HOW a family deals with mental illness is the theme behind one of the entries in this year’s Virgin Labfest (VLF), the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ festival of new, unstaged one-act plays, which is going online this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic.

Floyd Tiogangco’s featured play, Pilot Episode, revolves around a young gay man and how his parents attempt to de-escalate his extreme manic-depressive episode after he quits his job.

Director Giancarlo Abrahan said that the play is semi-autobiographical.

“The playwright based the [story’s] situation on quitting a job through text and being so guilty about it. And then, having his parents deal with the situation. He wanted to [be left] alone, but also wanted people to talk to [about the situation],” he told BusinessWorld in a Zoom interview on May 21.

Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic depression), as defined in the National Institute of Mental Health website, “is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” Signs and symptoms of the disorder include episodes of intense emotion (

“We want to look into how [you] dissect a situation wherein [you] do not fully understand what your loved one is going through, meanwhile they cannot make others understand what they are going through,” he added.

The Virgin Labfest team is arranging to have mental health professionals available for an online discussion after the show.

The need for understanding and the desire to organize complexities are the two messages the play hopes to bring to audiences.

“It is not something that you must fix. [But] you can find ways to put order in it and ways to help support the situation,” Mr. Abrahan said. “You try to be there but sometimes you don’t want people to be there. It’s that complex idea. How are you there for the people you love?”

Phi Palmos takes on the role of the young gay son, while Missy Maramara and Jojit Lorenzo play his parents.

Thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Virgin Labfest is going online this year, with live streamed performances and readings, among others.

Because of the need to maintain social distancing amid the quarantine, the production of Pilot Episode has turned to Zoom as their main platform for rehearsals. For the show, they are working on a two-camera setup — a front camera, and phone camera on either the actor’s left or right.

“We figure out their interactions based on those two cameras. Even though I’m a film director, I tell you, it’s a different animal,” Mr. Abrahan said of the challenge in bringing live theater online.

He added that instead of directing and having full control of the camera, he is also instructing the actors to set up cameras, microphones, and props.

“If there’s something that I would take away from [this experience], it is the idea that we’re not afraid to try again and test something new,” Mr. Abahan said.

Pilot Episode will stream live on June 13, 5 p.m., and June 24, 2 p.m.

Aside from the plays and staged readings, viewers can also catch the VLF Playwright’s Fair online with this year’s playwrights talking about their work on June 11-14, 17-20, 25-27 at 8 p.m. Meanwhile, the Virgin Labfest 2020 Writing Fellowship Program will culminate in an online staged reading of the fellows’ works on June 28 at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

For more details and show schedules, visit and — Michelle Anne P. Soliman