Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Testing, Testing, One, Two, Three, Four

It’s already my fourth time, but still nothing changes.

Yesterday I attended “Sexy Time,” a project of The LoveYourself Café (TLY) and Research Institute for tropical Medicine (RITM). It was billed as a “saferotic sex summit” with free HIV testing for those who wanted to avail of it. 48 MSMs participated in an HIV 101 peer seminar as well as discussion on sex that Migs described as “in a positive and non-judgmental way, and within a non-sexually charged setting,” which just means talking about sex without getting an erection. I joined it primarily because it’s been more than 6 months since my last HIV test, and because I wanted a chance to ask more about HIV.

All throughout the seminar and discussions, through the blood extraction, the free dinner and the waiting for the results, I was my usual ordinary self. Well, usual but with a slight headache, thanks to my clogged sinus.

But when I was called into the room for the results and the one-on-one post-test counseling, it was the same as with the three earlier tests. The fear comes back, the anxiety, and the uncertainty. Even if you’ve played safe all this time, even if you know that oral sex is fairly safe, you still go, “What if I draw the unlucky card this time?” That fear never leaves you entirely alone.

My counselor handed over the stapled envelope that contained the results. “You can tear it open,” my counselor said. But I neatly pried the staple off and open the envelope.

Hepatitis – negative
Syphilis – negative
HIV-1 & HIV-2 – negative

Thank you, Lord.

And thank you, TLY and RITM for “Sexy Time” and all these opportunities for the testing and for continuing to make safe places for people like us.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Royale Fatale

Back in 2000 a Japanese film entitled Battle Royale stirred controversy, thanks to its queasy premise. A busload of Japanese high school students is gassed and kidnapped by the government. Placed in a remote island, they wake up to find out that each one had been fitted with a remote-controlled collar around their necks. They are instructed to kill each other until only one is left. The collars serve as a form of control—they can be activated to kill the wearer.

I guess the movie’s premise intrigued the theater group Sipat Lawin Ensemble enough such that they, in collaboration with Australian playwrights David Finnigan, Jordan Prosser, Sam Burns-Warr, and Georgie McAuley, have now come up with Battalia Royale. In their press release they describe the production as “a live-action game and a loose adaptation of Koushun Takami’s 2001 novel” (which is the basis of the movie). What’s more, the production is billed as highly interactive, with no fourth wall. Not only is this interactivity seen in the staging of the production, but it also goes all the way online. Each of the 40+ characters has their own Facebook accounts, and upon checking some of them, I discover that the accounts have a decent set of entries (although strangely, the account of “Victor Vicente” has entries from others but not a single one from him). In today’s world of Internet tie-ups like The Blair Witch Project, television’s Lost, and The 39 Clues series of books, it seems logical that someone will do a theater-and-online synergy.

I must admit I was titillated by the whole effort of the production, so last night when I went to the CCP ramp area to watch Battalia Royale with Londonboy, I was excited and intrigued as to how they will pull it off.

The stage is the whole CCP ramp, with certain spots designated as acting areas. There are no clearly delineated seating areas, and while there are no fixed seats, several monoblock chairs are available for use of audience members who may not be able to stand for the whole duration of the play (people are encouraged to sit on the floor). A couple of actors dressed in military uniforms function as ushers, directing the attention and movement of the crowd so that we can follow the action of the play.

Bodjie Pascua plays Fraser Salamon, the class teacher and game master. Fraser sets up for the audience the premise of the plot, and with a dramatic shooting of the school nurse, pushes the action forward. In his intro, he states that while there is no fourth wall, the view is only one-way—the audience can see the characters, but the characters cannot see the audience.

How is the production interactive? The audience can participate in the game by purchasing class cards. Each card has a name and photo of a student; if that particular character ends up the winner of the game for that night, the audience member who has that character’s card also wins. (I’m not exactly sure what the audience prize actually is; in Fraser’s spiel, he says the winner gets a chopped head of a pig and displays what is obviously a prop head.) In another scene, Fraser invites the audience to vote if a particular student gets shot or not. We voted to save the audience, but Fraser shoots him dead just the same.

Another interesting gimmick: the penultimate scenes are done simultaneously. Before that, Fraser announces to the audience that they can now choose which scene they want to watch. Because the acting areas are close to one another, Londonboy and I (like some others) chose to jump from one scene to the next. More characters are killed, until three are left. Then the action moves to the center, where the final scene—and the solo winner—is revealed. I’m sure they change the ending—and the winner—every night, so that people like Londonboy and I cannot give any spoilers for the audience’s card game.

All in all, Battalia Royale is a royal effort in setting-up and staging. It is also a royal effort to watch. The innovative staging cannot replace the need for clarity of communication. The acting areas are mostly floor-level, so if you’re unlucky enough to be at the back of the crowd, you cannot see or hear what’s happening. Because of the outdoor staging, the noise of the Roxas Boulevard traffic and the flashing images of the Jumbotron screen located in front of the CCP add to the distraction. It doesn’t help that the actors do not have individual lapel microphones to aid them. In this kind of production, one would need actors with a bullhorn for a voice. (Or get those Greek choruses; I mean, the Greek amphitheaters never had sound systems in the past.) Even Teresa Barozzo’s music and Radioactive Sago Project’s ironic tracks become a liability when one’s too far from the actors or the actors do not project their voices loud enough.

It didn’t help that the production was plagued by prop malfunctions (several actors had their collars snap in two in mid-scene; one’s collar fell on the floor without him noticing it) and costume malfunctions (a girl was supposed to draw her knife swiftly from her blouse pocket and stab another character; instead, her hand got tangled in the pocket opening, which made for an awkward several seconds of delay).

Maybe this new way of staging works for the younger generation. Londonboy and I noticed that the younger audiences were the ones who were reacting the most to the action. We actually saw a young guy cover his mouth in horror as a character slit another character’s throat; later on, his hands travelled from his mouth to the side of his head, in a gesture of, “OMG, I can’t believe she did that!” Disturbingly, they applaud loudest whenever one of the students is killed. Maybe it’s the video game culture of the younger generation; they know they’re just watching a show, but part of the fun is seeing how the characters are killed off. The premise of the play also allowed for the student characters to rant, from youthful angsts to tirades against the government; the latter always gets an approving shout-out from fellow students in the audience.

But for me and Londonboy, we had a lot of “I’m tuning out” moments throughout the play. It didn’t help that there were a lot of cute guys in the audience, which added to our viewing ADHD.

Sometime towards the last third of the play, I stepped inside the CCP’s Main Lobby to use the bathroom. Once inside, I saw several of the already “dead” characters huddled quietly in one corner, patiently waiting for their next cue. “Where do broken characters go?” I sang to myself as I stepped into the bathroom.

It was the younger members of the audience who were in rapt attention for most parts and reacted the most. Meanwhile all the malfunctions and the distractions kept me from being sucked into the scenes. Maybe that’s the difference between the older audiences versus the younger ones. I prefer that the production would make me lose myself in it; in last night’s production, the young ones seem willing to lose themselves into the action. It is what they do whenever they enter a video game, especially a multi-player game. They are not just viewers, but participants as well.

In Battalia Royale, they as viewers actively invested in the make-believe as much as the actors. I guess that’s what audience interactivity means these days.

Monday, February 20, 2012

First Impressions: Singapore (Day 3)

Off to Universal Studios Singapore in Sentosa! By the second day I was already so adept with the train system in Singapore that I could actually figure out our train route quicker than my sister who has lived and worked in Lah-lah-land for more than 4 years now. But because this is my first time to go to Sentosa, I let her take the lead.

It was fun riding the monorail to Sentosa and all, but upon arriving at the island, I was struck by the, uhm, smallness of it all. Yes, I was underwhelmed, especially when I saw the Universal globe spinning outside the park gate. “Gee, why does it look small?” I asked myself. It sure looked a lot bigger in other people’s pictures.

Okay, so it’s slightly bigger and technologically better than Enchanted Kingdom (which, by the way, is not bad at all), but I guess the imagined and anticipated is often better than the actual.

Still, an amusement park is an amusement park. And though we only had a few hours to spare, we were determined to enjoy our brief visit there. So we set our sights on the latest offering—Transformers the Ride!

Despite it being a Monday, the line was effing long. Outside the park staff were warning the crowd that the waiting time was one hour and twenty minutes; despite that, we got in line. It snaked this way and that; it was so winding, after a while I joked, “When we get to the end of the line, we’ll be at Orchard Road.” What puzzled me at first was why the line kept moving; I thought, like in the Rialto of EK, people would pile into a room, watch for 5-7 minutes, then file out. Apparently the ride is more like EK’s Log Jam—several cars going around in a loop.

I think it was the most enjoyable 5-7 minutes ever in my whole trip.

We went all around the park, but didn’t ride anymore because of the long lines. Both my sisters grabbed Ben & Jerry’s ice cream but I declined; not only did I still have a terrible cold, but really because I’m more of a Hagen Daas guy.

Last day in Singapore was spent in Terminal 2 of Changi Ariport. Man, that airport alone is worth the trip to Singapore! I love how it is a mini-world of its own. There are so many things one can do while waiting for your plane to depart, it’s possible for someone to miss one’s flight. Free wifi, open computer terminals, TV lounges, free phone charging, shops, gym, museum, and restaurants galore. My sister and I tried one of those free electronic foot massages (the one we tried is called the uSqueez) because we’ve been on our feet practically the whole day—man, after that, I felt that I could run back and forth the whole length of the airport and not complain. The next time I’m in Singapore, I can miss riding the huge Ferris wheel or the Jurassic Park water ride, but I will not miss a free foot massage at Changi Airport.

And so ended our brief trip. I know passengers are supposed to switch off their electronic devices during take off and landing, but I just had to videotape our last look at Singapore.

I shall return.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Whit Na Si Whitney

As I type this, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” is playing in the background.

Hers is not the original version of the song; that distinction goes to Dolly Parton. But for me Whitney’s is the definitive rendition of the song. She and her producer took a minor country hit song and transformed it into a scorching pillar of a ballad, an emotional tower of a song that, despite it being over-played and over-karaoke’d, still stands tall even today. When other singers do their cover of the song, they inevitably do Whitney’s soulful arrangement.

Here is the original video from the movie The Bodyguard.

Here is Jennifer Hudson’s tribute to Whitney during the 2012 Grammy Awards.

Even our own Charice had her turn with the song. While she definitely has the musical chops, her youth and lack of gravitas makes her rendition merely a showcase of skill. When she’s older and has experienced more hurt, she’ll be able to nail the song properly.

But for some people (including me), I think Amber’s rendition on Glee is more on the dot. Yes, she doesn’t stray too much from Whitney’s version, but hers was more heartfelt.

And as proof of the song’s power, watch the Dubai Fountain show featuring Whitney’s iconic song. There’s a certain amount of cheesiness, but despite that, you can’t take your eyes off the sight. The fountain is beautiful in and of itself, but it works even more so because of the song.

Whitney’s sudden departure highlights the steep decline she had in her career. I was not a big fan (although I must admit I like more songs of hers than Mariah’s), but I secretly hoped that she would pull out and manage to pull off a second act comeback, something much more than her attempt a few years ago. Sadly that hope died with her.

Monday, February 13, 2012

First Impressions: Singapore (Day 2)

Today was museum day.

The National Museum of Singapore was just a short walk from our hotel. I found out online that Sunday was the last day of the “Dreams And Reality” exhibit on loan from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. And because it was the last day, it was open house for the whole museum! No entrance fees whatsoever. With a come-on like that, who could resist a day of art and culture?

Seeing such classic masterpieces of art up close is, for me, a strange thing. Often what happens is that I only truly grasp the full power and impact of the painting when seen live. But there are some pieces wherein the impact is actually lessened when seen up close. I guess it’s all about taste and sensibility. I, for one, have been less and less impressed with impressionistic brushstrokes; that’s why the impact of paintings that needed to be seen afar diminishes when one goes closer. I admire the technique, but I’m not moved by the image.

The most popular painting in the exhibit would be, I guess, Vincent Van Gough’s “Starry Night.” Yet it was only there that it dawned on me that the famed painter had a series of night sky paintings, and what I was expecting was the one wherein the stars were huge violent swirls of yellow on blue. Instead, what was on loan was the “Starry Night Over The Rhone.” You learn something new every day.

But what impressed me more was the gallery in the National Museum that told of Singapore’s history. An audio-visual feast (thanks to individual audio guides), the tour begins with a towering 360-degree video wall that depicts images of modern Singapore. Then you go through a labyrinth that tells the story of Singapore from the time of the early dwellers all the way to modern Singapore. There are so many artifacts, rooms, paintings, photographs, drawings and short films that one can stay there for one whole afternoon and still end up skipping some things. If I were a Singaporean, I’d want to go back again and again until I see all that was being presented. What impressed me also was that there is a different audio guide for schoolchildren on tour. Not only is the museum a tool to educate the citizens, it’s also a subtle tool to promote nationalism (or propaganda, depending on your point of view).

We were supposed to go to the Singapore Art Museum, but we lacked the time. We heard late afternoon mass first, then my sisters headed for the Night Safari. I stayed at the hotel since I wasn’t feeling well (my cough and colds began days before in Manila). I was supposed to reserve my energies for our trip to Sentosa (and Universal Studios) the next day; instead, I was struck by a bit of wanderlust and, after dinner, hopped onboard the MRT and headed to Chinatown.

My sister told me it would be a sight to behold since the place was still festooned for the Lunar New Year celebrations. And true enough I fell in love with the energy and the spirit of the place. I guess it’s because it’s closer to home; the streets look cluttered (but not messy), and the vibe was more relaxed. Red lanterns littered the place. There were so many eateries offering chili crabs and black pepper crabs. I was tempted to eat, but I wasn’t hungry.

I found myself going uphill at Ann Siang Hill. Too bad it was late Sunday evening, so activity was less there. But I loved the old houses there. I hope our own Chinatown will preserve a lot of the older structures there and resist making it one big antiseptic mall.

My feet were already killing me while my nose and throat were making things more unpleasant, so I went back to the hotel, promising myself I will come back to this place again.

Tomorrow, it’s Transformers day!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

First Impressions: Singapore (Day 1)

We arrived at the budget terminal of Changi Airport just before 10 in the morning. The terminal reminded me of the domestic airport in Manila, only cleaner and more spacious. We took the shuttle to Terminal 2; from there, we hopped onto the train.

I like Singapore’s MRT. Like Hong Kong’s train system, this one is also easy to figure out. The different lines and connecting stations are clearly laid out on the wall maps, there are numerous signage scattered all over so you can easily figure out where to go, and within the train there are audio and visual guides. The e-link card allows convenient access so you don’t need to buy a ticket every time you board a train.

After checking in, we trooped to Orchard Road for lunch and changing currencies. My first impression was that Singapore was one big Eastwood, but with more greens. But that was before the afternoon, before we went to see the Esplanade and, later that evening, Marina Bay Sands.

For me, those two symbolize where Singapore is headed. One is a bastion for the arts, the other a monument to commercialism and tourism. Both are impressive, something that Singaporeans can definitely be proud of; at the same time, they are proud structures that can stand tall amongst the world’s most recognizable.

We also had to drop by the Merlion. Despite being dwarfed by the towering structures along the bay, the symbol of Singapore stands proudly amidst all the modern marvels rising around it. It is the spirit of the country, a lion rising out of the water.

After watching “Wicked” (and me bumping into Kenny G), we went to see the spectacular water and light show outside Marina Bay Sands. It is an impressive showcase of how advanced Singapore has become. My earlier impression has definitely been altered; this was more Hollywood than Eastwood.

Tomorrow we hit the National Museum of Singapore to understand how Singapore came to be.

Monday, February 06, 2012

“Songbird” In Singapore

So first day at La-la-lah Singapura and my sisters and I watched “Wicked” at Marina Bay Sands. Now, this is not going to be a review of the musical; that will be for another episode of The McVie Show. What this is about, though, is what happened after the show. (And no, Regine isn’t here in Singapore.)

The actor playing Fiero apparently was a celebrity of sorts; he had an album out, so after the play he was greeting audience members outside while hawking his CD. I wasn’t familiar with him, so I didn’t bother to even get up-close. He’s cute, but not my type. (I’m sooo sticky rice these days.)

While waiting for my sisters to finish raiding the “Wicked” merchandise, I decided to go to the toilet to relive myself. Coming out, I saw this guy with a girl following a half step behind him. She was obviously a staff of the hotel, given her corporate attire. He, on the other hand, was dressed in casual jeans, shirt, and sports jacket. He was a little taller than me, thinner than I expected, and his skin looked like a Caucasian who’s been under the sun for far too long. He looked at me, to make sure our trajectories will not make us bump into each other. Still, he passed less than 6 inches away from me. It was his blondish curly locks falling around his face that gave his identity away.

Oh. My. Gawd! It’s Kenny fuckin’ G!

And that was one of the major highlights of our first night in Lah-Land.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

McVie Meets The Merlion

This weekend I will be in Singapore together with my sister. We will be visiting our other sister who has been living and working in Singapore for 4 years now, and whose birthday is this Saturday.

It will be the first time for my sister and I to visit Lah-land. Since we only have three days, we may opt to do just the tourist-y things: visit the National Museum, go to Universal Studios, have a street-food trip, and perhaps try and catch a performance of “Wicked” (all suggested by The Wandering Polar Bear; thanks, Jamie).

I doubt if I can ditch my sister in the evening to go and hit the clubs. So I may end up with a very wholesome first trip to Singapore.

Oh, la-lah!