Thursday, August 2, 2018

Playwright Shares Formula to His Palanca Award-Winning Play

Wazzup Pilipinas!

A visit to yields what you’d expect from a website with such a name.

It's a collection of confessions on how relationships ended, posted under usernames like “frankielemonade02” or “sidekickpunchblock.” One essay was written by a recruitment officer who found her—ahem, still charming—ex-boyfriend sitting in front of her for an interview. Another story is from a guy who read in the papers that his former girlfriend was arrested for swindling. And yet another is about a man who got dumped right when he was about to propose. They're amusing stories, exactly the kind you’d only find online, where “victims” could hide behind a pseudonym.

But that website is a ruse. These “submissions” were written by only one man, Dr. Joem Antonio, and he won a Palanca Award for them. That award was for a full-length play. And he wrote that full-length play entirely through his mobile phone.

A monologue-writing exercise

It all started when Christian Vallez, the writer known as “Juan Ekis,” asked him for a monologue-writing exercise. Without intending any puns, Dr. Antonio gave him an exercise that produced monologues on how exes became exes.

“I realized two things: one is that I had come up with a fun exercise for students to write their own monologues, and another is that with enough monologues, one can actually make a play out of the exercise results.”

And so he did. Taking advantage of short bursts of time, like when waiting for a ride or rocking a toddler to sleep, he did the exercise repeatedly on his mobile phone, using nothing but the extremely simple Google Keep app.

He wrote ten monologues that he tied together through a bigger story. An ex-couple created hoping that the stories help them understand what people seek in a relationship, despite the fact that there are only two ways that a relationship could end, and neither of them seem palatable. As one of them puts it: “It's either we wait to see who kicks the bucket first, or we walk away from this relationship while we're still alive." Why do we even bother, then?

Onstage and online

Dr. Antonio submitted to the 67th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards and won his eighth Palanca Award, the Second Prize for Full-Length Play in English. An excerpt of was staged at the awards night. It was directed by former Dulaang UP artistic director, Dr. Alexander Cortez.

And of course, one doesn’t write a play called and not publish it online. Today, the website holds all ten monologues, the full-length play’s script, and the monologue-writing exercise. Dr. Antonio continues to write monologues using the same exercise and plans to add them to the site later on.

He invites anyone interested to read the monologues and to give the writing exercise a try. All you need is to visit the website and to use your “writing weapon” of choice, which, if you're as busy as he is, could simply be your mobile phone.

A teacher, first and foremost

But why publish your award-winning work for free, with your own writing formula even, when some writers hope to live off book royalties?

The answer lies in how Dr. Antonio describes himself: he’s “a teacher by profession, a writer on occasion, a scholar by passion, and a writing teacher by vocation.” He’s a teacher before he is a writer. And more than just being a writer, he’s a writing teacher. “I had a concept, a lesson to share, a cause to uphold,” he says. For him, is mainly a teaching tool, and one that he’d like to share with the public.

He does offer paid writing courses through Storywriting School for those who want to learn the craft. Though the prevailing belief is that creative writing requires rare talent, he believes that anyone can learn how to write stories. “Some people have that gift of writing, but I don’t. I learned writing as a skill, just like any other skill is learned. That’s why I can teach others how to write.”

Dr. Joachim Emilio “Joem” Antonio is the Program Director of the MA Humanities Program at the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P). He obtained his Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of the Philippines - Diliman. He’s a playwright and theatre enthusiast who espouses a philosophy he calls “compact theatre,” which aims to deliver substantial messages while maximizing the essential elements of theatre. He also has two children’s books published by Lampara Publishing. Find out more about him at

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