VLF 2020: Exploring transnational identity

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VIRGIN Labfest 2020: KAPIT — the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ theater festival of new, unstaged one-act plays, which has moved to the digital realm because of the restrictions imposed to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus — is two days away from its first online premiere.

Claro De Los Reyes’ Mongoloida’s Casa De Pun is one of the plays selected for a staged reading.

Directed by Guelan Luarca, the play follows the internal struggle of Afro-Filpina Enrica who migrated to New York City under contentious circumstances related to her upbringing. She confronts a transnational cast of historical characters who navigate life with differing world views.

“The play was first drafted in 2016 as a response to the original Black Lives Matter movement, and maybe a relationship to what Filipinos have with the idea of colorism,” Mr. De Los Reyes, who is currently based in New York, told BusinessWorld in a Zoom interview on June 2.

Of the materials Mr. De Los Reyes encountered during his research for the play, he said that he was largely influenced by African American playwright Adrienne Kennedy’s one-act play Funnyhouse of a Negro. The 1964 play is about the internal struggle with racial identity of a mixed race young woman, which uses historical figures as manifestations of her mind.

Mongoloida’s Casa de Pun, Mr. De Los Reyes said, focused on “fracturing a linear understanding of the character.”

“[It is] actually very timely for today. It asks a lot of questions in a nonlinear way about colorism in Filipino society. The idea of being dark skinned is a big theme in the play,” he said, noting that the origins of the main character are up for interpretation.

“I wanted to take that sensibility and really highlight a central character, exploring, and embodying transnational identity. So, even if they are 100% Filipino, there are different worlds that they’re occupying,” he added, citing questions of how a black Filipino, her language, her sense of identity, are received and perceived as a migrant.

The narrative veers away from the “well-made play catharsis” of following a character’s story and their goals, and by the end they either become successful or are defeated.

“I’m hoping that the experience starts a conversation as opposed to ingesting it like a story that satisfies. Hopefully it’s engaging too. But engaging in a very different way,” he said.

In the play’s cast are Kakki Teodoro, Tata Tuviera, Ybes Bagadiong, Anthony Vaughn, Teisha Duncan, Arvy Dimaculangan, Carmen Dolina, Kat Dizon, and Franny Tan.

Mongoloida’s Casa De Pun will stream live on June 24, 5 p.m.

THE ONLINE MIGRATION
For the past three months of the lockdown, the Virgin Labfest (VLF) has been preparing and adjusting to the new medium.

“I think everyone’s excited, everyone’s nervous, and everyone is just continuously expanding their patience and their understanding of what is possible,” VLF festival director JK Anicoche told BusinessWorld in a separate Zoom interview.

“Our initial invitation [was] for the artists is just to create a Zoom reading of their performances in the most basic sense. But we cannot stop artists from exploring and being at their best. And when they told us about their intention to explore things, I kind of anticipated that,” he added, noting that everyone involved has acquired new skills due to the transition.

“If it’s worth doing, maybe it’s worth overdoing. And we learn from that,” he said.

Likewise, Cultural Center of the Philippines Vice-President and Artistic Director Chris B. Millado said that the transition “can actually be an opportunity to broaden audiences through our online reach,” speaking to BusinessWorld via a Zoom interview on June 4.

“This whole situation of quarantine made me trust a singular characteristic of artists which is our sense of improvisation and adaptability,” he added.

WHERE AND HOW TO CATCH THE SHOWS
The VLF 2020’s 10 main featured plays, staged readings, and revisited plays will premiere via free live streaming on the cultural center’s official Facebook page beginning June 10.

Recorded versions of the shows will be streamed on the Vimeo website and app beginning June 14 to 28. Viewers can set up an account then search for Cultural Center of the Philippines or VLF Kapit for access to the shows.

The festival also offers series packages: a Regular Series Package (P100) which includes VLF 2020: KAPIT productions of the 10 new featured works, three revisited plays, and five staged readings); while the Premium Series Package (P200) includes all performances, and interviews with playwrights, directors, designers, and behind-the-scenes footage. (To purchase the packages, go to https://vimeo.com/ondemand/vlf2020kapit or https://vimeo.com/ondemand/vlf2020kapitpremium.)

“After paying a fee and watching a show, each show would have a Pass the Hat button, where if [audience members] really love the experience, they can donate either in cash or kind. Whatever is collected at the end of each show will go directly to the cast and crew involved in that production,” Mr. Millado said.

Aside from the revisited plays and staged readings, the VLF Playwright’s Fair and Virgin Labfest 2020 Writing Fellowship Program will stream via CCP’s official Facebook page.

The VLF Playwright’s Fair online will feature this year’s playwrights talking about their work. It will be held on June 11-14, 17-20, 25-27 at 8 p.m. Participating in the event as panelists are playwrights Allan Lopez, Liza Magtoto, Layeta Bucoy, Maynard Manansala, Chuckberry Pascual, U Z. Eliserio, Dustin Celestino, Eljay Castro Deldoc, Guelan Luarca, Vlad Gonzales, and Nicolas Pichay. Writers Dingdong Novenario, Luna Sicat Cleto, and Visconde Carlo Vergara will have solo talks, while Sari Saysay will render an online reading.

Meanwhile, the Virgin Labfest 2020 Writing Fellowship Program will culminate in an online staged reading of the fellows’ works on June 28 at 2 and 5 p.m. When schedules overlap, the featured performances will stream on the cultural center’s official Facebook page while the VLF Playwright’s Fair will stream at the official VLF Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/thevirginlabfest).

For more details and show schedules, visit https://www.facebook.com/culturalcenterofthephilippines/ and https://www.facebook.com/thevirginlabfest/, or join https://www.facebook.com/groups/VLFTambayan/. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman





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