'The Princess and the Red Carp' opens Theater Down South season

'The Princess and the Red Carp' opens Theater Down South season
By Walter Ang
August 30, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Manila audiences are familiar with Michael Williams as one of the long-time resident actors of Repertory Philippines and one of the original West End cast members of "Miss Saigon."

Over the past few years, he's been doing more backstage work south of the metropolis?specifically, as artistic director of his own theater company, Theater Down South (TDS), based in Alabang.

TDS' 2010 season opens with "The Princess and the Red Carp," an original musical that hews close to one of the earliest versions of the Cinderella story.

With book, music and lyrics by company member Joonee Garcia, the show started off as a small-scale Chinese New Year show that The Podium mall commissioned from the group earlier this year. Favorable audience response spurred the company to expand it to its present full-length production.

"While we're most familiar with the retellings of Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, the story exists in different forms in various cultures," notes Williams. "The oldest known recorded version of the story is Chinese in origin, written down by Tuan Ch'eng-shih in the middle of the ninth century AD."

The heroine, Yeh Hsien, triumphs over adversity with the help of a magical red carp who provides her with clothes, jewelry, and, most importantly, a pair of tiny golden slippers.

"The Princess and the Red Carp" opened last weekend and runs until Sept. 19.

"TDS is on a mission to encourage the theatergoing habit, especially in the suburban communities," Williams says. "Smaller family-friendly shows such as this one are a great way to introduce new audiences to the experience."

Williams relishes his role offstage at TDS.

"I've always directed. I guess it's just not publicly known," he says. "It all evolved from when I started teaching in Rep's summer workshops."

He moved up from teaching assistant to handling his own classes. Every year, he'd helm his students' culminating showcase at the end of the workshop.

"It was like my on-the-job training!" he says with a laugh. "Also, being a theater actor all of my adult life, I have learned about directing by being directed, and by exposure to different directors."

He later started to direct for Rep (recently as assistant to Baby Barredo for "Sweeney Todd") as well as for Philippine Opera Company (for "Master Class").

Inspiration and advocacy
The workshops led to teaching opportunities for several schools, either as a moderator or a headmaster for theater groups. He's been teaching in De La Salle Zobel for several years, and this spurred him to aspire for a more community-wide endeavor.

"There is such a theater culture in that school. Where do these kids and kids like these go for their theater fix? Where do their folks go?" he says. "The south is so vast, and the journey to Manila can be a deterrent. Surely there are those who would rather stay in town and might appreciate being able to watch or participate in theater somewhere nearby if they could."

This insight, coupled with a desire to spread theater (inspired by the advocacy of his own mentors from Rep, namely Zeneida Amador and Baby Barredo), drove him to find like-minded individuals.

"Before we knew it, TDS has already been around for three years!"

Eschewing labels such as "community theater" or "regional theater," Williams points out that the group is focused on simply being a professional theater group. It has already mounted musical versions of "Treasure Island" and "Rapunzel," as well as Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

"I think the theater industry today is as vibrant as it has ever been," he says. "It's high time for TDS to exist."

Given his own journey from acting to other disciplines in theater, Williams encourages his actors to work in all areas of the theater, including stage management, marketing, teaching and writing.

"This not only gives them a wider understanding of their work and uncovers untapped potential, it also adds to their skills set, making them more employable in the long run," he says.

Season line-up
In October, TDS will stage the Tony Award-winning Stephen Sondheim musical farce "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Sondheim is the recipient of eight Tony Awards (including one for Lifetime Achievement); an Academy Award; a Pulitzer Prize; several Grammy Awards.

This production of "Forum" coincides with Sondheim's 80th birthday, which is being celebrated with a year of concerts and revivals worldwide.

The season will wrap with a restaging of TDS' version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," this time using a pan-Asian motif. Taking inspiration from Chinese epic films and Japanese animé but keeping the original text, the group aims to make the Bard's work more accessible to a modern-day audience.

The show is available for school tours and includes a mobile lobby exhibit and post-show open forums to encourage student learning and interaction.

TDS stages its shows at Insular Life Theater, Filinvest Corporate City, Alabang. Call 0916-6436976 and 5056380, visit www.theaterdownsouth.com.

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Paper aesthetics at Yuchengco Museum

Paper aesthetics
By Walter Ang
August 16, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Paper, and the many forms it can take, is celebrated in Yuchengco Musuem's current exhibit titled "Pumapapel: Art in Paper." The exhibit features the work of seven artists, artisans, and designers who explore paper in a range of expression.

The exhibit is prologued in the interior of the elevator: the walls are covered in cross-sections of paper pads. When the doors open on the third floor, visitors are welcomed by an explosion of paper stones hanging in mid-air.

The installation, "Suspended Garden," was created by Tes Pasola and Tony Gonzales. Arranged in a circular pattern anchored by a mat of rolled up newspapers, guests are encouraged to walk through a swath in the middle of the dangling stones and to lie down on the mat to view the work from the floor.

This composition allows for other vantage points (say, looking down at it from the fourth floor balcony or circling it from the sides) and is a wonderful endeavor that plays with texture, shape, perspective, scale and mass, given its realistic looking stones that float just so, its nylon strings that create the illusion of one rigid column, and the play of small elements that comprise the immense whole.

Different characteristics
Pasola repeats the installation's convention of using detailed rudiments to build a larger scaled piece in her exhibited works. Affiliated with Movement 8, the Filipino design advocacy group, and a consistent Katha Award winner, she showcases the density of paper with broad cross-sections of tightly coiled paper strips.

Gonzales, on the other hand, mirrors the installation's aspect of shape and form though paper infused with leaves, wires and seeds, then molded into wide sheets with funneled eruptions.

The couple has been working as paper artists and paper-based product designers for decades. When approached by the museum to exhibit, they open the floor for other artists to join them.

Printmaker Pandy Aviado, a pioneer in the use and production of handmade paper in art, has collages that call to mind decoupage.

Japanese designer and papermaker Wataru Sakuma plays up the fibrous element of paper by crisscrossing pulp strands (no cutting involved) that have dried into delicate-looking spiderwebs, beehives and a street map of Manila.

The works refuse to conform to the idea that paper is something that has to be flat or whole.

Sakuma has an installation, "Storm," that uses floor-to-ceiling sheets of hole-ridden paper against a light source to showcase the material's ephemeral nature.

Sculptor Impy Pilapil, who often works with stone, stainless steel, and glass, captures motion and volume with pleated strips of colored paper positioned in curves and waves.

Joey Cobcobo combines his passions in painting, printmaking and woodcarving to create a series of paper bowls titled "Sungkaan."

Art can also be useful, the exhibit seems to declare. After all, the artistic use of fibers from abaca, salago, cogon and raffia has made Philippine-made paper unique, particularly in paper crafts, Christmas decor, gifts, and novelties for the global market.

As it turns out, fabric can also be created from handmade paper threads. Master papermaker Asao Shimura has assembled samples of the fabric called shifu (via dyed kimonos and scarves) as well as the implements involved in making it. Books no bigger than the palm of your hand are also on display from this miniature book artist who makes paper out of piña fiber.

Also on exhibit are limited edition calendars created by Gonzales and Pasola with German designer and artist Inge Brune for the German gifts and home accessories company Hartmut Rader Wohnzubehor GmbH & Co. The latest calendar, "Spirit of Paper," earned a gold prize at the 60th International Calendar Show in Stuttgart, Germany earlier this year.

Paper can also be used as medium of/for instruction. Students from the School of Fashion and the Arts taking up advanced draping under the mentorship of Iskra Orendain have created couture using paper in silhouettes that range from Victorian England to Old World Filipino.

The exhibit ends with another interactive component, "Paper Play," where visitors can tap into their inner artist and create their own paper art.

To complement the exhibit, the museum will offer a series of public programs such as workshops and family art activities. Topics include paper crafts for people of all ages, handmade papermaking, and international design trends in paper.

"Pumapapel: Art in Paper" runs until November 6, 2010. Yuchengco Musuem is at RCBC Plaza, Ayala cor. Buendia Avenues, Makati City. Call 889-1234 or visit www.yuchengcomuseum.org.

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Jon Santos is Irma Vep -this time, not an impersonation

Jon Santos is Irma Vep -this time, not an impersonation
By Walter Ang
August 16, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Jon Santos is known for his standup satire shows that highlight his impersonations of popular figures. With a track record of nineteen years, he has a trove of characters under his belt like Ate Vi, Basana Roces, Armida Sigyon-Makareyna, Sherap Espada, Shawie, Sen. Meeryam, just to name a few.

He will once again attack multiple roles in a single show, but this time, no impersonations. He is currently in rehearsals for Marie Eugenie Theater of the Assumption (Metta)'s restaging of "The Mystery of Irma Vep." One of Off-Broadway's longest running shows, the comedy is by Charles Ludlam, an American actor, director and playwright who founded the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in New York City.

The play involves only two performers (either always two actresses or two actors) with four roles each, including a werewolf, a lord and a lady, a maid and a farmhand. "It really is very, very demanding on a performer," Santos says. "Especially with the accents and the running and the costume changes and a little bit of singing, too."

Before his entry into the stand-up comedy circuit, Santos started out doing theater work with UP Repertory Company under the leadership of Behn Cervantes. After college, he joined Tessie Tomas and Willie Nepomuceno, his idols, in the rounds of political satire shows. "My journey with the UP Theater community extended even after graduation because Willie and Tessie were both from UP and they both also had a love for theater and both also had theater backgrounds," he says.

He was last seen performing in a play for Atlantis Production's Dogeaters. In between his shows and return forays to theater, he once ran a comedy club that featured improv group Philippine Playhouse, whose founder, Ana Valdes-Lim, is Metta's artistic director. Mutual respect and admiration for each other's work has resulted in several collaborations.

Valdes-Lim got Santos to join Irma Vep in its first staging last year. "I was very honored to have been considered qualified and I immediately jumped on the chance to join," Santos says.

The play was chosen partly to service the college's Theater Arts and Media Education program. "The play is technically difficult to do, and it is an acting piece for actors," says Valdes-Lim. "We educate our students and audiences about the importance of having challenging technical and artistic productions. What better way to learn than from difficult pieces?"

For the play, Santos is partnered with Philippine Playhouse member JV Katipunan. "Both are naturals," says Valdes-Lim. "Although both are mimics, they had to create brand new characters from scratch without copying."

While many people assume that his satire shows are mostly adlibbed, Santos reveals that the bulk of his shows are "planned, rehearsed, choreographed and directed." He knows he's done a good job when people think his scripted lines are adlibs. "The adlibs are actually planned and structured!" he says.

His pride lies in giving audiences "fully scripted shows" and he actually finds it "very, very hard not to have a full outline and set of scripts and a guide for any performance." As such, he is no stranger to the rigors of preparing for a play as taxing as this one.

In fact, the process suits his style just fine. "I am the eternal rehearsalist and I like to prepare and prepare and prepare," he says.

Santos notes that doing Irma Vep is a "welcome return to doing theater in a school setting under the supervision of teachers?professionals who have the perspective, the patience, and the discipline and the knowledge that I welcome in my work."

"I like this constant return to the academic setting so I'm always back in a workshop type of situation," he says. "I'm always stretched a little bit. I'm always reminded that certain good habits have to be worked on all over again -- with the voice, the body, with dance, with singing, and, most importantly, with working with a team."

The Mystery of Irma Vep runs Aug. 28, Sept. 4 and Sept. 11, 2010 with 2pm and 7pm shows at San Lorenzo Blackbox Theater, Assumption College, Makati City. The show comes with a Lecture Demonstration by Ana Valdes-Lim on "Rehearsal Techniques" for Directors and Teachers, a question-and-answer forum with the actors, and a backstage tour. Call 817-0757 loc. 1161 to 1163 or 894-2681.

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