Arts & Leisure

Theater of horror

Posted on October 12, 2016

ON THE big or small screen, tales of horror often rely on visual effects and computer generated imagery. But in live theater, the challenge is to bring the terror on stage and scare a live audience without the visual tricks.

So how do you build up the suspense? Eric Villanueva dela Cruz, TAXI Theater founder and De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB) Theater Arts Program faculty member, said this is done by taking advantage of sounds and lights.

“You don’t have visual effects, CGI, and cut-to-cut close-ups of the different parts of the body,” he said. “It’s easy with the sounds and the lights. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to time it.”

It was in 2012 that the theory was first put to the test. Mr. Dela Cruz, together with his TAXI Theater team, staged Mulagat, a multi-sensorial horror play that he wrote and directed. It also served as the start of the theater company’s ongoing study on audience engagement and immersive theatrical practices.

Mr. Dela Cruz said a multi-sensorial production is nothing new because bits and pieces of it have been done by other theater companies, mostly abroad. Nobody, however, sat down and did a show like this here before.

After its success four years ago, TAXI Theater, together with the Arts Management Program under the School of Design and Arts in DLS-CSB, brings Mulagat back on stage this October, just in time for Halloween.

“I thought about it when my technical theater students and I were waiting for ingress at SMX [Convention Center]. It was taking so long, so I told them the idea of doing a horror play,” he said. “We were trying to combine stories that we knew, and before we [had] entered the venue, the story was pretty much finished and the only thing that was left was to flesh it out and write it down.”

The story that Mr. Dela Cruz and his students came up with is based on a belief that when people die, they only realize they are dead after three days.

Mulagat’s plot centers on graduating architecture student Nico (played alternately by Ike Castro, Japoy Dones, and Timothy Castillo) who wakes up in the middle of the night and investigates the strange sounds in the hallway outside his condo. He stumbles upon a young girl looking for her brother. The tale unfolds in a series of eerie encounters that escalate into a spine-chilling revelation.

The show also stars Denise Nayve, Cathrine Go, Jasper Jimenez, Dylan Ray Talon, Doori Chin, and Kyle Confesor.

“When do you realize that you are dead? During those times, the dead are continuously doing their routines and stuff. That’s pretty much the gist about it,” Mr. Dela Cruz said.

To feel the fear first-hand, Mr. Dela Cruz said he wrote the piece in the dark, scaring himself as he stared at a dark corner to watch a scene unfold before his eyes. This process is reflected in the play’s title, Mulagat, which means wide eyed or staring blankly into space.

“I had to scare myself. If I didn’t really feel anything, if I didn’t get scared, I’d change the scene,” he said. Throughout the creation of Mulagat, he and his team kept inserting characters and backgrounds which resulted in turning Mulagat into a six-part saga.

Asked why it took long to restage Mulagat, Mr. Dela Cruz said they had to exceed what they reached in 2012.

“Sometimes, I ask my students after a restaging if they are still scared. Even the labyrinth, we have to work on it. They say they’re [so] scared that they don’t want to enter anymore,” he said. He is referring to a maze that the audience members have to make their way through before finally reaching the main theater.

The actors revealed they had their fair share of scares during rehearsals. Ms. Go said that on the second week of run-throughs, she dreamt something bad. “Though it wasn’t clear what it was, I had a heavy feeling about it. I started to become sick for two weeks. The director said I have to bring salt everywhere I go,” she said.

Although they have effectively smoothed out the story and improved the set design and effects, Mr. Dela Cruz said they still want to improve some things especially the multi-sensorial aspect.

“We’re still working on the smell. Smell is so hard [to do]. In the States, they have this particular device to suck the air and make it dry so that the smell would travel. We don’t have that here,” he said.

He works closely with Mulagat’s lights designer Theo Dacanay and sound designer Simo Dacanay.

“I could continue on and on with what I think the play could mean, but ultimately, the audience will receive it differently -- as any [piece of] art should be. I feel that it is better to just enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it,” Mr. Dela Cruz said. -- Camille Anne M. Arcilla

Mulagat currently has performances until Oct. 29 at the SDA Black Box Theater, 6F Benilde School of Design and Arts Campus, 950 P. Ocampo St., Malate, Manila. For inquiries, call 0908-485-4983 or Visit for more details.