Méle Yamomo is a composer, academic, theater director, graphic and web designer, lighting designer, traveler and an awesome cook. In his “past” life, he used to work with theater and opera companies in Manila and Bangkok. He is currently employed as a researcher at the Global Theatre History project through the German Research Foundation. This project is hosted by the Ludwig Maximilians Universität in Munich. Wow, right?
ep: Could you please describe your creative process?
This would be a difficult thing to do succinctly as I do a lot of different things. I devise and direct plays. I compose and create music and sound compositions. I design lights and video projections for theatre, concerts, and dance performances. I also do graphic and web design. I have a different process for each.
You probably ask why I ended up doing many things? At the core of it all – my first love is the theatre. I am not a performer though, and never wanted to be. I see myself as a creator. While studying theatre-making at the Philippine High School for the Arts, I wanted to find my own creation process and so I pushed myself to learn all the different skills that goes into creating theatre. I was majoring in theatre directing and lighting design, while minoring in music composition in the art school. Perhaps, as early as then, I was already subconsciously thinking I am more interested in creating an alternative artwork from what the classical drama stuff they teach you in schools. I thought, to do this, I will need to be able to deconstruct the very process of how theatre is made, and to do so I should know how each aspect of production-making is done. Later, I founded two theatre companies and I managed a puppet company. I had to do the PR materials of these organizations so I also taught myself graphic and web design, as well as video editing. I also worked as a graphic, web and video artists with different organizations in Manila.
All these extra skills became handy since it is difficult to be a full-time theatre artist in Manila. As a composer I would be commissioned to write musicals and ballets, and would be paid token money for this. But writing commercial music for film, radio, and television is what paid the bills.
On the side, after I graduated from the art school, I thought that if I wanted to pursue creating theatre, it will help me if I take a philosophy or aesthetics degree in university. That’s how I ended up taking Art Studies. This is also how I ended up doing academic research.
ep: What is your favorite piece you created and why is this your favorite piece?
I guess, we all treat our ongoing project as the favorite – to be able to nurture it and give it all that it needs in its process of birthing. I am actually very excited about the new installation project I am working on right now. We are calling it “The Memory Booth”. This is quite new to me since this is my first performance installation project where I will be working with Neal Lewis, a theatre technology programmer based in Holland and dramaturg/curator Lonneke van Heugten.
ep: If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to yourself 5 years ago?
Don’t wait too long.
ep: Apart from creating/designing things, what do you like to do?
Travelling. Quiet quality time with loved ones. Playing the piano. Discovering new music. Rubbing my feet on smooth surfaces. Learning something new (a skill, a trivia, new technology). Long train rides (I can read or write undistracted). Sitting lazily in an unknown place/city and watching people. Talking with friends. Making surprisingly interesting conversations with random strangers in a random city/country that makes you rethink about your perception of life. Biking. Swimming, which I wish I can do more.
ep: How did you first get into opera/stage/production?
I was actually an awfully shy kid when I was little and my mother decided to enroll me in Drama club in primary school – to draw me out I suppose. I still remember how I loathed coming to the very first meeting of the Drama Club. Little did I know it would be what I’d be doing for the next twenty or so years. I hated acting ever since, but when I was in third grade I started directing productions for the school. I won my first directing award when I was in fifth grade. My school used to hold drama competitions. I remember directing “The emperor’s new clothes” – I turned it into a musical, composing my own songs for it. For the set design, we were limited with the school’s standard trees and courtyard backdrops – but I wasn’t happy with that and I decided I wanted piles and piles of clothes filling up the whole stage (Pretty conceptual huh?). Hahaha… I guess that’s how I won that competition. From that point, the school principal would pull me out of classes to direct school productions, events, and pieces for drama competitions. I enjoyed being able to run away from the Science and Math classes, and be able to do what I liked doing. At the end of elementary school, the principal recommended me to the art school.
ep: What inspires you/where do you find your inspirations?
I usually have music as my starting point. Often I will hear a piece that will move me in a profound way, and this would often lead me to creating something new.
ep: How do you divide your time between your pursuit of your PhD in the history of Opera in Southeast Asia, personal projects and the theatre company?
My research and Ph.D. work in Munich is my full-time job at the moment – and it is a great job because I’m paid to travel around to study and research about the history of theatre and opera. Similarly, my artistic work is international. Last year I was hired to design the lights for a ballet in Bander seri Begawan, and had to fly there, as that work requires physical presence. At the moment, I have commissions to write music for ballets which I’m doing in collaboration with a Dutch electronic musician. We are doing most of the exchange and collaboration online – although we aim to meet whenever possible. And as I’ve said my current installation project will also involve artists and computer programmers in the Netherlands whom we will collaborate with online.
ep: Coffee or tea?
ep: What is your favorite comfort food?
ep: Do you have a favorite quote? what is it and why is it your favorite?
More like a quotable quote, a few years ago I was chatting with the Professor Elena Mirano, who is now the dean of the College of Arts and Letters in the University of the Philippines. It was a year after I graduated from college, and we were catching up with our ongoing artistic projects side by side our research, (she is a choir conductor and a historical musicologist). Our conversation would jump from the joys of making art and the sometimes sadomasochistic contemplation of critical theory. And then at one point she looked at me with a hushed tone and suddenly asked me flatly: “Isn’t it painful?” I asked what is? She said: To be an artist and to be a scholar – to be always painfully aware of the critical theories that operate behind society where we live in. You will have to live with it for the rest of your life, so you better find peace with it somehow. (Not the exact words, but it was said to that effect.)