Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Paradise-A Pinoy Cafe 1

First heard the phrase "brain drain" back in the eighties, I think. A couple of months ago the Danish theater director Ms Ditte Maria Bjerg, with whom I had been emailing back and forth, introduced me to the phrase "care drain." As soon as she said it, I understood: I suddenly saw the Pinays flooding the streets of the Hong Kong Sunday again, most of them married, with children back in the Philippines. For almost every family abroad who gets a Pinay helper, a family back in the Phil loses a mother. Her children are raised by their grandparents. Ditte however, wanted to focus on the grandmothers, who, on top of losing the help of their daughters, had to shoulder the rearing of a second generation of children even as they got weaker with age. It's a state of affairs that could inspire any number of gritty, Brockaesque, award-winning, entirely and excruciatingly unwatchable social-realist films, so I liked that what Ditte was planning did NOT involve any plans to make any such film.

Denmark, along many other European countries, imports Pinays as "au pairs." "Au Pair is a French phrase that means "equal," as in "you are my equal." Same root as the phrase "on par with." Pair. Par. Equal. Basically an au pair is a young foreigner who is supposed to live with a host family and perform some basic domestic work in return for room, board and an allowance of some 200-280 Euro -- ie some 11 to 16 thousand pesos -- a month, according to www.aupair-world.net. The arrangement was first conceived to facilitate a kind of intra-European cultural exchange so that students could live with host families in other countries. So that (for example) a Swedish college student could sharpen her French by living in Paris with a family in exchange for doing some cooking, walking the kids to school, and so on. Because this was the function the arrangement was supposed to serve, the governments of various countries cooperated in setting up basic rules that more or less meant to uphold the idea that au pairs were essentially cultural students, and not to be seen as a cheap way to get the washing done. And so for example, most countries forbid that the au pairs wear a uniform, specify that they must eat at table with the host family, and set limits as to how many hours they can work in the home.

Of course the economy and and history of Europe has proceeded to develop a state of affairs where more and more Europeans disdain to perform domestic chores for other families. Naturally, an influx of Pinays have arrived to fill the demand for a cheap way to get the washing done. (Technically the au pair could be male or female, but in practice, the vast majority of au pairs are women for the same reason that most domestic helpers are women: they are generally less threatening to take into one's household.) So here we are in Denmark, with a steady influx of Pinay au pairs.

Ditte's idea was to exaggerate the conveniences that the Pinay au pairs afforded to the Danish populace by playing with the idea of "Paradise". A Paradise of no work, where your needs are attended to by ministering angels. Uniformed Pinays were to enact a kind of theater of paradise for the Danish audience in various coffeeshops around Copenhagen. It would be my job to create a soundscape for this idea, to envelop the audience in the sounds of a Tropical Paradise, and perhaps to break the spell when necessary. Of course, the art part of the idea, the artistic problem, was how to introduce the customers to the idea that somehow, somebody somewhere was paying for this service paradise even as they immersed themselves in it. To show them, to paraphrase Kerouac, the naked lunch on the end of their fork.

To this end, Ditte recruited the director Khavn de la Cruz and various stalwarts of the Manila independent scene to shoot footage of various Pinay grandmothers in their houses, going about their day, and even addressing their daughters through the camera, as they made video letters that Ditte would deliver to their daughters. Various bits of the footage will be displayed on video screens distributed about the cafe. We are currently in rehearsal, trying out various other bits to
reinforce that aspect of the piece that the videos stab at constructing. The complacence-poisoning, insidiously educational aspect of the piece. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There has never been any ban from requiring an au pair girl to wear a uniform, it's just something you are excepted not to do as a host. As a host, I can set up a strict dress code and require an au pair girl to wear a blouse and a skirt, or a button shirt and some pants.