First Play For and By Tikbalang Triggers Uproar on Opening Night

In this story, most of an ambitious play director’s all-human cast walks out on him due to his unrealistic demands. He finds supernatural Philippine creatures to fill in the slots instead—and because they’re supernatural, he was able to bulldoze the limits of a typical theater play, much to the chagrin of religious leaders, activist groups, and even his fellow artists and writers in the scene.

The “tikbalang story” as I call it is the first in a world where what I’m calling (for now) The Chronicles of The Archipelago Daily take place. When I wrote this back in 2013, it was the most ambitious and experimental piece of fiction I’d created. Little did I know that it would open doors for me, such as finally getting published in the Philippine Speculative Fiction series of anthologies and landing a slot at the 2014 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop in San Diego, California.

In 2013, I was still working as a Desk Editor for GMA News Online. I was fresh from college and from a local writer’s workshop in May of that year. I was also suffering burnout after months of working on my thesis while I was at the workshop (and for many months after, too). I found the panel to be kind at most and civil at worst outside our sessions. But there was a clear aversion to engaging with speculative fiction on its own terms and to the writing of the Manileños in general–so much so that I did not receive a single critique that could help me improve the work I submitted. I knew my story wasn’t perfect–hell, I submitted the very first draft as part of my thesis on the final day of the deadline–so I wasn’t expecting praise. Then again, I  wasn’t expecting to become collateral the realism vs. speculative fiction debate, either. At the heart of this debate is prescriptivism about what writers should be writing. I take issue with anyone dictating what others should write—especially what they should write in order to look, sound, and feel Filipino.

But that’s another story for another time.

When August rolled around, I was starting to climb out of my burnout. At the same time, my friend and former co-worker Ronin introduced me to his Agosto Series, wherein he posts flash fiction in Tagalog in honor of Buwan ng Wika. That’s when I got the idea to write a speculative fiction series in news article format. I researched different types of articles and video interviews (particularly, the one featuring animal rights activists campaigning for the transfer of the elephant Maali, whose illness was a big issue at the time) just to get a feel for what I wanted to do. All the while, what I’d seen and heard during the workshop was turning over and over in my head, until I got angry enough to write this story, which was originally titled “A Cha-Cha with Insanity” after one of the subheads, before I changed it to “First play for, by Tikbalang triggers uproar on opening night.” (It was changed to “First Play For and By Tikbalang Triggers Uproar on Opening Night” when it was published in Philippine Speculative Fiction vol. 9. the following year. I kept that title when I had it reprinted over at Expanded Horizons.)

The series this story belongs to, the Archipelago Daily series, was funded by the 2018 James Tiptree Jr. Fellowship.