VIRGIN LABFEST 13 Review: Set B

It’s that time of the year again folks! Our favorite play fest, Virgin Labfest, is on again at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines. VLF is now 13 years old, and this year, it features 12 plays which were carefully chosen among the 192 scripts submitted.

I decided to watch Set B last Friday night and I was just astounded to see what VLF has become now compared to what it was when I started watching three years ago. There’s undeniably more people and longer lines outside the theater waiting enthusiastically for the shows this year. It has a new home as well in Aurelio Tolentino Theater, which was converted into an intimate venue, and it is much bigger than the usual home of VLF at Huseng Batute. Huseng Batute is now reserved for the Revisited Set E shows.

The festival has truly grown from its humble beginnings in 2005!

Boses ng Masa

Playwright: Joshua Lim So

Director: Guelan Luarca

The first thing you will notice in this play are the monitors set up on and beside the stage. These monitors started the performance and quickly grabbed the curiosity of the audience with a quote from Umberto Eco’s Essay, How to Recognize a Porn Film. The play is set in 1994 and revolves around two members of an election campaign team and their moral conscience. Their candidate is lagging behind the polls but they have uncovered a sex abuse video involving their political rival’s son. Chris (Jerome Dawis) is hesitant to use the video for the election and rub salt to the wound of the victim’s family, however, Hector (Renan Bustamante) is feeling otherwise.

The first to middle part of the play was a little dragging. The script is really smart and wants to tell a lot of things and I really do not know what went wrong. Maybe it was the directing or the acting but it sure was less than what it should feel. Bustamante gave a powerful performance, but for Dawis, I think he can work more on his acting because there were times when it felt like his movements were so calculated and he didn’t look natural on stage.

Things got better towards the end. The end, specifically, was the most show stealing moment and would really make the audience think about their own morality if they were the characters themselves. Boses ng Masa is your common political play, but its message will never get old. It paralleled the rape of a woman to the rape of our country and the question is, until when can we tolerate this?

 

Ang Mga Puyong

Playwright: Ryan Machado

Director: Ricardo Magno

With a story setting I’ve seen a couple of times before in other plays, I initially had low expectation from this performance. On the contrary, it turned out to be my favorite among the performances that night!

It started with a charming rural scene in which Andoy (Reynald Santos) was on a rice field listening to romantic radio dramas and writing stories on his notebook when Pido (Ahmed Maulana) came; and their conversations turned from just merely deciding if they will get circumcised, to darker confessions about their past.

This play reminded me of VLF 10’s Sa Lilim, written by Reya Laplana. Both plays involve two young people in a rural setting having awkward confrontations. However, Ang Mga Puyong is undeniably more well-written and fun than Sa Lilim. The strength of plays like these most often lies within the performance of the actors, and that exactly where Ang Mga Puyong hit the jackpot. Santos and Maulana had a really good rapport. Santos, specifically, had a radiating charm on stage. It is worth noting how the play successfully portrayed the real life banter between normal kids. Even the darker topic of the play was treated like how real kids would treat it; which is something that they will quarrel about but something that would also fade out a little while until they become friends again. The directing choices did not disappoint as well. Every blocking and movement was consistent to the context of the play.

With all the complexities and wide range of emotions, Ang Mga Puyong truly felt like a wonderful wild ride.

 

Hindi Ako Si Darna

Playwrights: U.Z. Eliserio and Maynard Manansala

Director: Andoy Ranay

The most publicized and star-studded play this year is about the iconic superhero, Darna (Tetchie Agabayani), in her sixties wearing a conservative white sleeping gown. In addition to that, it is also about a perky waitress (Kim Molina), an old Kapitan Barbell (Jay Gonzaga), a still petulant Ding (Ricci Chan), a drug addict (Ekis Jimenez), and a flamboyant Valentina (John Lapus).

Honestly, the first part of the play was confusing. I mean I was like, what is going on with these pointless conversations? Until those pointless conversations turned into seemingly commentaries which have current social and political relevance. The writer gave a slap on topics like the war on drugs and women empowerment in a very loud and resounding way. Even if it features a person dealing with old age, the play still had this very young and pop vibe. It was also the most animated among the three plays in that set.

Gonzaga, Chan, Jimenez and Lapus were the ones who really kept the momentum of laughter. Nevertheless, I give credit to Agabayani for showing the different and more fun side of her. Let’s also not forget about the outstanding singing parts of Molina. She really has it!

The only problem I have with this play is that it seems to have no solid story at all. It felt like a series of social commentaries and funny banters that were put together. But still, whatever it turned out to be, it was still entertaining.

 

VLF is truly one of a kind experience. Go catch these performances and the other plays as well until July 16! See you folks at the theaters!

Bituin Walang Ningning The Musical

The Review (But You Could Barely Say It Is One)

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To be clear, I am no expert in theater reviews and I only wrote a school play once and it’s not even a musical! I am just someone who has a friend with a free ticket to giveaway, and yes I did grab it cause who would not want to go to Resorts World Manila and say that you’re watching a musical play? And of course who hates musicals? Certainly not me! I love musicals, from Sound of Music to High School Musical, well those were films but hey, they were still musicals! So let’s see…….yes I have watched musical school plays like The Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid. As for professional musicals, I’ve got The Rak of Aegis to brag about (which I would say was fantastic), other than that, I have watched none.
So there was me all excited to finally watch a professional musical stage production once again and it is not just about some unknown story but a re-incarnation of a Filipino film classic, Bituing Walang Ningning. It is the film which holds the claim to the most quoted line in Philippine history which is, “You’re nothing but a second rate, trying hard, copy-cat!” *Famous splash of water*
I have to admit, I barely knew the film before watching the play. I knew that it starred Sharon Cuneta and Cherie Gil and that it has that famous bitch line and that it was made into a TV series which starred Sarah Geronimo and Angelica Dela Cruz on the leading roles.
To give you a brief on the story, Bituing Walang Ningning has a very familiar storyline in which a wide-eyed sampaguita vendor, Dorina Pineda is obsessed with a self-centered singer, Lavinia Arguelles. Then there’s this man Nico Escobar who serves as both Lavinia’s manager and boyfriend. He eventually discovers Dorina’s talent for singing and to give Lavinia a lesson and a competition, he raised Dorina into stardom. However, fate leads him into falling in love with Dorina and making the rivalry between the two women more complicated.
Then came Antoinette Taus as Lavinia with an opening plaza musical number. I certainly saw Taus as anti-protagonist ever since and the character suited her on a certain degree. Though I just felt like that Lavinia could have more star power feels when you watch her, which I did not see on Taus. It’s really hard to put up with a Cherie Gil iconic role. Dorina, on the other hand, was played by the new comer, Monica Cuenco. On that first time she sang the folk song, ‘Usahay,’ she already had set herself apart to be recognized as a star. I liked the fact that she is a fresh face, untried, and struggling to get used to a new world exactly like the role she portrays. That makes acting on this less unfamiliar and easier for her I suppose. Nevertheless, I see undeniable charm in her that actually quite resembles that of Sarah Geronimo at times or I don’t know maybe she’s trying to imitate Geronimo on purpose.
Mark Bautista as Nico Escobar is a perfect match I would say. There were just some times in which he over dramatized his acting that it kind of felt awkward and unnatural. He was trying to sound old but it could’ve been better if he used the modern way of speaking. Ronnie Liang, the famous singer of ‘Ngiti,’ is such a charmer that I even questioned why Dorina would choose Nico over Liang’s character, Garry Diaz. I would just have to comment on Liang’s vocal performance because more than anyone, he is obviously the one most struggling on theater singing, being a pop singer has probably a lot to do with the reason why.
Compared to Rak of Aegis, Bituing Walang Ningning certainly has a bigger production but I would say that the former had better shots on making people react with its comedic edge and in which the latter tried to do but failed a few times. Nevertheless, that moment when Dorina first sang Bituing Walang Ningning with a gigantic white dress lit up by sparkling projected stars was seriously breathtaking. The huge screens as backdrops also made the entire production more interesting and appealing to one’s eyes.
The production also succeeded on reliving OPM classics of Filipino composer Willy Cruz like ‘Pangarap na Bituin,’ ‘Sana’y Maghintay ang Walang Hanggan,’ ‘Init sa Magdamag,’ ‘Kumusta ka,’ ‘ Magandang Gabi,’ ‘ and of course the titular song, ‘Bituing Walang Ningning.’ I barely knew some of these songs before, but after the show I actually found myself singing a few lines on repeat until I ended up searching for some of it online. Thankfully, Mr. Cruz’s songs were given justice. Truly, Filipinos are the best singers in the world.
Bituin Walang Ningning the Musical in the end did showcase not only the Filipino culture and identity but the world-class Filipino talent as well. For that, I would say that it is worth its 3 hour run. The leaders of the industry should get serious on investing in more high-concept entertainment like this that maintains or raise the bar of quality art forms and inspire better works to come.

My Love and Hate Relationship with Theater

MY FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE

Today, I got to talk in front of the junior students in our college about my experience in our theater class last year. I told them the worst and best things that happened to me while I was in the process of writing the script of our theater play. I felt like I wasn’t able to tell them everything I wanted to say that’s why I am creating this blog so that I could share more of my experience with them and to the other people who are also interested to know.

So, during the whole process, there are only five questions that guided me to survive it with grace.

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THE QUESTIONS THAT LED TO SUCCESS

  • The first big question was, “To be or not to be a writer?”

Our theater professor asked us to choose where we would like to belong. Is it in the directors group, writers, actors or with the production team. It was no quick decision for me. I actually ignored it at first, for days, because I have this thing where I like to decide at the last minute on the belief that it always comes out as a good decision when I do it that way. That technique works perfectly for me because when I do that I tend to decide with my instincts and my actual feelings. I tend to choose what my heart really wants and back then I heard it shout, “I WANT TO BE A WRITER!”

On that day of the decision making, I was early for class that’s why I went out for a while. I bumped into one of my classmates, Adele. We’re not very close but we’re undeniably friends and we have so much in common when it comes to our interests. We got to talk for a while on our way back to our classroom. She opened up to me that she also wants to become a writer but she doesn’t have enough confidence in herself. On that moment, I also figured out why I am really delaying my decision. It’s just that I still don’t have enough confidence too. I was waiting for my bottle of confidence to get filled up. Well, on that talk with Adele, almost half of that bottle got filled because she told me to pursue being a writer and she said she thinks I can do it! That was a great boost up Adele!

However, my bottle is still not full yet and I’m still looking for someone to fill it up. I felt pathetic that time because I could not fill it up myself. That’s when Pau came and helped me feel less pitiful. She was on the other side of the classroom and she shouted to me, “Come on let’s just try! If it’s not for us, then okay, it’s not for us!” Pauline also wants to be a writer and seeing her have no doubts made me say to myself, “Whatever will be, will be.” I am also thankful to my circle of friends namely, Racel, Chenette and Jerald who at the last minute of signing up, pushed me to go for what I really want and they even said that they believe that I have it in me. Well all of these people are the reason why I took the first big step in becoming a writer.

  • The second big question was, “What story should I write?”

I think it was fear and pressure that blocked away all the good stories that I could possibly think of. You see, that water in the bottle of confidence is really difficult to maintain when there’s a hole in the middle of it. It will never be full that way. There will only be a certain level that you can fill because of that fucking hole. I feared the outcome already when I haven’t even built my story. I tried and tried to think of a concept but each time I have always said that, “This would not work.” It was still just an idea and I already did not give it a chance to prove that it could be a beautiful story. I have been so critical and paranoid. That’s why nothing good came out of it. That’s also what my professor made me realize. All our ideas and concept for the story should be consulted and approved first by Ma’am Gabello, our Theater professor, before we could write the whole script. You bet, all of our story lines were not approved and it came to the point where we were all so drained and we cannot come up with a good story line that’s why Ma’am Gabello was already the one who provided us with a story concept we could work on. The other writers managed to get their story lines approved but many of us, including me, got help from Ma’am Gabello. That was probably the start of my long battle for confidence again.

Our play by the way was competing against nine other plays which are all included in what we call THE PLM INTENSITY PLAYFEST. That’s a really tough battle for confidence indeed.

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  • The third big question was, “Would everyone like the script that I wrote?”

No. Not everyone. That’s impossible. There would always be someone who would not approve of what you have done or created. I know now that I should just accept that fact and just shake it off but I had a difficult time before I realized that. This is how it went:

Well, you see, I’m not the only writer in our group. Jerald Barrientos, my good pal, was supposed to be my partner. We were supposed to co-write the script. Actually what was in my mind was that, he would write the whole script and I will just be the one to give some ideas, criticisms, and I will also be the one to edit it or maybe add things that would make it better. I was giving him the freedom to do all the creativeness because I really believed that he is so good in this. We agreed that he would write the first draft. The submission day for the first draft came nearer and I was already so frantic because he still haven’t sent me anything. I was supposed to edit it before we submit it! Then Saturday came and the drafts will be collected soon and Jerald came late. When I saw him I expected that he already finished the script since as I said……he came late. I really thought that he finished it overnight! But to my shock, he only managed to give me six pages with a font size of 16! No solid character, no middle, no climax, no ending! Nothing significant! He barely finished the introduction of the story. I felt miserable. The other groups had already finished their scripts with 25 and more pages. I did not have any choice but to continue the script by myself because Jerald didn’t feel well that time. With the short time I had before the submission, I managed to add five more pages that is why we submitted 11 pages of first draft all in all. Can you believe that? How unprofessional.

Few days later our professor talked to us and she almost said that among all the groups, we submitted the worst script. My bottle of confidence drained that moment. I was already close to suggesting to Ma’am Gabello that she could just dissolve our group. But my group mates told me that it was too late to do that. The other groups have established themselves already. If we dissolve ourselves, it will already be difficult to fit in the other groups and besides my closest friends argued that I cannot let my other group mates down. So that was it. I decided to continue it and do it all by myself because apparently Jerald lost every bit of strength and eagerness to continue it. I FUCKING DID IT ALONE.

I spent the whole Cinemalaya week just to finish the script and I was so depressed because I had a very limited time to watch the entries in Cinemalaya. I only managed to watch two. Anyway, so I finished the script in 7 days and when I showed it to my group mates I felt really disappointed! That Saturday I printed a copy of 35 pages of script and none of them was eager enough to read it. Some read a few pages and did not say anything appreciative at all. Some did not really bothered to read it. One of them actually read the whole script and said that it was nice. Well at least there was one. But I was also not happy with his reaction because I did not felt that it was real that time (I was wrong apparently). We presented the script to Ma’am Gabello and she especially liked a certain part in it but she asked to change the ending. We got home at 11 o’clock from the consultation. I remember that I felt very very tired that night.

So the rehearsals started and I already noticed that some of my group mates (I won’t name them anymore) did not like the script. They think that the audience would not like it because, “It is a very smart script, the target audience won’t be able to relate with it.” I mean WHAT THE HECK? SO YOU THINK PLMAYERS ARE STUPID? They were even saying that the script of the other groups were really good. They were saying it in front of me like saying that they think it was better and they want to join the other group. There was never an open argument between me and those members but I know what they really think and felt that time.

A lot of overheard comments really did hurt me as a writer. I heard people say that this blah blah group should be the last play to be shown because it’s the best, you know save the best for the last; and come to think of it, we are the last play (We got the last place because of draw lots) and to me she’s saying that our play is not good enough to be the last play. I wouldn’t go over all the comments that really made me so depressed during those days. There was a time when I felt so miserable that I literally cried the whole way home! But I already learned how to ignore those things. Those comments won’t determine the quality of something they haven’t even seen. They should’ve waited to see our play before they said things, ya’ know.

  • The fourth big question was, “Could we really bring this story to life?”

It was not easy. But we did it. There were a lot of misunderstandings, hopeless moments, production mistakes and doubts. We changed our Director many times. First it was supposed to be Jerald but like in writing, he also lost his courage. Then Janna replaced him, but she also felt like she could not do this then until we ended up to Arianne. She is a very strong, kind and hardworking woman. Believe it or not she was pregnant during those times and she handled all the stress very well. Arianne was the last person I expected who would finally take the responsibility but still I was so thankful she did.

Then the play came nearer and our production was very demanding. We are the only play in which there are two set ups that is why it was an extra work for us. That was maybe my fault because the script I created required two set ups but nevertheless that factor was one of the things that made our play extra unique and incredible.

Okay. A week before the play, we still haven’t had our rehearsal with the presence and guidance of Ma’am Gabello because she was busy doing the rehearsals with the other groups. That was maybe the disadvantage of being the last group to perform, our professor obviously had to help the other groups first. The other groups actually had mutltiple rehearsals with Ma’am Gabello and we? We had one chance. But I was proud that we manage to rehearse perfectly well by our own. Okay. So the day before the play came and it was our technical rehearsal. Did you know what happened? Ma’am Gabello did not like our entire stage design that’s why we had to change the entire thing for less than a day. Can you imagine that? We have prepared for that design for two or three weeks and we had to change it all in just a few hours. How dramatic! Anyway we still managed to do it the way our professor wants it. So cheers! Here comes the first and final performance!

  • The last big question was that, “Would the audience like it? Would all our hard work be all worth it?”

That day, early in the morning we are still so busy in doing all the last minutes changes for the stage design. We were all nervous and restless on that last few hours before the show. Then our parents came, our relatives, our friends. They all came to support us. That made me extra nervous. I admit I already have a thinking that time that our play won’t be as successful as the others. I thought it would just be………..okay……”just another play.”

Then here comes our time. We were peeking at the audience and there were very few compared to the last play before us. That made me sad. But actually it’s not that few. It was a still a good crowd to get our work presented to. So for the first few minutes since the start of the play, I was just outside of the auditorium. I was so afraid to see the reaction of the crowd. It was very wrong of me to think that they would not like it at all. But then you know what? I started hearing loud cheers and I got curious. I was not able to stop myself anymore from entering the auditorium. I entered and I sat down and I watched a lot of people cheer and shout and love every line I wrote in that story. It was a priceless moment.

Finally, the last line was said and the lights dimmed and the loud cheer was very deafening. The PANGHIMGAS TEAM were now being called one by one on the stage and when I finally came up, I was overwhelmed by the huge support and love that I received. After that a lot of our friends and schoolmates came up on stage and hugged and congratulated me. I didn’t know what occurred to me but I cried. I just did and it felt very good.

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By the way, the whole PLM INTENSITY PLAYFEST had an awarding and our group won five awards. Most Intense Director, Most Intense Playwright, Most Intense Actor, Most Intense Lighting and guess what? Most Intense Play!

This would be one of my greatest and most unforgettable experiences in my life. I’m dead sure.

I hope I made you feel something worthwhile with what I wrote; like you felt inspired, happy or encouraged. Thank you for sharing with my experience by reading all of these. I’ll try to write shorter next time. Bye!