William Peterson's picture
Affiliated Fellow
William Peterson

I am currently working toward completing the first draft of my book, Emplacing Happiness: Community, the Self and Performance in the Philippines. This book brings together a decade of experience and research into community-based performance in the Philippines, focusing on works that are created and presented outside the context of established theatre venues and that define, reinforce, and celebrate the shared belief systems of a specific community. Included are large-scale, festival-based performance work and religious/civic celebrations, religious theatre associated with Holy Week (senakulo, or enactments of the Passion), transgendered performance, national and regional dance drama competitions extending from the tradition of folk-inflected "street dance," and dance in prison. The scale of community-based performance in terms of duration, time commitment, and productive labor places these practices in a central position in the lives of Filipinos and positions the Philippines as one of the world's most significant and undervalued performance-centered cultures. 

The links between “fun,” performance, and human happiness in a Filipino context has been of increasing concern to me as my own subject position as a researcher into community-based performance in the Philippines has shifted from participant-observer, to that of a participant who is compelled to return to certain events year after year.  Thus I have come to increasingly consider the ways in which both I and other participants are “emplaced” phenomenologically in the specific performance environments at these events and how the specifics of this emplacement elicits a strong internal pull on the body. 

In the context of a range of large-scale, civic performance events in the Philippines, both secular and religious in nature, this inquiry seeks to answer the question: Why, when Filipinos are among the poorest people in Southeast Asia, do they record high levels of happiness in a range of international matrices?  Secondarily, one can also ask: “What rewards are so great as to make the participants in these events give up weeks or even months of productive labour and place this activity as the most important or central ones in their lives every year?” These questions can be answered by considering how the needs of the individual for happiness are met through involvement in performance practices that link them to a community and that in turn define both the individual and community. The ways in which the socially and culturally-imbedded performance practices I examine are distinctively local in expression, and as a collectivity, distinctively Filipino is equally important. 

Further, I seek to identify the frames that shape and contain the individual, that locate them in time, place, and in the specifics of a local culture and local imaginary, while inquiring as to what defines and activates the collective and in turn how that which is local finds its expressive home by tapping into a regional, national, or transnational imaginary. My aim is to create a framework that moves through cultural coordinates that variously combine and interweave the local, national, transnational, and the transcultural. This framework will set out “places” for happiness that are not merely physical and cultural locations but are also resident inside the human organism.


  • Performance Studies
  • Southeast Asian Performance

Country of origin


Period of stay at IIAS

12/08/2013 to 30/11/2013

Research topic

Community-Based Performance in the Philippines

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