Yesterday, I made the time to spend an evening with Kate and Morx. Kate, being on the mailing list of Silverlens Gallery (I’m on the mailing list too and saw the e-mail but didn’t really pay much attention) on a Storytelling Day. She wanted to do something different and I’m always willing to do something different and unique and so she invited Morx and I and we were happy to hang out together.
I found myself at Silverlens Gallery and they had set up the gallery with chairs all facing a solitary chair and stand for the speakers. Storytelling Day is a new thing at Silverlens and this was the second that they had put up. The theme of this Storytelling Day was Manila Transplants and it is testimonials, anecdotes, musings by five people who have chosen to stay in Manila. They just come up in front, sit down (or stand as one speaker did) and just start talking for ten minutes (more or less). It’s all about people who lived abroad for a long time and ended up going to the Philippines (or back to the Philippines) and chose to stay for one reason or another.
It was an amazing set up and idea, if you ask me. With about forty chairs, give or take, it was a small group just listening to someone talk about why they chose to stay in Manila. It was very, very interesting. The current exhibit which included breathtaking work by Lyra Garcellano, Dennis Marasigan, and one more artist whose name escapes me at the moment, framed the speakers.
The speakers for this night included performance artist, poet, and dramatist Daniel Darwin; Palanca awardee and writer, Laurel Fantauzzo; Town and Country editor-in-chief, Yvette Fernandez; urban specialist, Julia Nebrija; and artist, Christina Quisimbing Ramilo. While others read, some spoke ad lib, and while some were accomplished public speakers and performance artists, others were nervous and unsure — but they were all very personal and they bore their soul and laid bare in front of us, practically soul-naked, as they detailed the how’s and why’s of how they ended up in Manila. Accidentally, all the “transplants” all hailed from New York before coming to Manila.
Julia Nebrija began and while she worked mostly from a stream of consciousness, speaking what came to her mind, her natural bubbly and energetic personality was filled with charm and life. She was thrilling and she was personable and made an easy introduction into this whole new format of an evening night out. We were off to a good start.
Yvette Fernandez didn’t seem comfortable speaking in public and read from sheets of paper. She explained that she was always more comfortable writing first but her discomfort with the public speaking aspect did not deter her from coming out with a very intimate, personal story of loss and her discovery that being in New York meant that she was far away from the people she loved the most. It was emotional and well-structured; and the raw honesty was riveting.
Laurel Fantauzzo was mesmerising, opting to stand rather than sit, and had elements of true performance in her narration. She spoke of falling in love, being a lesbian, learning how to bike, and a painful history with pain, actual physical pain and how all of this lead her here to the Philippines. She spoke with such gentleness and a sense of humour that made her story poignant, touching, and very human. It was marvellous.
I met Daniel Darwin at a dinner party and already knew what to expect. He did not disappoint. In a somewhat scripted performance piece that did not feel scripted (except the few moments where he lost his train of thought as he began to digress and expound certain things and had to revert to his notes) but he was engaging and provocative. I had met him previously and knew the depths at which he is capable of and while he began to talk about his relationship with Manila billboards, he pushed it further to talk about colonialism, broken identity, the diaspora, and finding your inner beauty. His piece was funny, intelligent, thought-provoking, intense, and in-your-face. It was magnificent.
Christine Quisimbing Ramilo didn’t like public speaking at all, and practically read through a prepared story that she had written for the occasion. While she lacked a writer’s clarity and structure, I could see what she was trying to say, about coming home to take care of her ailing parents and the art of discovering items and things from a house that is falling apart and using it for her art. Chaotic and unstructured, I saw glimpses and impressions of what it was she was trying to say and, while Morx wasn’t exactly sure what she was trying to say, I understood very clearly that talking about coming home and working with the broken faucets and fixing up her parent’s house, she has found a new medium for her art. But while that was in the surface, the truth was, coming home allowed her a different perspective and different voice with which to express herself. She found a new facet to her art that she did not realise before living abroad.
I completely loved this whole set-up and I wish they held it twice a month rather than once a month. Storyteller Day in Silverlens allowed me a different sort of night out that was engaging, entertaining, and opened my eyes to a larger world that I don’t think I’d find anywhere else. Because unless these five people went out and wrote a book, a song, or a movie, I would never have known these particular voices, these particular experiences and seen it told in this particular way.
It was riveting for me and completely enjoyable. And it was over before eight in the evening which meant we could still have dinner and have a nightcap and be home before midnight — which is the best part, really.
I can’t wait for the next one.