AFTER 52 years and 82 seasons, Repertory Philippines (Rep) opens 2020 headed by a new artistic director, three first-time directors, and a new staging concept that is separate from Rep’s regular season.

Actress Liesl Batucan, formerly the theater group’s managing director, leads her first season — Rep’s 83rd — as REP’s artistic director with the aim of reaching younger audiences.

“I want to shake things up and infuse a new creative energy. I want to start a conversation with the audience to come to the theater. And also to know the concerns that matter to you and how we can present something that connects,” Ms. Batucan told BusinessWorld at the season’s press launch on Oct. 14 at Rep’s home, the Onstage Theater in Greenbelt 1, Makati.

“[W]e have our loyal audiences and they have grown with us,” Ms. Batucan said. “When I was entrusted [with the role of] artistic director, I told myself to make it my goal to reach the younger generation. I want to connect with you guys,” referring to millennials like this writer, as well as the Gen Z audiences.

THE 83RD SEASON LINEUP
Opening the season is The New York Times’ Critic’s Pick of 2014, Stage Kiss, written by American playwright Sarah Ruhl. The romantic comedy takes place backstage with former lovers “She” and “He” who have been cast as lovers in a 1930s melodrama. Directed by Carlos Siguion-Reyna, it stars Missy Maramara, Tarek El Tayech, Andres Borromeo, Justine Narciso, and Mica Pineda.

“My objective as a director is to have the audience share the journey of these characters,” Mr. Siguion-Reyna said in a video shown during the launch.

Stage Kiss will run from Feb. 7 to March 1, 2020.

The second play is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Anna in the Tropics by Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz. It is set in 1929, in a cigar factory in Tampa, Florida. Juan Julian is hired as a lector, someone who reads to the employees, mostly Cuban immigrants, as they hand roll each cigar. Reading aloud from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, he influences the workers’ lives more than expected. Directed by New York-based production designer Joey Mendoza, the play stars Ana Abad Santos, Jake Macapagal, Paolo O’ Hara, Brian Sy, Gab Pangilinan, Gie Onida, and Madeleine Nicolas.

“I’d like people to walk out of this show thinking of how powerful literature can affect our lives. Things can change. We go into modernity. We like things fast. We look at our cellphones every moment and we stop communicating with each other. But the constant here is I think art and literature will always pull us together,” Mr. Mendoza said of the story in a video shown during the press conference.

Anna in the Tropics will run from March 13 to April 5, 2020.

Rep traditionally presents a musical to cap the season and this year the choice was Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s well-loved Broadway musical — and TIME Magazine’s Best Musical of the 20th Century — Carousel. The musical — first performed in 1945 — revolves around the romance between millhouse worker Julie Jordan and carousel barker Billy Bigelow. After losing their jobs because of their love affair, Billy resorts to theft to provide for their unborn child. Directed by Toff de Venecia, the cast is led by Nikki Gil and Gian Magdangal who are both making their REP debuts.

“The themes are universal, timely, and relevant,” Mr. De Venecia said, citing themes of love and redemption. “We’re excited to be able to excavate all of that and be able to bring that to our 2020 staging.”

Carousel will run from May 1 to 24, 2020.

REP 2020 ends with REP Theater for Young Audiences’ musical Snow White and the Prince by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. Directed by Joy Virata, the musical will run from Sept. 12, 2020 to January 31, 2021.

SITE SPECIFIC PLAYS
Due to a blackout during one show of Father’s Day last season (Ms. Batucan was in the cast), the audience was given the option to either have their tickets refunded or stay and watch the show in the dark — and the audience agreed to the latter.

“We had to perform with no lapel microphone and then they all chose to stay, and when the lights came on, they were unhappy,” Ms. Batucan recalled. After the show, the experience sparked an idea for a new staging concept which she described as “bare bones, stripped, and unamplified.”

Directed by Ed Lacson Jr., REP Unplugged is alternative theater, and will be performed in unconventional performance spaces. It is independent from the rest of the season and will be launched on June 2020 during the interval between REP’s first three plays and its children’s production.

“It’s a work in progress,” Mr. Lacson said. “We’re doing it in an unconventional space. It’s not a reading or a rehearsal. [It’s a] fully realized production but in an unconventional, site specific space. We’re still finding the right material for the right venue. I can’t wait to start working on it. “

For updates, show schedules, ticket inquiries, and season passes, visit www.repertoryphilippines.ph, and repertoryphilippines on Facebook and Instagram. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman