It all started with a completely random phone call from Toff, the director of Dani Girl. It was a stay-home-stay-stinky day, and my deep existential contemplation session was (thankfully) interrupted. Instinctively, I knew that an interesting conversation was about to happen. He explained to me that he was already getting things moving for The Sandbox Collective, his own theatre company, the idea of which he had only just discussed with me in passing a mere month or two ago. (If there’s someone who tops my list of people who get shit done it’s Toff.) He then asked me if I was willing to do costumes for Dani Girl, the company’s maiden production. I really wanted to do it, but there were a few things troubling me. I was going to be juggling this with 4 other responsibilities: my marketing job, a musical for Megaworld’s 25th anniversary, Sandosenang Sapatos, and preparing for a Cinemalaya shoot. Of course, this thought only crossed my head for a split second before I decided I didn’t give a fuck and gave a lightning-fast no-brainer yes. Anyway, I thought, it’s a 4 person cast, it should be perfectly manageable.
I was totally wrong. When I read the script, I fell in love with it, but was also somewhat alarmed to find out that not only did one cast member have to play 13 other roles, but these roles were fantastical/sci-fi characters, each one drastically different from the rest. On cue, the pressure of singlehandedly costuming a professional show slithered into my gut and decided to rest its butt there. Still, in the greater scheme of things, I didn’t care. I felt afraid and too inexperienced for this. I literally had no idea how I was going to pull this off. But I was also completely and totally ready to grab this challenge by the balls.
The process was simultaneously grueling and rewarding. Thankfully the team liked all the initial ideas I presented during our brainstorming sessions (and actually, almost all of the initial ideas everyone discussed were what we stuck with, because they all kind of fit together in a weirdly serendipitous way.) But gosh, I remember those loooong 2 months so well. I was constantly worrying about finding the time to work on the costumes. In between rehearsal days (I had 2 rehearsals in 1 day; one in the morning and one shortly after after until night) I would be scouting for garments or materials, and those same nights I would be on all fours on the floor until wee hours in the morning, painting, sewing, gluing. I kept joking to myself that there wasn’t a day that I wasn’t bent over on the floor, smeared with some kind of craft-making substance. Being a major multitasker in college prepared me for situations like this, but many nights I felt insecure and worried about my amateurism amidst the deadlines and the durability required of the costumes. I found myself fighting to pull myself together by the last thread. My behavior was affected and I was always blatantly overcompensating, out of sorts, and simultaneously trapped in my head and all over the place because I felt really insecure about myself. (I especially remember it affecting my performance during the Cinemalaya shoot, but that’s a whole other story.)
I kept pushing, because if there’s one thing that always amazes me about theatre, it’s that in the end, things will always find a way to work out, and the show always will manage to go on. I knew that one day the show would be running, and everything that was once so difficult or problematic would be ready and going smoothly, and it would hit me that I did it; that we freaking made it happen– and it would feel cathartic as hell. True enough, that moment did happen. It hit me: damn, little ol’ me pieced together all those fantastical costume pieces that were not only durable, but had to accommodate quick changes as well. But I swear to whatever higher beings are out there, I would never have been able to do it without the amazing set of people in my Sandbox family who helped me (like literally helped me make the costumes) and most importantly, believed in me and trusted me.
When Toff called me up and asked me to do the costumes for Dani Girl, I knew I had to do it no matter what because I knew I was in for an amazing, magical experience. I was beyond right. Working on Dani Girl, as I wrote in a mushy Instagram post, made me learn and grow so much. It taught me to have the strength to believe in myself despite the pain of my shortcomings. It let me pour my heart out in both laughter and tears, fight about something, fight FOR something, imagine, create, tell a story, break, learn, touch lives, and be touched BY lives.
Dani Girl, the musical play in itself, inspired me to never doubt what the child in my eyes saw, and what the child in my heart felt, despite reality and everyone else telling me to give up in the guise of getting “real.” It enforced my belief in crazily chasing my dreams and the things that make me happy, because even if I may not succeed in the end, the amazing journey and growth I would go through would already be a great success. It reminded me to keep questioning, doubting, fighting, exploring the uncomfortable, because it would somehow lead me to the truth, if not new truths. Above all else though, it really made me want to be a much braver and stronger person.
I really needed Dani Girl. I knew going through this journey would do me some real good. It went beyond making me feel better about myself. In fact, it did the opposite– but in a way that I needed the most. Not only did it show me that I’m capable of achieving so much more than I can imagine of myself, it also showed me many negative traits that I’ve been keeping and insecurely defending for so long, that urgently need changing. More importantly, it let me feel the pain of hitting the jagged-edged rock bottom of my character and self-perception— but this time, it was so bad that it made me tell myself “GURL QUIT RUBBIN YO SORRY ASS AND GET THE HE-YULL BACK UP AND DO SOMETHIN ABOUT IT. I AM SO TIRED O’ YOU STEPPIN ON YA OWN SHIT AND CRYIN’ ABOUT IT.” Specifically in an inappropriately stereotypical sassy black woman’s voice. It made me want to bounce back and change. Badly. So here I am, in the wake of Dani Girl’s aftermath, determined and with a (written!) plan to become awesomer every month.
All because of a courageous little girl named Dani, and her equally brave and amazing friends, who inspired me to keep fighting. I know for certain that in the future, the better, braver, more successful and happy me will owe a lot to these characters.
(All photos used above are by Franco Laurel)