Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Play Called Pagat

A Play Called Pagat
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Marianas Variety
Later this month, the University of Guam will be holding a series of special premiere performances of the locally written and produced play, “Pågat.” This play and these performances are made possible through a collaboration with UOG’s Theater and Chamorro Studies programs and the cultural dance group Inetnon Gefpago. The play will focus on the complexities of contemporary and historical Chamorro identity, through a cast of four modern young adults and the memories of a cast of spirits who share with the audience key moments in the history of the Chamorro people.

Full disclosure, I am one of the playwrights for this play and so naturally I am biased in terms of its awesomeness and its potential. This play was originally written by Victoria Leon Guerrero and I for the dance group Inetnon Gefpago. In 2010, their leader Vince Reyes asked Victoria and I to write a play that would celebrate their ten-year anniversary. The play was titled “Guahan: Fanhasso, Fanhita, Fanachu” and was performed for two packed nights at the Sheraton Hotel.

In this form however, it wasn’t so much of a play in that dramatic style, as it was in truth a musical meant to celebrate the many dances and chants that group had performed through their 10-year history. There was a cast of characters, but not much time was spent on characterization because the main focus for the night was to be on the dances. Like other Chamorro dance groups, Inetnon Gefpago creates dances for different eras in Chamorro history from the ancient to the colonial to the contemporary. This performance focused on showing Chamorro history, its humor, its tragedy, its vibrancy all through the creativity of the dances.

Last year, Michelle Blas, a professor in the Theater program at UOG approached Victoria, Vince and myself about taking that original concept but transforming for the stage at the UOG Fine Arts Theater. The three of us were very excited about this possibility and quickly agreed.

Victoria and I worked for months rewriting the script, spending more time on developing characters and bringing out through dialogue certain sensitive and difficult issues that Chamorros struggle with today in terms of their culture and their place in the world.

The original play was written during a time of controversy on the island, the infamous DEIS period for the military buildup. The possibility of losing access to the Pagat area of northeastern Guam had upset many people, young and old, Chamorro and non-Chamorro. As writers Victoria and I did our best to try to tap into that moment of our recent history and build upon the way people have rediscovered a sense of sacredness around the Pagat area.

The story takes place years into the future when the Pagat area has been taken by the US Federal government and closed off to the public. Four young adult Chamorros travel there in the middle of the night after having dreams where a voice calls upon them to “Fanhasso, Fanhita, Fanachu.” (Remember, Unite, Stand) They are joined in Pagat by a group of “aniti” spirits of their ancestors. While the contemporary youth debate and argue over issues such as the militarization of Chamorro culture, the authenticity of Chamorro dance, the revitalization of the Chamorro language, the spirits of those who came before also debate. They look at the youth, arguing and feeling lost and disconnected from their heritage and also debate as to whether they should lend their guidance and protection to the Chamorros of today or just abandon them. This provides a very interesting reflective experience, what would Chamorros from different points in our history say about us today? As time has passed our people have changed, and so if you were to ask Chamorros from 1940, 1840, 1540 and 1140 what they thought about Chamorros today theirs answers might or might not surprise you. Would they see us as being completely different from them? Or would they perceive the ways in which continuity and a sense of peoplehood have remained intact? Would they perceive Chamorro identity in a narrow or broad way? How do people today follow the same narrow or broad patterns?

Earlier this year, as director of the play Michelle Blas submitted “Pagat” to be considered for the Kennedy Center for the Arts Theater Festival. If chosen, “Pagat” would be performed next year in Washington D.C. as part of their annual festival. We received word that the Kennedy Center is interested in the play and will be sending out a representative to watch the play and talk to the cast.

The dates for the play are April 24, 25, 26 and May 1, 2 and 3. All shows are at the UOG Fine Arts Theater, and start at 7 pm, with doors opening at 6:30. Tickets are $10 general admission, $7.50 for seniors and youth. Admission is free for UOG and GCC students with their IDs.

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