Exploring the Difference Between the House and Home Through Collaborating Online
Words by Skyzx Labastilla & Photos by Jojit Lorenzo
It all started from a single question: “What is the layout of your home?” This is what Mr. Fujita Takahiro asked the twenty-four actors who comprised the cast of Tahanan, our collaborative online theater project that began in 2020. A seemingly simple prompt sparked numerous stories that mapped out the idea of a home, along with its relationships and recollections. Perhaps we could connect artists between Japan and the Philippines by drawing out a different “shared space” where we can tell familiar but unique stories.
Mr. Fujita, who founded mum&gypsy, is a prominent figure in the world of Japanese contemporary theater, and the Japan Foundation, Manila wanted to invite him to the Philippines to create a theater project despite the pandemic. The theater community in the Philippines was still searching for new modalities of performance, turning to the internet, which has its own obstacles. But because this was online, we could expand beyond NCR and invite actors from the rest of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao too. We were glad to have Tanghalang Ateneo, Kasing Sining, and Teatro Guindegan onboard with us. He was introduced to local theater practitioners, and he got to know the Philippines through them.
Many of Mr. Fujita’s works deal with memories–not just specific areas of memories like of childhood, but memories in general. He held a week-long video interview with the actors we invited, who generously shared what they could remember. Some of them gave a house tour, walking us from the gate to the rooms of their house. Others shared stories about the house itself. Others spoke about their relationships with the people they shared the house with. There were houses in the city, rural areas, and houses by the sea. Where did the actor stay to relax or find solitude? How was their family? And from these interviews, we illuminated the subtle differences in meaning between the Filipino the bahay [house] and tahanan [home].O
These stories from all of these actors from different backgrounds were woven together. What’s interesting to me about the resulting material is these two aspects of storytelling: first, which was based on the actual stories of the actors; and the second, which is the fictional part of the story. Some of these stories had never been shared before. Somehow in their conversation with Mr. Fujita, it was like they were the only people in this virtual shared space, so they could confide in him.
I’d say that actors rarely have a chance to tell their own personal stories, especially in their own language or regional dialect, to an audience. We’re accustomed to studying fictional characters and how to portray them, but to tell a story close to our own is a different experience. Tahanan entailed a different kind of vulnerability.
You could also see the rich variety of approaches to theater across the Philippines alone, as evident by the varied acting methods and techniques. Tahanan was an exciting start to this long-term partnership between JFM and mum&gypsy. It is my hope that this partnership will further forge opportunities for cultural and artistic exchanges amongst theater practitioners in Japan and the Philippines. There are so many possibilities to explore.
Tahanan premiered on March 2021. Read more about the project and watch the performance here.