A brave experiment

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By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter

THEATER REVIEW
Virgin Labfest 2020: KAPIT

WHEN most theater producers postponed or canceled their shows because of the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic, the Virgin Labfest (VLF) went in a different direction — it migrated online. With the help of the online technical team of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the festival of untried, untested, and unstaged one-act plays went on as originally scheduled with livestreams on Facebook and Vimeo.

The festival’s free live-streamed performances are ongoing until June 28, and the performances are also available for a minimal amount on Vimeo until July 1. The theater festival features nine new works, three revisited plays, and six staged readings.

This writer caught the livestreams of three feature plays, one revisited play, and one staged reading during the festival’s first two weeks.

Featured plays

Doggy
THE opening play for this year’s festival was performed by a real-life couple in one bedroom. A few days before their wedding, Jane (Che Ramos Cosio) confronts her fiancée Mark’s (Chrome Cosio) anger over her sexually adventurous attitude in past relationships. Playwright Dustin Celestino challenges the function of a marriage for sexual exclusivity, tackling the ideas of consent and the value of intimacy. With the camera set up at a corner with a full view of the room, it acts as a surveillance camera capturing the tension of a couple’s arguments. By the end of the play, viewers are left to decide for themselves whether the wedding pushes through or not.

Boy-boy and Friends Channel
WHEN four friends lose their jobs when a TV network shuts down, they begin a new career as YouTubers. For one episode on their channel, they take on a challenge with each of them choosing a tattoo for a friend. Written by Anthony Kim Vergara and directed by Joshua Tayco, the play is reminiscent of a fun evening comedy sitcom with laugh tracks and other sound effects. It is impressive to see how the tattoo parlor backdrop gives the illusion of the four actors — all of whom were shooting in their different quarantine locations — being in one place. Despite the lag towards the end of the show’s first livestream, this writer laughed out loud to a witty title card transition that said “Tumatae lang po si Boyboy… at tsaka technical difficulties.” (Boyboy had to take a dump…. plus technical difficulties.) The show resumed smoothly where it left off.

Mayang Bubot sa Tag-araw
A YOUNG Aeta woman, Bubot, reunites with her childhood friend Maya in their community. Bubot talks to Maya about her experience chasing a dream for a better life. Despite the community’s struggle and fight for ancestral land ownership, Maya updates her childhood friend about fulfilling her role for them. Amidst the skillful shadow puppetry, undivided attention is required to understand the plot of the dialogue-driven story.

Revisited Plays

Wanted Male Borders
WRITTEN by Rick Patriarca and directed by George de Jesus III, the play follows three male friends who welcome an energetic new roommate. Beyond the new guy’s flirtatious attitude towards his fellow boarders is a story that explores toxic masculinity. Among this year’s revisited plays, Wanted Male Borders is the only one this writer saw both onstage and online. Onscreen it remains as hilarious and enjoyable as it was onstage. The animation of four separate smartphones where the characters interact onscreen and use of chat filters added to the fun while watching.

Staged reading

Bagahe
WRITTEN by Nicko de Guzman, the story is set in 2016 and follows a migrant couple Che (Lui Manansala) and Kaloy (Ward Luarca) as they prepare for their flight back to the Philippines in anticipation of the birth of their first grandchild, and to reside there for good after 30 years in the United States. The tension during the couple’s conversation while preparing their luggage slowly builds as they shift topic from found objects, the KonMari Method, the results of 2016 elections, and reminiscing on the days of their youth. Mr. De Guzman’s script presents the conflict of choosing between one’s obligation to the self and to the country.

This year’s festival gave audiences a variety of story themes, from childhood friendships to recurring social issues such as injustice and discrimination against minority groups.

VLF 2020: KAPIT, as this year’s festival is called, pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved in theater. By watching the shows online, the audience members engaged in conversation in the comments section and the talkbacks after the show. The inclusion of visual effects, graphics, and animation gave the illusion that the actors were together in a room despite streaming from separate locations. The introductory messages of the playwrights, directors, and production designers may tend to spoon feed the viewers about what they are about to watch, however, they also give first-time VLF audiences and non-regular theatergoers an opportunity to learn more about the kind of stories the festival presents and the pre-production process of mounting an entire show online.

As a first-time venture into the digital platform, technical difficulties are inevitable. However, these did not detract from the quality of the story. Mistakes are part of the process of experimentation. The lessons from this year’s first attempt at online migration proved how the show can go on, and can open doors for stories to reach a wider audience, and, hopefully, spark greater curiosity about the live theatrical experience where appreciation is received not through “clapping” emoticons but through real applause.

The livestreams of VLF 2020: KAPIT run until June 28. For more details and show schedules, visit https://www.facebook.com/culturalcenterofthephilippines/ and https://www.facebook.com/thevirginlabfest/, or join https://www.facebook.com/groups/VLFTambayan/ VLF 2020: KAPIT is also available on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/vlf2020kapit) until July 1 with regular (P100) and premium (P200) packages. Limited performances come with English subtitles.

One of the main components of VLF, the Playwright’s Fair keeps up with conversations with playwrights and authors on June 25 to 27, at 8 p.m. Meanwhile, the VLF Fellowship Program concludes with an online staged reading of the fellows’ works, directed by Dennis Marasigan, on June 28 at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.





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