Between Theatre and the Environment: The Experience of Cope/With/Land Theatre Co.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Maiquez, Reagan, Dennis Gupa, and Kulay Labitigan. “Between Theatre and the Environment: The Experience of Cope/With/Land Theatre Co.” Global Performance Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, 2018,

Reagan R. Maiquez

Australia Asia Performance Community Inc.

Dennis Gupa

University of Victoria, British Columbia

Kulay Labitigan

Independent Artist

In “Planetary Performance Studies,” Felipe Cervera proposes planetary thoughts around the historic and global diffusion of Performance Studies (PS): from its paradigmatic interdisciplinary origin and the growth of Performance Studies international (PSi), to Fluid States, a more multiple rethinking of the field through various localities, coordinates, and GPS (Global Positioning Systems / Global Performance Studies, referring both to the satellite technology and the journal). Cervera’s reflection on the field, brought about by his participation in PSi’s decentralized conferencing in 2015 (Fluid States — Performances of Unknowing), refers to the terrestrial, fluid (read: oceanic), and extra-terrestrial possibilities of PS as it veers away from the “narrative that perpetuates the discipline’s [anxious] history of behaving expansively, instead bringing forth in its place a narrative of multiple origins” (Cervera).

Indeed, a planetary perspective within or through PS, which borrows from ideas in critical humanities and thinkers like Gayatri Spivak and those mentioned in Cervera’s essay, should propel a PS that responds to global issues that affect very local, at times insular, communities. Planetarity extends the notion of “global” beyond socio-scientific and political models that produced the analytical frames of globalization and culture, earlier used by Arjun Appadurai (1996), and articulated as global and technological performances by Jon McKenzie (2001). We agree with Cervera’s point that multiple locations enact multiple views on globalization, theory production, and narratives, especially through networked, viscous, oceanic, orbital, and archipelagic metaphorization around frames of performance, performance studies, and PSi.

However, beyond these extensions of metaphors and allusion to a (perhaps, dying, catastrophic, or distressed) world, we would also like to think, in another planetary way, about how performance through theatrical acts reveals planetary dimensions and critical interventions beyond the obvious concerns of a world in crisis, destruction, and reconfiguration. Dramaturgically, we propose another mode of unravelling the aesthetic, creative, and highly critical role of theatre and performance through questions flagged by Elinor Fuchs. We do not need to go far, extra-terrestrially, beyond the orbits of a satellite to produce a map, or a highly advanced Global Positioning System, to visualize the planetary aspects of performance and theatre. The work of performance, once considered an activity within a planetary thinking, and as a scaled-down planet itself, could be the source of a very local experience that can contribute to a critical understanding of a global (eco)system and issues such as climate change.

Elinor Fuchs’ short essay, “EF’s Visit to a Small Planet: Some Questions to Ask a Play,” was originally written as a guide that she used to teach “Reading Theater,” a critical writing course at Yale University’s MFA Dramaturgy Program (Fuchs 5). It is divided into five thematic enquiries that examine a play. Within the first theme, “The World of the Play: First Things First,” she asks about the “world of the play,” either as it is read and imagined by a reader, or as it is seen by an audience. She wants a student, reader, or spectator to describe the physical world of the play, the space of the play, the inhabitants of this world, the climate, atmosphere, mood, physical characteristics, time, tone, and emotions found in this world (Fuchs 6-7).

In the next section of this essay, “The Social World of the Play: A Closer Look,” Fuchs enquires about the planetary makeup of a play through social constructs (class, historical milieu, conflicts) and ways humans perceive the material and biological world through interactions between people, people vs. animals, and humans vs. nature. She then asks how the world of play is constructed through language, reason, logic, metaphors, and forms of representation that make up culture (Fuchs 7).

Fuchs, in the third section, “What Changes?”, emphasizes the need to probe deeper into the changes that happen in that world/play, thus giving weight to the constant mobility, fluidity, looping (of an ecosystem), and movement within a networked and/or physical dimension of theatre, whether as an imagined narrative or a viewed spectacle (Fuchs 7).

Additionally, in “Don’t Forget Yourself,” Fuchs includes in her dramaturgical questioning the changes that happen to the viewer, reader, or spectator of this play, as well as the reflections and refraction created by the theatrical world of a play, thus emphasizing the connection of a specific world of a play to other possible worlds, or, as a fictional world may refer, to a “real” world (Fuchs 9).

Finally, in the section “The Character Fits the Pattern,” Fuchs ends with a stress on looking at patterns created either by the character of the planet or as the planet creates a pattern into which a character may fit (Fuchs 9). For us, this is another way of looking and locating a narrative, person(a), or performance in a complex world or planetary ecosystem. Thus, it is another way of creating a Global Positioning System through a dramaturgical examination of a (theatrical) performance.

It may sound basic, but Fuchs’ questions about the world of the play, such as what climate or atmosphere you imagine, or what is represented by the entire theatrical performance, augur what Cervera proposes as a planetary perspective in analysing a work of art, theatre, or performance. This is another way, map, or positioning that focuses on the dramaturgical analysis of an act, theatre, or performance, or what, for us, is a planetary examination between theatre and the environment.

In the next section of this essay, we examine a world/theatre that we created as a small and community-based theatrical company in the Philippines. We will use Fuchs’ basic dramaturgical questions to elicit answers as to how performance is used to reposition and examine a planetary locale. At the end of this essay, we would like to propose that — aside from obvious planetary concerns, issues, and metaphors fuelled by terrestrial, fluid/oceanic, archipelagic, continental, or globally systemic positioning — a scaled-down, or zoomed-in, view of performance could be a planetary mode of thinking and doing through theatre and performance. Furthermore, we argue that this mode generates ideas, narratives, and data that can be used to examine a problem such as global climate change through a very specific and local theatre experience. In the following section, we will narrate our short history and place as theatre-makers, and then dramaturgically examine three community theatre productions on the environment at various locations.

The Theatrical World/Play by Cope/with/Land Theatre Company

In 2006, academics and students began conceptualizing and delivering community theatre projects at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB), a science and agricultural school nestled between the biggest lake in the Philippines and the dormant Mount Makiling volcano on the island of Luzon.

By 2008, the group produced Oh! My Gulay! (Tagalog/English: Oh! My Vegetable!), an applied theatre project that promoted organic and sustainable farming in the municipality of Tayabas, Quezon. For this venture, Dennis Gupa, then a lecturer and director of theatre at the university, led a collaborative team of students, agricultural scientists, theatre and performance researchers at UPLB, and experts from the not-for-profit youth-development group, Sibikong Kabataang Pinoy Inc. In 2010, the group decided to form Cope/with/Land Theatre Company (Cope/with/Land Theatre), while producing another theatre performance, Sapagkat Hindi Delubyo ang Tawag Dito (Tagalog: Because This is Not a Disaster).

The name of the group is taken from the surname of Edwin Bingham Copeland, an American-trained botanist and agricultural scientist who came to the Philippines during the American colonial period (1898-1946). He also became one of the founders, and the first Dean, of the University of the Philippines College of Agriculture in 1909. The name also played with the idea of how theatre and performance should cope with, and adapt with, the changing land and environment. Since then, the group has produced works that remembered disastrous ecological events in the Philippines, which are narrated and analyzed below.

The first theatre production that we will examine to illustrate a planetary dramaturgical analysis is Sapagkat Hindi Delubyo ang Tawag Dito, a theatrical project that depicted deadly flooding that perennially devastates the Philippine archipelago. It was a collaborative engagement among Cope/with/Land Theatre, UPLB’s creative writing assistant professor Emmanuel Dumlao, Theatre Acting students of the Communication Arts program of the university, and the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), a government and environmental protection agency that manages the Philippines’ largest lake, Laguna de Bay. Dumlao wrote five poems that narrate the environmental problems surrounding the lake and how these problems were being faced by residents, state agencies, and multinational corporations. These texts were then used as the guiding arc of a non-linear narrative about a community, or world, regularly destroyed by floods.

The project was intended as an auxiliary educational program of LLDA for the community surrounding Laguna de Bay. Under the Presidential Decree 813, the LLDA is tasked “to promote, and accelerate the development and balanced growth of the Laguna Lake area and the surrounding provinces, cities and towns”, and provide “environmental management and control, preservation of the quality of human life and ecological systems, and the prevention of undue ecological disturbances, deterioration and pollution” (“Presidential Decree No. 813”). This decree, a governmental, state-regulatory mantra, was interspersed with the poetic interoperation of flooding and natural disasters.

Through the LLDA funding, the production cost was covered, and rehearsal venues were provided. Rehearsals took place in the LLDA office at Los Baños, Laguna. During one of the rehearsals, Typhoon Ketsana battered the Luzon Island and the capital Metro Manila. The cast of fifteen college students, composed mainly of women, LLDA staff, and the director, decided to discontinue the rehearsal during the afternoon of 26 September 2009, since the torrential rain was slamming Laguna and threatening lives.

Typhoon Ketsana was one of the most devastating tropical storms that ravished metro Manila in recent years. Sarah Jayne Olan writes in Rappler, “In just six hours, Ondoy [local name of T. Ketsana] released rainfall totals equivalent to a month’s volume of rain with a rate of 56.83 mm/hour, based on its twenty-four-hour recorded rainfall. Twenty-three provinces and Metro Manila were placed under a state of calamity due to the widespread devastation by Ondoy” (Olan). The typhoon inundated communities around the major waterway of the capital and the Pasig River, which is a tributary waterway connected to the Laguna Lake. It affected 872,097 people throughout the entire metropolitan area, causing 241 fatalities and 394 injuries, and damaging 65,521 buildings (Olan). In this case, the actual world of flooding in this locality was mirrored and refracted in the fictional world under creation. Images and reportage from the news, and the witnessing of submerged lakeside communities, were not just motivations to the characters and makers of Sapagkat, they were also a reminder of a precarious world, a dangerous planet, and a vulnerable society that struggles to be resilient and creative amidst stronger and more dangerous cyclones brought by a warming Pacific.

The members of the production team did not require any further drive to interpret Dumlao’s poems as, at the time of the performance, the typhoon had wreaked havoc and destroyed properties and lives. It was from the news, and the lived experience of actors and their families affected by the cyclonic and overwhelming waters, that Sapagkat Hindi Delubyo was conceived and theatricalized. Here, we include a snippet of poetry by Dumlao written in Tagalog that served as an initial text that mirrored the destruction of the Laguna Lake, which consequently aggravated the flooding caused by Typhoon Ketsana:

Tapon lang ng tapon pare.

Sige lang. Kasi wala kang pake.

Plastic at goma? Tapon lang.

Syro at bakal? Tapon lang.

Kasi wala kang pake!


Pero pare, huwag mong kalimutan.

Pag nagpasalamat sa iyo ang ulan.

Lahat mong ipinitik, lahat mong itinapon.

Lahat ibabalik sa ‘yo ng ulan.

Kase wala kang pake.


[Go for it, because you do not care.

Plastic and rubber? Just throw.

Syro (Styrofoam plastic) and metal? Just throw.

Because you do not care.


But man, do not forget.

When the rain hits back to you.

All that you have flicked, all that you have thrown.

All will send back to you by the rain and waves.

Because you do not care.]

(Dumlao et al.)

While the performers challenged the audience by directly delivering the text to them, the text also recalled a chanted prayer that sought a collective reflection regarding the state of a local ecology and its deterioration.

On 17 October 2009, a month after the deluge, Sapagkat Hindi Delubyo was finally staged at a theatre auditorium at UPLB. Performers cast white pillows with text printed “yosi” (Tagalog: cigarette), “bakal” (Tagalog: metal), “styro” (Tagalog/Filipino: Styrofoam plastic) and other wastes found in the Laguna Lake as they performed the lines: “Tapon lang ng tapon, pare/ Sige lang./ Kasi wala kang pake/ Plastic at goma?” Students and teachers from UPLB and Laguna State Polytechnic University witnessed the theatrical event and participated in a post-performance conversation about the play and process of creating the piece. The responses raised the environmental concerns created by the disconcerted world of outright destruction of the Laguna Lake, the future of the lake and its surrounding communities, and the need to act-up to address the increasingly destructive weather patterns witnessed and experienced by some of the audience members.

With a funding grant from LLDA, Gupa directed and designed the performance. He made use of masks, pillows, and wooden benches as part of the staging, and wrap-around shirts very similar to a Japanese Yukata as costumes. The basic costumes were black leotards pants, paired with a white Yukata-styled shirt manufactured by a tailored mistress for Php50.00 (1.25 USD). The director intended to create a commentary on environmental issues; thus, he employed a masked chorus as collective characters that gave pronouncements, remarks, and opinions on matters related to flooding, typhoons, and humanity’s unending desire for material accumulation. The masks were fabricated from cheap resin cement available in botika, or neighbourhood pharmacy. The costuming and simple stage design served as a reminder that theatre should not be wasteful, and recycling should be done even in the theatrical world of this play.

While the masks and wrap-around shirts were borrowed from Greek and Japanese traditional theatre, the set design utilized the Filipino bangko, or wooden benches. These are three-foot-wide and two-foot-high, ubiquitous benches considered as chattels of a traditional Philippines sari-sari (Tagalog: variety) store. The store owners usually place these benches outside retail establishments for people to rest or have a short conversation while eating food purchased from the store. The bangko represented a mundane object and a place where rural neighbourhoods and communities gather and converse.

Actors used these wooden benches for several purposes. The auditorium where the performance was held has a stage width that is too narrow, and its depth is shallow for fifteen members of a chorus. These seven wooden benches, when fit together, turned into an alternative platform for actors, forming elevations and different possible stage levels. The benches were also used as metaphors of house, mountain, lake, and even human beings. When a mask was placed on an upright bench, it rendered a human-like portrait, demonstrating the mute witness of the tragedy brought by cataclysmic events (see Figure 1). The theatrical tactics employed in this play, through the benches and scenes of everyday conversation, mimicked the social world of the communities that are dotted around this biggest lake in the Philippines.

Figure 1: The animated sequence above shows sample scenes of Sapagkat Hindi Delubyo Ang Tawag Dito. Photo: Dennis Gupa. Animation: Kulay Labitigan[1]
Gulantang! (Tagalog: Surprise!) is another play the community theatre Cope/with/Land Theatre produced to create a fantastic and ecological world. In 2011, it was commissioned by the local government of Tayabas, Quezon, after a successful collaboration by the group on the promotion of organic farming (another community theatre project, Oh! My Gulay!, produced in 2008). The city provided financial support in a form of honorarium and allowances to the participants and artists. It also gave a production budget, allowing the artists to produce modest costumes and set pieces.

For this collaboration, Gupa organized a team composed of Manila-based theatre artists and former community theatre students and colleagues at UPLB. He also worked with Sanggunian Kabataan (Tagalog: Youth Council) and members of Pagasa Youth Association of the Philippines and the Alternative Learning System (ALS) of Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) of the Philippines. Nineteen actors, between nine and eighteen years old, from the youth groups participated in the project. Many of these were out-of-school youth and were beneficiaries of the DSWD’s “alternative education,” a program that brought learning outside the formal classroom setting, including youth mentoring, counselling, and community theatre (see Figure 2). These performers also belong to the poorest families of the region and were not formally schooled in public elementary and high schools. However, with the production of Gulantang!, they participated in a theatrical and artistic experience that dealt with environmental issues that they themselves have identified as part of the mountain/forest ecosystem of Tayabas and the surrounding communities of this farming region. As part of an ALS program, it was also designed to train and educate the disadvantaged young people through theatrical and local knowledge and arts. The set design and materials of this production were also recycled from props of a previous theatre production in this community and plastic wastes collected by the participants in their short immersion at an ecological site.

Figure 2: A scene in the play Gulantang!, featuring a cast of mostly disadvantaged schoolchildren and young people who benefited in this community theatre’s creative and local learning aspects. Photo and Animation: Kulay Labitigan

Gulantang! started with several production workshops on theatre improvisation, and, afterward, the entire team travelled to a nearby mountain ecosystem. Cope/with/Land Theatre arranged a one-day guided tour around Mount Banahaw, the prime ecological site that is partly governed by the municipality of Tayabas. Tayabas City constitutes sixty-six villages, or barangay, with 23,095 hectares of mostly agricultural land. The city is famous for its century-old bridges, churches, and ruins.

However, it is also the home of Mount Banahaw-San Cristobal National Park. This is where an endemic rodent was discovered by Philippine mammalogist Dr. Danilo S. Balete and his team from the Field Museum of Natural History, Natural History Museum of Utah, and Bell Museum of Natural History, University of Minnesota. In 2004, Balete and his team made an expedition in the mountains of Banahaw and San Cristobal and discovered a “Tree-Mouse” (Rodentia muridae) that they immediately “baptized” as Gulantang (loosely translated by the scientists as an “unexpected creature” in the vernacular). The team describes it as: “a new genus and species. It is easily distinguished from all other murids by its small size (15 g), rusty orange fur, mystical vibrissae that are two-thirds the length of head and body, postocular patch of bare skin with long vibrissae arising within it and a long tail with elongated hairs only on the posterior quarter, ovate ears, procumbent incisors that are deeply notched at the tip, and other distinctive characters” (Heaney et al. 205).

This exposure to the surroundings of the National Park, and further research on the species, inspired the creators of the performance, and the theatrical world was eventually titled after the rodent’s name and discovery. Gulantang! A Children’s Musical (with book and lyrics by Jon Lazam and music by Angelica Dayao) is about an endemic rodent named Gulantang who appears in the dream of Bata, or the boy. Gulantang is a trickster character who has the ability of becoming a fairy and a rodent. As a shapeshifter and character, she encourages the child to seek justice following the massive destruction of the rodent’s habitat on Mount Banahaw. In the child’s dream, the audience sees Gulantang jumping from the window to the child’s room, and eventually presenting its threatened situation through a musical rendition of a song in the Tagalog language:

Lagi na lamang

Sa buhay ni Gulantang

Ay may nakaambang panganib

Mga mapagsamantalang

Walang kaloob kundi tigatig

Kaya’t kumakabog itong dibdib

At dinadaig ng ligalig


Ako si Gulantang at ito ang aking himig

Darating ang araw hindi na ito maririnig.



In Gulantang’s life

A disaster is waiting

There are opportunists

They cannot offer anything but anxiety

That is the reason why my heart feels this dread

I cannot conquer the unrest


I am Gulantang and this is my song

There will come a time that you won’t hear it again.]

(Lazam et al.)

Upon hearing this song, Bata is convinced to help Gulantang. He goes to a police officer and government officials hoping for the restoration of Mount Banahaw and the survival of Gulantang’s family. Bata first comes to the police, but he is met, not by a strong law enforcer but a poor father who is unable to implement the law because of his inadequate and confused comprehension of the child’s plea. When the child reports about the slash-and-burn farming method utilized by hillside farmers, known in the community as kaingin, the police officer suddenly feels a deep hunger. He responds through a song:

Tayo’y maglaro ng pulis-pulisan

Heto ang piring magbulag-bulagan

May nagsumbong kanina kay aga-aga

May nagkakaingin daw ang eksena

Kaya’t naghanap ako ng mapupulutan

Pasensya na’t dinig ko’y may kainan

Hindi pa rin kasi ako nag-aagahan.


[Let us play police and policing

Here is the blindfold and pretend you are a blind

Early this morning someone reported a crime

There are people doing a Kaingin

That is why I look for something to nibble

Apology for I have heard it as feasting

It is because I have not taken my breakfast yet.]

(Lazam et al.)

For the police officer, the unlawful “kangin,” or the traditional farming, sounds like “kainan,” or feasting. Hunger and poverty resonate with the character, and the boy is left helpless with his plea to save the threatened animal. However, his unwavering faith for the regeneration of the mountain does not stop, so he goes to the government officials and lawyers. When he presents the current environmental destructions to them, these officials immediately dismiss him, because a multinational development project is currently under negotiation. The boy is seen lamenting, as his hope for a restored Mount Banahaw is slowly fading.

Then another character, Gayang, arrives in the community. He is a mythical, giant, snake-eating man who descends from the boondocks. The community is filled with angry reptiles that terrorize the children, and eventually bite them to death. The boy sees the dead children singing:

Tinuklaw ng ahas ang aming mga puso

At ang lason pala’y luha ng mga talulot

Ipinararating ang daing ng halama’t puno

Sa mga makasarili’t mapang-imbot.


[The snakes bit our hearts

The tears are the poisons of the petals

The plants and the trees are sending their complains

For those who are selfish and covetous.]

(Lazam et al.)

He sees Gulantang returning to the mountain in the last figment of his dream. With a melancholic heart, he wakes up and writes the following lines (sung in the play) in his diary:

Sa bawat awit, sa bawat tula

Sa bawat pagdungaw ko sa bintana

Sa kalikasan ako’y tumatalima

Buhay ang banahaw sa puso’t diwa.


[For every song, for every poem

For every gape I do from the window

To the environment I am also gazing

Mount Banahaw is alive in the heart and soul.]

(Lazam et al.)

The theatrical aesthetics behind the production of Gulantang! were based in improvisation and a focus on the recycling of waste and old materials that were used in the production of Oh! My! Gulay! in 2008. The set composition was an interpretation of the existing natural terrain, which was also the setting of the story, Mount Banahaw and the town of Tayabas at the foot of it. Additional materials collected by the participants during the trip to Mount Banahaw were also recycled for the stage design. During the mountain trip prior to the production of the theatre performance, the local environmental guide tasked the participant-performers to collect plastics and any other form of non-biodegradable wastes left both by the tourists and locals of the mountains. Collected trash was gathered and diverse types of plastics were identified. From this trip, the set designer, Kulay Labitigan, and the director, Gupa, conceptualized a stage setting that informed the audience’s familiarity, alienation, and discontent of the current ecological status of the mountain and the town that sits at its foot.

Production staff and participant-performers also collected the sheeny 7Up™ plastic bottles (an American non-alcoholic drink popular in the Philippines) from around the community, with many of them acquired from waste warehouses. These bottles became part of the set design executed by Labitigan. Using the collected 7Up™ plastic bottles, he created a sacred waterfall of Mount Banahaw and Mount San Cristobal, the setting of the play. Other waste, like old newspapers, tires, and iron sheets, was recycled and incorporated in the stage setting. Bamboo was employed as material for an elevated stage set that also reflected the dominant landscape of the mountains. Fifteen non-functioning television sets and non-functioning electrical appliances formed a central tower, reminding the audience of how synthetic objects and machines co-exist with a natural environment.

A small Philippine flag was affixed on the tower. At the foot of this tower, a river was made of green-and-white, transparent 7Up™ bottles. A long white curtain with hanging bicycle tires covered the back area of the stage, and served as the cyclorama. Some strands of bamboo hay were spread on the right side of the stage to suggest vegetation. Ubiquitous, big, plastic bags available in many Philippine wet markets, also known as “carabao” plastic bags, since it is akin to the color and size of water buffalos found in this country, were formed as dark clouds, and represented the air pollution produced by modern industries in the province (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Animated photos show the stage design of Gulantang! The stage theatricalized the mountain and forest ecosystem of the fictional world of the character Gulantang and the actual environment of the community. Photo and Animation: Kulay Labitigan

The world of Gulantang might be flimsy, at times musical, and playful. The intended irony was to induce an interplay between delight and horror, between the dream sequence of the boy/Bata and the terrifying arrival of a snake-monster-nemesis, and the transformation of children into zombies after the vengeful act of the character. The play combined a folk sensibility and ecological fabulation with an awareness of the massive poverty and hunger experienced by many agricultural communities in Tayabas, Philippines.

A play or a theatre performance is a new location. It is a planetary view of embodied ways, tactics, materialities, and what Fuchs proposes as questions of dramaturgical patterns, conflicts, narrative, and interactions of characters and realities on a theatrical planet. The appearance on stage of the character of a cloud rat, Gulantang, in the play highlights its possible disappearance on the planet and in its habitat, the mountain, and its community. The planetary location of Gulantang! locates and repositions the ecological world of animals, humans, cultures, and communities in a temporary location, an orbiting revelation, and a locale that is also a planet.

Finally, the last theatre performance discussed and examined in this paper is Nawa’y Muli Tayong Makauwi (Tagalog: We Hope to Come Home). It was commissioned by the Association of Southeast East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Center for Biodiversity (ACB), which is also based at UPLB for its tenth-year anniversary celebration. The event was attended by officials of the environmental agencies who are part of the ACB Governing Board, members of the ASEAN Working Group on Nature Conservation and Biodiversity, university leaders, donors, partner research organisations of ACB, and ambassadors of ASEAN countries in Manila.

Nawa’y Muli Tayong Makauwi was performed in 2015 at a garden pavilion inside the Mount Makiling Forest Reserve at UPLB. UPLB, aside from being a premier state, agricultural, and scientific institution in the Philippines, is also responsible for the preservation and research activities of a dormant volcano, Mount Makiling. The mountain is internationally known for its unique flora, fauna, and geological wonders, including hot and sulphuric springs, ancient rock formations, and centuries-old tropical forest.

Situated within the trees that surround the pavilion and garden, the performance was intended to blend with the natural ecology of the site. Nawa’y Muli Tayong Makauwi was devised and written by former UPLB Communication Arts Student and major Cope/with/Land Theatre collaborator Eljay Castro Deldoc. His text was influenced by a news clip, “The World’s First Climate ‘refugees’.” The narrator of the clip explains, “[The] 1,500 residents of Carteret Island, an atoll of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, [who] are fast becoming the world’s first climate change refugees. Sea levels around the atoll have risen 10 cm in the past 20 years, inundating plantations, and the situation is deteriorating. […] Many of the island’s inhabitants have run out of food and their staple, coconuts, are being wiped out as the sea level rises” (IRIN).

For two months, Cope/with/Land Theatre, the faculty members, and UPLB Rural High School students produced a one-hour performance that consisted of choral songs, poetries, testimonial theatre, and video projection. Deldoc led playwriting workshops for the students, and produced poetry and a script that became the overarching narrative for this project. This poetic text was interspersed with choral Philippine songs and news reports on climate change. High school students, who are members of choral and dance groups, underwent workshops on basic acting, improvisational music composition, movement, and playwriting.

The production and creative staff built set pieces of white blocks, made using white sturdy construction paper that resembled the shape of Mount Makiling. With rollers underneath the blocks, these set pieces were meant to be moved around a centre or arena stage. Further moveable objects were made of wood with vertical poles of slender bamboo sticks that suggested coral reefs, islands, and archipelagos (see Figure 4). This oceanic and terrestrial geography echoed the geography of Southeast Asia, a diverse region of cultures and biological riches. Two eight-foot-tall and four-foot-wide, white flats stood as a cyclorama, where actors entered and exited. Attached on these two flats were four television monitors of different sizes. The screens served as a reminder, flashing information, images, and news about precarious narratives of disappearing islands and habitats.

Figure 4: In this scene, characters are seen creating choreographic movement around and alongside moveable props/sets that resemble various tropical and island geographies of Southeast Asia. Photo: Asean Center for Biodiversity. Animation: Kulay Labitigan

Kulay Labitigan designed puppets made from everyday objects like rubber, foam, string, sticks, fly swatters, paper, cardboard, and kitchen cutleries. These mundane and familiar objects were also transformed as animals manipulated by performers to conjure life on air, land, water, and atmosphere. The use of these theatrical materials alluded to the material world of plastics and wastes produced by our current society, and, as much as possible, in making sure that minimal wastage was achieved at the end of the production (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: The animated GIF shows a glimpse of the production of Nawa’y Muli Tayong Makauwi. Here, you can see characters donned in white shirts and conventional printed cloth worn in island and mainland Southeast Asia. The scene also shows the movable theatrical objects that served as boulders, mountains, hills, and waterfalls. Photo: Asean Center for Biodiversity. Animation: Kulay Labitigan

White school blouses and polo shirts, coupled with tubular textiles called malong, were used as costumes for twenty performers. The malong, with distinct Indonesian batik patterns and Philippine okir designs (from the Southern and Islamic region of Mindanao), are considered everyday textiles of cultural and ecological significance for the maritime nations of Southeast Asia. The costume design was both informed by the Southeast Asian cultural context and the limited production budget. The top shirt was reconfigured to become student uniforms, while the skirts and trousers were worn based on traditional costumes in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The production crew was requested to capture colors, design, and iconic cultural forms found in Southeast Asia, as it was a commemorative event of ACB (see Figure 6).

Figure 6: This animated sequence shows an inclusion of natural material, banana leaves, to depict topicality or the climate of Southeast Asia. Photo: Asean Center for Biodiversity. Animation: Kulay Labitigan

The planetary world of this play sought to capture a region constructed around geopolitics and postcolonial modernity after the Second World War. Southeast Asia is a place full of uneven development and historical, religious, and ethnic conflicts. We attempted neither to capture nor locate such habitations and embodiment produced by such planetary and regionalistic thinking in the construction of Southeast Asia. For us, and for this small production, it was impossible to fully represent theatrically such a large, diverse oceanic and terrestrial region. However, our effort was to produce a metonymic view of a large area on an actual planet, and a theatrical location and time that positioned our views as concerned artists following a guidance of a commissioning intergovernmental agency (ACB).

The theatrical world produced in this devised performance related more to oceanic, maritime, island, and archipelagic Southeast Asia, since the work was informed by our experience as Filipinos and inhabitants of the second largest archipelago. But with the mountain as a larger backdrop, or location, of this devised play, we hope that the performance somehow refracted the interior, green, and precarious spaces found in the mountainous and insular Southeast Asia. Nonetheless, from our part as theatre-makers, the looming planetary disaster that we are all experiencing and witnessing clearly shapes, reshapes, and reconfigures a place and locality, whether as an imagined and actual theatrical event or as a calamitous scenario in real terms.


In this essay, we have provided a planetary examination of community theatre and performance through dramaturgical notes, analyses, and narratives of three plays that we produced as a small and community-based theatrical company in the Philippines. Drawing on questions from Elinor Fuchs that frame a basic dramaturgical study of a play as a world/planet, we have demonstrated some possible ways to locate (read: position) a play, theatre, or performance within complex, networked, and global systems of cultures, ecologies, and looming calamities. In the play Sapagkat, two worlds are seen emerging side-by-side as the theatre production progressed, a real world of flooded Manila/Laguna, and the world created by the theatrical moment. In Gulantang, a whimsical, liminal, and dark world of a child’s effort to save a habitat and a mammal was seen orbiting, a reminder that art and theatre is another way of collapsing worlds or producing worlds refracted by the very act of theatre and performance. Finally, in the last production, Nawa’y, an attempt to visualise a large, regional geographic location for the sake of commemoration and strengthening the sense of biodiversity to an audience through issues of climate change and rising oceans was done through theatre.

In addition to this, we now think that, besides a spectacular world that we create as artists and theatre-makers, a much deeper philosophical consideration would be how such time and place (or a location/positioning) of performances, objects, relationships, and people is not merely a fictional reflection, refraction, or version of a “real” world/planet in danger but, in fact, a gathering of humans and non-humans that are ecologically, ethically, and socially related. Adam Yuet Chau cites Bruno Latour’s work on Action-Network Theory (ANT) and definition of “actants” as both human and non-human, sentient and non-sentient, organic and inorganic, material and non-material, representable and unrepresentable “actors” in a network or assemblage of social relationships (Chau 133). Furthermore, he explains that the amassing of such actants (AA, or “actants amassing”) produces sociality that does not only privilege human agency; rather, it becomes new ways of re-evaluating human-nature or human-material relationships and environments as these actants amass, assemble, or become a composition (Chau 134). Jane Bennet proposes a similar idea as she examines vitality, not only through human or natural life but also through how non-human materials (stem cells, electricity, trash), humans, and the life that flows around organisms and matter become a way of examining political and human life (Bennet 11).

In our production of Nawa’y, the usage of natural material created a contrast to the fictional world and performance of the project, and showed an actual cultural/natural environment of the region, including mountains, and a green and tropical landscape of Southeast Asia. However, with the addition of theatrical props, actions, spectacle, and audience, a new world, or place, was (re)created at that moment of the performance. It is a place where organic, inorganic, cultural, technological, and bodily materialities and animacies were conjured and narrated as the performance materialized a threatened condition of a society, region, and environment. Similarly, the planetary and theatrical worlds of community plays discussed above did not just portray fantastic representations of ecology and society but they also became a place themselves that allowed actions and activities such as recycling, education, environmental immersion, political intervention, rehearsals, and spectatorship that addresses global climate change and local environmental and social issues.

Theatre, as an assembly/assemblage, a process, a creative and critical composition, a place of actants amassing, is not only a representational and whimsical planet but an actual planetary location where we can consider and address the dire ecological issues that we are all confronting. More than this, theatre and performance is a place and a time where/when interventions against ecological change and destruction can be realized (such as recycling, education, or community-building), or, in and of itself, theatre contributes to the environmental problem as unsustainable practices are not excluded from the production of art in this period of late capitalism. Future scholars and theatre-makers should consider these issues. As performance scholars and makers, in the field of PS, we are not exempted from tackling life-threatening conditions and situations such as global climate change.

In the end, we suggest that — through such a dramaturgical approach: a more detailed examination of a play as a complex or specific planet, complete with ecologies, competing characters, and narratives, a refraction of another world, or the actual world of precarious beings, objects, and lives amassing — a planetary performance studies is possible. In the end, we argue that theatre and performance repositions thoughts, ideas, and experience, without the need of hi-tech satellites as they generate new locations, multiple and actual views, and experiences amidst an endangered planet.


[1] We thank Ma Ledda Brina Docot for her concept of the ‘anthropologif’, which inspired us to use .gif images alongside our dramaturgical notes and reflection.

Works Cited

Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity At Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

Bennet, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press, 2010.

Cervera, Felipe. “Planetary Performance Studies.” GPS: Global Performance Studies. 1:1 (2017). Accessed 18 December 2017.

Chau, Adam Yuet. “Actants Amassing.” Sociality: New Directions, Edited by Nicolas J. Long and Henrietta L. Moore, Berghahn Books, 2013.

Deldoc, Eljay Castro, and participants of Cope/with/Land Theatre Company. Nawa’y Muli Tayong Makauwi, Directed by Dennis Gupa, Performance by participants of the community project, Funded by ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, Garden Pavilion, Makiling Botanical Gardens, UPLB, Los Baños, Philippines, 2 October 2015.

Dumlao, Emmanuel, and participants of Cope/with/Land Theatre Company. Sapagkat Hindi Delubyo ang Tawag Dito, Directed by Dennis Gupa, Performance by participants of the community project, Funded by Laguna Lake Development Authority, NCAS Auditorium, UPLB, Los Baños, Philippines, 7 October 2009.

Fuchs, Elinor. “EF’s Visit to a Small Planet: Some Questions to Ask a Play.” Theater. 34:2 (2004), 4-9

Heaney, Lawrence R., et al. “A New Genus and Species of Small ‘Tree-Mouse’ (Rodentia, Muridae) Related to the Philippine Giant Cloud Rats.” Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 331:1 (2009), 205-229

Lazam, Jon, Angelica Dayao, and participants of Cope/with/Land Theatre Company. Gulantang! A Children’s Musical, Directed by Dennis Gupa, Performance by participants of the community project, Funded by the City of Tayabas, Casa Comunidad, City of Tayabas, Philippines, 20 November 2011.

Maiquez, Reagan R., and community participants of a theatre project by the Office of the Mayor Tayabas City and University of the Philippines College of Agriculture Extension Program and Sibikong Kabataang Pinoy Inc. Oh! My! Gulay, Directed by Dennis Gupa, Performance by young people of Tayabas and students of UPLB, Casa Comunidad, City of Tayabas, Philippines, 19-20, 23-25 October 2008.

McKenzie, Jon. Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance. Routledge, 2001.

Olan, Sarah Jayne. “Looking Back: The Records of Ondoy.” Rappler, 26 September 2014. Accessed 18 December 2017.

“Presidential Decree No. 813 October 17, 1975: Amending Certain Sections Of Republic Act Numbered Forty Eight Hundred Fifty, Otherwise Known As The ‘Laguna Lake Development Authority Act Of 1966’.” The LAWPHiL Project. Accessed 19 December 2017.

“The World’s First Climate ‘Refugees.’” IRIN: The Inside Story on Emergencies. Accessed 18 December 2017.