Passions and Obsessions

Healing, with help from my sister—from heaven

Knowing that half of my students claim to experience mental unwellness, I wanted to pass on the cathartic experience

The performance of 'Bright and Beautiful Triggers' streams online from midnight of December 1 to midnight of December 31 via the UP Department of Speech Communication and Theatre Arts Facebook page and the Banaue Miclat-Janssen YouTube page.

My painter-poet sister, Maningning Miclat, committed suicide in 2000. This was when she was 28 years old, after the successful launch of a book of poetry in three languages, teaching while pursuing her MFA, and working on a book of essays and an exhibit. She was never diagnosed with any mental illnesses.

In 2015, composer friend Jesse Lucas asked our family’s permission to turn a few of Maningning’s poems into songs. He proposed that I should sing the compositions. My trepidation at the possibility of having an emotional breakdown was transformed into an unexpected healing process as I tackled memories while choosing anecdotes to honor my sister’s legacy.

Entitled Ginugunita Kita, the show was performed again in 2018, and it proved to be another cathartic experience. A number of my theater students at the University of the Philippines loved the show. Looking at them, knowing that half of them claim to experience mental unwellness due to long hours of school and theatrical work, among other requirements, I wanted to pass on the cathartic experience. I needed to find a way to help them process their own experiences and issues using the art that they are studying. But where and how to begin?

How do I help when it is unethical to ask people to reveal any mental illnesses?

My Gen-Z students have the world’s knowledge available and ready at their fingertips. They were born with the technological advances that my generation only started dreaming of while growing up. But how does what they see, and possibly imitate, translate to how they feel, and what they probably suppress? How do I help them when it is unethical to blatantly ask people to publicly reveal if they have any mental illnesses?

Enter the Trigger Project, a venture which aims to help performance artists use what they believe is their trigger for a psychological or emotional breakdown to create a cathartic performance.

Fortunately, the UP system offers an Enhanced Creative Work and Research Grant that paved the way for my first trigger project. The grant allowed me to conduct a study and produce a methodology towards creating a Trigger Project during the COVID-19 lockdown. Teachers and students were neither allowed to appear on campus nor meet outside school grounds. The grant was for 18 months, and the project was executed in four phases: research, devising, performance, and evaluation.

As part of the research phase, I reached out to my department’s theater arts students majoring in performance and/or practice-as-research. Our trigger team was blessed with four undergraduate students and one masteral student. I also partnered with a psychiatrist, who was involved on a consultation basis.

For three months towards the end of the research phase, I asked these students to track down their daily emotional journey via Positive Psychology trackers to set the baseline of their mental health status. I also gave them mindfulness meditation exercises.

In January 2021, the devising phase commenced with the students’ choosing milestones and stumbling blocks in their lives. These events were fleshed out as stories that turned into monologues. The monologues were then workshopped using an acting technique most appropriate for the online platform. Uta Hagen’s exercises proved to be a concise and precise tool for the students to see their stories in a detached manner, realize that they have overcome the chosen life block, and were on their way to a new milestone.

By June, the students were ready to fine-tune their stories. I guided them in fictionalizing some timelines to help keep the stories within the online platform limitations.

Despite fluctuating internet, brownouts, shouting neighbors, and barking dogs, the students were unfazed

The biggest hurdle in terms of patience and creativity for the project was the performance shooting. Since the whole affair was limited to an online recording of supposedly face-to-face subjects, the actors reacted to walls while seemingly looking at cast mates. Despite fluctuating internet connections, brownouts, shouting neighbors, and barking dogs, the students were unfazed. Through endless video upload fails and hours and hours of editing, the whole trigger team remained bright and beautiful.

I have a romanticized idea that my sister, from heaven, guided the Ginugunita Kita project from its conception in 2015. That planted the seed to reach out to a younger generation doing what I know best: performing. Now, I also believe that our scars—each and every scar of each and every student involved in Bright and Beautiful Triggers—paved the way for such a cathartic performance. We look forward to sharing these stories.

The performance of Bright and Beautiful Triggers will stream online from midnight of December 1 to midnight of December 31 via the UP Department of Speech Communication and Theatre Arts Facebook page and the Banaue Miclat-Janssen YouTube page. Please watch the show and help us evaluate how to proceed with further trigger projects.

The First Trigger Project was funded by the UP System Enhanced Creative Work and Research Grant (ECWRG Grant No. 2019-2-23-C)

Credit: Banaue Miclat-Janssen/YouTube

Read more:

My sadder ‘Undas’ this year

Mario Miclat’s confession of faith

Mario Miclat joins the ranks of immortals

About author


She is a tenured full-time faculty member of the University of the Philippines Diliman’s College of Arts and Letters Department of Speech Communication and Theater Arts. She is also an actor and a singer.

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