Once upon a time I was in a company called Geese Theatre Company. We did social political drama therapy in prisons and penitentiaries across the country. This was in the 80's. The same time frame of when the world was seeing hardcore change.
Especially in Manila. They were overthrowing one of their most corrupt governments they had seen at that point that was all hooked into the Regan's. That was the Marcos Government. Some might just remember Imelda and her take of Let Them Eat Cake which was basically "Let them look at my shoes"
Back then I remember all of us in Geese company talking about the Children of Manila who were risking life and limb as part of that revolution. I remember all of us thinking it was amazing, soulful, ballsy and brave and full of artistic genius. How art can cause social change and it was being used with the children taking that chance.
Remember saying in a conversation at 20: "Man. I wish I was that hardcore at 13. Want to meet this 13 and 15 year olds."
Flash to a Figaro', a coffee shop in Cebu Philippines July 5th 2012. I had just finished doing the Manila Improv Festival 2012. I was asked to perform by the producer of that festival through a dear friend in the states. I'm giving him a ton of grief as he is known everywhere we go. People stop him and want to take pictures and talk to him about his work as an actor.
I joke with him mercilessly. "Who. Are. YOU??" I say.
He tells me his life.
His name is Gabe Mercado. He is the 13 year old I wanted to meet decades ago during the Marcos Revolution.
How wonderful improvisational theatre is. It was improv theatre that in the most wonderful way brought me to this man who I wanted to meet when I was 20....and I would have never known who he was unless I jokingly asked "Who Are You?"
Because Gabe Mercado is just that kind of guy. The kind of man who doesn't wear the amazing things he does as a calling card.
As an improviser, I have attended numerous festivals throughout the United States and internationally. Some better than others.
This one wins.
I sit and write and there are so many words to describe the joy, the art and the sheer enthusiasm that came out of the Manila Improv Festival and the cream of the crop of improv in Manila (SPIT Improv).
It's one of those kind of theatrical experiences where you look up from a festival table and look around while a show is going on and the laughter echoing like hard wind through a chamber where you just want to shout out your internal thought: HOLY FUCK THIS IS AMAZING. THIS FESTIVAL JUST KICKED MY FESTIVAL AND EVERY FESTIVAL I HAVE EVER ATTENDED IN MY LIFE'S ASS.
Here are my thoughts overall of this festival that the world should know about:
Hey United States. Time to start pulling up again with our improv.
We are sort of known for this format of theatre. We also take it woefully for granted. Lots of theatre people messing around in open jams. Hell. U.S Improvisers who don't even consider themselves actors. Ask a certain cross section of improvisers what they think about what they do? You just might as well tell them to go to a Learning Center and take a knitting class if they are vying for a hobby.
After watching other ensembles from completely different countries put ours to shame. Farnan and Landry (myself and Tom Farnan) did a great Long Form Show (I must say) during their experimental night. SPIT Improv from Manila went up afterwards and did a double blammo on top of that.
It was like fucking Woodstock. Tom and I were The Who who busted up their gear and looked at Hendrix who in turn set his fucking guitar on fire. SPIT...was Jimmi Hendrix.
Mick Napier once said paraphrased: While we are doing wacky improv, our audience has just watched the news.
Take heed United States: While you are drinking PBR onstage and fucking around to only your own? Somewhere in Manila there is a jammed packed room of non improvisers watching a fully realized new long form format without the help of our improv gurus.
Take heed. If you think you are all pissy Manila has our Call Centers? You aint gonna like them out topping our improv comedy either. :)
If you don't do improv or don't like improv? Don't say yes to an improv festival.
The wonderful thing traveling and being from another country (especially being an American and an African American at that) is I can get away with blood murder when things happen that aint cool. I will use this calling card now. In the nicest way I can imagine:
IF YOU USE HALF OF YOUR SHOW TO DISS IMPROV COMEDY, YOUR HOST TOWN, AND EVERYONE IN THE ROOM? YOU ARE AN ASSHOLE.
There. I said it. I fall on that sword.
I will not name the ensemble. But, sufficed to say I walked out of the room. I heard from the green room him saying after his horrendous diatribe "If you love the show thank you...if you hate it with a passion then hate it with a passion" I said loudly from the back "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED ON TWO"
Anyone reading this who was there, knows what I'm talking about. For those who don't here is the deal:
Imagine some ensemble ending up on the Main stage of The Chicago Improv Festival and spending 20 minutes of their 45 minute show saying how in Schaumburg they use sets so that makes them far more superior and they planned two days for the show.
Then says "After being in Chicago we would like to do this piece we call Chicagoans are Nothing But Whores" Then do a show that stuns everyone into relative silence.
All I can say is this: They are blessed they have the nicest people in the world in Manila. We Americans are not forgiving, mostly due to the fact that like in Manila...a good chunk of us *are actors* who work with sets. Some of us even do improvisation with sets, without suggestions and know that this does NOT make us any better than the rest. What we care about is what we present to the audience. (Some of the best scripted productions have no sets. Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark *had sets*. Just sayin' :-) )
They would have to move to another country from Schaumberg to ever be in an improv festival situation again. This ensemble for a United States Citizen who traveled the farthest will always be remembered. Not only in this writing...but pretty much forever.
I guess if you are going to burn a bridge? Burn it big. Congrats on that ranting dude to not do that in The United States at any of the numerous improv festivals (or for that matter *any theatre festival) that occurs here.
Unfortunately sir, I was there. And I'm completely on board with your number two.
Being treated like Rock Stars: The Manila Way
From the moment Tom and I stepped off the plane was the moment it was a whirlwind of the most amazing time two people could have in a festival situation:
From the plane to an amazing home with a loving beagle. Van rides. A wellspring of food and drinks. Every whim catered to. Want a massage? That can be arranged. Want midget boxing? Yup. We got that. Want to bring a bag of dirty clothes to Manila? Sure. We got people to wash them...BY HAND.
Breakfast every morning at the table where we stayed. Food at every show for the performers. Amazing food supplied by Happy Feraren and her family known in Manila as the guru's.
Want to get your political/Social Conversation going on about the world? There is Kenneth Keng right there. Want to put your foot accidently through a grate of a mansion? Kenneth has that too.
Being whisked away to live television shows? Gabe and Aryn have that all done. Want to be paid on the spot and never worry about anything bouncing? ManilaImprov Festival. All over it.
I was at the Cebu airport with Gabe standing in line at Mrs. Fields. He asked me "You want anything?" I jokingly said "World Peace and a Pony" He looked at me with a straight face and said "I can get you a pony"
WHO. ARE. YOU. I yelped in line. For the first time in the years of doing improv and improv comedy and acting in general someone actually got me a real life polo pony to ride.
You want to go on a Banca and snorkel with fish making your whole existence for an hour feeling like you are in an amazing aquarium? Done and done. Schools of jumping dolphins? Sure. Done and done.
Want to do your master class on a theatre stage that is fit for a production of Angels In America? Yup. Now show an example of what can be done on a stage where you can run the length of it.
Want a piano player for your show that can do anything you want at any given time and is so amazing at what he does and has to be told a million times that if he lived here he would be the hardest working improv piano player in the world? Sure. They got that. Without charge. (god love you Pepe).
Whatever your heart desires be it improv or not...it was supplied at The Manila Improv Festival. It all still feels like a dream.
Once upon a time I said to myself at 20: I would love to met that thirteen year old kid in Manila who passed notes that caused social change and a revolution in Manila.
Well holy hell. I did. He brought me to Manila and showed me the fruits of that revolution in the amazing people he currently keeps company with.
Which is wonderfully...Improvisers in Manila.
Thank you Gabe Mercado. I'm blessed and honored to finally meet you and know who you are.
And thank you everyone involved with SPIT and every ensemble who celebrated improv with me from all over Asia. I love you all.
I think I might have said too much. (mimes guitar whammy bar) AH NEEENA NEENA!
Causes Shaun Landry Supports
The Alzheimer's Foundation, NAACP, Breast Cancer Foundation, Gilda's Club.