Wednesday, October 31, 2007

And the Word Is ... Love

We are not held back by the love we didn't receive in the past, but by the love we're not extending in the present.
--- Marianne Williamson

I'm such a jumble of emotions right now. I wish this could be easier, but it isn't. Have I lost the eloquence for me to say that which my heart contains?

Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


(A. Lloyd Webber/T. Rice/R. Stilgoe)
(The Phantom of the Opera - role originated by Michael Crawford)

Night-time sharpens, heightens each sensation
Darkness stirs and wakes imagination
Silently the senses abandon their defenses
Helpless to resist the notes I write...
For I compose the music of the night

Slowly, gently, Night unfurls its Splendor
Grasp it, sense it, tremulous and tender
Hearing is believing, music is deceiving
Hard as lightning, soft as candlelight.
Dare you trust the music of the night?

Close your Eyes –
For your eyes will only tell the truth
And the truth isn’t what you want to see
In the dark it is easy to pretend
That the truth is what it ought to be.

Softly, deftly, Music shall caress you
Hear it, feel it, secretly possess you
Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind
In this Darkness which you know you cannot fight,
The Darkness of the Music of the Night!

Close your eyes -
Start a journey through a strange new world
Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before
Close your eyes -
and let music set you free.
Only then can you belong to me

Floating, falling, Sweet Intoxication
Touch me, trust me, savor each Sensation
Let the dream begin, Let your darker side give in
To the Power of the music that I write,
The Power of the Music of the Night!

You alone can make my song take flight
Help me make the music of the night.

I was a latecomer to the theater. In fact, I was late to performing altogether. Up until my third year in high school, I was hardly interested in theater in any kind. I did like opera as a listening experience, but as far as acting was concerned, I was, like many of my contemporaries believed that acting was for others of a different kind of artistic bent (the nice way to say that I didn't want people to have any ideas that I was gay, which I wasn't, but yes, I was and remain a homophobic a-hole).

Things changed when I discovered that there was a voice inside me waiting to be heard (since I'm into euphemisms and parenthetical thought today, the day I first fell in love) and then I took an active interest in what girls did. It didn't help that I was well-nourished by regular doses of my sisters's Mills & Boon and Sweet Dreams romance novels. Little by little, I wrote sappy poetry (as opposed to the agit quality that was the hallmark of this angst-filled phase), and seriously thought of becoming a writer - as opposed to being a lawyer or scientist, which my parents had hopes for me to go into.

And then came the Phantom of the Opera.

Understand, of course, that my closest friends were geeks of the highest order, and I was the worst of them - I disdained sports, loved books more than cars and video games, had a regular column in the school paper, and was even part of the school band. (I would have played D&D but I found it, uh, limiting, and besides, I was more Asimov than Tolkien). So our group definitely skipped over the genesis of the hiphop/rocker wars, the beginnings of grunge, and of course the local band scene. We were hooked on the drama of the Phantom and Christine, disdained Raoul (as we did most of the pretty boys), and celebrated the freakishness of the Phantom. Being different may leave you scarred, but who wants the usual adulation when one can be a genius?

Phantom was the biggest cultural thing that hit us that year. In between readings of David Eddings' Belgariad series and the Dragonlance novels by Weis and Hickman (Wheel of Time wasn't out yet in paperback, and yes, I am dating myself here), Phantom filled our landscape. In the days pre-cable and pre-Internet we managed to get a libretto and listened avidly on cassette.

I liked "Music of the Night" the best (Billy Crystal mocks this song in a famous scene from "Forget Paris"), though "Think of Me" and "Masquerade/Why So Silent" were close --- though the rest of the material was singable --- the premise of the show was a bit flimsy, but the grandeur of its scale was revealing. It was inspirational to me, at the very least, in the way I appreciated musical theater, and theater in general.

Yup, you could call me gay but at least I was in touch with global culture. Or so I believed at the time. Later that year, our class put out a short play which we rehearsed in less than a week - I'm racking my brain for the title but the story was of a sick man who until his deathbed suspected his wife and best friend of cheating together on him. I won the lead at the last minute as our choice for the role begged off. We didn't have a girl to play the wife's part, so we changed the circumstances to that of a young son.

I couldn't play the living "cadaver" the best way possible as I was portly then as now, but still we managed to get a good review from the moderator of the high school drama club, and he encouraged me to consider honing my skills in acting (I didn't know I had any at the time) . . . I even received an invite to the summer workshop of the Cultural Center of the Philippines care of the school but I gave it up to concentrate on my training as a peer counselor.

I left it at that until I was named as one of the officers of the drama club for the senior year. I didn't do much, though we produced two small plays that year. There were a whole lot of other organizations which took priority, so I allowed myself to drift into the background, even for the two plays the class staged which won prizes. We formed our own independent theater guild before we graduated, but again, other things took precedence.

That didn't mean I stopped performing. As a trainer for the next few years, we did a lot of role-playing and depended on structured experiences where my voice was put to good use. I even invested a lot of my own allowance and some hard-earned money to watch plays everywhere.

All throughout the late eighties and early nineties, we lived through a surge of popularity for West End musicals - Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Starlight Express, Chess, and even Aspects of Love and Sunset Boulevard. But Phantom remained my favorite. So it was with some disappointment that I found that Michael Crawford was less than a paragon outside of his performance as the Phantom. Yup, he blows big-time singing material other than his songs in the famed musical.

I wasn't too glad with Joel Schumacher's take in the film featuring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum, but at least the movie got made and I'm sure in time fans would be kinder to it than during its initial release. However it goes, Michael Crawford was the Phantom, for all his faults singing non-Phantom material.

At night, I sometimes have this fantasy that the brilliant singing would take me away and that tortured genius, despite its pain, definitely has its rewards in eternity.

How I wish I would have more moments like that in my life. It doesn't hurt to wish, anyhow.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mood Music

I am posting this piece sung by Esther Satterfield and featuring jazz legend Chuck Mangione on the flugelhorn. It's an inspiration for one of the plays I'm directing this October.

Saving Lives

I'm sharing this story I first heard sometime in 1991 care of Br. Ceci Hojilla, FSC during one of the SHARE renewals. I didn't know what it meant to me personally until I found myself in a situation where there was a conflict of interest. I found out soon enough.

Journeys was a program of which I was the main contributor and conceptualizer --- it was originally designed as the "signature" retreat program for the seniors of De La Salle Alabang High School. It was a mishmash of of the structured experiences that were not part of the organizations/retreat programs in which I participated. After the school administration turned us down, I decided to offer it to the alumni of the Discovery program, who had been looking for an outlet for their service aspirations after they had graduated from high school.

Those were strange times --- I wasn't exactly the paragon of virtue and hardly the role model for those students. The hard part of it was, I was already active as a member of SHARE and as one of its movers as part of the Core Group. Needless to say, I was caught in between not one, but two rocks and a hard place. I had to give Journeys up, and without me to keep the group animated, even with the best of leaders I had left behind to keep things going, Journeys collapsed.

These days, my own organization - the Society of Performing Arts-Talents Development Guild, is in the exact same situation as this story is outlined. The biggest question that arises now is --- is the ideal we are sticking to the one that is true?

Once there was a land whose coastline stretched for miles. The people depended on fishing and trade. However, the seas around the land were rough sailing, and there were a lot of reefs where ships could run aground.

In the port, a group of enterprising fishermen decided to get together to help one another during emergencies. They guided ships around the coast to steer clear of the reefs in the harbor, and oftentimes they would help one another sell their catch. They eventually formed a Harbor Safety Club with a small clubhouse for meetings. The “clubhouse” was a makeshift shelter along the beach.

During their meetings, the members concluded that what the place needed was a lighthouse to guide the ships and to serve as a beacon to light passengers from sunken or damaged vessels. But the fishermen were poor; they didn’t have enough resources to build one.

One time, during a heavy storm, a luxury liner bearing many dignitaries and famous people onboard ran into one of the reefs and sank. The Harbor Safety Club members conducted a daring rescue mission – putting their own lives at risk in order to save the passengers. In an operation that spanned two days, in heavy rains, they managed to bring every single passenger to safety.

This feat put the Harbor Safety Club members in the news. One of the people they had saved was a multi-millionaire who led a fund drive among his fellow passengers to raise money for the club and the lighthouse. Money poured into the Club’s coffers – not only were they able to build a lighthouse, they were able to buy better life-saving equipment and built a fleet of more modern boats for their rescue operations. They were also able to move out of their beach shack to a real clubhouse.

The money also helped the members go into business and they also personally prospered. Soon they were having parties at the clubhouse. Members were often giving interviews to the media on the value of saving people’s lives.

Things progressed to a point that many of the club members no longer had time to attend to their work of maintaining harbor safety. Some of the members who experienced some luxury did not want to go back to risking their lives. Eventually a point came where the members could not agree on what they wanted to do.

A big meeting was called and several arguments broke out among the members. Some of the members said that they were forgetting their mission of saving lives. “Too many things are happening at once – let’s remember why we have this club in the first place.”

Some other members, particularly those who have been hobnobbing with the rich and famous, begged to disagree. “But look, we have done so much to raise awareness about harbor safety. People are building better boats, and the lighthouse has managed to save many lives.” Still some others could not decide.

Finally, the members who wanted to continue with their mission got fed up and said, “You can keep the fame and glory for yourselves. We’ll go back to saving people.” So they gave up their memberships and built a small shack on the beach right outside the clubhouse. They called themselves Safety First Club.

One time, a typhoon lashed the coastline while the club was having a party. The Harbor Safety club members stayed inside but the Safety First club members, the ones who put up their shack outside, were busy making plans on what to do for the ships caught in the storm. Their diligence paid off --- a government boat capsized and most of its passengers were in the water. The Safety First club members went on a rescue mission and retrieved all of the passengers.

Again, the media made a big event of this rescue. Donations went to the Safety First Club and once more the members of the club equipped themselves with the latest gear and technology. They also built a clubhouse over their old shack. Little by little, their clubhouse grew to a size comparable to the first one.

In time, business and leisure took over the club’s activities and some of the members realized that they were no longer paying attention to life-saving. Again there was a big meeting and once more there were arguments and accusations being thrown about. People left the Safety First Club and built a small shack beside their clubhouse.

But somehow few learned from what happened before. The chain of events happened again and again and again --- people raised money, built bigger clubhouses, enjoyed prosperity in business. Over the years, clubs came and went.

Nowadays you can see the whole beachfront lined with expensive clubhouses.

Meanwhile, nobody was out there rescuing people and saving lives.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sunday, October 07, 2007


Eyes on The Rose

Another View

I am now 35 years old. On a reference I picked up from Dante's "Inferno" (and then based on the life of King David of Israel). I am exactly at the halfway point of my life.

I celebrated my birthday on the 5th with little fanfare. I finally bought myself a laptop PC as I had needed to use one - I sent my TV set and DVD player back home and I had been using the office laptop for my own personal entertainment - which to my mind is not exactly kosher (but yes, I did it anyway). We had dinner at a midscale restaurant (if I am to use price as an indicator) and then off we went to the store (s).

My personal choice was to have gotten a MacBook - I am partial to Apple for the built-in features and the fact that its OS is not Windows Vista - which seems to come with every unit these days. I'm not a big fan of Vista (And yes, yes I am using it right now, so sue me).

However, prices were not exactly friendly to the wallet, and so I ended up looking for value-added units instead of a killer machine. This is the unit I ended up buying, and using right now for this post.

I used to think at 35 I'd be really set in my life and then I will be starting my progress to be an old man. Well, the part about being set is far from being accomplished, and then there's the part about being old.

My body is betraying me, as I am not exactly in the best of health. I am walking with a slight gimp as my left knee needs some therapy in order to get back to full strength. My ankles often fill up with fluid, most likely uric acid, and if the fluid starts building up in the heels it would be almost impossible for me to walk.

But here's the thing - I don't really feel old. I feel young as ever - maybe because at this stage of my life everything is starting to feel new again - going from a dead-end place where my life was back in the Philippines, I am reborn into this new place.

Hmmm... it doesn't really have to sound metaphysical. I just find this experience in Saudi Arabia a different kind of channel for my personal growth - of course this isn't exactly the place to start spreading your wings and start flying - but instead you'd open your eyes and try to see where you're going before you jump off that cliff and start flapping like crazy.

The point being, the only restriction I find in this place is the one that one builds for oneself. It's only the prison of the mind that keeps us a thrall to limitation.

I guess the glass is half -empty from one point of view, but from where I'm standing it's half full.

It's not perfect, and I know it would never be, but everything is just turning out fine. I'm raring to find out what the next 35 years would be like (I do hope I live that long of course).