2008 gets ready for the 4th Virgin Labfest

Take 4 for Virgin Labfest 
By Walter Ang
June 9, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

"The Virgin Labfest is a venue for playwrights, directors and actors to bring to life `untried, untested, unpublished and unstaged' one-act plays," explains festival founder Rody Vera. Now on its fourth year, this annual showcase of emerging playwrights has grown organically and now includes a workshop component for high school students who wish to learn more about the craft of playwriting and even a contest for owners of blogs (web logs or online journals).

Kicking off on June 25 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the labfest is presented by the Writers Bloc, an independent organization of established and aspiring playwrights headed by Vera, and the CCP's resident theater group Tanghalang Pilipino.

Following the convention of past labfests, "this year, there will be five sets of one-act trilogies where each set deals with a central topic or unifying theme ranging from comedies to political commentaries and gender issues to ghost stories," says Vera.

In the set "Katotohanan, Katarungan, Kapatiran," first time labfest entrant National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose's "Dong-ao" serves as a sequel of sorts to the author's series of novels Pretenders, Tree and Mass. "Dong-ao is a traditional Ilokano funeral ceremony where relatives and friends pay tribute to the deceased. In this short play, Pepe Samson, the lead character in Jose's novel Mass is already dead. Different characters from the three novels visit the wake and speak their mind," Vera explains.

Given that Jose's three novels had already been adapted to for the stage, he will be sharing his thoughts in a forum titled "From Page to Stage; The Novelist in Front of the Footlights."

Noted director and playwright Floy Quintos will also be a first time entrant to the labfest with his "Ang Kalungkutan ng mga Reyna" included in the set "Pagkagahaman. Panlilinlang. Pananampalataya." His play is about "a lady president who wants to be queen and her conversations with hairdresser," says Vera.

Name blind
This year's inclusion of experienced and veteran writers has provided an air of prestige for the other up-and-coming playwrights. "They are honored and excited to be included in the same festival with Jose and Quintos," says Vera. Names, however, are never part of Vera's selection process when he shortlists which plays will be included in the labfest.

This color-blind (or name-blind, in this instance) method has resulted in the inclusion of two foreign playwrights in this year's festival. Japanese Hasehiroichi's "Amoy ng Langit," a ghost story, and Malaysian Koh Jun Eiow's "Ang Dalawa Niyang Libing."

Koh's play is about a Chinese businessman living in Malaysia who converts to Islam in order to fit in but does not actually practice it. "The play tackles the travails of a family caught in between two faiths and a government unable to address the problem that has turned into a national issue," says Vera. "It's a composite of real people because this actually happens in Malaysia. In fact, because it's such a delicate issue, I don't know if it will ever be produced there."

Also for kids
The festival also has one set of plays especially for children. "These were plays commissioned by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People based on published children's stories," explains Vera. The set "Mga premyadong kuwentong pambata," will feature Niel de Mesa's adaptation of "Terengati" by Victoria Añonuevo, Argel Tuazon's adaptation of "Bru-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, Bru-hi-hi-hi-hi-hi" by Ma. Corazon Remigio, and Job Pagsibigan's adaptation of "Uuwi na Ang Nanay Kong si Darna" by Edgar Samar.

To provide audiences the best chance of catching the shows (given the wide variety and number of productions), each of the five sets is scheduled to be staged four times.

Attendees to the first weekend performances will have a chance to win prizes. "All active bloggers need to do is write a blog (web log or online journal) review about a specific set and post it in their blogs within 48 hours after watching," says Dennis Marasigan, Tanghalang Pilipino's Artistic Director. Winners will be chosen for each set of Labfest plays and receive prizes consisting of gift certificates and other merchandise.

In addition to the main performances, full length plays will be featured in a series of staged readings. The readings will include excerpts from "Savage Stage," an anthology of nine plays spearheaded by Ma-Yi Theater Company?the well lauded Filipino theater company based in New York City led by executive director Jorge Ortoll and artistic director Ralph Peña.

In line with its objective to train young writers and to discover new talents and works, this year's festival has a new component called the Labfest Lab.

"We'll have ten slots for high school students who are interested in theater and playwriting to be mentored throughout the festival by a member of the Writer's Bloc. They will be given complimentary tickets to all the Labfest performances and will have workshops sessions on playwriting with director and playwright Niel de Mesa," Vera says. "At the end of the festival, the students are expected to write short, five or ten minute plays." The Labfest Lab will culminate in a staged reading of their works.

For details on the Virgin Labfest, call 832-1125 loc. 1600 or 832-3661. For details on how to apply for a slot in Labfest Lab, please call Nikki Torres at 832-1125 loc. 1607 or 832-2314 or email drama_ccp@yahoo.com.

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