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Pat Valera: On Shifting Digital Climates and the Power of the LGBT Community

Pat Valera sees himself more as a creative free spirit than a creative leader. “The leader part manifests because of the things that I do. It’s not the intention.”

The two-time Palanca award-winning playwright and Libra-Scorpio cusp shares that his experience and presence in the theater scene are a result of being artistic, rational, and entrepreneurial. “In the fields of Filipino musical theater, my being at the forefront happened because I insisted, resisted, and persisted.

“I insisted on doing the things that I wanted to do, I resisted the things that didn’t feel right both in the industry and in my personal space, and I persisted in the belief that finding the right mix of people allows me to create sustainable pursuits."

The man of the hour cites that, to be great and gritty, one has to know when to push for their ideas, say no when necessary, and to keep on going where it matters.

True enough, Pat’s extensive portfolio is a fusion of all sorts of big things.

Storytelling for audiences

Firstly, he co-owns Black Box Collab Inc., a premium boutique creative agency focused on curating experiences. Secondly, he wrote and directed critically-acclaimed musicals like “Mula Sa Buwan” and the stage adaptation of Lualhati Bautista’s “Dekada ’70”.

If anything, the celebrated dramaturg has leadership written all over him—even if he doesn’t particularly like the sound of the title.

While the pandemic has slowed down the life of many, Pat remains busy.

In fact, one of the many things he’s brewing up right now is a project with the OTT platform, Viu. “We’re putting out a musical narrative series called ‘Still.’ There’s a lot to unpack with what a musical narrative series even is, but the show is about a group of people who were stuck in a music camp during the first couple of months of the lockdown.”

The 8-part series will star prominent talents such as Julie Anne San Jose, Christian Bautista, Bituin Escalante, and Gab Pangilinan, to name a few.

“When the pandemic started, we were all affected. I even had to cancel a week’s worth of shows because of the lockdown. We thought it wouldn’t last, and we even planned a Dekada ‘70 September run last year, but here we are; still in a pandemic.”

At the height of 2020’s tragic turnouts, Pat shares that, like everyone else, he was worried about the enigma tomorrow presented.

His upcoming series, he says, is a response to the kind of dread we all had to face for the first time due to the virus breakout.

“Within the initial lockdown season, I thought about what opportunities we could provide for people who worked in theater. But more importantly, the idea of the show is detailing the anxiety, loss, grief, and sadness we’ve all had to carry because of recent events.”

“I think that’s the power of creativity. You find worlds and ways to tell audiences that what you’re feeling and what’s happening to you is real and valid, and that’s okay—we’ll find ways to carry on.”

Despite Pat’s immersive background in theater, he’s a big believer in digital content and being available online. Asked about how he dealt with shifting purely to the internet space after having fostered such a vibrant career in live events, the musical production maven says it took a whirlwind of emotions.

“They came in stages of denial. First I didn’t accept it at all. Then it just hit me. I realized it was going to take much longer than expected for things to go back to normal.”

In true hero fashion, Pat’s auto-response was to question how he could lead his pack.

“What do we do now that our opportunities in theater are in a long intermission?”

“I believe in the shift to online, how it democratizes things, how it expands the audience, and how it’s the way to go,” he adds.

No stranger to online content and social media marketing, Pat says he’s envisioned this reality for a while now.

“We already knew this was going to happen; the conversion of platforms, the use of digital currencies, I knew this time would come. The pandemic’s just hastened its arrival.”

Unsurprisingly, the visionary welcomes inventive change with open arms. “One of the beautiful things about shifting to digital platforms is that your audience isn’t only local anymore. In the local theater scene, we all scramble for the same audiences.”

Pat explains that, although theater is primarily an in-person experience, a version of a production can competently exist elsewhere as with the case of a handful of popular stage plays available for streaming today.

“When you shoot something well—and I’ll refer to musicals as a product—your product can now be seen not only in Metro Manila but also in Visayas and Mindanao; wherever you are in the globe even.”

“If aliens have internet access in Mars, then they can also watch your product,” he jokes.

Given everything that’s happening, Pat exudes charisma anchored on optimism and versatility. Alluding that the theater community will only grow from now on, he says that streaming plays is a blessing we shouldn’t overlook.

“There are pros and cons, of course, like piracy. But when you see its silver lining, you get to appreciate the change too.”

“Because more people can see your work and your art online, it’s arguably more effective, commercially viable, and sustainable.”

Still, the respected producer revealed that he also had his apprehensions. “You have to weigh the pros and cons and see if it works for you. I had a ton of old notions that I wasn't always on board with, but if you want to put your story across, then digital is the way to go.

What it means to be a queer leader in the arts

Being an openly gay man, Pat Valera is a proud LGBTQIA advocate.

“In Black Box, we pride ourselves on being very inclusive. In terms of business, we appreciate the creativity that naturally comes out from the queerness of the community. It’s borne out of resistance, the yearning to fight, and for representation.”

Although our main man hasn’t produced queer-driven productions just yet, he makes sure to include queer representation in his plays, whether apparent or not.

For instance, in Dekada ‘70, he allowed one of the cast members to own a character as a homosexual man. “And there we see, in the 1970s’ a representation of an activist who is gay.”

“That’s new. A lot of the people who fought during Marcos’ dictatorship were gay, but mainstream media hasn’t always pictured it that way. The ones heralded, especially during the patriarchal hyper-macho time of the ‘70s, always tended to focus on other leaders.”

“Pwede maging matapang na aktibista ang isang bakla.”

More than anything, Pat believes that queer characters have to be complex and truthful as opposed to just charming and present.

“They may not always be as apparent as others in a lot of shows, but they’re there and they’re finding their footing and voices in these works.”

He implies that anyone can be anything regardless of who they love and what’s in between their thighs.

“It’s one thing to have a queer character we tolerate because they’re funny, but it’s another to have them present because we have so many stories of them we have to tell.”

On a roll and emboldened with a mission to ventilate his truth, Pat punctuates his takeaway with an exposé: “That’s why we laugh so well. We have so much pain inside because of how we navigate the world that’s given to us.

With all that said, what’s his advice to LGBTQIA artists and professionals looking to break into the creative scene?

Advice for aspiring queer creatives

“Whenever you want to venture into a theater company, an advertising agency, or a film production house, you’re going to realize that there are processes or cultures you’re going to dislike, especially when it comes to discrimination —

“You can call them out, yes, but you can also always forge your own path and make your own mark.

“It’s one thing to put down an institution for refusing to change or recognize the humanity of people, but it’s also another thing to create what you can.”

Nothing magnificent ever happens overnight, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

“It took a long time. I don’t want to preach and say, when I put out my ideas, everything else fell into immediate place. That’s why you have to keep going.”

Though it isn’t going to be easy, nor is it going to always be feasible, the important thing, says the reputable dramatist, is to gravitate around insistence, persistence, and resistance.

“We’ll face a lot of challenges, hiccups, and demons, but my advice is — apart from creating and being patient — is that you recognize that you cannot do it alone. This is why we turn to friends and communities who believe in us.”

“The total fight for freedom and emancipation from all of these bondages require the help of so many others. We can only do this together.”

After everything’s been said and done, our favorite Libra-Scorpio cusp is right: it takes a village to build a world of inclusivity, awe, and wonder — so let’s all be the kind of members we want our village to have.

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