ALREADY a hotbed of the new and cutting edge in theater, the 2020 Virgin Labfest theater festival does not disappoint this year. Instead of cancelling outright in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will stage its new “untied and untested” plays online for the first time. The use of green screens, recorded material, and meeting platforms are all being considered in this unique staging of the festival.

This year’s Virgin Labfest (VLF) — a production of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in collaboration with the Writers Bloc and Tanghalang Pilipino — will push through as originally scheduled and stream online from June 10 to 28 according to an April 12 announcement by festival director JK Anicoche, made via a Facebook video.

In a video interview with BusinessWorld, Mr. Anicoche noted that this year’s play directors were consulted about adjusting to an online medium.

“We had that good conversation with our directors, because to do it on a virtual stage is a lot of things to ask. I’m proud of this roster of directors because initially they just took the challenge and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

When making the decision to go on in this manner, they considered the welfare of the artists and production teams, and the support for the livelihood of artists.

“For a lot of artists, it’s very important for them. That they’re looking forward to something that they’re doing on a regular basis. A lot of artists are looking forward to those rehearsals and they get to do what they do best, which is to perform,” Mr. Anicoche said.

The festival — this year titled Kapit (Hold On) — will feature nine new one-act plays, three restaged plays which had been performed at previous Labfests, and six new works for staged readings.

The new one-act plays are: Tyron Casumpang’s Blackpink, Dustin Celestino’s Doggy, Norman Boquiren’s Mayang Bubot sa Tag-araw, Jay Crisostomo’s Dapit Hapon, Juliene Mendoza’s Multiverse, Luis Nario’s Gin Bilog, Daryl Pasion’s Papaano Turuan ang Babae Humawak ng Baril, Floyd Tiogangco’s Pilot Episode, and Jobert Grey Landeza’s Teacher Kit.

The revisited plays are: UZ Eliserio’s Anak Ka Ng, Herlyn Alegre’s Fangirl, and Rick Patriarca’s Wanted: Male Boarders.

The new works for staged readings are: Nicko de Guzman’s Bagahe, Dingdong Novenario’s Dominador Gonzales-National Artist, Buch Dacanay’s Jenny Li, Rouchelle Dinglasan’s Lady Masters, Bernice Dacara’s Matira Matibay, and Claro De Los Reyes’ Mongoloida’s Casa de Pun.

Aside from the stagings, the festival will include conversations with the directors and writers prior to the live streamed staging. There will also be talkback sessions, which Mr. Anicoche noted as a chance for audiences to “dig deeper into these narratives.”

The stories themselves will not be adapted to address COVID-19, they will retain their original premise.

“The selection of stories that we have for this year are the stories that present new perspectives into our understanding of history, into our way of looking at present day society, and, of course, how we are reimagining the future,” Mr. Anicoche said.

In preparation for the online staging of the plays, some directors are making use of recorded material, exploring the use of green screen, and reflecting on how to stage the story while distanced.

“The CCP shall mobilize [a] budget to acquire the appropriate software, conduct re-tooling training for directors, playwrights, creatives, and actors to get ‘friendly’ with the online platform,” CCP Vice-President and Artistic Director Chris B. Millado told BusinessWorld in an online interview.

The VLF team is currently studying which streaming platforms — such as Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), Zoom, or Facebook — to use to present the online stagings.

As for the festival’s ticketing procedures, Mr. Millado said that it is “still an ongoing discussion” with the CCP’s marketing team.

“The creative challenge for all involved was to look for ways to implement a festival known for its intimate, face-to-face engagement between artists and audiences, while maintaining social distancing,” Mr. Millado said. “By delivering theater in an exciting new way, CCP’s VLF continues to inspire audiences and, at the same time, protects livelihoods of artists, creatives and technical staff during a time of vulnerability.”

Mr. Anicoche noted that the same lineup of works will be restaged in next year’s festival.

“We continue to gather, build a community, and then we create, even in most difficult times. The role of theater is to gather people, and the role of the theater is to make people listen to each other, and make sense of what is happening in our everyday lives,” Mr. Anicoche said.

For updates on the VLF, visit — Michelle Anne P. Soliman