Mga kababayan ko

Pepe Diokno - The Philippine Star

Francis Magalona was a musician and he was bigger than rap. He was an artist and his dreams went beyond his medium. He was a nationalist and his voice was exactly what the Philippines needed. This week, however, a musical featuring his songs is debuting at the PETA Theater — and it is a fitting tribute because it has nothing to do with the man himself.

The play is called Three Stars and a Sun, and like Magalona, it tells the story of our society. In the year 2026, the plot goes, the world as we know it has come to an end. A nuclear war has rearranged international order, and on our shores, a portion of our population, the ones lucky enough to stay alive, now lives inside The Stormdome, a shelter made of durable steel. Its inhabitants are protected from the dangers of the outside world, but inside its curved walls, there are different stories — a stark contrast of paradises and prisons, haves and have nots, royalty and revolution.

The play narrates the struggles between the dome’s two sectors, the comfortable Lumino and the wasteland of Diliman. It is here, in a metal hell of unfair labor and poverty, that a spark ignites. It all begins with a striking arrangement of Francis M’s Mga Kababayan. Gangs then take over the streets as families in the one-percent fight for power. The result is a musical that is raw, political, rousing, and while it is set in a dystopian future, all too real.

This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race

With the main question of what our future will become if today’s problems are left like untreated wounds, writers Mixcaela Villalon and Rody Vera have created a piece that stings as much as it entertains, and pain and pleasure come in high doses here, according to the staging’s first audiences.

Villalon explains the potency of this approach well. “The most out-of-this-world stories will always have a kernel of truth,” she says. “(Our play) is not really escapism. It’s fantasy. It’s sci-fi. It’s the power of fiction. Be it the threat of dragons or robot uprisings, we sometimes need to wrap our everyday problems in an imaginative cloak to find the drive to face them anew.”

Vera shares his view. “Kung mayroon mang naging pinakamahalaga sa akin sa pagtulong ko sa pagsulat ng dula ay ito yun: Naging mas mahalaga sa akin, higit pa sa pagbuo ng isang mundong panghinaharap, ang ma-imagine kung paano nga ba tinatanaw ng lipunan sa hinaharap ang kanilang nakaraan,” he says.

The Next Big Hit

Turmoil on stage and a social stark message at its heart have Three Stars and a Sun poised to become PETA’s next big hit. The theater group has been on a roll of sorts, with multiple sold-out runs of Rak of Aegis (which featured the songs of 80s rock group Aegis). Expectations, however, put a slight strain on this latest offering, the people behind the play admit.

“There’s a lot of pressure,” Villalon says. “There’s pressure from the theater scene after the tremendous success of Rak of Aegis. There’s pressure from hip hop heads because of the music of Francis Magalona, pioneer of Philippine hip hop. There’s pressure from science-fiction nerds because the story is set in a dystopian future, and while Philippine sci-fi fans are a minority, they can carry all the viciousness the subculture is infamous for. And there’s pressure from activists across generations because PETA has a tradition of humanism and social responsibility. “

But Villalon and her team have set all that aside. “(This a project) that seems to have all my interests aligned,” she says. For her, it is always message before box office, just as it is for PETA, and just as it was for Francis M.

The Genesis

The Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) has done 48 seasons in the service of the Philippine stage. Times haven’t always been easy, but strong hearts have pulled through. With this latest staging, the group has remained faithful to its core. Three Stars and a Sun actually started as young people’s wake-up call for the elections, and not simply a ride on Francis M’s wave.

“Though the narrative will not tackle the elections per se, we still hope that the ideas embodied in the play can be both a source of inspiration and reflection on the historical and current ethos of the Filipino as we prepare for another national election,” says PETA artistic director Maribel Legarda.

After the play was conceptualized, the idea was pitched to the Magalona family, who assisted in securing rights to the songs from Francis M’s record label. It wasn’t a difficult process. Immortalizing the Man from Manila’s ideas in a narrative was on top of everyone’s minds.

More Than Rap

People with short memories forget, but It was Francis M who helped give birth to modern OPM. His “makabayang rap” — a mix rhyme and reason, music and nationalism — flew in the face of a pop music scene that couldn’t say enough about girls, fame, fortune, and vanity. With Kaleidoscope World, Mga Kababayan, and Kabataan Para sa Kinabukasan, he did more than entertain a generation. He inspired them. And his influence remains seven years after his death.

“Francis M’s music works as the perfect war drums for the play,” Villalon says of the many songs that were used for Three Stars and a Sun. “The story may be set in the future, but his songs ground us back to the present. The issues he rapped about are the same issues we had decades back, and will be the same issues our children’s children will face if we don’t act now. How many times can we rehash the injustices Rizal wrote about? History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”

The bittersweet privilege of handling Magalona’s lyrics wasn’t lost on director Nor Domingo either. “Where the premise of the play gladly goes hand-in-hand with Francis M’s themes is also where the sad truth of our realities sets in,” he says. “What we must do now is surface that reality so that we recreate the story of this nation for the future. It is the objective of this play to inspire today’s (millenials) young people to think beyond themselves and realize they are part of a bigger community, that they need to get involved in the creation or the process of determining their future. This can be done first by learning our history as a nation lest we move into a future where we have all forgotten what it means to be a Filipino. We bring you a future that is, sadly, very much like our past, and until the youth understand the threat of things repeating themselves, dystopia might be the only future we will create for ourselves and for our children.”

And with that, Mga Kababayan Ko becomes a call for the ages

* * *

The musical is now running until Francis M’s 7th death anniversary on March 6. Shows are Tuesdays to Sundays (Tues.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 3 p.m.  and 8 p.m.). For tickets, contact PETA(02) 725-6244, petatheater.com or TicketWorld(02) 891-9999, ticketworld.com.ph. Produced by DAVID MILAN













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