The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) celebrated “Performatura Goes Pop!” a three-day festival from March 31 to April 2 dedicated to Philippine literature, its history, and the artists that keep it alive. On its second day, Spoken Fest PH was brought to life through the collaboration of CCP’s Perfomatura Festival and Ampalaya Monologues, creating the biggest spoken-word event in the country by far.
Despite the blazing sun on the afternoon of April 1, crowds eagerly lined up at the basement level of the CCP’s Tanghalang Ignacio Jimenez in anticipation of Spoken Fest’s main event—which served as the heart of Perfomatura 2023’s second-day celebration—“From Page to Stage.” To gain entry, audiences were encouraged to bring old books to donate, which they gladly complied by arriving at the venue with book-propped arms.
When the doors to the theater officially opened, event hosts Kitty Bantayan and Justinne Punsalang introduced the crowd to Mark Ghosn, the ever-lively founder of the spoken-word collective Ampalaya Monologues, which made Spoken Fest possible. Since 2015, Ampalaya Monologues has been uniting Filipinos through performative self-expression through tales of love, heartbreak, and bitterness—the very feeling that inspired the group’s name. Mr. Ghosn openly expresses his pride for Team Ampalaya, the family he was able to build throughout the years. “Puso ang puhunan, hindi galing,” he says, pertaining to how Ampalaya Monologues was able to thrive as a platform for individuals who share the same love for spoken poetry.
Keeping in mind their motto, “From bitter to better, kasama niyo together,” the members of Team Ampalaya, along with other featured artists, bravely shared the most vulnerable pieces of their life to give audiences a safe space to grieve, laugh, and feel less alone in their own struggles. Despite the dim atmosphere of the CCP’s black box theater, the artists could transport ardent viewers to the colorful worlds they crafted in their individual performances.
As strong as espresso, Jaypee Ortiz started off as Spoken Fest’s opening act through his jovial performance of “Sunday’s Best.” Here, we followed the story of a waiter finding (and losing) love in the café he works in, complete with a series of serenades and punchlines meant to lighten its melancholic end. What comes after are similarly themed acts: stories both fictitious and true-to-life recited by poets navigating the ups and downs of life through the aid of pen and podium. From Beverly Cumla’s “Jak en poy,” a first-person narrative on the eventual end of a no-label relationship, to Cheryl Salvador’s “Ang Pagtatanghal ng Kalangitan,” masterfully written to bring comfort amidst losing a child, we gravitate towards the inevitability of love and loss—twin flames that indicate how one cannot be felt without also being doused by the other.
Nevertheless, featured artists also expressed their love for country, self, and family. For instance, Patricia Maomay’s hair-raising metaphors on the mythological manananggal empowered activism, depicting the youth's adversities while vocalizing the country’s current socio-political climate. Ry Dela Cruz’s spoken epistolary on being able to text an ex: “No thanks, next” as a reply to being offered the consolation prize of friendship inspired those who struggle to choose themselves after a bitter end of a relationship. Meanwhile, Raymart Abellaneda’s humorous chronicling of his lola and her “magic” served as a testament to how our guardians' simple acts to care for us in our childhoods paved the way for the people we become in the present.
Aside from spoken word, by presenting poetry in its diverse (and often forgotten) forms—rap acapella, prop-filled acts, and even full-set bands—Spoken Fest successfully showcased the continuing relevance of Philippine literature. Moreover, it also reminds us that as much as different types of love exist in the world, there are as many different ways of expression.
The event was officially concluded when the 14 performers graced the stage for a well-applauded curtain call.
In completion of the celebration of Spoken Fest, Ampalaya Monologues also hosted “Spoken Camp,” a writing workshop, in the morning beforehand, and “Spoken Nights,” an open mic event, which was held in the evening.