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A conversation about performing arts during COVID-19

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The cast and production team of the highly-successful musical turned online sensation “Ang Huling El Bimbo” discussed how the quarantine affected the performing arts industry, how theater productions shifted from traditional venues to virtual screens, and how creative performances can help audiences cope with the COVID-19 pandemic

By Hannah Mallorca
Features Writer, The Philippine STAR

The online streaming of Ang Huling El Bimbo: The Musical last May 8 and 9 became a trending topic in social media as netizens discussed its story and theater’s role in Filipino culture, among others.

Set to the music of the band Eraserheads, the musical talks about nostalgia and how the past shapes a person’s character in the present. The story focuses on the relationship between Joy, Hector, Anthony and Emman through a series of flashbacks.

With this, The Philippine STAR’s CareerGuide talked about the effects of quarantine on the performing arts industry and its future. The online discussion featured actor Gian Magdangal, Full House Theater company co-artistic directors Michael Williams and Menchu Lauchengco Yulo, and Ang Huling El Bimbo director and choreographer Dexter Santos.

Working in the industry

Maintaining a proper balance between two jobs is a daunting task. Despite this, Mr. Magdangal said that working as an actor and a corporate employee helps in managing himself effectively.

“As an actor, you are your business. If you’re purposeful in doing it and you know what you want to do, it’s inevitable that income will just come in. You have to have faith in yourself and the industry no matter what you do,” he shared.

Looking back, Ms. Yulo admitted that she was lacking when she started out in the performing arts industry. She was able to develop her skills and knowledge through her experiences, both onstage and backstage.

“It was really a baptism of fire and you learn by making mistakes on stage, picking yourself up and just going forward. That’s how we learned. That’s many, many years of mistakes, falling flat on your face, and just learning from the experience,” she added.

Meanwhile, working in the industry made Mr. Williams realize that the camaraderie between performing artists and staff transcends their differences. Even if he’s passionate about his craft, he advised aspiring artists to weigh their decisions before joining the industry.

“It’s not about passion or the economy. It’s about developing yourself, which means choosing work that would develop yourself and what you’ll learn. You need to decide if it gives you artistic or financial value, or if it would boost your career,” Mr. Williams said.

Coping with the pandemic

The future of post-coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) society remains uncertain. However, Mr. Williams emphasized that the performing arts industry will survive since it braved through medical disasters in the past.

According to Mr. Williams, creating content, streaming theater performances and conducting online fundraising activities have helped the industry move forward.

“We didn’t actually stop working. The industry’s shakers and movers had conversations on how to go through the changing times,” he said. “We’ve also been reaching out to government agencies to find out ways to help with the economy and why the industry deserves the relief that others are receiving.”

Ms. Yulo admitted that the overwhelming response of Ang Huling El Bimbo streaming was unexpected since it was originally filmed as an archive. For her, it was an opportunity for the industry to reach out to various audiences.

“The COVID-19 pandemic gave us the thinking that we can stream Ang Huling El Bimbo, resulting in more people appreciating theater. I’m hoping that if we continue streaming stage performances, it can make people come and watch it live in the future,” she added.

How the industry survives

Despite the convenience of streaming, Mr. Santos admitted that the performing arts industry needs to wait before rehearsals, stage productions and performances can resume.

“We really can’t push things since it’s hard to gamble. Personally, I don’t want to sacrifice the safety of my actors and audience because we need to survive,” he said. “Whatever the artist can do online is the least that we can do.”

Despite this, Mr. Santos stressed that the industry would remain despite the pandemic.

“It may not be the same experience as before but reading a play, creating theater-related content or streaming performances makes the industry alive. During this time, I think it’s important to raise a certain awareness about the industry,” he said.

Mr. Santos stated that the artists’ innate ability to create keeps the industry afloat. “What makes theater alive is that it’s natural for an artist to express himself. This is why we have various online content, readings and streaming — these are ideas we have to keep it alive.”

Even if Ang Huling El Bimbo’s story ended in tragedy, it sparked the importance of performing arts in Filipino culture. It might take a while for the industry to resume rehearsals, productions and live performances but the power of creativity will remain timeless.

 

For more information about employment, job openings and advertising options, visit CareerGuide PH on Facebook and LinkedIn.





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