MANILA -- Creative directors Andrei Pamintuan and Jodinand Aguillon are upbeat that despite the coronavirus scare, this year's Fringe Manila multi-arts festival will still be a success.
"It’s National Arts Month, and the show must go on!" Aquillon told ABS-CBN News.
The festival opened at the Draper Starter House in Brgy. Poblacion in Makati City on Wednesday night.
"Fringe Manila promises such diverse events that celebrate what it means to be an independent artist today! No matter what happens, we move forward and utilize creative expression as a way to bring communities together, to develop our craft, and challenge what art is supposed to be and where art is supposed to be experienced," Aguillon said.
After all, Fringe Manila is not merely a festival but heightened experiences that change one's life. Aquillon is a perfect example.
The Filipino-Canadian, who has been serving as Fringe Manila's creative producer for four years, remembered how he started out as an spectator, a tourist, to his ancestors' home country.
"I’ve been part of Fringe Manila since 2016 as an audience member stumbling upon opening night at Pineapple Lab because I was invited by a dear friend Carlos Celdran. I had never seen or experienced anything like what I saw at the Fringe, and I promised myself to come back the next year!" he said.
The following year, he was able to get a grant from the Toronto Arts Council and became artist-in-residence at the Pineapple Lab, the "mothership" of Fringe Manila.
"During my stint as (artist-in-residence), I worked with Fringe Manila as creative producer, while collaborating with Daloy Dance Company and BurlesquePH through a folk-fusion group I co-founded in Toronto called HATAW Performing Arts. I then came back full time in 2018 and have been with the Fringe since then," Aguillon recalled.
"I feel like I’ve had the full Fringe experience -- becoming an artist and eventually being part of the team. My experience as a Fringe artist has allowed me to be a better producer in terms of programming and working closely with our local community partners. It has been such a dream, being able to be part of a tribe that is not afraid to take risks and create from the gut," he added.
Father of Poblacion's arts festival
The "punong-abala" from its inception is Pamintuan. Theater followers would easily associate the name to the-now legendary "Sa Wakas the Musical" and the cerebral, highly engaging play, "Lungs," which incidentally is having a re-staging starting March to April this year.
In the past five years, Pamintuan has also been associated with Pineapple Lab, the pertri dish of anything Fringe Manila. He is also known for encouraging and spearheading a series of arts festival and heritage awareness activities in Brgy. Poblacion.
On its sixth year, Fringe Manila has become more diverse in its lineup of performances, shows, exhibits and everything-in-between.
So what's new this year that would be worth risking one's health to experience the festival?
"I'd like to reframe the provocation, perhaps, and focus more on what is similar at this year's Fringe Manila compared to the previous ones. What's the same is that artists and collectives are continuously creating new work and original pieces audiences can only experience in the platform that is Fringe Manila," Pamintuan said.
"Artistic expressions evolve and so does the artists in their practice -- and the festival has always been consistent in making sure that these new forms -- whether anti-, poly-, cross-, multi-disciplinary -- have a home, a space to thrive in, and intersect with audience and communities," he added.
"Nothing has ever been stagnant with Fringe, which has also been a constant thing -- if that makes sense. It's fluid, it's is infectious, it plants seeds, and grows in every nook and cranny. The Fringe has always been a way of life for many of the artists who are part of it -- and once a year we get to create this movement," he told ABS-CBN News.
"As a festival that is driven by the need of artists to be seen and heard, it's great to see returning artists take new risks in developing their works. It's fulfilling to see collaborations between artists that have only met during previous Fringe festivals. There are new collectives self-organizing and producing their own events, the Fringe venues join the festival with built in programming already, and the city comes alive with the what-else-is-out-there's!" Pamintuan added.
He pointed out what's new this year is we can be updated of what's happening at the Fringe through the Be App.
"The Fringe Festival has teamed up with the most promising neighborhood and events app in Asia called The Be App for our festival digital guide. Fringe-goers can download the app and see the events happening at the Fringe! Download the Be App today," said Pamintuan.
There are also help from friends.
"The Fringe festival would not be possible without the generous support of Mark Kooijman who's been such an amazing patron of the Fringe and Pineapple Lab," he added.
If there's another major achievement of Fringe Manila, it's the fact that it has opened doors for independent artists who have little or no access to venues, sponsors and the right audiences.
"I hope one day more people see the value and contributions of independent artists in the contemporary arts scene here in the Philippines. Independent artists work tirelessly to self-produce original work -- in all forms of art and genres, often having to, literally, knock on people's doors to raise funding, ask for donations, and get people through the doors," Pamintuan pointed out.
"It is hard work when there is a lack of interest from sponsors, audiences who've been wired to only see certain forms of performances, and/or grants that would only be given after an event is produced or staged (and for many artists and collectives, pre-financing is simply not an option)," he said.
"We need to support/invest on our own and have an inward looking lens to strengthen the future of the arts and creativity in this country," Pamintuan pointed out.
Then again, close observers say Fringe Manila has been "Makati-centric." How's that?
"The concentration is indeed in Makati -- most specifically in Poblacion because this is home-base for the Fringe Manila team. Our headquarters is in Pineapple Lab which is in the heart of Poblacion's historic and arts district. This neighborhood has been such a great community for the Fringe Festival and the artists who are part of it," he said.
"They see the value and role of the arts in neighborhoods and provide spaces for artists to have venues for their Fringe events -- from cafés, restaurants, galleries, to co-working spaces -- Poblacion has become synonymous with Fringe. This year's Fringe Club for example is at the Draper Start-Up House, where a lot of the Fringe anchor events will take place (opening ceremony, Pineapple Jam, among others)," Pamintuan added.
It's just but natural to ask if the local government is supporting the festival.
"The City Government of Makati has supported the Fringe in its year-round activities and have collaborated with us in community-based arts initiatives like the Makati Creative Academy, the Agos roadshow and exhibition about the history of Makati, If These Walls Could Talk mural project, the Makati Makisalo Arts and Heritage Festival, Art Kombat, and more art-based projects in Poblacion and the greater Makati area. Hopefully one day, we get them to also sponsor the Fringe festival," Pamintuan said.
Audience taking risk
Some theater goers noticed there are more performances than theater-related events. Pamintuan clarified Fringe is not a theater festival.
"It is a multi-art festival and it showcases the diversity of the contemporary arts in Metro Manila -- including the performing arts and those that straddle different genres. I think theater has such a fair visibility already when it comes to live arts, so this is a chance for those that don't necessarily fall under the 'theater' category to also take up space and take that mic," he said.
Fringe has been so diverse it is the only festival so far that has revived the "bodabil" and "burlesque." "Bodabil" is a colloquial term for the French theatrical genre called "vaudeville," a variety of live entertainment that started in the latter part of 19th centurty in Paris and was brought to the Philippines by the Americans in the 1920s. "Burlesque" may have dated back to the 17th century but by modern definition, it is something bold and procative.
A senior writer-theater critic in his late 60s asked Pamintuan if he'll be able enjoy the Burlesque Nights that usually start at 9 p.m. up to midnight, or way past his bedtime.
"He will never know unless he checks it out! Fringe is not just about artists taking risks, but also for audiences to take risks themselves and see/experience something they may normally would never see or check out. All I can say is, it's a good time!"
And on that note, Fringe Manila 2020 has become viral and yes, worth taking risks.