When Girlie and I arrived at the PETA theatre for the premier of Rak of Aegis, we were surprised to see the editorial board of the DVV International journal, Adult Education and Development. I was thrilled to meet them because I had a discussion with them earlier in the day. But then I felt a little anxious.
“Did you know that the musical is in Pilipino?” I asked the group whose members are from Europe (Germany, Norway and Denmark), Latin America, Middle East and South Asia. They did, but they were prepared to understand as much, or as little, as they could. At least they had read the synopsis from the printed program.
I couldn’t shake off my anxiety, but I told myself that the music of Aegis would make their evening, even if they don’t understand the lyrics. Girlie and I offered to do some whispered translations for them. For starters, we shared with them what we know of Aegis and their songs, which Maribel Legarda, the director, aptly described as “rockified kundiman.”
I hadn’t read the synopsis, and did not know what to expect other than the music. But Rak of Aegis delivered the PETA brand of theatre which Girlie and I have enjoyed in their past productions – a multilayered story driven by energy, full of invention, weaving poignant moments with sly and good-natured humor, conflict and feel-good inspiration.
How to explain Pinoy humor?
During the break and after the show, our foreign friends’ gave very positive feedback. Like us, they were especially swept up by the enthusiasm of the audience which erupted in cheers and sang-along when the Aegis band gave a mini-concert of their hit songs.
Still, our friends had some questions, like: “Why did the audience laugh during scenes that appeared to be serious and sad?” I tried my best to explain the Pinoy sense of humor, and laughter as our default reaction, with a range of nuances from knowing titters and guffaws to self-mocking laughter.
What about the casual line, was it an ad lib ?, by a girl character to a boy: “Do you want visit to me in my condo?” I didn’t want to tell the convoluted telenovela about Vhong Navarro and Deniece, just to explain one brief burst of mischievous laughter.
Love in the time of calamity
Yesterday, my immediate appreciation of Rak of Aegis was how it recontextualized the hit songs of Aegis beyond the original personal “love and loss.” The songs acquired a wider and deeper meaning, about the loss of community resources and livelihoods, and about competing hopes and dreams.
Today I read the notes of Lisa Magtoto, the writer of this rock musical. She tells how she found Aegis lyrics that are not only about being “sawi” but also about gumption, that applies to many levels – personal love, individual and family dreams, community hopes.
In particular, the hit song Basang-basa sa Ulan has well-known lines of loss and helplessness: Heto ako / Basang-basa sa ulan / Walang masisilungan / Walang malalapitan. But that same song also has these lines: Ngunit heto / Bumabangon pa rin.
Although the social and community context is integral to the musical, Lisa explains that true to the original Aegis songs, the spine of the story is still about losing, and possibly finding, love in the time of calamity.
Different ways of decoding Rak of Agies
Following Paolo Freire’s methods, adult/popular educators like myself can look at Rak of Agies as a “code” which can yield many meanings through a process of “dialogical decoding.”
Using this approach, we can decode the messages of Rak of Agies about losing and finding love, with calamity as a context. There are many lessons about love in the rock-musical – from the triangle of Kenny and Tolits competing for Aileen’s affection, a father and daughter’s love and conflict between Kiel and Aileen, a son and mother’s love and conflict between Kenny and Mary Jane, unresolved hurt from past love between Mary Jane and Kiel, Jewel’s hope that Kenny could reciprocate gay love.
The many love stories add a richer texture to the Aegis songs. But they also stretch the musical. Can they be tightened without sacrificing the message about the complexity of personal and family relationships in a community under stress?
Given the tradition of adult/popular education, we will most probably decode Rak of Agies by focusing on its messages about a community losing and finding hope after a calamity.
Rak of Agies as a mirror of competing hopes
Last night, I wished aloud that sponsors can bring PETA’s rock musical to the communities in the Visayas who have been affected by Yolanda.
First of all, it is entertaining – the songs, the stories, especially the humor, but also the conflicts and the sadness. Watching Rak of Agies can be a communal therapeutic experience. Relating to the songs and stories about losing and finding love can offer welcome relief, no matter how fleeting.
But beyond the relief, Rak of Agies offers more – a mirror to their competing hopes: Looking individually for hope outside the community, or even outside the country, like Kenny thinking of being an OFW, or Aileen hoping to be discovered through You Tube. Or like Kiel, hoping to revive previous livelihoods that were already hurting from competition before being further destroyed by disaster. Or like Mary Jane, looking to donors like Fernan for relief or compensation from guilty parties.
Like a good adult/popular education “code” Rak of Agies does not deliver its message didactically. It simply offers the community various options which they can discuss with their “remembering selves” after their “experiencing selves” have enjoyed the songs and stories.
Its central message is about two competing perspectives on hope: Do they focus on exploiting the immediate opportunities of post-disaster relief and reconstruction, including “disaster tourism” and “disaster philanthropy”? Or do they focus on finding ways to use the remaining assets of the community for sustainable livelihoods?
Symbolic of these competing options is the generative metaphor of relying on temporary flood waters versus standing on solid ground.
Bubbles of fragile hopes
My most memorable take away image from Rak of Aegis is from a fantasy scene of Aileen and Tolits singing about their still unexpressed love and their hopes.
As they sang, other cast members appeared, each one holding two sticks joined by strings. I thought they looked like the instruments used to stun fish. I wondered what they were meant to symbolize.
To our unexpected delight, their instruments produced soap bubbles that floated above and around the love pair. The effect was magical, for a while.
Thank you PETA. Thank you Aegis. Catch the Rak of Aegis at the PETA theatre every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, until March 9.