Transforming Theater for the Oppressed: Community Theater as Urban Poor Discourse in Sining Kadamay’s Gapok
In March 2017, the issue of urban poor housing was exposed on a national scale when thousands of members of the urban poor group Kadamay forcibly occupied nearly 6,000 abandoned housing units meant for members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police in Pandi, Bulacan. Kadamay members were accused of being mendicant anarchists by their critics, while their supporters lauded their determination in demanding, and winning, their rights to housing. While the issue polarized Philippine society, it is evident that the Occupy Pandi movement revitalized urban poor discourse, and brought back to the fore the contradictions between the promises of the city and the prevalence of poverty and lack of opportunity for the majority of its inhabitants, those belonging to the urban poor sector. This paper aims to contribute towards this discussion by attempting to present urban poor mentalities as formulated by the members of the urban poor themselves, and how they have manifested through art. Among the various member organizations of Kadamay is the cultural group Sining Kadamay or SiKad. Initially formed by Kadamay to serve as its cultural arm, SiKad grew into an organization-member of Kadamay. While Sikad has several art programs, this paper will focus on its theater program, the Teatro Mulong Sandoval, and its one-act play Gapok. Set in an urban poor community threatened by poverty and demolition, what makes Gapok unique is its intimacy, not just in content but also in terms of space, as the play was designed to be performed in urban poor communities, and transform its audience from spectators to spectactors. The paper will scrutinize the dynamics of the art production in Gapok, how accurately it reflects the discourses that the urban poor engage in, and the role of the urban poor in (trans)forming art to serve their sector.