Filipino playwright helps domestic workers express themselves

Filipino playwright helps domestic workers express themselves
Filipino playwright Tony Perez (in white) conducts a playwriting workshop for Filipino foreign domestic workers at the headquarters of non-profit Transient Workers Count Too, as part of its outreach programme to domestic workers in Singapore on 1 June 2014.

Filipino playwright Tony Perez, 63, is encouraging a group of 25 foreign domestic workers to look within themselves.

In soothing tones, the award-winning writer addresses the workers, whose eyes are closed: "Look at yourself contemplating your problem. Imagine stepping out of yourself, looking at yourself being scolded by your employer or being laughed at."

He continues gently: "It will help you to look at your problem from a different perspective. Your problem may actually no longer be a problem."

The group exhales. Some of their cheeks are wet with tears.

This series of visualisation exercises was part of his workshop held on Sunday at the headquarters of non-profit Transient Workers Count Too, as part of its outreach programme to domestic workers here.

Many of Perez's workshops focus on bridging the conscious and subconscious in writing, on discovering the inner self and bringing that out in the text.

Aside from the Sunday event, he was in Singapore for the past week to conduct a six-day playwriting workshop at theatre company TheatreWorks' premises as part of its Writers' Lab, an incubator for playwriting. There were 30 participants, including some from China, Indonesia and the United States.

Perez, who is also a novelist and artist and holds a master's degree in clinical psychology, first came to Singapore in the early 1990s, also as part of TheatreWorks' Writers' Lab.

The bustling programme was at its peak then and he helped to groom a generation of practitioners who would become household names in the theatre scene, including playwright Desmond Sim and director Ekachai Uekrongtham.

Perez feels that Singapore's writing landscape has opened up and matured. He tells Life!: "The last time I had workshops here, there was absolutely no social media - no Facebook, no independent film - there were fewer options, less stimuli, fewer avenues for self-expression... I think younger writers are now more aware of what is going on in the world. They seem to be more concerned with a lot of issues."

He hopes to continue a sort of online mentorship with 10 of the participants of Writers' Lab.

They will send him one-act plays and he insists that the first draft must be complete before it goes to him for dramaturgy. He says: "What I want to avoid is participants depending on me to co-author, subconsciously, what they're doing or to tell them what to do - that's not the point."

He also hopes his presence as a writer from a different country has allowed this group of writers to see things "from different frames of reference, from different contexts". He adds with a slight smile: "It's nice for them to have insights from a writer who lives in a country that has no censorship and that probably has too much democracy."

The Manila native is pleased to connect with his countrymen through the Sunday workshop.

He says: "I'm very happy I have this opportunity - it's really to empower them and show them they can be happy anywhere. I used Filipino myths to show them how that applies to their life and to give them meaning in what they're doing."

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