Last week, the excited young boys and girls of Our Lady of Guadalupe High School in Manila dolled up and rolled up for their annual prom. The longing glances, sideways looks, exposed calves, thick mascara and hip flasks you could use to identify high school proms the world over were all evident, and the night no doubt de-evolved in to rambling flirtatiousness and salacious encounters between many a jock, geek, rock chick and baseball star. And the whole thing was broadcast, in near-real-time, on Facebook, through the 40 hyper-active accounts of these tech-savvy, motor-mouthed teens. Through their Facebook pages and status updates, we may also find out about the broad range of interests the students of Class Hope have, their love/hate relationship with their class advisor, Fraser Salamon, we may know who is sexing who, who you go to for drugs, who throws the best parties. We get the lyrics of new songs they’ve written, sketches they’ve done of their class crushes, commentary on sports games, updates from every single waking moment of their angst-ridden, thoroughly pedestrian, adolescent lives.
The only thing that sets the 40 children of Our Lady of Guadalupe High School’s Class Hope apart from any other bunch of high school kids in any other country in the world is that none of them are real.
Each and every teenager is an elaborate, extended workshopping tool devised in collaboration by that student’s performer and the team of Australian writers for Sipat Lawin Ensemble’s world premiere of Battalia Royale. The names Fraser Salamon, Victor Vicente, Sophia Villafuerte and Rhae Isidora del Prado? Mash-ups of existing Filipinos’ Facebook friends and the names of convicts on most-wanted posters spotted in the Mindanao islands. The prom, their house parties, gym training sessions and rock band rehearsals? All completely fictional, acted out in the past-tense by Facebook status updates and enhanced by a choice, staged photograph here or there. Our Lady of Guadalupe High School is entirely make-believe.
And yet, for the last 6 weeks, since haplessly deciding to allow our workshop actors to interact with each other as their assigned characters on Facebook, to develop their relationships further outside of rehearsal time, any person with the mixed curse/blessing of having befriended all 40 students on Facebook, as well as their teacher, as well as the school itself, will have been witness to a never-ending stream of the character’s interactions, hearing all about their prom and, in a most bittersweet turn, their discussions on the upcoming “class excursion” to Mount Pinatubo. The permission slip, sent “home” to their “parents” is available on the Battalia Royale blog, along with a comprehensive chronicle of every character’s personality, relationships, and strengths and weakness (not only as human beings, but as contestants in the deadly government program to which they will soon be subjected). I would read up and get to know them while you can. They haven’t got much time.
What this means is that Sipat Lawin’s scheduled performances have become tangible, meaningful dates in the lives of over 40 people; 40 people who, up until that opening night, will be chatting amongst themselves, flirting with and cyber-bullying one another, wholly unaware that two months ago a script for a play was written which dictated the terms, time and location of their brutal deaths. They don’t even know that they’re characters in a play, and there’s no point warning them, because they are actively being kept ignorant by their puppet-master performers to the coming events in their lives. What better device in the history of mankind to separate actor from character than a username and password? In an age where our real-world identities are becoming further embedded in a virtual abstraction of ourselves, it would appear the inverse is also becoming increasingly possible; that fictional characters, if given such freedom, can develop an online persona (which in turn infers an organic existence), which may well match or even surpass those of their real-world counterparts. Catherine “Kakai” Gail Bantagan, the angel-faced whore with a switchblade in her panties is just as real, if not more to me now, than the friend of the friend I went to high school with who I now never see any more. The only difference is, in a matter of days Kakai will be kidnapped and sentenced to a death-grudge-match against 39 of her other classmates, and will try to smile, slice, and fuck her way out of it any way possible. Whereas that friend of a friend of mine will simply continue to post pictures of their average-looking boyfriend, and complain about peak hour traffic. Who is more worthy of your time? What is the more worthwhile use of such social-cum-storytelling platforms as Facebook? Though it begs the question – how will Facebook react to an email from Sipat Lawin Ensemble, informing them of the deaths of over 40 users, and requesting their accounts be archived? Will 40 death certificates require forging? Or will the electronic ghosts of Our Lady of Guadalupe High’s Class Hope live on, online, long after the final machete has been swung and the last explosive round set off in a classmate’s brain? We may never truly know, in an online community of static images and doctored samples of inner monologue, who is real and who is fiction. Watch on, watch on, watch on.
Game begins tomorrow.
February 21, 22, 23.
Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/263719753697143/