What the heck is this abomination? We demanded answers from Filipino playwright, Dr. Joem Antonio. Here's his shameless response.
Exesanonymous.com is not the first play I've written on the topic of love and relationships, and definitely not the first time to be asked this question: what's your inspiration for this play?
Short answer: definitely not my exes. If I have exes. (Do I? I'll never tell.)
Long answer: exesanonymous.com was never a material to soothe my broken heart. Rather, its origins were a lot colder but nonetheless fun.
Back in 2014, I received a question from one of my closest friends and colleagues in the arts, Christian Vallez, aka "Juan Ekis" or X. He asked me if I could give him an exercise in writing monologues, as many of his actor friends are asking for monologues for audition purposes. Knowing X to be the type to write on the topic of Eros, I decided to customize an exercise for him, which I called the Exes Anonymous exercise. It's very much like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting except about exes. X had to answer three questions that would provide him enough prompts to write a monologue:
Who is the speaker?
What's the cause of breakup?
How does the speaker feel about the ex at the time of telling?
The answers served as a prompt to let the writing flow. The challenge was to communicate to the listener the key information (the three answers) in ten minutes or less. All X had to do while writing was to keep two questions in mind: what prompts the speaker to speak now? What's to gain from speaking? And that's how the exercise went.
After sending X that exercise, I realized two things: one is that I had come up with a fun exercise for students to write their own monologues (a more elementary school variation is Who Stole the Cookie from the Principal's Jar) and another is that with enough monologues, one can actually make a play out of the exercise results.
The realization itself, however, wasn't enough to prompt me to write the monologues. It was only during 2016 when I took the possibility seriously. By then I had so many students go through the exercise with amazing results: a condescending woman who's only fit to date a super computer; a Wonder Woman cosplayer whose boyfriend dressed up as Hawkman; a guy who can't look at roses anymore without being triggered... The list goes on.
I don't know what it was exactly, but sometime in 2016, something reminded me of an insight I had when a friend of mine succumbed to cancer in 2011: any friend you make is another funeral you're likely to attend... Unless they attend yours first. This thought reminded me of an even grimmer insight from even further back in 2007: getting into a relationship is submitting yourself to inevitable heartbreak; you either part ways or you watch the other kick the bucket. It's not that I'm cynical or pessimistic about friendships and relationships. It's important to know what one is getting into. More importantly, there's something about love in friendships and romantic relationships that outweigh the bleak futures I've mentioned earlier. Anyway, the seed for exesanonymous.com was somewhere in those musings but it was still not enough to get me to just write the play.
Ultimately, it's the quest to be prolific that got me to write. Towards the end of 2016, I got obsessed with optimizing those many two to three minute lulls you find in a day. I had that crazy theory that given today's hustle and bustle, it's difficult for a writer to find even thirty undisturbed minutes of writing time; but if I optimized those two to three minutes I find in a day—lining up, waiting, etc.—I'm bound to complete something. Furthermore, that writing is the medium, and not the tools you use to write. I'm proud to admit that I wrote all the monologues on my phone and only 10% was done on a computer. I had a concept, a lesson to share, a cause to uphold. From November to January and a little bit during April, I wrote exesanonymous.com during those little bits of free time.
So, where did I get all those stories about these exes? Imagination. I wish my answer were more exciting, but this is the truth.
Perhaps the full appreciation one can have regarding this play is to not focus on the exes part alone but to focus on the anonymous and the .com parts as well. These are monologues of people you don't know sharing their stories; it's the stark contrast between the intimacy of a relationship and the distance created through anonymity online.
On my end, I'm quite happy that this play won a 2017 Don Carlos Palanca Award for Full-length Play in English. It definitely helps my advocacies in prolific creative writing, easier access to theatrical performances, and in reflecting on the relationships we build, romantic or otherwise. And this is just the beginning.