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A SCENE from 9Works’ Every Brilliant Thing — MICHELLE ANNE P. SOLIMAN

By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter

ACTORS live and breathe the story of a play or musical. They memorize lines, blocking, and choreography for months prior to sending its message to an audience.

Repertory Philippines’ Anna in the Tropics was all set for opening night on March 13. Performing her first straight play, Gabriela Pangilinan (who plays Marela) talked about her excitement, along with fellow cast members.

“Skyzx Labastilla (who plays Conchita) and I were talking in our last few days before our opening night that we were so excited to have an audience already because we believed it was the last ingredient that the show needed,” Ms. Pangilinan told BusinessWorld in an e-mail. “At that time, we had already been running the show every day, for days and days.”

On March 12, Code Red Sublevel 2 was declared in Metro Manila, placing the region under community quarantine as a response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The memo from the Malacañang prohibits mass gatherings which included entertainment activities. It led theatrical companies to postpone or cancel shows.


“I couldn’t believe it, to be honest,” Ms. Pangilinan wrote of her reaction upon learning of the cancellation. “It was definitely a show of many firsts. I’ve never been a part of a show that needed to be canceled before it even opened.”

Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group’s 2020 season opener, The Band’s Visit was also unable to open on the same weekend and consequently canceled all shows this month.

“I was heartbroken, but I understood that it was necessary to help contain the virus and save lives. The whole world is facing this difficult battle,” Maronne Cruz, who plays Julia in the show, wrote in an e-mail to BusinessWorld.

Likewise, Ms. Pangilinan wrote: “I understand the reason why the show needed to be canceled and the importance of staying home (if possible) and doing our part to help our brothers and sisters most affected and most vulnerable by our country’s (or even the world’s) current state.”

Show postponements and cancellations can lead to financial difficulties for theater folk.

“As a freelance actor, we rely on our work and our projects for our income. If there are postponements or cancellations, it isn’t good for us,” Ms. Pangilinan wrote. “But then again, it is a case-to-case basis and this isn’t a case any of us have ever had to deal with.”

“I think I’m speaking for a lot of my fellow actors when I say that even if theater isn’t our only source of income, our other sources are still events or performance arts based, and those were all canceled as well,” Ms. Cruz wrote.

“A lot of us pretty much lost all of our jobs for the next few months, and a lot of us sustain families with the income from those jobs,” she added.

As Luzon remains under enhanced community quarantine, theater companies are holding back on rescheduling and continuing with the next shows in their lineup.

Following the cancellation of Anna in the Tropics, Repertory Philippines has postponed Carousel which was to open in May, to a later date.

“Right now, the situation is very fluid, and our plans will need to be continually assessed and periodically re-assessed as new information comes in,” Repertory Philippines artistic director Liesl Batucan wrote in an e-mail.

Ms. Batucan added that logistical factors such as schedules of the cast, creatives, and production teams, and availability of theater and rehearsal venues, as well as financial factors are considered when rescheduling shows. “We have to weigh everything as a component of an entire theatrical season,” she wrote.

The Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) postponed all its remaining shows of Under My Skin indefinitely since March 13.

“Originally, we were planning to stage the rest of the shows by mid-April, but given new guidelines (enhanced community quarantine) it may not be the case,” PETA public relations head Leloi Arcete wrote in an e-mail. “As of now, Under My Skin is the only production affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Meanwhile, Sandbox Collective’s adaptation of Duncan MacMillan’s Every Brilliant Thing and Lungs will be rescheduled to a later date; while one of 9Works Theatrical’s shows, slated for the second quarter, will be scheduled for next year.

“[While] we would love to reschedule these as soon as possible, we have to prioritize public health and safety,” The Sandbox Collective marketing and public relations director Sab Jose wrote.

“Things will have to normalize first given the current situation before we can really tell and reschedule all our performances. The availability of our cast and venue will also be a factor as to when our shows can push through,” 9Works Theatrical’s Managing Director and Executive Producer Santi C. Santamaria wrote.

“We are inclined to just postpone and reschedule all our productions to a later date once the current state of calamity abates,” Mr. Santamaria added. “We have no plans of totally canceling them.”

Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group did not respond to BusinessWorld when asked to comment on the matter. The company has canceled its production of the musical Oliver! Which was set to open in June.

Storytelling is not complete without an audience.

“There’s a lot that goes into being a theater practitioner,” Ms. Cruz wrote, citing that the craft is physically and mentally demanding, and requires honing outside work hours.

“On top of that, we also have to overcome other things like society invalidating the arts as a career path, exploitation of artists by big companies, etc. There’s also the risk of pursuing a career that depends on passing auditions,” she added.

Ms. Cruz noted that, “the audience is not just a collaborator in shows, they’re essential.”

“Theater can really change people for the better and the audiences are crucial because they’re the ones receiving and discussing the messages in every show. They’re the ones carrying the story after it’s been told,” she said.

For Ms. Pangilinan, the audience exudes a shared energy during a show.

“It’s hard to explain, but there’s something about shared energy, in a room of actors on stage doing a show, and the audience that watches that show. It is a shared space that cannot be replicated,” she wrote. “Magic happens there, [I think].”

When the quarantine and pandemic is over, Ms. Pangilinan will go back to the theater for Teatro Kapamilya’s Tabing Ilog the Musical (which postponed the rest of its shows three days after it opened). In May, she will begin rehearsals for Full House Theater’s Bongga Ka Day which is scheduled to open in June.

“I have the scripts for both productions. I will be working on and preparing for them,” she wrote.

For Ms. Cruz, however, her upcoming shows were affected.

“Unfortunately, all my next productions were canceled due to the pandemic,” she wrote.

But while Luzon is under enhanced community quarantine, Ms. Cruz is using the time to help in ways she can.

“We don’t know when normalcy will return so I’m taking things a day at a time,” she said. “[In] the meantime, I’m sharing information and contributing to various donation drives as much as my situation allows,” Ms. Cruz wrote.

Despite the uncertainty of the future, Pangilinan and Cruz echo each other’s optimism and resilience.

“I believe we (the theater community), are in this together. And together, we shall rise again,” Ms. Pangilinan said.