Charot isn’t joking

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FILIPINO slang that means “just kidding,” the word “charot” is conveniently used to lighten things up and make them fun with the aim of reducing serious discussions into jokes. But PETA’s new political show Charot will take matters seriously.

Charot is about an upcoming national election and tackles the move towards Federalism with additional layers about our Filipino-ness and our psyche added to the story for more texture and social context.

It is the final show of the group’s 51st season which has the theme “Stage of the Nation.”

Written by young writers Michelle Ngu and J-Mee Katanyag, Charot is an imagined Philippine society set in 2020 where there’s an impending constitutional change and an ongoing national election. A group of people — two millennial lovers, a Tita of Manila, a vendor, a police officer, and a couple of proletariats — find themselves stuck in a traffic thanks to a flood after a heavy downpour. All of them were going to a precinct to vote at the last minute, and in the process maybe change the course of history: whether the Philippines will be a federal country or not is in their hands.

“It will tackle the two sides of Federalism, but more than that, mas mahalagang makilahok at bantayan ang boto sa eleksyon (it is more important to participate and monitor the vote in the elections),” said Ms. Ngu.

Her co-writer, Ms. Katanyag, added that while Charot will tackle constitutional change, it will also analyze how democracy works and how Filipinos use it or take it for granted.

“More than taking a hit at the administration, it’s taking a hit at someone, sino ka man: tita ka, vendor ka, millennial ka, endo-han ka na worker (whoever you are: a middle-aged middle-class woman, a vendor, a millennial, a short-term contract worker). It’s asking the questions: How do you live out your democracy? What are your choices every day?,” said Ms. Katanyag.

While the script already has a backbone, it’s still evolving as Congress is still discussing provisions and other matters involved in the proposed change in the country’s form of government to federalism.

“It’s very challenging because we’ve been educating ourselves also. We cannot write [about] something we don’t understand, right? Honestly, we went through a lot of story concepts. Before, Charot would be a fantasy, may mga aswang (there were shapeshifting evil spirits) and then we figured out why not play on characters of ordinary people of the mundane? Kasi mayron din namang aswang sa totoong buhay (because there are aswang in real life),” Ms. Ngu told BusinessWorld at the sidelines of a press conference at the PETA Theater Center in Quezon City on Jan. 9.

Charot will be staged at the PETA Theater from Feb. 8 until March 17, a few days before the upcoming general elections in May.

It is a PETA tradition to produce political shows prior to elections, like Boto ni Botong.

PETA’s artistic director and Charot director Maribel Legarda told BusinessWorld that the musical has two goals: to educate the audience about Federalism, and to inspire people to use their right of suffrage.

The challenge, she said, is in making an original Filipino play that tackles heavy issues without making it boring.

She said: “More than directing it on stage, mas mahirap talaga [what is harder] is creating a text. How do you tell stories of our conflicts now, with different personalities? Finding the story telling. It’s not Czechov or Shakespeare. We have one objective: we have a bunch of people whose objective is to be able to vote. Where’s the drama there? So finding that drama, we can explore and show kung ano ba ang Pinoy [what is the Filipino]. It’s objective is to educate what Federalism is, paano mo ngayon ipapasok itong information [how to include this information in the play] but still making it creative and interesting? Maraming [There are many] challenges at all levels.”

One way of keeping things interesting is getting the audience involved — Charot will be an interactive play that will deconstruct traditional idea of theater viewing. Even before the play starts, there will be interactions, and a debriefing with the audience will also happen after the show.

A few scenes before the play ends, the audience will be asked a question and will be asked to vote online via their phones. Their votes will change the course of the story as the play has two possible endings, depending on whether the voters are for or against the idea of the Philippines becoming a federal country.

“The cast wouldn’t know what will happen during the show because the ending will depend on the audience’s choice,” said Charot’s writers.

But then again, when something is political in nature, it can’t just stay neutral, right? Will PETA’s Charot take a stand? Will it be for or against Federalism?

“No, you can’t be neutral — in the end that you have to choose as an individual. What we’re trying to say is that there’s a lack of information. It has nothing to do with the name of the person [who is] our leader [in] a particular given time. We’ve always been critical of our government and society. Artists have that goal, to be critical…. with the president right now, therefore we are being critical in the same way that we’ve been critical of GMA, Erap, Marcos. Ang feeling namin, dapat siyang kuwestiyunin, dapat siyang magkaron ng diskurso sa mga nangyayari sa society natin (We feel that he should be questioned, there should be a discourse about what is happening in our society), and the only way you can create your own power is to get educated, even if it’s not in politics. Ignorance is always your worst enemy, but when you find out what it is, first nawawala ’yung fear mo and then nakakagawa ka ng choice (first you lose your fear, then you can make a choice). At the end of that day, that’s neutral,” said Ms. Legarda.

Nothing is neutral, she said. Thanks to their study of Federalism, PETA cast members and artistic team have become more informed and critical about the proposed constitutional change.

Ms. Legarda said: “In principle, Federalism a good thing, but the problem is, is now a good time given the condition of our politics: political dynasties, corruption, the amount of money it would cost? Should we do it now? This is generational in effect so we should care. Later on down the line, kung mas maayos ang government [when the government is better] and when we’re ready, then why not. But not now, we’re not yet ready, therefore [there’s Charot].” — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman