselves among each other’s differences.

The play was heavily inspired by Facebook groups Unsubtle Syota Searching, and their co-presenter Big Four Trashtalkan where the livestream of the play was also available. The groups were very popular in the earlier days of the quarantine, with the Trashtalkan group filled with students from the four universities and some bystanders who are entertained by the memes, commentary, and criticism that the students have for each other’s schools and campus cultures.

An institution personified

The characters represent heavy exaggerations of the traits of students from the universities, not so different from the stereotypes perpetuated in the Big Four Trashtalkan group. These are reflected in a lot of elements of the story—from the prominent school colors integrated in the background to the characters’ attires, mannerisms, and even their names have a witty take on the stereotypes. 

Dinah Lily Go, for example, alludes to UP students supposedly skipping showers due to spending their time to study instead, generalized to have their academics at the top of their priorities. The writers described Dinah as “matapang, tibak, and prideful” as seen in the way she talks to the other characters unapologetically in Filipino. Compared to the other three universities that are portrayed as well-off, the UP character is written as having a less lavish lifestyle, having to manage her time doing errands and dealing with an unstable internet connection.

Her ex-fling, from the university notorious for “ghosters”, Tom Akweeno is a Thomasian who studies Medicine and who wanted to start the video call with a prayer, referencing the apparently strong religious traditions of UST. His presence in the call is often neglected by the other characters, resembling how in the Big Four Trashtalkan group, other university students tend to gang up on Thomasians and debate on UST’s inclusion in the “Big Four”. This is further reflected in the play as the three other characters agree on how “easy” the entrance exam was, saying that the only qualification necessary was to probably to be a ghoster.

Perhaps the contrast to these two characters would be from the other two universities.

From ADMU, Donnie Arneo’s name refers to how Ateneans are often perceived as pronouncing their school as “Arneo” because of their “conyo” accent. This accent is consistent all throughout the dialogue, along with a yaya reference to suggest the wealthy living standards of most Ateneans. The character also has multiple wallets filled with P10,000, ready to be offered to Dinah, hinting at the possibility of exploiting his wealth for something more than friendship.

Del Lizel is a Lasallian blogger-influencer who has a preppy personality paired with the conyo Taglish accent. Notably wearing airpods, considered a Lasallian status symbol, she insinuates the group into participating—encouraging people to introduce themselves and disclose the backstory between Dinah and Tom. Eventually, she doubts her presence in the date, and gets called out for how Lasallians supposedly have high standards and hence never find a romantic interest.

Beyond the stereotypes

Though the play’s source material is criticized to be toxic in nature—from petty mockery to harsh personal insults, cultivating classcist and racist jokes with the tolerance for sexual harassment, homophobia, and red-tagging—the play itself managed to pull off a positive, light-hearted aspect to the characters and story despite the exaggerated stereotypes embodied in the characters.

The play’s director, Rennie Rose Teodoro, highlights that the main inspiration for the production were the students in quarantine; with the burden of the pandemic and the heavy responsibilities of online classes, students hardly have enough time to foster interpersonal relationships as seen in the play. 

The characters aren’t simply built to be a mockery of caricatures from the university that they represent. Beyond the common perception that is based on hasty generalization lies a person who has adversities that cannot be neglected or compared to the struggles of other people.

Dinah deals with the responsibility of being the eldest among five children, experiencing the same pressure felt by Tom whose parents set high expectations for him to be productive and study well. Donnie, meanwhile, deals with the perception of people seeing him as their personal bank, overlooking his true perona because of his wealth. Similarly,  Del feels she has to hide behind her “bibo” personality to mask her loneliness and lack of affection from her busy parents working overseas.

As Eir Diaz, one of the three scriptwriters, highlighted in the characters’ dialogue and in the talkback session, “Hindi niyo ako kilala.” 

(You don’t know me.) 

Despite all the flirting and trash talk, people’s perception of who we really are is not always complete or right. The characters took the risk to be known and to listen to those who want to be known outside their stereotype, fulfilling the essence of the online blind date—to get to know each other even online, and some day, like the wishes of our characters, “IRL” (in real life). 

A positive resolution

Though the conception of Big Four Trashtalkan has received a lot of judgement for its unkind tolerance for the hate speech that thrives in it, it opens up avenues for people to participate in discourse on why criticism like such exists and find a way to shed light on certain behaviors. APAT DAPAT is one example of how art, and theater especially, can be a medium for these discussions to take place, transforming traditional theater into an engaging online production.

Even though we hold in high regard the institutions we belong to, being enrolled in a certain school is definitely not a personality—we might look into ourselves and find that we’ve internalized the traits we’ve picked up from the culture of our university and recognize the same pattern in other people. But like the play and unlike its source material, we should look past the stereotypes, remove the preconceived biases we have, and take the time to be open and truly get to know the diverse people that we come across with online and hopefully, in real life.

By Alexandra Simone Enriquez

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