The Manila Theater Group Sharing Erotic Tales
Deus Sex Machina is showing how sexy comedy can teach us a lot about sex positivity.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Sometimes taboos are best probed with satire.
It was just supposed to be for fun, a one-night performance.
How fitting is it that Deus Sex Machina, the only erotic comedy show in Manila, began in the same way a fling would.
“One of our friends wrote a Facebook post about writing sexy fan fiction based on a popular Japanese manga. A bunch of us jumped on the thread with our own ideas that we all thought were better than Fifty Shades of Grey,” laughs writer Marco Sumayao. The group of eight writers and everyday folks then banged out eight 10-minute sex comedy skits.
That was the birth of Deus Sex Machina (DSM), a pun on the literary plot device about problems solved in uncanny ways. Their first performance in 2014 was in a small bookstore with just enough room for their friends. But it was a surprise success that saw curious onlookers peering through the windows to watch hilarious “sex scenes” played out through a traditional Filipino nursery rhyme, national heroes engaged in a hot bromance and even Dr. Seuss. They’ve since produced about 30 shows.
We make sex funny and relatable. It’s difficult to talk about sex when it’s put on a pedestal.
Glerren Bangalan, core writer for Deus Sex Machina
They’ve also developed a cult following. The reason? As core writer Glerren Bangalan explains, “We make sex funny and relatable. It’s difficult to talk about sex when it’s put on a pedestal.”
Or on an altar. In conservative Philippines, the only predominantly Catholic country in Southeast Asia, sex is rarely discussed, and when the topic surfaces, it’s often tinged with fear or the subject of jokes. Yet the country has the second-highest teen pregnancy rate in the ASEAN region and the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in the world.
This sobering reality influenced the content of follow-up DSM shows, where comedy is used to help people feel more comfortable with the topic of sex. For example, a 10-minute skit called iSex is about an app that allows you to have sex with your phone — replete with tingling, vibrating sensations — but also covers enthusiastic consent and how to ask for it.
And in Earthquake Time, an unborn baby enjoys the undulations of his parents having sex. After the oohs and ahhs, the couple talk, getting to know each other better. But the big reveal: Their one-night hot date had resulted in a due date.
“Promoting sex positivity in all of our scripts is our goal,” Bangalan explains, and that means highlighting “gender equality, inclusion and the overlapping elements of politics and economics,” while still being respectful of people’s situations and choices.
There are strict guidelines in the DSM sexual playground. No jokes about rape, sexual harassment, sexual identity or expression, or kinks. “Someone else’s feelings or possible traumatic experience can never be turned into a punchline,” says Bangalan. And scripts are also fact-checked and reviewed for correct usage of LGBTQ terminology — as well as vetted by core group members.
Shows have been performed in bars around Manila and twice in the Cultural Center of the Philippines — the government’s art and culture hub. Their most ambitious production, My Dad’s Imaginary Castrated Penis, was a full-length musical staged in 2018 in a museum smack in the heart of Manila’s central business district. Amid paintings by national artists, the play tackled the issue of hypersexualized Filipino macho culture and its potentially harmful effects on young boys.
“My parents never talked to me about sex. I would have been a better person if I knew what I know now because of DSM,” says Sumayao, who describes his own upbringing — where homophobia was normal and transgenderism was “gross” — as “typical” and something he needed to unlearn. “Years of writing for DSM threw my perspective on sex and gender dynamics wide open.”
Getting others to do the same is a different story, but so far, the backlash has been minimal, like someone leaving a show for religious reasons. Once, a Facebook scuffle with a religious group erupted when DSM posted support for a Pride march, but “we were able to shut them up by quoting scripture that favored equality for LGBTQIA+ people,” Sumayao quips.
Sumayao and Bangalan laugh at the undertones when they talk about DSM getting “bigger” in 2020. There’s currently an open script call from “virgins” or those who have never written or performed for DSM before with plans for an entire “virgins” performance. And there’s an upcoming show dedicated to two of their members who met while working on DSM material and recently got married.
Sex. Comedy. Knowledge. All three can go together and make for better informed sexual choices. “As long as you have enough lubricant and courage,” says Bangalan with a grin.