The Big Bad Interview – Full Transcript

 I sat down to interview the folks behind the Big Bad Wolf sale for this article:  http://news.abs-cbn.com/life/02/22/18/5-things-big-bad-wolf-founders-learned-from-ph-book-sale
Thanks to the BBW Founders for the interview 🙂

i ended up with about 9 Word Pages of material from  Andrew Yap and Jacqueline Ng (founders of BookXcess, the company behind the Big Bad Wolf booksale, and Miguel Mercado, Big Bad Wolf Philippine’s Marketing Head. The article had to be heavily edited for the news site’s short form format. 

I didn’t really ask much questions. Each short question was met with enthusiastic, eloquent answers. It was a pleasure and privilege to talk to them.

Publishing it here in its somewhat raw transcript (with typos and the occasional annotation) is the of the 40-ish minute interview with the hardcore, hardest-working book geeks behind the biggest book sale in the world.

VVB: Tell me about Big Bad Wolf. How did it all start up?

Jacq: BookXcess started 10 years ago and we started with a bery tiny bookstore. 500 square feet. It’s all about one thing, it’s too increase readership in Malaysia by providing affordable books. It’s a very simple mission, but with one bookstore, we couldn’t do much. So in 2009, we decided to create an event called Big Bad Wolf where people come and bring their friends, because when you go to an event, you don’t go alone. So that’s how we see the positive impact of how a big bad wolf event will have a very positive impact of increasing readership, by converting non-readers to a reader.

VVB: Tell me about the growth from Malaysia and going to other parts Southeast Asia.

Andrew: We started in 2009. It was only in Kuala Lumpur for 2-3 years. There were a lot of requests to go out of kuala lumpur. So we did quite a few stints, about 7-8 different locations around Malaysia. It was about two years ago in 2016. We did our first overseas event in Jakarta, and then a a few months later in August 2016, we did one in Bangkok.

Jacq: What happened was that the motivation that we get from organizing Big Bad Wolf, even from our first event which had only 120,000 books at the fair. We saw people coming in when people say that there is no market for English books. When they say that there are no people reading in their country. But we saw people streaming in for Day 1 despite it being the first time. The positive comments that everybody was talking about was that we allowed them to try new genres, we allowed them to try new authors. They’re so excited to buy to give to friends to try to spread the joy of reading and promote reading. So many people buy as presents, they keep a stack to give as birthday presents, as Christmas presents. So we realized that this model can work. So when we borught the sale to Penang, Johor, CHingganu, Ipo, We bring it out to people in the rural area, not in the big city where books even less accessible. They basically don’t have access to books. There are no major bookstores there. So where we are kind of stable in Malaysia especially when we knew that we had succeeded for the past 6 years, we have saw a very positive growth. When we started, Young Adult books didn’t sell in Malaysia because first of all, readership is low and teenagers don’t read…. At all.

So children’s books always sell because the parents will buy for the kids. So young adults are always a tougher sell. But after 5 years, the young adult books sold out. And we started to realize that it was because of our 5 year effort. For the past 5 years, our younger readers when Big Bad Wolf started have become teenagers.. So they have become readers themselves, and now they’re coming in to Big Bad Wolf and now are buying Young Adult Book. So we could see the positive progression and this gave us a lot of comfort that it works.

So when we are stable in Malaysia and the team has also grown from just two of us, so now a big team of us with management staff and we think we are ready to go overseas to demographics similar to Malaysia, English is not the firtst language. Books are generally expensive due to a weak currency, readership is low, also because of prive and accessibility to books. That’s why we chose Indonesia, Thailand to go in first.

And now we’re in the Philippines

Andrew: I think what Jacqueline mentioned, going to countries where people don’t even read English and creating such an impact there. It’s amazing. If you see the pictures of Big Bad Wolf Bangkok. It’s really something to behold.

Jacq: Normally the crowd comes in midnight. Most of the time, the hall is most packed almost around midnight because people come in after 10.You can’t even go in anymore. Tyou literally close the door because you cant fit in persons anymore.

Andrew: Philippines happened really quick. We met Luis from GK (Gawad Kalinga) about 7 months ago. And somebody introduced us, he was in Kuala Lumpur for a conference. He met us, we sat down, and we shook hands right after that meeting saying that “no matter what happens, it’s going to happen in the Philippines”. He did ask why we have never thought of goping to the Philippines which we actually wanted to do but we just never had the correct partner. I mean the Phlippines is not an easy market to get in. We had no friends here, we didn’t know anybody. Btu we knew that it was a market  we wanted to go in to, not because we think that we will do well here. But because we knew that the Philippines needed something like this. And so luis was saying that, if you come to the Philippines, you don’t have to worry about any problems, you don’t have to worry about any fears.

We are disruptors. SO when we come, a lot of people in the industry misunderstand us. And then it can be a negative thing in the beginning. Without friends, we can’t do that. So he said, whatever fears you have, let GK Take care of it.

So we formed a partnership, the whole reason why we have a superstar team here. Theya re all from GK.

Miguel: Well GK has a big network from the people who work in HQ to GK partners. We all just have the same mission and advocacy. The advocacy aligns for both Gawad Kalinga and Big Bad Wolf so it was very easy to get together. Second, yolu also see how much people work so hard here. Everybody is really focusing on the advocacy.The heart of the advocacy plus the joy of seeing people as they enter, it’s like they’re kids in a candy store. They’re jumping up and down, and like you, they say “”Ahhhh… the smell of new books.” And they start running up and around the corridors and start buying. What it hink is clear here is the advocacy, the heart of how it started, how it continuies to grow, and how people also come and realize that they are building a nation, improving the way we do critical thinking not only for us bhut also for the next generation. Whenever you have something like that, it just pushes forward and we’re very happy that Big Bad Wold has come here. And the plans really, are how we can bring this to more places in the Phlippiunes.

Q: Sot here are plans to go to other parts of the Philippines?

Miguel: There are plans, and I think it’s really about finishing this sale. BNut to dream with an advocacy, and to dream with a mission, it’s always there. It’s nice to see how people with the right, similar values are just going to come and will be coming.  I think what’s more magnified in the Philippines is how appreciative the customers and the other partners are. I think if we can measure the amount of THANK YOUS, THANK YOU FOR COMING, THANK YOU FOR DOING THIS on the scale in the PHiluippiunbs. I think it will continueto drive the mission.

Q: What kind of groundwork to prepare for the coming fort the Big Bad Wolf?

Miguel: What was good about Big Bad Wolf was that they already knew what to do. So the transfer of knowledge really became a sprint for everybody. As soon as we got confirmation, our teams got together and just started to run in terms of getting the venue, getting the markets, getting FB marketing up, making partnerships with people who also want to make a nation like ABS-CBN. All of that became a sprint to get Big Bad Wolf Phlippines happening. And we contrinue to sprint. Maybe after the sale, we’ll rest for a few hours (laughs) and then Im sure we’ll be working on the big ones already. As long as people share the same value, then it’s so much easier to work. It’s not perfect, but once everyone has the same value and same direction, it makes it easier.

Andrew: What makes it very meaningful, this event has so much PR mileage. And with a partner like GK and what GK stands for, we are able to maximixe the PR Mileage to the very end. Like getting more people to read, getting more partners involved, and also helping GK. To us, it’s not just abnout selling books, it’s not just about getting people to read more, but the whole reason we’re doing this is we want to change lives, and this is what GK does. You know they change lives. So us being able like a magnet to bring people together and gk being here and getting more, it’s another arm of rgk, literacy, that will value add to whatGK does. To us that is very very important. To have the right collaboration. We never had any collaboration this in any other country. Yes we have great partners.In any country we have grest partners, They never see the commercial aspect, it’s always one thing to make a change in their own way, in their own country. But here, working with an organization like GK makes the whole event to the m,aximum what we can do and moving forward.

Jacq: When we talk about Big Bad Wolf even back home. I always remind the team that there are only three words that we care about. We are here to CREATE, to INSPIRE, and to EMPOWER. Everything we do, we move towards that objectiove and that mission. And GK is the same, the book that they gave us is HOW TO CREATE DREAMS, When we furst met GK and the first gift they gave was that book, you marry someone so perfect. So identical. Books are the same. When a child gets the correct book, that child will be next president of the country through dreams and being inspired. And only by briging the book here, and I’m not talking about cheasp books, but very good quality books and at prices everybody can afford and let them be acceissible. Reading and books should not be a luxury item and to certain upper class people. It’s more important to the lower income people. They resally need thsat inpsirtation and that power. When you inspre them, when you emporwr them, it’sd a totally different story. And that is what GK does everyday. It’s just a perfect marriage and we were so excited, which is why when we visited the philppines for the firsty time in july last year, we saw the amount of the country where the pobveryt of the people even in metro manila area, and we were quite surprised that Malaysia being pretty privileged compared to here. And the venue said that this is the only slot we have, Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year is a very big thing back home. “How are we gouing to do Chinese New Year?” We asked our project manager. What do you think? And he said, I would do it but I will ask my team as well. And she went back. The first thing she did was she spoke to her team about our visit here, and the special unique thing we are trying to accomplish here in the Philippines. The majority of the team said yes so everybody will sacrifice their Chinese new year to be here. We won’t do it for any special unique reason except for the special unique collaboration with GK and the additional meaning it carries for the Philippines, that’s why we are here despite we had to sacrifice the new year to be here.

Miguel: To emphasize that sacrifice, Chinese New Year for Chinese, for Malaysia. It’s basically like giving Chirstmas up for Christmas. It’s when reunions happen. Where you go home to families and families come home to you.

Jacq: It’s also a duty to our parents that we have to be home,. It’s very hard to tell your mother that I won’t be home this year. IT’s very hard to do that.

Miguel: Just for that sacrifice the team has gone through, they gave up Chinese new year plus nobody sleeps here. It’s not a written rule. People just come. For us, we don’t have a time. The Filipino group. We see how much they work. We try to equal. But it’s amazing how much people work

Andrew: Half the time, we need to go home and sleep.

Jacq: There’s just so much work. Every country we go to, I think we’re the only event  to do 11 days straight 24-hours non- stop. People have never done it bvefore. The convention center has never done it befiore. Everything is first time. But why did nobody do it? It’s so hard to even organize something like that. To get the staff. To get the commitment of the organizer to commit to an event like this. 11-days 24 hours nonstop.

Andrew: The Cost

Jacq: and the cost, excluding the setup and the teardown. And we are the only person in this event. We are not a book fair with lots of people and exhibitors.

Andrew: There;s only one reason why we started 24-hours. That is so customers will not have the excuse “I got no time to come.” When we first multed the 24-hours, the managers were saying that ‘you’re going over your head because overheads will be doubled and it’s not worth it.” As long as one customer comes in after midnight, the battle is won. That is how we should always look at it.”

Jacq: In the part of the world where we are, where a lot of us is a dual income family. A lot of them work dual jobs. Nobody has time to go out after work. And if we open the usual hours, close at 9 or 10pm. They will never come. After work, it’s already 8 or 9pm. We are just here for the first time in Metro Manila. People drive here. Like there was a customer the other day who took a jeepney for three hours to come here.  If we do have a closing time, it’s going to be hard for you to plan your trip. Like, what time do I reach there, do I have enough time to shop? Oh I don’t think so, IMaybe I go tomorrow, it will never end.

But if the door never closes, you are free from that burden.

Andrew: and here there are a lot of call centers, and these people who work at the call centers sleep during the day and work at night. And they will never get to come here if we don’t open 24-hours. And Manila is a city that never sleeps

VVB: Can you tell me about your relationship with the publishers? How do you get the prices so low?

Andrew: Not just the relationship with the publishers. How we are able to get the books so affordable is a combination of many things. Number One: It starts from us having the mission before the commercial sense of it. Numebr two: having the right partners who understand where we are coming from. We all have the same mission and then, the publishers. Everyone coming together to make this event successful. Everybody playing their parks. Publishes see a role that we play in the whole  book industry. The book industry is a complex business. They understand that we are not here to destroy the market. If we wanted to destroy the market, we would probably do this three times a year, maybe quartery or four times a year. But no, we are only here4 once a year. This is just to boost the industry. To injext some excitement into the industry. To get people to startr reading. People who have forgotten the joy of reading, and those who have mnot experienced the joy of reading, this event enables all to read. So the publishers see the role that we play and they work with us for the prices that we need and we have the support of over 100 publishers. IT is a very special position so to speak

JN: We also started the business very small ten years ago. Our suppliers had a chance and the time to get to know us.They seen us grow from very small, a two person company, to what we are today, and they see the dedication and the effort we put in. You know go through every book, we negotiate every book. No buyer buys books like that. Just to buy five books, we go through every effort. We don’t miss books. We cover every book they have available. We choose what we want for the market. Some of them were curious, top management and business owners  themselves. They say that you two are so hardworking and of course they want to know more.and when they learn about our mission back home and especially our sale has grown to a certain size, in 2011is when we started the biggest sale. 1.5 million books at that time. I have UK and American Publisher who came and witnessed the sale. Thinking “are you going to sell at the price you bargained so hard for?” “Are you really going to sell that price that you told me?” They flew all the way to see. “Like you say you’re going to sell at this price, are you going to sell at this price because you keep on haggling the price?” And then when they came, they were going through our tables and looking at the prices tag and of course we sold at the agreed price. And they keep on saying to them

Andrew: They literraly said “ You can’t do this. You can’t make money because it’s so cheap” They know the cost.They know the operations because some of them are resellers too.You’re going to crash and burn”

Jacq: You have no margin at all. And of course our books are non-returnable. But when they saw the door open and when they saw the custimers walk in, they got so inspired. They were nonstop taking pictures and videos on the phone. And the moment they went home, they have big operation back home. They have hundreds and hundreds of staff and they showed the photos and videos to their staff to inspire them. This is where thebooks go, this is who he books are benefitting.

Andrew: So now they support us even more. Sometimes when we negotiate price, I say “I nreally need this at this price.” And they say, ”aggghh” they know they’re going to lose money. They say it’s ok because it’s for the war effort. I mean literally, Those are the words they used. Because they know that to countries, especially developing countries like the ones in Southeast Asia, it’s really a war against corruption, poverty, and so many other issues the majority of the world is going through oppression. We know that books and education is the key to get out the change.”

VVB: I’m sure you’ve travelled around the world. How do you compare the readers of Asia to the rest of the world?

Andrew: very different. Initially, if you think KL and Manila. Is probably the closest compared to Thailand and Indonesia because they don’t really speak much English. Children’s books will do well because they can’t really read English. The older generation. If you are above 20, normally you don’t read much. It’s a burden for parents to get kids to start english. Naturally the childrens books do well.

Well here is a mature market similar to Malaysia, the difference that we see here compared to Malaysia. Is that You guys are so much more, how would you say, deeper readers? Let\s say like Biographies. In Malaysia, the biography readers are surface (?) but you guys go deeper into politics, history. In Malaysia, readers would go to a general history book. In the Philippines, readers would go right down to a particular person. That’s one of the diffence

Jacq: We go to countries like England and the US where we get the majority of our books. I mean it’s a totally different culture. In southeast asia probably because of the culture of wehere aour grandparents and parents are, we have never been a society that reads. I have not. He has not. Been in a family where our parents read to us.We grew up in a home where there are zero books. But idf you go to a british or American family, it is quite normal for their kids to be in bed by 8oclock. We sleep at 12oclock since young. Ive never slept at 8oclock. They put their kids to bed, They have a certain lifestyle. Our lifestyle is our parents work until 9-10pm and we sleep at 12am. So it’s a totally different thing. You know they read to put their kids to sleep. Our parents couldn’t even speak a word of English. There is a portion of us that is into reading but a majority of southeast Asian families, we never had that luxury or that environment, For education wise in school, it’s all about academics, how to passs your exam, how to get good grades, how to make sure you go to university, it was never about reading for pleasure. So when we were growing up, reading was for passing an exam, it was never for entertainment, it was never for pleasure, so thast is the current environment that we grew up with whish iis very different  from those who grew up in more developed countries like the US and the UK. The challenge of changing that in Southeast Asian countries is to inculcate that habit. And you need to start 1 generation, that’s all. Because if you become a reader, you will automatically impart that habit to your kids. And when your kids become readers, your kids impart that to your grandkids, their kids. So we juut have to start with one genewration but we have to start somewhere. And to start the habvit is not a one event effoirt, it’s not even a two year effort. To me, a minimum 5-10 years.to change a certain majority of society to have that impact and for that to spread. Because if you are a reader and you come here, you might have 10 friends that did not come here. But because of you might have bought books and gacve it to them, and it’s because of you that they started reading. You will be picking books that they like. For example, if you ahad a friend who loves cars, and yuou saw a beautiful book about cars,  and you thought of him, and you buy and give it to hgim because the price is so affordable. So Through one customer, it litereally not just impacts him and his family, but it impacts his circle of friends and family. Imean this is what big bad wolf is all about. What the advocacy is all about. Why we make our lives so hard and why we price the books so low so it is easy for you to give?

VVB: In your few days here, what are your observations on the Filipino Market/Customers/Readers?

Andrew: For us, it’s been an emotional journey. The cultures are very different. Yes, we are ASEAN. Yes We are neighbors but honestly it’s very different. Sometimes we think how small our world is, but when you start learning about a totally different culture. Learnung and understanding our new friends, Initially, we were quite disappointinged that there were a lot of stray books. Meaning customers when they come in they get all excited and pick a lot of books and they find out they have a certain budget and they go to acorner and they just put the books that they want and it can be 80% of the books which is a nightmare. We have 200,000 books at the back. Now, If i give you a book right now and I tell you to put it back in the table, how long will it take you?.. How do you put back 200,000 books? It’s an impossibvle taks and that of course will hurt the sales. You notice that some of the tables are empty, some people are saying im looking for this bhook. Wehre is this book? It’s actually in that 200,00 books that we are working day and night. We have increased manpower to try to sort it out. But the tide of books that are coming in, we cant control. But we realize that this is why we’re doing this. And then they to get books will change people.l Get them to understand, to get them to empathize more what other people are going through, mutual respect. And all that kind fo thing. We also realize that we shouldn’t be disappoiunted but we should just take it in stride. This is one of the challenges and this is why we are here. Its not that that the public is purposely doing this or that they are inconsiderate. It is just how things are and how we can work to I prove it. Rather than get frustrated and channel our energy

Jacq: Its about education. It’s about educating them to let them see.ohhh, it’s a different perception that they didn’t realize that it costs so much problem.

Andrew: we do it too.sometimes you just don’t want one item. But here it’s 30,000 people doing it. We gotta understand their part. That is the only downide. The upside, there are a million upsides. Seeing the crowds, the response, the crowds are very appreciative of what we do. It’s probably 1% of bad and 99% of good

Jacq: I mean the true motivation, every customer I met, whether they are a journalist like you, or a stranger, or a partner, or one of the VIPs who were here during the launch. Every single person I was introduced to say Thank you for being here. For bring the sale to pHilippines. I mean for the past 10 years, we do receive a lot of appreciation and thank you notes, but never have I for once, receiecved thank you as though every single customer. You get 10% appreciation for any business, it’s a very strong adovacay already. Customers don’t have to say thank yuou  to them it’s a transaction. For us for the past 10 years, we get thank you njotes, FB Posoticive comments, but never had I onece have repeated appreciation from every single person that we met and until today when I go to the bank, the bank officer, when they know I am big bad wolf, they are like, thank you coming to the Philippines. That really touches me

Andrew: The Filipinos are really genuine people.

Jacq: And also we saw the comments, one thing about the stray books we realize it was to meet a budget. And the rich can alkways affor the tyhings that they need, they can buy books and accessibility is not a barrier. But the people who are not travelling or who have limited budget are the ones, thjat big bad wolf is all about. It is only through us, that is the only way they they can get books.

Andrew: the more stray books that we get, that means that we are attracting the correct crowd, the people who really need us. Those that can afford books, they will come natureally on their own. But our market is those who cant afford books.thgos that don’t have books around thgem. What happens when you attract them? This is what happens, the stray books,m the orphan books. The more orphan books that we get, the better. But it hurts us very badly.

Jacq: It’s just education. Sooner or later, when they realize it. They will know that by knowing their budget, even if they don’t want it, they’ll kow how to put it back. Both parties have to learn how to respect each other. But the fact that they are here, with a caertain budget and knowiung that they can bvring home four or five books, that is for us the biggest success of big bad wolf manila. I mean there are people who buy in trolleys, they can afford it. But the people who touch me most are the people who come with limited money, but they bring home with big smile four books and even two books.

VVB: What books are doing well?

Andrew: Very different. Fiction is doing very well. Business and Self-ghelp. But this is a testament as to what a mature English market is But of course, we are pshing very hard childrens section.Getting the kids to readm that is our priority.

VVB: Any Last words?

Andrew: We would like to say to tell everybody. We are here until this Sunday. Do come and visit us we’re here until Sunday. Admissions is free. It’s 24 hours. Even if you’re not into books, just come over and see. It’s the world’s biggest book sale. It’s airconditioned, get away from the heart. For those who have come, thank yuou, let the wordget around and tell all your friends. And we’d really appreciate the media for all the coverage thast they ahvegiven us. We could never ever have done it without you guys. This is evcerybody contributing and making this event successful. All out partners.

Godspell 2017

MANILA — MusicArtes’s production of “Godspell” returns for a limited run.

First staged by MusicArtes last year, “Godspell” is a retelling of the Gospel with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwarz, the man behind “Wicked.” The first act is a collection of entertaining, sometimes irreverent, interpretations of the parables, while the second gives way to the passion of the Christ, from Jesus’s increasing clashes with the Pharisees, to the last supper and to His eventual death and resurrection.

The cast is a bit different from the first run but still a veritable who’s-who of Philippine theater. Lorenz Martinez replaces Red Concepcion, who is preparing to play The Engineer in the UK tour of “Miss Saigon.” Gab Pangilinan replaces Sheila Valderrama-Martinez and gets to sing the play’s iconic “Day by Day”. Multitalented actor-beatboxer and “Rak Of Aegis” musical director Myke Salomon capably replaces OJ Mariano juggling the role of John the Baptist and Judas.

An Anton Juan-directed play never fails to make its material relevant for modern times. During the performances of parables shunning greed and hate, the audience gets to see projections of fascism, human trafficking and US President Donald Trump in the background. This gave a looming dark side to this “Godspell” staging.

This production of “Godspell” is set in a slum area. At first glance, it’s easy to mistake the junk heaps for some sort of surreal aquarium because of its shimmering Day-Glo inspired lighting. The setting itself is clever as junk and trash are recycled to make spectacular props to make eye-popping scenes. The misery and ignorance often associated with slum dwellers are nowhere to be seen. Rather, slum dwellers wax philosophical about Socrates, Descartes and retell the parables in different ways.

Juan liberally scatters memorable moments throughout the production. There’s Jef Flores channeling the gentle Christ during the parable segments, Maronne Cruz’s transformation from a ukulele playing hippie to a rocker chick in mere minutes, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo’s indie Mary Magdalene, the “All For The Best” vaudeville two-man comedy act, the Japanese retelling of the Prodigal Son, Caisa Borromeo’s showgirls-inspired “Turn Back, O Man,” and the post-intermission reprise of “Learn Your Lessons Well” where the entire cast can be seen playing a musical instrument. These are just some of the bits that made me go “awwww” while I watched “Godspell.”

I thought that this production was a wonderful celebration of the Gospel. There is just so much joy in this production. And in the end, that is what worship is really all about.

“Godspell” runs until May 21 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium of the RCBC Plaza, Makati. Evening shows at 8 p.m. on May 12, 13, 19, and 20, with 3 p.m. matinees on May 14, and 21.

NOTE: This review originally appeared as http://news.abs-cbn.com/life/05/12/17/theater-review-godspell-returns-with-all-star-cast

Geeking Out On Saving Sally

 

I first ran across “Saving Sally” on Facebook with an appeal from its creator, Avid Liongoren, appealing for funds to finish the film’s post-production. A short trailer with unfinished special effects and at times, black and white animatics, gave funders a preview of the movie.

Even then, it was obvious that it was going to be something special. Live actors composited on animation were somewhat reminiscent of the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Mirrormask.” But after much excitement from the local geek community, it disappeared from the scene.

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m glad to say “Saving Sally” was rescued through Liongoren’s blood, sweat and tears as he literally gave up almost everything just to finish this movie.

The movie does not disappoint. The crowdfunding trailer did do justice to the end result, and at the same time, tempering expectations for an indie special-effects laden movie.

The movie’s tagline, “A Very Typical Love Story,” is true to the plot. That is, if a typical love story involves nightmarish monsters, steampunk inventions, and geeky parents. Told mostly in English, the love story has beats from the Japanese anime’s “will-they-won’t-they-someone-say-something-already” plotline.

Enzo Marcos plays artistic Marty, a comic-book artist who falls for the titular Sally, a quirky “inventor-mercenary” played with much gusto by Rhian Ramos. We follow Marty’s quest to save Sally from the monsters he sees in the world and, ultimately, from herself. A shout out to Bodjie Pascua, who plays Marty’s dad. Any computer-game- and gadget-loving geek would love to have him as a father figure in the few moments he’s on screen.

The world we see is through Marty’s comic-book fueled eyes. And what a world it is! Off-kilter shapes, dazzling colors and cartoony extras with touches of Filipino culture like jeepneys, a certain masked character that goes around UP, and street food vendors make the Manila Enzo and Sally live in familiar yet otherworldly at the same time.

The film’s age shows a bit because of the lack of dynamic moving shots. Most, if not all, of the scenes with CGI backgrounds were done with the characters in just one place. This is where the creators really showed off their quirkiness, passion and creativity. The phallic CGI character of Sally’s boyfriend, Nick, was borderline juvenile but in the end, still was used to make a point.

The film proudly shows off its geek and comic book inspirations. A reference to the death of a certain robot leader in a particular animated movie decades ago back drew a laugh from the audience members in-the-know. Shots of local Filipino comics “Trese” and “Elmer” were a nice touch. Even the gadgets that Sally uses are cobbled together with bits of steampunk and robotics.

But special effects do not make a complete movie. I thought there were some dragging sequences. At times, the two leads seem to disconnect. I thought the resolution of one of the major subplots of the movie felt jarring. What I liked was the way the movie ended with sequence to wrap everything up.

This movie really reminded me of “RPG: Metanoia” (read my review here) from the 2010 Metro Manila Film Festival. With its heart and brain on its sleeve, “Saving Sally” is like Liongoren writing a love letter to its intended geek audience. Even Sally outrightly says she prefers geeks to the athletic types. Geeks will love the easter eggs, the cultural references, and certain scenes that pay homage to other fantasy and sci-fi movies. Everyone else will be wowed by the effects and the love story.

I really wish we had more Filipino films like this. It is not a perfect movie but, in the moments where it shines, it absolutely dazzles. Highly recommended for the audacity to tell a very typical love story in a very atypical way. Stay until after the end credits for a really nice animated short.

NOTE: This was originally published as http://news.abs-cbn.com/life/12/26/16/review-geeking-out-on-saving-sally

9Works Theatrical’s A Christmas Carol 2016

MANILA — The story of Ebenezer Scrooge has been staged countless times by local theater companies. And why not? It’s a timeless story that’s perfect for the Christmas season.

Yet jaded theater fans would probably say “Bah Humbug” to yet another version of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” with anticipation of “same-old corniness” of this story of Yuletide redemption.

9Works Theatrical and Globe Live’s dark and magical production of Lynn Ahrens’ and Alan Menken’s “A Christmas Carol” quashes these expectations with a light and sound spectacle seemingly made for modern audiences.

At its core, “A Christmas Carol,” which opens Saturday, is really a ghost story set in the London slums during the Industrial Revolution. While this is still a family-oriented musical, 9Works Theatrical dared to bring this dank setting to the Globe Iconic Store stage.

This version of “A Christmas Carol” has the beats of a Disney movie. I thought that the music was very similar to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” particularly during the dark parts. The music was given justice by the 22-piece 9Works Philharmonic Orchestra and guest choirs that will be appearing throughout the run.

What first struck me entering the venue was how the massive the set was. The set was three floors high and had islands and bridges that extended into the audience. I think that it would be better to pick a seat at the back to fully see what is going on. This became more evident as the play progressed as so many things were happening on stage that it was pretty hard to look back and forth and take everything in.

Miguel Faustman, himself a veteran of various versions of “A Christmas Carol,” plays the miser Ebenezer Scrooge. The character fits him like a glove. This time, though, there is a menacing quality to his Scrooge.

“Miss Saigon” and “American Idiot” veteran Ariel Reonal plays Scrooge’s doomed partner Jacob Marley. The first appearance of the character is scary and sets the tone for the rest of the ghosts.

Norby David’s Ghost of Christmas Past was playful and lithe, bringing Scrooge back to happier times and showing his eventual descent into a miserable human being.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, ably played by Franz Imperial, brought Scrooge to the present, showing how yuletide joy could be found despite the dark setting. This is where I thought the production dragged on a bit due to extended dance numbers and borderline bawdy set pieces.

And then there’s Ela Lisondra’s Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come, a silent graceful harbinger of the fires of damnation. Don’t blink during this sequence as things happen very quickly.

It’s rare to rave about the special effects in a local theater production but 9 Works Theatrical was not shy about showing off their technical mastery. From little touches like changing window colors to denote multiple timelines to terror inducing phantasms, digital projection, sound design and lights come together to repackage an old story into a spectacle today’s audience can appreciate.

A surprise on Christmas morning on stage with the cast singing the last song makes for one of the most joyful finales I have ever seen on a local stage.

It would’ve been easy to make this another corny production yet this was a grand ensemble play with so many movie parts. 9Works Theatrical and Globe Live have elevated “A Christmas Carol” into a magical, big-budget, light and sound musical spectacle.

Yet with all its shiny trimmings, “A Christmas Carol” doesn’t lose its heart.

“A Christmas Carol” opens Saturday and runs weekends at the Globe Iconic Store in Bonifacio High Street Central until December 25.

NOTE: This was originally published as http://news.abs-cbn.com/life/12/03/16/review-a-christmas-carol-is-haunting-yet-spectacular

Blue Man Group at Solaire

MANILA — When you get into your seat, look up! The laughs start even before the show starts with irreverent announcements discouraging texting, drone-flying, plerking, and cob-wobbling (whatever that means) that escalates quickly at the expense of several hapless audience members.

Then the show begins in earnest with the acclaimed Blue Man Group.

Founded in 1991, this multi-awarded part-performance art, part-science lecture, part-rock concert, and part-improv act hits Philippine shores for the first time, opening at The Theater of Solaria Resort and Casino on Thursday.

The onstage shenanigans of these three silent blue painted men will amaze, tickle and, at times, gross out. Nothing is spared in the insanity as liters of paint, mashed bananas, marshmallows, Twinkies, Jello, fire extinguishers, tissue paper, deadpan voiceovers and lucky audience members are used to roll-in-the-aisles comedic effect.

The show serves up a kinetic feast for the senses where the transitions between scenes come at a frenetic pace. Day-Glo, pastels, and the iconic Blue Man Group wind pipe organs work with the technical whizbangery of lights, and gigantic moving transparent LED screens to make this show a spectacle of sound, and a symphony of sight. It is an absolute joy to watch this live just to feel the bass when the percussions kick in.

This polished production isn’t afraid to alternate between eardrum-splitting head banging sets and small intimate scenes that build up to its grand penultimate act that transforms the theater into a big playground that will make adults feel like kids again, leaving the venue into a delightfully beautiful mess.

This is one show that should not be missed for the laughs, the spectacle, the jaw-dropping sense of amazement, and for the zany blending of science, music, comedy and art.

The Blue Man Group is on a limited run at The Theater at Solaire until September 25.

NOTE: This article originally appeared as http://news.abs-cbn.com/life/09/16/16/review-blue-man-group-offers-feast-for-the-senses

La Soiree at Solaire

MANILA — “La Soiree” is French for “the party” — and what a party it is!

It started as a midnight cabaret 11 years ago and has since been performed in Paris, London, New York, Stockholm and other global centers of culture. “La Soiree” in Manila, which opened Wednesday, marks the first time the show has been staged in Asia.

The experience starts at the foyer of The Theater of Solaire Resorts and Casino. Half an hour before the house opens, the speakers blar big band marches, beckoning the audience into the theater.

Inside, the first thing the audience sees is the stage — a one-ring circular elevated platform taking up barely a third of the theater stage surrounded by the “Cabaret section,” crowned with a string of lights that change the room into the inside of a small circus tent.

The house lights dim and the ringmaster takes center stage encouraging the audience to partake of the “refreshments” at the foyer bar, mischievously proclaiming that La Soiree “is THAT kind of show.”

At its core, La Soiree is a circus — spectacles of sensational feats of strength and dexterity shaken and stirred with mischief and naughtiness. High-flying trapeze artists and gentlemen acrobats in bespoke suits flex their very well-defined muscles with hula hoops, roller skates, pogo sticks, jump ropes, and much more.

It is also an utterly hilarious show. The show’s cross-dressing clown, Legato Chocolat, sets the stage for the many laughs that follow. Early in the show, a comic contortionist comes in and shows what you can, or rather, should not do with a couple of old tennis rackets. There’s the roller-skating flamenco dancer who makes her own Spanish telenovela; and a bungling roller skater juggler whose talent lies elsewhere.

The humor of “La Soiree” has a wickedly naughty side. Forget double entendres! It has blunt, straight talk about sex and its many derivatives. Cusswords are let loose in spades. This is definitely not for the weak-hearted or the close-minded. In one act, a politically incorrect lothario concludes his overtly lascivious diabolo act, telling the audience, “You’re all pregnant!”

Another act will guarantee that you’ll never listen to “America, The Beautiful” the same way again after an insanely raunchy kazoo rendition corrupts the song for you forever.

Strip-trapeze artists just elevate the naughtiness to new heights. To its credit, “La Soiree” reins it in enough to still be quite tasteful and not stray into rated-R territory.

“La Soiree” is not always loudly in-your-face. In one of the show’s quiet moments, a bubble artist waxes poetic about the science and philosophy behind his soapy creations. This discourse is supplemented by a poignant piano piece that just lulls the audience into a meditative hush.

From “Nessun Dorma” to Madonna, the soundtrack accompanying the different acts is beautifully curated for the audience to fully immerse themselves into the world of “La Soiree.”

The show’s artistry is a joy to behold. For the creators to figure out how bathtub water can make an aerial rope performance sensual and spectacular, or how an iconic scene from “Singing in the Rain” can be reinterpreted into an adept pole dancing act, is just amazing.

Apart from some minor quibbles with the audio equipment (which will probably get fixed in the succeeding performances), this show is technically polished. Performers come and go almost without pause, seamlessly transitioning between acts.

During steamier portions of the show, the stage is transformed for a moment into a cigarette-filled nightclub with smoke everywhere and backlight illuminating what was a fully-clothed performer just a few minutes ago.

It is a joy to watch this. The best seats aren’t near the stage. The best seats in the house are in the Cabaret section ON the stage. Along with the best up-close and personal views of the performance, lucky(?) Cabaret audience members have a chance to be part of the acts.

“La Soiree” shows that there is spectacle in intimacy. It is a rare gem of a show that’s not just to be seen, but to be felt and to be experienced.

Creative producer Brett Haycock remarked: “La Soiree is a celebration of the weird and the wonderful. It is a celebration of differences and people who accept everyone.”

A celebration of our sometimes naughty, often weird, always wonderful differences.

NOTE: This article was originally published at http://news.abs-cbn.com/lifestyle/09/24/15/review-la-soiree-mixes-circus-adult-cabaret

Rep’s 76th Season Preview

My love of theater started with Repertory Philippines a good fifteen (or so years ago). It was with a little play called “Noises Off” which that old movie with Christopher Reeve, Carol Burnett, Mark-Lynn baker was based. An evening in the theater turned into a lifetime fascination with the stage.

Fifteen (or so) years later, Repertory Philippines is still one of the bastions of Philippine Theater ushering in its 76th season with an excellent selection of English straight plays and musicals. Marking it’s 45th year of bringing English theater to these shores, there’s something for everyone in the next season’s plays.

First up is Boeing Boeing to be directed by Miguel Faustman. This marks stage and screen veteran, Michael de Mesa’s first appearance in a Rep play. The story is about a man who uses flight timetables to meticulously manage the schedules of his girlfriends. His girlfriends are all flight attendants on different international airlines and routes thereby guaranteeing they will never run into each other. Flights get delayed, Flights get cancelled and chaos ensues…

No Way To Treat A Lady is a musical black comedy about two men with domineering mothers. One of the men is a serial killer who only kills women who look like his mother. All the victims will played by the same actress (who also plays his mom).  Audie Gemora, Michael Williams, Carla Guevarra, Pinky Marquez and Sheila Francisco are featured in this muscial.

Rounding out the regular season is the return of Cherie Gil to the Rep Stage. The Graduate, based on the movie that made Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft iconic

Repertory Children’s Theater, making the transition to Repertory Theater For Young Audiences will be bringing back Alice In Wonderland this season.

The major production for the 76th season will be Mel Brooks’ The Producers. The story of a broadway producer whose idea of raking in case is to produce the worst play ever performed in a theater. Things don’t go exactly according to plan.

When Pink Is The New Green…

Very late last year, I decided to take money management more seriously. This started with a really bad injury whose very expensive treatment was not covered by the company HMO. My finances took a big hit. And that’s when I decided to really study alternative income streams.

I discovered that a lot of my savings were really just sleeping. 0.2% (minus taxes, minus service charges) per annum was a shock. My mutual funds took a hit when the global economy crashed a couple of years back.

As a stock market noob. all I was really doing was trolling for tips wherever I could find them. On the other hand, I’ve also been looking for as much education as I can about trading and investing.

Thus, it was a blessing that I ran into a prodigal friend whom I haven’t seen in 15 years, Charmel Delos Santos-Marcial, who was in Manila promoting her new book, “High Heeled Traders”.

I will admit that I wouldn’t have bought “High Heeled Traders” on my own volition. How a screaming pink book can turn my portfolio numbers green was sort of hard to fathom. The things we do for moral support (sigh). It’s a stock market book that’s really targeted towards women. The pink cover will shoo away the most hardened macho stock market trader wannabe.

But if the reader strips away the anecdotes and side stories clearly aimed at the book’s target demographic, one will find an extremely friendly introduction to trading that can be appreciated and understood by anybody who’s about to take the plunge into trading/investing. The book’s scope ranges from the very basics of choosing a broker and how to buy stocks to somewhat intermediate topics like position sizing and option trading.

One of the gems in the book is the brief discussion on Van Tharp’s position sizing and the concept of R. While it is very introductory, it will really help stock market beginners to manage risk and control their investments. This brief discussion really made me google Van Tharp to look for more resources on the net. For more on Position Sizing, surf on over to http://www.vantharp.com/

There are some inspirational rah-rah anecdotes in the book encouraging newbies that anybody can make decent money off the stock market. But interspersed in between are cautionary pieces of advice, often backed by the author’s own failures in the market. This gives a much needed dose of reality warning beginners to know what they’re getting into before investing their hard earned money.

The book is not perfect. In the later editions, I’d like to see the flowcharts and tables more professionally produced. There’s a “dot matrix” quality to these that make them quite hard to read. I also think that flowcharts should have dedicated pages as shrinking them makes the already sometimes-blurry text even more of a chore to decipher.

While the chapter on options is very thorough and very easy to understand, we don’t trade options in the Philippines. Nice to know, though, if the reader plans to trade elsewhere.

Yet, despite the easily fixable layout glitches, “High Heeled Traders” is a really good book for those who’ve always wanted to try their hand at the stock market but were too intimidated to try. The author brings stock market buzzwords down-to-earth for anyone, woman or man, to understand.

It’s not an end-all book on stock trading. Experienced traders might find the treatment shallow. But rather, think of it as a springboard to other more advanced books by William O’ Neill, Van Tharp and Martin Pring. It’s an appetizer that makes the main courses of Fundamental Analysis, Techincal Analysis, Position Sizing and <insert trading buzzword here> more palatable.

High-Heeled Traders is available in the Philippines from any Fully Booked branch for about 1,500.00. Part of the book’s sale price goes to funding United Nations women empowerment programs.

The author can be reached at www.highheeledtraders.com where visitors can get a free preview of the book. She can also occasionally be seen lurking in Phil. Stock Market Discussions, Comments and Forecast   facebook group where  she moderates a High Heeled Traders sub-group specifically for women traders (though the men sneak in once in a while). 🙂

A most entertaining RIVALRY

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkFvFILZpZs&w=420&h=315]

When I first heard that someone was producing a musical about the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry, I thought that the folks behind it were a little bonkers. And with that, wished them a whole lotta luck. The reason was that the other original Filipino musicals with English lyrics I’d gone to really didn’t leave an impression. They were great attempts but far from unqualified successes.

I was right, sort of. The people who’re behind RIVALRY: Ateneo-La Salle The Musical are bonkers. And I mean that in the BEST possible way. Who’d have thought that the La Salle-Ateneo basketball-centric (but not exclusive) cycle of one-upmanship could become a killer musical?

This is not just some cheapo production. RIVALRY has a huge ensemble composed of theater veterans whom regulars will instantly recognize. The whole cast fills up the stage at portions of the show. No mean feat as Meralco Theater has one of the widest stages among the performing venues in Manila.  Ed Gatchalian’s score, Joel Trinidad’s lyrics, and Jaime Del Mundo’s book and direction come together for a very entertaining night at the theater.

Set in the alternate-timeline of the 1968 NCAA basketball season (nb. I write “alternate-timeline” because La Salle and Ateneo did not meet in the NCAA finals in 1968.), the story revolves around the basketball shaped world of the Valencias and the Basilios. The Valencias representing the Ateneo. The Basilios, La Salle. Something seemed to happen a long way back to spark a bitter rivalry between the two patriarchs. A rivalry that’s been passed down to their sons. Paco, the star Blue Eagle and Tommy, the ace Green Archer. Quito, the younger Valencia, falls for a Maryknoller and asks his cousin, Tommy for advice on how to win the girl. As with stories like this, things get quite complicated.

The show had heaps of interesting moments: the ROTC number citing the Science/Math inclination of La Salle and the Liberal Arts specialty of the Ateneo,  pre-game locker room scenes that capture the war-like fanaticism of basketball, a hilarious song number by colegialas (Spanish accents! No Valley Girls!) about La Sallian Sallite boys, actors singing while doing burpees and push-ups, a musical tongue-in-cheek speculation on how the rivalry began (CHICKENS!) and some other scenes (which I will avoid raving about to keep this spoiler-free).

Oh yeah, La Sallites Sallians beware! We are the butt of the big jokes in this play. You’ve been warned!

The show isn’t without fault. I thought that the first act was a bit too long. Possibly because so many plot points had to be set up for the second act. I thought that the orchestration sometimes drowned out the vocals. But then, this was the same problem the last time I saw a play in this venue.

My highlight of the evening was getting to meet Noel Trinidad who I thought stole the show with his short cameo. Watch out for him when he shows up on stage! I made the effort to congratulate him after the show. I’ve been a fan of the Champoy duo ever since I was a kid (Yeah, looong time ago). It was fun geeking out about theater with people who’ve made the stage their lives. Yet another moment where I really regretted not having a camera.

Ed Gatchalian, the man behind the music, said that while the Philippines has one of the most the most talented pool of theater actors in the world, the local theater audience is not expanding as it should be. He cited the need for original content that the audience, not the writers, would like. The rambunctious La Salle-Ateneo rivalry is something that a lot of theater-goers would remember as either a rabid participant or an amused spectator. If this gets La Sallians and Ateneans to troop to into the seats and watch their FIRST theater production, this may pique their interest to catch others. The increase of theater-goers may then support the creation and production of original Filipino material.

I think that everybody will get something out of Rivalry.

For Archers and Eagles, it’s a story of why we should give credit to the other for ending up who we are, for better or worse. For Maroons, Tigers, Falcons, Bulldogs, Warriors, and Tamaraws, it’s your chance to laugh at the sheer spectacle (and sometimes ridiculousness) of it all.

Highly recommended. Support Philippine Theater!

RIVALRY: Ateneo-La Salle The Musical will be staged at the Meralco Theater from January 27-29, February 2 to 5,  February 9-12, February 15-19, February 22-26, February 29-March 4, and March 7-11.  Shows startsat 8pm on Wednesdays to Saturdays with 3pm matinee shows on weekends. Get your tickets at Ticketworld branches or from the Ticketworld Web Site or call 891-9999 for details

The obligatory rivalry joke:
(school names removed to protect the guilty)
A conversation between 2 students from [SCHOOL 3]
Student 1 : Isn’t your Dad from [SCHOOL 1]?
Student 2: Yeah.
Student 1 : And isn’t your Mom from [SCHOOL 2]?
Student 2: Uh-huh.
Student 1: So why are you here in [SCHOOL 3]?
Student 2: My Mom and Dad were at each other’s throats for for weeks trying to get me to enroll in their alma mater. Finally, during one of their really heated arguments. I had enough and just shouted at the both of them to just let me decide where I’d go for college.
Student 1: And?
Student 2: They didn’t take too kindly to me shouting at them. So they both told me to GO TO HELL! And that’s why I’m studying here in [SCHOOL 3]

Onstage in 2012

I haven’t been collecting as much info as I should regarding the theater scene this year. But from the little info I have, these are productions that will be making a dent in MY credit card bill this 2012.

  • You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown (9Works Theatrical) – After scoring a home run with Sweet Charity last year, this should be a fun a way to experience your second (or third, or fourth) childhood.. The songs are recognizable as commercial jingles and Sesame Street songs from ages ago.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gL-kWD8Gtdg&w=420&h=315]

  • Jekyll & Hyde (Repertory Philippines) – This is one of those cast recordings I’ve been playing for what seems like forever. The once overplayed “This Is The Moment” comes from this musical. Besides that, there are are other more powerful, darker and more interesting pieces in this show. I’m really curious how they will present the transformation scene where Jekyll turns into Hyde.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k23ztv7Qyhk&w=420&h=315]

  • Rock Of Ages (Atlantis) –  This promises to be a fun rock musical with the music of Starship, Journey, Twisted Sister, REO Speedwagon among others being used (and lyrics amusing mangled) to tell the tale of up-and-coming rocker Drew, the in-danger-of-being demolished rock club, the Bourbon and mega-ego rocker, Stacee Jax.  It’s interesting that the movie version of this with Tom Cruise will be showing this year too.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBI0DNn0g_c&w=560&h=315]

  • God Of Carnage (Atlantis) – Lea Salonga and Menchu Lauchengco-Laurel in one play sharing the same stage. ‘Nuff Said. This has a VERY limited run so expect tickets to disappear really quickly. The movie version of this play will also be showing next.
  • Forbidden Broadway (Upstart)a mishmash of broadway parodies making fun of Les Mis, Miss Saigon, Rent, Wicked and other hit shows. Though it might not be as enjoyable for those who aren’t familiar with the songs and the shows, the inside jokes and numerous winks will have theater regulars rolling in the aisles.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pa0pw6SIWtA&w=420&h=315]

  • Virgin Labfest 2012 (Tanghalang Pilipino)this annual collection of short plays performed at the CCP showcases the best of the best of Filipino playwrights. Check out the CCP website for featured shows and schedules when this comes around.
  • The Phantom Of The Opera (Concertus) –  The company that brought Cats and Stomp! to CCP will be bringing an Australian cast to stage Phantom in the CCP. I really want to watch this though I’m sure ticket prices will be through the roof. Not really happy about the acoustics of CCP from watching Cats. Expensive seats are a must to get full satisfaction from this. But if anything, Cats was a spectacle. Phantom, with the lavish sets and costumes will be even more so. If they use digital backdrops like they did with the 25th anniversary at Royal Albert Hall, this is really gonna blow the audience away!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGUSFVEvTio&w=560&h=315]

There will be returning shows from last year. Atlantis will be restaging Next To Normal and In The Heights. Defending the Caveman and Love, Loss and What I Wore will also be restaged for those who missed it last year (or those who want to see it again).

And Yes, I know there are other awesome productions this year. With my severely limited budget (‘specially after Phantom), I have to be really choosy stingy. 🙁 The list is also subject to change (we all have dreams of winning the lotto, right?)