MANILA -- If you're among the millions who view national elections as a form of circus, then trust the 51-year-old Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) to come up with engaging and pro-active production that educates the voters, or at least for those who still believe in the power of the ballots.
Prior to the 2019 midterm elections this May, PETA is staging a new comedy with songs titled "Charot," from February 8 to March 17 at the PETA-Phinma Theater. It is written by J-Mee Katanyag and Michelle Ngu, with musical direction-arrangement by Vince Lim and directed by PETA's artistic director Maribel Legarda.
In a 30-minute excerpt recently presented to the media, we're introduced to "Charot" as a story set in May 2020. There's a plebiscite for the people's approval of federalism, a system of government that will increase decentralization of imperial Metro Manila and empower the regions. In recent years, "pederalismo" has been part of President Rodrigo Duterte's agenda.
In "Charot," it is election day and a motley crew of voters is stuck on Edsa in what is now popularly termed a"carmageddon." There are only a few hours left before the closing of precincts.
With nothing to do, they bond and talk about their plight. What happens is an examination of the country's ills and how their vote could make a difference.
There's a construction worker, played by veteran PETA member Jack Yabut, who also plays a Duterte-like character named Papsy. There's the usual social media-addicted Millennial Girl, played alternately by Teetin Villanueva and Gardo Vicente, and Millennial Boy played alternately by Bene Manois and "Goin' Bulilit" alumnus CJ Navato. Norbs Portales wittingly plays the wise-cracking seemingly know-it-all Street Vendor or what we usually refer to as "Takatak Boy."
A familiar face on television since he was a kid in "Goin' Bulilit," Navato told the media he's happy that he's given a role to play himself, a real millennial. "Nakakatuwa na mabigyan ng ganitong role. Isa siyang millennial na walang paki. Someone who's tired of the system. Nakaka-enlighten masama sa ganitong play. It begs me to push myself to think of the government, our country," he added.
Villanueva agreed, saying, "May mga millennials na they think maganda ang federalism. But are they well-informed?"
Portales said as actors, they've studied and discussed federalism a lot. "Ano pakiramdam ng inaral? Siyempre masakit sa ulo. Technical 'yung ibang bagay so it's an evolving script," he said.
Meann Espinosa plays broadcaster Karen Devilla, who sounds like we-know-who. She also re-appears as a nun named Sister Joy and the typical auntie, Tita Mary Grace.
Kitsi Pagaspas plays Nanay; Jason Barcial and Gie Onida alternate as The Boss; Gio Gahol and Lemuel Silvestre alternately play the Beki (gay) Grab Driver. There's a mall saleslady to be played alternately by Icee Po and Rhapsody Garza.
And then there's the sexy bimbo speaking "words of wisdom" named Grethel Tuba. If her name sounds familiar, it is a "homage" to a popular social media influencer.
Readers active on social media could easily associate the word "charot" to sexy comedian-former TV host turned viral commentator Ethel Booba. Originally a gay term for "just kidding," believed to be a variation of the earlier "charing," "charot" is a favorite hashtag of Booba in her most-shared Twitter statuses.
Katanyag told ABS-CBN News that "Charot'" was neither influenced by nor a reference to Booba's social media presence.
"But we paid tribute to her through Grethel Tuba, the sexy starlet-like character who at first sounded like talking nonsense but in the latter part, her views matter a lot," Katanyag told us. Grethel will be played by Gold Villar-Lim and Jimma Nariz.
"Charot" is in the tradition of Rodolfo Vera's "Boto ni Botong," staged by PETA prior to the 2004 presidential elections and Vincent de Jesus' masterpiece of a political play, "Si Juan Tamad, ang Diyablo at ang Limang Milyong Boto," which ran before the 2010 presidential elections.
Legarda told us there was an earlier play titled, "Ang Mahiwagang Sebiong Engkanto" written by the late Carlos "Charley" dela Paz Jr that was staged decades ago, so long she can't recall which national elections it preceded. But one thing is for sure, it was instrumental in educating the audience on who to vote for.
Beng Santos-Cabangon, PETA executive director, said traffic being one of the top issues that affect the lives of Filipinos, "Charot" was conceptualized as part of PETA's Stage of the Nation creative campaign. The season covers historical revisionism, Martial Law, fake news, human rights, families left behind by victims of extra judicial killings and those who have been displaced by war in Mindanao.
"As artists, we in PETA have a social mission, arts are powerful means we can understand the past, makes sense of what's happening now and find inspiration and hope for the future," she added.
In a critical election, she said it is important to engage the youth, make a stand and be counted. "To capture the imagination, shape opinion and provoke feelings, affect change and in the process, strengthening democracy," she said.
"Where there has been apathy and dread, let the arts provide the venue for the people to come together and make stand," Cabangon-Santos added.
As a political satire targetting mostly young voters, Legarda said "Charot" has been developed since 2018 by the key creative staff members who are mostly millennials.
Katanyag ang Ngu are millennials. Katanyag wrote the children's play "Tagu-taguan Nasaan ang Buwan," restaged late last year as part of the "Stage of the Nation" season; and "Padayon," a 40-minute play with music that tackles the plight of typhoon victims. She wrote "Padayon" in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, tackling disaster preparedness. Both are being toured in schools around the country.
Choreography is by Ian Segarra. Set execution is by Julio Garcia, while lights design is by Jonjon Villareal. Gio Gahol did the costume styliny, while technical direction is by Gerhard Daco. Video and animation is by Ellen Ramos.
Veteran visual-installation artist Boni Juan did the set design. He's been PETA's long-time member since its Fort Santiago days.
Legarda added, "We wanted to create a piece that at the end of the day, though it's thoughtful entertainment, paano natin pinag-iisipan ang mga nangyayari. How does it affect our future generation."
"Charot" is an interactive play as audience members are asked to vote using their smart phones. They will be asked to log on to a site, select their answers to the questions and before the end of the play, they will see the result. This will determine the play's final scene.
In a sense, "Charot" will be the first local original play that will have two types of ending.
Legarda said there will be a debriefing after each performance with several cast members.
Like in the forthcoming elections, Legarda pointed out: "You need to participate (because) to abstain, not to participate is to give up the chance. If you give up the right, how do you think your children and your grandchildren will feel. No matter how you think it's 'wala,' making choices is important."
"Charot" is open to showbuyers but not as fundraising for candidates. She explained as individuals, a PETA member, officer, actor or anyone connected to them is free to endorse a candidate but as an institution, PETA doesn't endorse. Legarda said they've been approached many times. "We politely declined."
And for that, definitely there's no "charot" hashtag.