BY LAI DEL ROSARIO
HEAD OF ARTS AND CREATIVE INDUSTRIES
BRITISH COUNCIL PHILIPPINES
On a quiet street in Metro Manila’s business district, a group of young dancers and artists are presenting Vaudeville-inspired dance acts during Fringe Manila. In an intimate black box, audiences (mostly women) have come to discover live music and different takes to the artform of burlesque. Not surprisingly, the room is packed. The show is an attempt to show sexuality and bodies in all shapes, sizes and genders. All this in a place called Pineapple Lab.
Pineapple Lab is an art organisation that is also a creative hub providing a space for performance and art exhibitions. It has been producing Fringe Manila since 2015, an open access festival similar to Edinburgh’s original concept of Fringe, which aims to make art more accessible to a wider and more diverse audience. For the Lab, the festival is about collaboration, community engagement and artistic exchange. The idea has resulted in over 180 shows in more than 100 venues in 2018 alone.
'Queer performance in such a cultural, social, political, and religious context as the Philippines is of course going to warrant a different audience response than in the UK, as it is not as commonplace. However, I have definitely come to realise that there is an interest in this kind of work here, as audiences have proven to be very receptive and up for it, which is brilliant and so crucial for a scene and community to develop',
Apart from Fringe, Pineapple Lab is also known for its special attention to programmes for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) community. At the Lab, one can attend regular events like Gayborhood Night ('a different lineup of queer performers sharing their talents, stories, and [more often than not] articles of clothing...') and Juicy Fruits Film Fiesta ('Celebrating fresh queer indie flicks!'). Such activities, therefore, offer a meeting space 'to talk about issues that concern the plight of our brothers and sisters in the Filipino context, strengthen networks within the LGBTQ creative community, and find out different means of confronting the realities of the LGBTQ community through the arts', explains Pineapple Lab Creative Director, Andrei Pamintuan.
Sam Reynolds is a London-based performer with British and Filipino roots, whose work aims to promote gender equality and inclusion by exploring themes on queerness, gender and sexual identity. Through a 2017 grant from Arts Council England and the British Council, he embarked on an artist residency at Pineapple Lab to develop new artistic work. He did an original piece, ‘Boy', during Vaudeville night, which masterfully combined lip syncing and dance. It was a commentary on sexism, misogyny, femmephobia and queerphobia, which was, all at once, entertaining, mesmerising and disturbing.
Reynolds also organised performance workshops for drag performers, burlesque dancers and circus artists. He was surprised by the participants’ level of engagement and the remarkable impact that the experience had on their level of confidence.