SUPREME FEATURE: Dwein the Virgin
Stefan Punongbayan (The Philippine Star) - June 25, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - So how was your first time,” I ask the 31-year old playwright.  With her usual booming baklang babae mien she replies, “Lahat naman ng first time exciting at masaya! Kahit medyo di mo gamay, sugod lang!”

It was back in 2010 at Cubao Expo when I got introduced to the then-stylist and all-around artist Dwein Baltazar.  She was the HBIC of the wardrobe for Chito S. Roño’s musical film Emir.  Dwein was the quintessential hipster when the label was still casually thrown around, when Meiday was the hottest gig party in Metro Manila, when the renaissance of the bohemian lifestyle was at its peak.  From my recollection, we hit it off pretty well after a couple of Red Horses outside what used to be known as Mogwai Cinematheque.  She got me as a bit player and made me look chic AF in Chris Martinez’s Temptation Island remake a year later.

Fast forward to 2012 when Dwein released Mamay Umeng which she wrote and directed.  I doff my snapback cap to her for the Batangueño-language film graced the screens of Cinema One Originals, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in Czech Republic, Mumbai Film Festival, and Jeonju International Film Festival where it won Best Picture. The Letran-schooled storyteller has since moved on to being a mother and wife, from which she draws the strength to create stories like Ang Debutante sa Bubungan, her first real one-act play for CCP’s Virgin Lab Fest (VLF).

The incubation

For most of us who’ve had our virginities taken with consent (as every sexual encounter should morally and legally be), there had been prior resources and primal experiences to learn from.  Dwein here is not new to telling stories; she was that geek in the corner of the classroom who would dutifully craft scripts for and act in class presentations and Buwan ng Wika dramas back in high school.  Think Glee but a little more in touch with reality.  Only this time, she’s upping her ante and stirring things up at VLF.  “May pakiramdam na pagbabalik sa roots ko. Parang kahit noong pelikula na ang focus ko, yung dula nasa back of my head lang at naghihintay lang na mabalikan.”

Somewhere in the middle of her artistic career, she received a calling of a different kind.  Dwein got pregnant right after Mamay Umeng, so she and her husband decided that it was best for her to take on a maternal role while writing.  It was not until a couple of years and a few scriptwriting workshops later that she swore to set her eagle eyes on creative production, of course with a little help from her friends. “Noong unang beses ako makapanood ng VLF, gusto ko na talagang subukan. Last year noong nakapasok si Gege (Juan Miguel Severo), isang kaibigan, saka lang din ako nagkaroon ng lakas ng loob, so thanks Ge!”

Of course, her lovemaking process with storytelling was a rocky one and fraught with tension.  “Sa pelikula, andami mong panahon at paraan para mag-establish ng characters at mag-build ng conflict. Sa one-act play at sa VLF, nakakahon ka lang sa isang eksena kung saan kailangan mong magawan ng beginning, middle, at end.  Bawal ang masyadong ligoy; dapat on point ka agad!”  After all, it does take a meandering learning curve to shift between media, especially from cinema to stage.  The elevated wood-and-concrete leaves very little room for dawdling, only a big enough space that maps the route from point A to C.

The birth of an opus

Tuwing nanganganak ng isang akda o kapag nakakatapos akong magsulat ng material, laging magkahalong saya’t parang nabubunutan ng tinik only to have that tinik again come showtime,” Dwein says with a cackle.  “Tapos makakahinga’t mabubunutan ka ulit ng tinik kapag nakaharap at nakahanap na siya ng audience. Kapag pinapanood na siya, sobrang gaan at saya kahit ano pang reaksyon ang ibato sa kanya.”

Ang Debutante sa Bubungan is Dwein’s virgin birth.  While the title role may fit her very well as someone who just got her dramaturgical cherry popped, she dedicates her script to the latent queer in many of us.  I had this concept for a horror-comedy film from way back. ‘Yun yung naging simula ko. Tapos namulot ako ng mga kuwento’t experiences ng mga kaibigan kong bakla.  Isa siyang coming-of-age play. May tatlong magkakaibigang may lahing mananangggal. Para siyang pag-embrace sa inevitable calling ng isang character both sa kanyang pagiging manananggal at gender. Alangan yung bida sa misyon niya bilang manananggal. The whole time ay binibigyang-lakas siya ng dalawa niyang kaibigan to finally do it (pagkain ng buntis at baby) parang singhirap ng pag-a-out.

Kaya ko rin pinili yung manananggal at kabaklaan ay dahil buhay pa rin naman sa lipunan ang takot sa mga bakla gaya ng takot rin sa mga manananggal.”

As a gay male, the premise honestly feels a little less analogous to what it means to be a Filipino queer who’s constantly challenged by society’s criterion of normalcy.  Yet, that’s what makes Dwein’s piece worth mounting (if you know what I mean) and viewing.  Virgin Lab Fest after all, is a testing ground for untapped talent and untold stories.  Maybe it was sheer luck that the full-time storyteller to two-year-old Sinta and wife to animator Pat Apura instinctively took to the softest bed.  “Wala akong masyadong connections sa loob ng theater. “Ang Virgin Lab Fest naman ever since ang pinakamagandang intro kapag gusto mong magsimula sa dula. Napaka-welcoming nila, lalo sa first-timers na kagaya ko, plus the fact na may solid na silang following na laging interesado sa mga bagong dula at playwrights. Nakakalakas lalo ng loob at napakasuwerteng maitanghal yung dula mo sa ganoong kapositibo at welcoming na audience.”

And her advice to every virgin out there? “Huwag magpadala sa takot. Andaming napapako roon at sa pag-iisip na hindi ka pa handa, dahil tingin ko kahit kailan naman ay hindi ka talaga magiging handa.  Uncertain ang lahat ng bagay kaya subok lang nang subok, sali lang nang sali, at sulat lang nang sulat.  I-immerse mo ang sarili sa medium na napili mo. Tipong, kung gusto mong magsulat ng pelikula, manood ka ng napakaraming pelikula. Kung gusto mong magsulat ng libro, malunod ka sa pagbabasa. Doon ka mahahasa.”  And we’re sure the conception will be most immaculate.

* * *

Tweet the author @Watdahel_Marcel. Catch Ang Debutante sa Bubungan, a site-specific play written by Dwein Baltazar and directed by Bunny Cadag on June 29 to July 27 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Debutante is part of Fragments, a suite of three one-act plays co-presented by PUP Sining-Lahi Polyrepertory.

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