Eating food, speaking words, making theater

Eating food, speaking words, making theater
By Walter Ang
Dec. 5, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Word of Mouth Theater's
staged reading of "Picasso at the Lapin Agile"
While musicals seem to be the default choice these days of many English-language theater groups in Manila, there are a few groups serving up straight plays—with food and beer.

9 Works Theatrical staged “Sweet Charity” a few months ago and has already announced its “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” for next year.

Repertory Philippines and Stages’ co-production of “Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure” just wrapped up.

Rep’s children’s musical “Suessical” and Resorts World Manila’s staging of “Sound of Music” both run until December.

Atlantis Productions wrapped up its rerun of “Next to Normal” and opened “Disney’s Little Mermaid” last week.

Groups have already announced its musicals for next year: Rep has “Jekyll and Hyde,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Disney’s Camp Rock: The Musical.” Atlantis has “In the Heights,” “Rock of Ages,” “Nine” and “Shrek the Musical.”

On the opposite side of these big musicals, staged in big theaters usually preceded by months of publicity, there have also been several small-scale, stripped-down straight plays usually announced only days or weeks earlier.

And by some strange twist, all these “small” plays have been served together with food.

Actress/director Ana Abad Santos curated “Unlimited Text,” where 19 actors performed excerpts from five plays at Taumbayan Resto-Bar in Quezon City.

Natividad “Naty” Crame-Rogers’ Philippine Drama Company Sala Theater just wrapped up National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin’s “Portrait of an Artist as Filipino” in a dinner-theater presentation at Ilustrado restaurant in Intramuros.

Word of Mouth (WOM) Theater Philippines presented, under its Play with Your Food (PWYF) series, a staged reading of Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” at Quantum Café in Makati. (The restaurant has been home to weekly performances by Silly People’s Improv Theater, more commonly known as SPIT.)
“Unlimited Text” had a one-night-only rerun at Quantum Café a few days after “Picasso’s” premiere.

The three groups didn’t make any plans to perform at dining establishments instead of theaters. Perhaps, though, some unspoken energy within the theater community spoke to the hunger of both artists and audiences for more straight plays—even if they got their fill only through excerpts and readings instead of a full production.

“Theater is not synonymous with musicals! Don’t get me wrong, I love musicals, but it’d be nice if we had a good number of straight plays to balance things out,” says Abad Santos.

“There is nothing like the text and the actor. It’s an opportunity to face your demons whether as artist or audience. A straight play just goes way deeper, this never-ending struggle to unearth all the possibilities in the written word. There is so much power there.”

Reading and risking
“I get a lot of requests from actors to just hang out and read into the wee hours of the morning. We’d read plays we’ll probably never get to do. Just something for the soul,” adds Abad Santos.

“In the end, you need to be heard. ‘Unlimited Text’ materialized along with fellow actors Jenny Jamora and Topper Fabregas. We wanted to celebrate the text. We wanted to share our celebration of the diverse talent of Philippine theater actors.”

“Taumbayan is owned by fellow theater actors. We felt it was best to jump-start the series there. It also gives it that underground indie feel that we want. We’re open to performing in other places though.”

Jeremy Domingo, Word of Mouth Theater artistic director, says WOM’s PWYF is an experimental series that brings together “actors in a scenario fueled by the instinctive rawness and thrill of a first table read. It’s theater that’s more dangerous, more risky and less polished, which becomes a compelling experience for both performer and audience.”

“One of my most memorable experiences was joining Barangay Theater Guild’s (BTG) dramatic reading of Ladislav Fodor’s ‘The Vigil’ in 2006, directed by Daisy Avellana, assisted by her son, the late, great José Mari Avellana. It was evidence that a staged reading, with great material and seasoned performers, can keep an audience riveted for two hours.”

Crame-Rogers originated the role of Paula in BTG’s world premiere of “Portrait,” and acted with Daisy (as Candida) under the direction of Daisy’s husband, Lambert. And she carries on the tradition of sala theater through her group, even staging productions in her own living room.

She uses the opportunity to teach new theater practitioners.  “In our recent staging of ‘Portrait,’ there were five players who’d never performed before! They were shy and nervous, but now they’ve come to be more expressive and daring. They see better what being an actor is like because they’ve met the challenges and now have the ultra-vision of the actor,” says Crame-Rogers.

Domingo says: “We hope to promote staged readings as a viable, legitimate theater genre, as it is in many countries worldwide. This may be a way to bring David Mamet, Neil Simon, Tom Stoppard and other great playwrights, in addition to our local acclaimed and awarded playwrights, to the attention of a new generation of theatergoers.”

Do Filipino audiences (existing and potential) want to watch straight plays in English?

“Yep, they just don’t know it yet, ha-ha!” says Abad Santos. “On a more serious note, it’s not just ‘wanting.’ It’s like water, we need it. Even if sodas taste better.”

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"Disney on Ice" skates back to Manila this Christmas 2011

"Disney on Ice" skates back to Manila this Christmas
By Walter Ang
Dec. 4, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

"Disney On Ice: Let's Celebrate!"
“Disney On Ice” returns to Manila with “Disney On Ice: Let’s Celebrate!” from Dec. 25 until Jan. 3, 2012, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The ice-skating show features more than 50 Disney characters dancing and singing to songs from different Disney films. Mickey Mouse will use his “Global Destinator” to bring everyone to different locations around the world to show how holidays are celebrated, like China for the Chinese New Year and Brazil for Carnival.

Filipino-American figure skater Justine Lopez will play Princess Tiana (“Princess and the Frog”). Princess Tiana will be featured in a royal ball with Disney Princesses like Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, Mulan, Snow White, among others.

The boys are part of the show, too. Audiences will see Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Stitch, Woody, Buzz Lightyear, among others.  Even Jack Skellington and several of the Disney villains will have their own number, a Halloween Haunt.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse will both present a winter wonderland to the audience.

Justine Lopez
Lopez began skating at the age of seven and grew up in Sacramento, California.  Her parents are from Batangas City.  She was accepted to Disney On Ice in 2008 after sending in an audition tape and being granted a personal audition on Valentine’s Day.

She’d already started attending college when she joined Disney On Ice. Her education is on hold at the moment as she tours the world to perform with the show.  Lopez has performed in Canada, Japan and China. “This will be my first time performing and visiting the Philippines,” she says.

“Down the line, I would like to take classes while on tour to start attaining my credits,” she says. Lopez aims to attain a double major in English and Mathematics with a minor in Dance.

Her first role was playing Pocahontas. “Since then, I have been on three different shows and this will be my fourth year with the company. I’ve been honored to play several roles and skate with amazing people.

Princess Tiana and Raveen
Visa cardholders can avail of any of the three Visa Exclusive Bundle Packs, especially priced packages exclusive to Visa cardholders, from now until Dec. 18.

The Lower Box Bundle includes four Lower Box tickets, one souvenir program and one Celebration Party Hat (P4,635). The Upper Box A Premium Bundle includes four Upper Box A VIP tickets and one jumbo popcorn (P3,520). The Upper Box A Regular Bundle includes four Upper Box A regular tickets and one jumbo popcorn (P2,530).

“Visa has been a global partner of The Walt Disney Co. for 14 years,” says Iain Jamieson, Visa country manager for Philippines and Guam. “This promotion for the Manila tour of ‘Disney on Ice: Let’s Celebrate!’ is our year-end gift to cardholders to thank them.”

“Disney on Ice: Let’s Celebrate!” runs Dec. 25-Jan. 3, 2012, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Visa Exclusive Bundle Packs can be booked at, SM Department Stores and ticket counters of TicketNet (9115555 or Visit

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Eco lights now shine on works of art

Eco lights now shine on works of art
By Walter Ang
Nov. 30, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Rico Gonzales, Philips Electronics and Lighting country manager
"Hold on to your incandescent light bulbs, because the only place you'll see them in the future will be in museums," said Rico Gonzales, country manager of Philips Electronics and Lighting.

Philips has partnered with Ayala Museum by providing subsidized lighting using LED (light-emitting diode) units.

At the signing of a memorandum of agreement between both parties, Gonzales noted that LED is fast becoming the standard of lighting for commercial and residential use due to its longevity and low-energy consumption.

LEDs emit less heat than conventional lighting units and do not generate UV (ultraviolet) light?two elements that degrade artworks.
Philips' 35-watt Luxspace LED units have replaced 120-watt incandescent lamps, which results in energy savings of up to 70 percent.

The LED's life span of 50,000 hours (compared to incandescent bulbs' 1,200 hours and compact fluorescent bulbs' 8,000 hours) will result in lower replacement and maintenance costs.

Philips also installed its Dynalite lighting controls to allow the museum to adjust lighting levels according to the needs of different exhibits.

"These solutions address the needs for less energy consumption, higher operational savings and better lighting performance," said Gonzales. "Users of Philips LED lighting solutions can achieve a return on investment in as early as six months.

"But it's not just savings from the lighting units per se. Because there is less heat and energy consumption, it results in savings on air conditioning, as well." Humidity and temperature are also components in conserving artworks, which is why climate-control systems play a crucial role in museums.

"Ayala Museum is delighted to partner with Philips," said Vicky Garchitorena, president of Ayala Foundation. "This highlights the need to embed the principles of sustainable development in all our activities, including our initiatives in art and culture."

For future generations
"It also showcases how technology can be used to conserve our resources so that future generations can continue to enjoy their benefits."

The partnership with Ayala Museum is part of Philips' goal to "showcase Filipino monuments." It has already helped light up the People Power monument in Manila and the Capitol in Cebu.

Philips has a global campaign to highlight "the icons of the world" to expose more people to architectural and cultural structures. "Lighting can help provide a sense of history, a sense of space, a sense of purpose," said Gonzales.

The campaign is also meant to exhibit how lighting can be used to showcase a structure's shape, materials and colors by providing focus, contrast and rhythm. It has lit the Chelsea Bridge in England, the Suzhou Science and Art Center in China, and Enoshima Panorama Lighthouse in Japan, among others.

Established in 1967 by the late artist Fernando Zobel de Ayala, the Ayala Museum has historical collections, 60 handcrafted dioramas, and a one-of-a-kind boat gallery that illustrates the development of Philippine maritime trade and colonial economy. The museum also features paintings by Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo and Fernando Zobel.

"Philips and Ayala Museum both push for our green advocacy to achieve environmental efficiency and sustainability, and, ultimately, a sustainable and progressive country," Gonzales said.

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Japanese danseur featured in BP’s ‘Sleeping Beauty'

Japanese danseur featured in BP’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’
By Walter Ang
Nov. 21, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Japanese ballet danseur Nobuo Fujino will play Prince Desire in Ballet Philippines' staging of "The Sleeping Beauty" this December. He alternates with BP principal dancer Jean Marc Cordero.

BP principal dancers Carissa Adea, Candice Adea and Katherine Trofeo alternate as Princess Aurora, who is cursed as a baby to die. However, good fairies soften the curse and replaces death with a long, deep sleep, which will end with the kiss of true love.

Fujino will perform in only two performances. He will partner Candice Adea, 2011 USA International Ballet Competition silver medalist, in the Dec. 2 fundraising gala for the benefit of the Noordin Jumalon Dance Scholarship Fund.

Jumalon was the CCP Dance School director and passed away last Sept. 24, 2011. He had been with Ballet Philippines for more than 30 years, mentoring hundreds of dancers.

This is Fujino's first time to perform in the Philippines. Fujino is a principal dancer of the Hong Kong Ballet and was formerly a senior artist of the Australian Ballet.

Fujino has portrayed roles such as the Prince in "Cinderella," "The Sleeping Beauty," and "The Nutcracker;" Albrecht in "Giselle;" Solor in "La Bayadere;" among others.

He had been performing the role of the Prince from "The Sleeping Beauty" when he was promoted to principal dancer for Hong Kong Ballet.

"Technically, it is always challenging to work through all partnering and solos in pure classical style," he says.

Cordero became the first Filipino male to reach the semifinals at the 2010 USA International Ballet Competition (touted as the Olympics of ballet) and won best male in a lead role in a Russian Ballet performance category at the 2011 Boston International Ballet Competition.

He partnered Candice Adea at the 2011 BIBC and they both have been invited to by the artistic director of Chelyabinsk State Academy Opera and Ballet Theater to perform lead roles in a full-length production next year.

He won the 2010 Gawad Buhay! Outstanding Male Lead Performer in a Modern Dance Production for his work in BP's "Crisostomo Ibarra."

Since then he's moved up the ranks in BP and has performed in all of BP's productions including principal roles in "La Revolucion Filipina," "Coppelia," "The Nutcracker," "Peter Pan," and "Don Quixote" among others-a long way from when he started ballet training at the late age of 16, just to pass the time while waiting for his girlfriend Candice.

Originally choreographed by Marius Petipa with music composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the duo also known for "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker," "The Sleeping Beauty" is based on Charles Perrault's fairy tale "La belle au bois dormant."

BP staged "The Sleeping Beauty" in 1983 with Japanese Prima Ballerina Yoko Morishita and Cecile Sicangco, Nonoy Froilan and Brando Miranda; and in 1988 with Sicangco, Froilan, then CCP Artist-in-Residence Lisa Macuja and Latvian danseur Aivars Leimanis.

BP ballet master Victor Ursabia is restaging the production. Music will be performed by the Manila Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Jeffrey Solares.

Holiday option
Candice Adea invites the public to try watching a ballet this holiday season for a change. "It's a different kind of magic," she says.

"December is a time when there will be many forms of entertainment to choose from, in this fast-paced world we live in, it's good to have the chance to watch a live performance with the whole family and revel in a show with grace and beauty."

"The Sleeping Beauty" runs Dec. 2-11, 2011 at Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (CCP Main Theater), Cultural Center of the Philippines. Visit Contact Ticketworld at 891-9999; Ballet Philippines at 551-1003, 624-5701; CCP Box Office at 8323704.

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Children's plays by DUP and TP starts Nov. 18, 2011

Children's plays by DUP and TP
By Walter Ang
Nov. 21, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Umaaraw, Umuulan
Dulaang UP will stage "Umaaraw, Umuulan, Kinakasal ang Tikbalang" a children's play based on publisher-painter-theater producer and Philippine Daily Inquirer contributing writer Gilda Cordero-Fernando's children's short story "The Magic Circle."

"The Magic Circle" was serialized in PDI's Learning Section in 2009.* 

Adapted by Rody Vera and directed by José Estrella, "Umaaraw" is about the adventures of a boy named Jepoy Baybayin and his pet dog, Galis, as they go on a "magical journey bursting with fantastic characters and strange happenings."

Jepoy and Galis are invited to a wedding underneath a balete tree, in the middle of the dark forest. There they meet the Spanish-speaking dwarf maitre d' Pacqui, Tatlong Maria (Makiling, Sinukuan and Cacao), the enormous Doña Geronima with her clean and shiny plates, talking pythons and frogs, tiyanak debutantes, ballroom-dancing aswangs, the four musicians of San Roque, and a woeful kapre named Kap.

"Part of the play's objectives is to remind audiences of the richness of our folk literature that are rendered nearly forgotten by foreign popular culture," says Estrella.

"I had fun adapting the story because the story is quirky in itself," says Vera. "I met with Gilda and we decided to add a situation for the Jepoy to experience in order to add dimension to his characterization.  That situation is lifted from another of her short stories for children. We're happy with the results."

Award-winning sculptor Leeroy New does costume design. Visual artist and Anino Shadowplay Collective member Don Salubayba creates shadow puppetry. Lex Marcos is set designer and lighting designer. TJ Ramos handles music and sound design.

"Umaaraw" runs Nov 23 to Dec 11, 2011 at Teatro Hermogenes Ylagan, University of the Philippines, Quezon City. Contact 0917-7500107 or 926-1349.

Emperor moved to 2012
TP's staging of "D'Emperor," George de Jesus III's Tagalog translation and adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes," originally slated for November, will be moved to Jan. 11-22, 2012.

Director Riki Benedicto says, "Tessa Prieto-Valdes, one of TP's board members has been on board with this production, connecting us with Slims Fashion and Arts School and fashion designers."  Joey Samson, Martin Bautista and James Reyes will do costume designs.

This November, Tanghalang Pilipino is restaging "Pinocchio, Gusto Mo Bang Maging Tao?"

First staged in 2002, this children's play is about the magical adventures of a wooden puppet whose quest to become a real boy leads him to learn about life, love and honesty.  This adaptation by George de Jesus of the well-loved classic tale of Carlo Collodi features Tanghalang Pilipino's Actors Company, its resident pool of actors.

"Through a fun-filled interactive staging, the production also tackles environmental awareness and addresses the urgent need to teach our children to be active participants in environmental protection," says artistic director Fernando "Nanding" Josef.

With music by Nonong Buencamino, costume design by George De Jesus, III, set design by Mel Fernando and lighting design by Haia Castro.

"Pinocchio" runs Nov. 18-20, 2011 at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, Cultural Center of the Philippines. Shows beyond these dates are available for booking. Contact 8323661, 0908-8941384, and 0928-2754747.

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*Links to "The Magic Circle" by Gilda Cordero-Fernando:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

Making theater in Cebu for ten years and counting

Making theater in Cebu for ten years and counting
By Walter Ang
Nov. 15, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Hendri Go
To cap its tenth anniversary, Cebu's Little Boy Productions is staging a one-day-only performance of Chris Martinez's comedy "Welcome to Intelstar" and Anton Chekhov's farces "The Boor" and "The Proposal."

LBP brings in shows from Manila and stages its own shows with local talent. It's also done co-productions in Manila, including "Once on This Island" and the Filipino translation of "Art" with Actor's Actors Inc., and the Asian premiere of Disney's "High School Musical" with Ateneo Blue Repertory.

"What I'm most proud of is the diversity of shows that we've done," says Hendri Go, the man behind LBP. "In Manila, you have different theater groups with different segmented markets.  In Cebu, we don't have that.  LBP tries to do a little bit of everything."

LBP has also worked with Repertory Philippines and Atlantis Productions to stage musicals ("The Last Five Years," "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change"), plays ("Tuesdays with Morrie," "Doubt"), and improv acts (Silly People's Improv Theater).

Little Boy
In 2001, Go helped out a friend with the Cebu tour of New Voice Company's "The Vagina Monologues."  He observed the entire process from backstage to front-of-house, including the business side of logistics and ticket sales.

"I realized that you don't have to be a performer to do theater," he says. Prior to this, Go's theater involvement was limited to a summer workshop with Rep when he was in high school, and acting in a musical comedy revue for De La Salle University's Harlequin Theater Guild.

"I saw how the audience loved the show.  Wouldn't it be great if we could have more of these in Cebu? Wouldn't it be great to make theater more accessible to Cebuanos if the shows were brought here?"

Later that same year, he "brought over" the play "Love Letters" to Cebu.  "I found the script quite moving and the production requirements minimal, meaning it didn't cost so much," he says laughing.

LBP was born.

Manila-based actors Bart Guingona and Pinky Amador were cast for "Love Letters."  "It was a very big deal, getting these well-respected stalwarts to do our very first show.  It established a level of quality for the company."

"Since then, we've worked with the likes of Lea Salonga, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Cherie Gil, Michael Williams, Bituin Escalante, Chari Arespacochaga, Ricky Davao, the late great Jose Mari Avellana, among others."

It eventually started staging productions with local actors, designers, and directors.  "We produced regional premieres of plays by contemporary Filipino playwrights."

Aside from occasionally touring shows to Dumaguete and Ormoc, LBP conducts workshops in Cebu every summer.  "It's important to consistently provide training and theater education. The workshops in Manila, the level of quality, I wanted that in Cebu. So we fly in experienced, qualified teachers from Manila to teach."

Go says that moving productions over to Cebu can cost double of a Manila staging.  "You pay your artists more because there is an out-of-town premium or you have to give them 'per diem' allowance.  You have airfare, board and accommodations.  Sometimes we have to fly in special lights or sound equipment and large set pieces.

"But Cebu ticket prices are often lower than Manila prices. How do you make that work? That's the challenge. We have to fill the seats!

"Cebu audiences are more appreciative than Manila audiences because we don't get as much productions.  We have a lot of first-time theatergoers.  Those who come to watch really make an effort to get into it, to enjoy and appreciate it.

"On the other hand, you can't really be too edgy with the shows that you present because you're going after a general audience, you have to cast a wide net."

Go always has a hand in the productions he stages: from script selection to casting, from selection of collaborators (director, set designer, musical director, etc.) to scheduling.

"I like being a producer, getting involved, exchanging ideas, putting things together, doing the numbers.  It's exciting for me." 

In addition to evaluating production elements such as cast size and set requirements for cost computations, Go has a fairly simple formula in deciding what show to produce: "I ask myself 'Will this work in Cebu? Can I sell it?'"

"I like taking risks and trusting my instincts that a show will work."  Above everything else, "I have to like the show. I produce material I like and believe in, whether it's commercial or not."

"I look back at the ten years of LBP, at what we've done, the workshops, the local shows, the shows from Manila, the shows in Manila, the tours, the people we've worked with, and I feel very, very grateful and happy."

"The Boor" and "The Proposal" 3 pm and "Welcome to Intelstar" 7pm on Nov. 26, 2011 at CAP Art Center, Cebu City.  Contact (032) 254-9320.

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Pulitzer-winning novelist Edward Jones in Manila this week

Pulitzer-winning novelist Edward Jones in Manila this week
By Walter Ang
Nov. 7, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Edward Jones (2004 Pulitzer Prize winner, "The Known World") will visit the Philippines under the auspices of the US Embassy in Manila. He will be featured speaker at the 2nd Manila International Literary Festival, Nov. 16-18 at Ayala Museum, Makati City.

Organized by the National Book Development Board in celebration of Philippine Book Development Month, this year's theme is "The Great Philippine Book Café." The festival will feature performances, book launches, book signings and a book fair.

The board of the Philippine Center of the International PEN [Poets & Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists], led by National Artists for Literature F. Sionil José and Bienvenido Lumbera, will host a dinner reception for Jones on Nov. 11. Visit

Set in the state of Virginia in what was the not-quite-yet United States of America, Edward Jones' "The Known World" occurs during the cusp of sweeping changes: in 1855, a decade before slavery would be abolished, and (for a bit of global context) 20 or so years before the priests Gomburza would be executed in the Philippines.

Maps were still constantly changing as explorers were still tracing the globe and pioneers were still staking out land?where the characters in Manchester county led their lives in relation to whatever they knew of "the known world," so isolated that news from a neighboring county would take a year to reach it.

In this fictitious world that Jones has created, details like census statistics and citations made in future academic research (all created by the author), as well as complicated characters that lead complicated lives in complicated circumstances, there is vividness.

And fantastical touches: a character who eats dirt, boys who spontaneously combust, a cow with an endless supply of milk.

And a surprise right at the very start. The slave owners (who own black slaves) are black themselves. Henry Townsend, who was born into slavery and bought out of it by his father, becomes a slave owner himself.

Jones unspools from Henry Townsend many different other characters, showing us their tenuous navigations of their selves, invariably and unavoidably, in relation to slavery.

Jones breaks linear chronology and is a truly omnipotent narrator, frequently announcing the far-off future lives (and deaths) of characters just freshly introduced. Then he goes back and forth.

The reader becomes acquainted with the characters as if through repeatedly hearing rumors of the same people. Jones repeats descriptions, quotes, defining incidents; you've heard it somewhere before, but everything is new again.

Not unwieldy as it is all-encompassing, it's not so much a weaving together of the interrelated stories as it is an assembly of a very large quilt with squares of selected lives.

And while Jones allows us to see the different lives unfold, there are subtle patterns that emerge.

Women are seemingly placed in positions of power or agency. They are plantation-owners. They are slave-owners. They are teachers. The female slaves are the ones who get to run away.

Yet it eventually seems that they are the ones trapped in the business of living day to day, of grappling with the minutiae, (still) not really free.

It is the men to whom Jones gives the epiphanies that result from almost mystical sojourns into spiritual places (inside their heads, maybe). They seem to be given the privilege of negotiating with the intangibles: notions of legacy, freedom and (personal) transformation. The changes they undergo seem more freeing.

The multiple plot strands that are braided side by side, against and into each other grow tighter and tighter. A signal that the novel is nearing its end.

Manchester county soon burns away and is swallowed up by the surrounding states, as the lives and stories of the characters dissolve into the larger landscape of American history.

By then, the characters have so grown on you that you wish the book didn't end so soon.

Call 9268253 or visit

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L. De Guzman: 'I look at my painting as a form of prayer'

L. De Guzman: 'I look at my painting as a form of prayer'
By Walter Ang
Nov. 5, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

After taking a nap one day in 2006, L. De Guzman woke up to discover he couldn't see, among other frightening things. He had an attack of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a severe allergic reaction to medication that causes skin to die and shed.

"The skin of my eyelids fused to my eyeballs," he says. "My corneas now have scars, my vision has blotches and it feels like there's something covering my sight."

After three months of recovery, he got involved with developmental work with an NGO. "It was hard because I had to get used to sunlight and the glare of a computer monitor. My skin was super sensitive because some layers hadn't grown back. Paperwork has difficult because my fingernails hadn't grown back yet. My fingertips were still stubs back then."

Artificial tears
He'd been working and living a normal a life as possible since then. Unfortunately, in February this year, his eyes stopped producing tears. "I was blind from around March to April, not blind because it was dark, like what happened after I got SJS, but blind because of all the light entering my eyes because I had no tears."

He has to put artificial tears in his eyes every half-hour, but only because doctors plugged implants into his tear drainage system?prior to that, he had to put artificial tears every five minutes.

"I can't see when the temperature's hot, when it's windy, when the eyedrops dry up, etc. When the weather is nice and I've just put my drops in, I can see, but my view like a Holga Lomo camera. There are shadows on the sides and it's all blurry"

"I'm locked most of the time inside the house because that's the only place I can control these factors."

"The implants and medication made my vision manageable. I was able to paint again starting June. Amazingly, when I paint, my eyes can focus on the parts I'm working on."

De Guzman will have his first solo exhibit, "A Tale of Muses and Dreams," featuring 23 pieces, at PenPen's Restaurant.

"It was my idea to have an exhibit, I wanted to help my family with my medical bills and to live a normal life. I was at Cubao Expo and my college friend Ping Medina saw me and offered the use of his restaurant for the show."

Born and raised in Manila by his grandparents, de Guzman's love for painting began when his grandmother gave him a watercolor set at the age of four. He's self-taught, inspired by paintings from the Renaissance and Post-Impressionist periods, as well as by ukiyo-e masters.

"The subject of the pieces revolves around my dreams. The muses inside my head from the early part of this year, when my eyesight deteriorated, with me cooped-up in darkness at home, I had no choice but to sleep and sleep because I couldn't do anything else."

Look again
"I was so depressed. I was seriously contemplating suicide. I really wished that I died back in 2006. I thought that life with a broken body like this is a life not worth living."

"With painting, I saw that I can still do something that I love. When I paint, I forget all my bodily aches, I feel at peace with myself, my situation, and my Creator. I look at my painting as a form of prayer. I can see that there is still something to life. And it branches out into appreciation for other things, like the love of my family, my friends."

"One time, I tried to look at the morning sky with my naked eyes, without sunglasses and eyedrops, and I saw the most beautiful sky and I wished I could see more. Life began to have meaning again. I didn't want to give up."

"I can paint at my own pace. Sometimes I don't paint when I'm having a bad day, when my body is out of sorts. But when I get the chance of feeling particularly good on a day, I paint."

"I do a lot of Asian-inspired watercolors, crafts, like Japanese masks. But the bulk is flower paintings in acrylic. Flower paintings helped me get through this phase when my body started feeling weak again. All pieces are done in acrylic, a gentle medium because it doesn't have too much fumes that hurt my eyes."

"I hope people will like `my babies." I poured my energy, time, emotions and desires into these works.

"It's rare for people to go through what I'm going through and for them to realize what I've realized. I want my paintings to show that, given this harsh reality of life, people should stop with all their selfishness, negativity, and try to regain focus of their inner voice. They should take another look at what's really inside, they'll see beauty, truth, love?the basic things that make life worth living, the things that make us truly human."

"A Tale of Muses and Dreams" runs Nov. 5-25, 2011 at PenPen's Restaurant, Cubao Expo, Araneta Center, Quezon City. Contact 0916-600-2419. Visit

Also published online:'i-look-at-my-painting-as-a-form-of-prayer'

Starring Lea Salonga, in the role of "Mommy"

Starring Lea Salonga, in the role of Mommy
By Walter Ang
November-December issue 2011
Moms Today Magazine

Lea Salonga was thrust into international stardom when she landed the lead role of Kim in the musical "Miss Saigon" in West End, London and then on Broadway, USA, winning top awards from both countries. Many years and notable roles later, she's still on top of her game, having recently performed as Grizabella in the musical "Cats" right here in Manila.

As she travelled the globe for her numerous projects, sharing her singing with countless audiences, she found love and got married to Robert Charles Chien. Initially based in the US, Chen was assigned for work in Manila and the couple has been staying here for the past few years.

Nicole Beverly was soon part of their family. While her daughter and husband are priorities for Salonga, it hasn't stopped her from continuing with her career. "Whenever I know I'll be away from home for an extended period of time, I'll bring Nicole with me," she says.

The family has traveled to many different cities together. "I would say that one of my favorite cities would be New York, only because of the variety of activities it offers. There's so much for a kid to do in that city. There are museums, park; you name it, they have it," she says.

Family and food 
Salonga notes, however, that family plays a part in what makes a travel destination desirable. "We have relatives in Los Angeles and other cities. That's what makes it special for Nicole. She gets to play with friends, godparents, cousins."

And of course, there's always the food choices. "We're planning on going to Singapore for my husband's birthday soon. I asked him what he wanted and he said all he wanted to do was eat. Done!" she says laughing.

Salonga and her husband try to be as accommodating as they can for Nicole's birthday wishes as well. "If she wants a tea party, we try to do what we can to make it happen for her," she says.

This is not to say that Salonga spoils her daughter. In fact, her parenting style leans toward encouraging Nicole to be as independent as possible. "When she wants something, we always say, 'Okay, get it yourself.' Of course, there are things she really can't do at her age, say, zipping up the back of her dress, but for the things she can appropriately tackle at her age, we want her to learn to stand on her own."

Salonga started in theater and showbusiness just as other children were just beginning their schooling. At the age of seven, she was cast as one of the children in the musical "The King and I" and eventually headlined the musical "Annie." She also hosted her own television show co-hosted with brother Gerald, who is now an accomplished conductor.

She trained with one of the pioneering English-language theater companies in Manila, Repertory Philippines, under its founder, the late Zeneida Amador. Amador was known to be a strict disciplinarian and treated adults and children equally.

"Training with Rep back then was pretty tough," she says. "Not every kid or parent found it easy to adhere to the way things were run." Given her experiences growing up and having been exposed to different cultures, Salonga strives to use a more balanced approach with Nicole.

"Sometimes we let her do whatever she wants because she can be very stubborn and headstrong if she wants to be," she says laughing. "There's always a little bit of both discipline and being laid back. It's just finding the right proportions."

Balance Salonga repeatedly highlights her desire for Nicole to become "very much her own person." "I want her to grow up asking questions and deciding things for herself. Sometimes it's not enough that I tell her to do something, she'll ask me for a reason. Of course, she's still a little girl, so sometimes I know she's just being makulit and I'll say, `Now hold on there, you're just toying with me now," she says laughing.

Salonga definitely walks the talk. On top of her singing and performing engagements, she also writes a column for a newspaper and maintains a blog (, both avenues for where she occasionally shares her thoughts on issues in the headlines. No scripts here to follow, these are all her own opinions.

She's written down reasons why she's for the passing of the Reproductive Health Bill as well as why barangays should not meddle in what residents buy in drugstores.

"Yes, I am all for a measure guaranteeing reproductive health services for many of our country's people, especially expectant mothers that need emergency obstetric care in case of a miscarriage or pre-term labor. There have been enough maternal deaths in the country that an RH measure is imperative," she has noted in her blog.

Open, frank and earnest, Salonga also recently announced in her column that she's turned forty, proud of where she is and thankful for "the blessing that is my life: great husband, wonderful daughter, fabulous mother, awesome brother ... and a valuable clutch of friends. I have the greatest job in the world and the most fantastic fans. And I've got my health. Right now, I'm the luckiest woman alive."

She says that turning forty has also made her feel that she's much more outspoken now. "At this age, I've lived long enough to be able to say `To hell what other people think!' I follow the dictates of my conscience. This is what I've learned and this is what I believe."

These current issues that have reached public consciousness have reminded parents of the challenges that face the complex task of raising children. Salonga says, "It's difficult to say what dangers are out there, it could be different for every family, for every person, but what I ask myself is `Am I doing right by my child?'"

In the same way that Salonga is not afraid to be vocal about what she feels is wrong in society, she wants Nicole to "question what's going on." There are no double standards for this mother: "I want her to challenge even us, her parents," she says. "I want her to understand why things are the way they are, and not just because other people say things have to be a certain way."

Kicking back 
In the meantime, away from the public eye, Salonga has dolls to play with. "Nicole loves her dolls and makes me play with her," Salonga says.

So far, Nicole has not expressed any interest (yet) of following in her mother's footsteps towards a life in the spotlight. "I don't want to force something on her that she may not like. For me, whatever gifts she has, we will nurture," she says.

Salonga beams when she says that Nicole has shown interest in drawing. "She's more of a visual person. She also likes fashion a lot and makes fashion choices far better than I did at her age," she says with a grin.

Both Salonga and her husband are unabashed video game players, with a whole array of consoles from the Playstation 3 to a recently acquired Kinect wireless controller for their Xbox 360. "Of course there are some games that are for adults, but when the portions are pretty much tame, like riding through the fields or collecting items, we'll let Nicole play."

The family kicks back by having food adventures, whether in restaurants or at home. "We recently had a get together at home and Nicole tried eating duck!" says Salonga, visibly proud that her daughter was open to trying new things.

"Nicole also likes to dance and moves around a lot. She's constantly in motion," she says. Of course, this may be very well a case of `like mother, like daughter.' "I get bored really easily. If I'm on vacation, three days is the most I can go doing nothing," she says with laugh.

Her drive, energy, passion and dedication to her craft has won her accolades, including an award each from former presidents Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Even though she's essayed some of the most coveted roles on stage, there are still few that Salonga would like to tackle, such as Evita Peron in "Evita," Lady of the Lake in "Spamalot," Elphaba in "Wicked," and Diana in "Next to Normal."

"When I wasn't married, I could devote myself to the process of rehearsals, of doing a run," she says.  "It's night after night of devoting your whole being into this singular purpose. While it would be fun, right now, being in a run of a production isn't the biggest on my priorities."

Of course, because Salonga is currently devoting her whole being into the singular purpose of raising her family.

National Artist for Theater Design Salvador “Badong” Bernal dies Oct. 26, 2011 at 66

‘Bravo, Badong!’ Philippine theater pays tribute to National Artist for Theater and Design Salvador Bernal, 66
By Walter Ang
Oct. 31, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Theater artists and peers paid tribute to National Artist for Theater and Design Salvador “Badong” Bernal who died Oct. 26 at age 66.

The Philippine Theater Actors Guild said it was paying a “final standing ovation… to the master.”

“Philippine theater is now one major pillar less with the demise of Salvador Bernal,” the group said.
“In his art, Bernal brought the Filipino spirit to the stage with his design,” said TAG. “He will always be remembered for his massive scenic pieces, in which the challenge to the actor was always to equal the grandness of the space he created. No acting space was small for Bernal, because for him, that is how theater should be—grand and majestic.

“He was not only a designer; he also played the part of mentor to his juniors. He wanted to leave a legacy, but more than that, he wanted to kindle their passion. Because passion is what he had for the theater. It was always like a marriage, a fusion of the old and the new. He worked with tested materials, employed new design aesthetics, and thus was able to transcend time and differences in culture.

“Bravo Badong!”

Dramatist Tony Perez also gave his fond remembrance of the National Artist:
“In the 1990s, when the Cultural Center of the Philippines finally built a design center to service its three theaters, Badong told reporters, ‘We have finally entered the 20th century.’

“He was one of our greatest fashion designers but refused to be known as one. I have the honor of owning a ¾-balloon, witch’s cape—the last piece of clothing that he ever executed for anyone.

“He was also one of our greatest stage directors, computer-graphic artists, and film collectors—he refused to be labelled as any of those, too.

“Whenever he put his best foot forward, it was always as production designer.  Again, I have the honor of having him as production designer for most of my plays, especially my recently completed trilogy ‘Indakan ng mga Puso’ (‘Oktubre…’;  ‘Nobyembre…’; and ‘Disyembre…’)

“He was an obsessive-compulsive, but so are the most disciplined artists all over the world. Stupidity and mediocrity constantly annoyed him. Ironically, the students he frequently scolded should have felt the most flattered: He scolded them only because he felt that they were promising. Always enigmatic, he was selective with friends, but, once he had selected them, he chose only to give to them rather than receive from them.”

Theater director Ricky Abad wrote:
“Badong was more than just a designer.  He was an ethical designer. He respected the integrity of stage design:  design was for one play and not for any other. And that design cannot be sloppy or mediocre; it has to pass by high artistic standards; it has to be true to the play’s concept and to the character being played; it has to be nailed, sawn or sewn properly. Otherwise he fumes, in part because of the person’s incapacity to do things well, but more because an improperly done set or costume is a violation of the order demanded by the artistic universe—an aesthetic blasphemy, a creative sacrilege.”

“Badong is a very dear friend, a long-time collaborator and my most trusted critic,” said Denisa Reyes, former artistic director of Ballet Philippines. “He was forthright and brutally honest, an incorrigible romantic, but was most generous with his art and criticisms, sometimes to a fault. He had no tolerance for mediocrity, despised the ‘bahala na/pwede na’ attitude in the arts because he had such impeccable taste and was a perfectionist. May his legacy live on.”

Bernal was named National Artist in 2003.  The award citation notes that “sensitive to the budget limitations of local productions, he harnessed the design potential of inexpensive local materials, pioneering or maximizing the use of bamboo, raw abaca and abaca fiber, hemp twine, rattan chain links and gauze cacha. In doing this, he exemplified the versatility of Filipino materials for design and proved that the poverty of a production need not imply a poverty of the imagination.”

Also published online:

Dulaang UP's "Noli" opera opens on Nov. 16, 2011

Dulaang UP's "Noli" opera opens on Nov. 16, 2011
By Walter Ang
Oct. 25, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Myramae Meneses as Maria Clara
Dulaang UP will stage "Noli Me Tangere: The Opera" composed by Nat'l Artist for Music Felipe Padilla de Leon with libretto by Nat'l Artist for Visual Arts Guillermo Tolentino.

Directed by DUP Artistic Director Alexander Cortez, the production was originally envisioned to be a grand spectacle.  However, upon review, Cortez realized that the material is "a very intimate type of romantic opera."

"Tolentino provides a very romantic approach to the story based on the novel of Jose Rizal.  Highly political innuendos [in the novel] that are glossed over or not even discussed," says Cortez.

He has decided to use three pianos as accompaniment instead of a full orchestra.  Accompanists are Greg Zuniega, Noel de la Rosa and Jourdan Petalver.  Sound designer is Jethro Joaquin

"Save for three or four big scenes, the scenes are small, very much focused on the characters.  This kind of scaled-down production will show audiences that it's possible to stage opera in a simple manner. What's important is the music, not the grandness of a production."

"When people ask me, 'Why opera?' I always say, 'Why not?'" says Cortez, who's directed Ryan Cayabyab and Fides Cuyuguan Asensio's "Spoliarium" and Lucien Letaba and Bienvenido Lumbera's "Hibik at Himagsik nina Victoria Lactao," among other musicals. "I always advocate original Filipino operas and musicals."

"With this musical, DUP is able to commemorate Rizal's birth sesquicentennial and commemorate in advance de Leon's birth centennial, which will be next year," he says.

Soaring arias
"It's always really about the music," he says.  "Padilla's music is wonderful! It really soars. I believe the best arias are found in this opera. It has iconic kundimans and haunting arias."

Cortez collaborates with Camille Lopez Molina, who handles music supervision and vocal coaching for the cast composed of music veterans and up-and-coming singers.

Elainne Vibal and NAMCYA winner Myramae Meneses alternate as Maria Clara.  Antonio Ferrer and Madrid-based Kuya Manzano (nephew of Repertory Philippines' artistic director Baby Barredo) alternate as Crisostomo Ibarra. Frederick Hipol is Elias.

Cynthia Guico plays Tia Isabel.  Jonathan Velasco, conductor of Ateneo Chamber Singers, played Padre Damaso in the 1987 staging of this opera at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and reprises the same role.  Actors from Dulaang UP complete the cast.

Frederick Hipol as Elias
Set and costume designer Gino Gonzales will be using indigenous materials for the set and inabel cloth from Ilocos for the costumes.

"The inabel cloth was donated by Irene Marcos-Araneta," Cortez says.  "We want to showcase these beautiful fabrics that are handwoven on looms.  It's a crime that machine-produced cheesecloth (katsa) is more expensive than inabel! We must put more value on these fabrics."

Other collaborators include lighting designer Jon Jon Villareal, choreographer Dexter Santos, video designer Winter David and props designer John Gaerlan.

"Noli Me Tangere: The Opera" runs Nov 16-Dec 4, 2011 (Wednesday to Friday, 7pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10 am and 3pm) at Wilfrido Guerrero Theater, 2/F Palma Hall, University of the Philippines, Quezon City. Contact 0917-750-0107, 981-8500 local 2449, 926-1349 or 433-7840.

Also published online:

Audie Gemora releases CD of theater songs

Audie Gemora releases CD of theater songs
By Walter Ang
Oct. 25, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Theater actor and director Audie Gemora has released "Playlist," a music CD where he performs his favorite Broadway tunes.

Busy with running Triumphant People's Evangelistic Theatre Society (Trumpets) and its sister company Stages Productions Specialists (currently co-staging "Peter Pan" with Repertory Philippines), Gemora is also seen on TV as one of the resident judges of TV5's "Talentadong Pinoy."

He won the 2009 Philstage Gawad Buhay! for Outstanding Male Lead Performance in a Musical for his portrayal of the titular role of Repertory Philippines' staging of "Sweeney Todd." He's currently playing Captain Von Trapp in Resorts World Manila's staging of "The Sound of Music."

He won the 2010 Philstage Gawad Buhay! for Best Direction for Repertory Philippines' "Equus," and is slated to direct Rep's 2012 production of "Next Fall," a play about a gay couple where one is devoutly religious while the other is an avowed atheist.

Gemora released a self-titled pop album in the 90s. Earlier this year, Trumpets board member Stella Sison felt that because Gemora's known for his work as an actor in musical theater, he should come out with an album of theater-related songs.

She spearheaded a focus-group discussion on what particular theater songs people might want to hear Gemora sing to come up with a playlist.

"From out of that list I picked the ones I liked. Rony Fortich, who did a fabulous job as musical director, also threw in songs he thought would be good for the compilation," he says.

Jeff Arcilla coached Gemora throughout the recording sessions that lasted several months.

The idea was that the album would contain music similar to "the kind you hear in coffee shops, easy listening, non-intrusive."  He says, "It was tough trying to hold back my full vocal power and take care not to over dramatize the interpretation of the songs. We wanted it very laid back and not taxing to listen to."

Playlist contains 14 tracks of show tunes from Broadway, the West End, and original Filipino musicals such as "Shall We Dance" (The King and I), "If Ever I Would Leave You" (Camelot), "This Is The Moment" (Jekyll and Hyde), "Awit Ni Isagani" (El Filibusterismo), among others.

Vocal group The CompanY joins Gemora in "Luck Be A Lady" (Guys and Dolls) while Repertory Philippines associate artistic director Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo sings the duet "For Good" with Gemora (Wicked).

Playlist is exclusively available in Fully Booked outlets nationwide. Contact, 818-1111 loc. 225 or 209.

Also published online:

Naty Crame Rogers' Philippine Drama Company Sala Theater stages "Portrait of an Artist as Filipino" dinner theater on Oct 22 and 28

Naty Crame Rogers stages "Portrait" dinner theater on Oct 22 and 28
By Walter Ang
Oct. 17, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

(From left) Lala Castillo as Paula,
Naty Crame-Rogers as Candida,
and Lamberto "Bats" Avellana
(son of Lamberto and Daisy Hontiveros-Avellana)
as Tony Javier, during rehearsals.
Natividad "Naty" Crame-Rogers' Philippine Drama Company Sala Theater will perform Nat'l Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin's "Portrait of an Artist as Filipino."

Rogers directs and plays the role of Candida.  Lala Castillo plays Paula.  The play shows how the Marasigan spinster sisters who live inside Intramuros deal with the changes happening in Old Manila prior to the start of World War II, "stubbornly clinging to the genteel though impractical world of Hispanized culture."

The play will be presented as dinner-theater in Ilustrado restaurant in Intramuros.  Audiences can watch the performance while dining on the restaurant's Spanish-Filipino themed-menu: Paella Ilustrado accompanied by Callos Madrilena, Roasted Chicken ala Naranja, and Bonoan Bangus Relleno, among others.

Ilustrado, celebrating its 22nd anniversary, has served as the venue for several of PDCST's productions, recently hosting the group's performance of "Leonor: The love of Jose Rizal," an adaptation of Severino Montano's "The Love of Leonor Rivera," in commemoration of Rizal's birth sesquicentennial this year.

Theater for all
Now 88 years old, Rogers has been creating and teaching theater since training as a college student under theater artist Wilfrido Guerrero.  Her PDCST celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.  It tours productions and also holds performances in Amingtahanan Sala Theater, Roger's own residence in Pasig City, where the living room is transformed into a performance space.

In line with Rogers' thrust on getting as many people interested in theater as possible, and partly to celebrate the La Naval de Manila (held every second Sunday of October), the production's technical dress rehearsal in Ilustrado restaurant on Oct. 21 will be open to audiences.  Audiences can order food while watching the rehearsals.

La Naval lecture
The rehearsal will include a short lecture on the Virgin of La Naval at 3pm.  An event witnessed by characters in the play, the La Naval de Manila procession honors the Virgin of La Naval of Sto. Domingo Church--which used to be located inside Intramuros.

The procession was portrayed in National Artist for Theater and Film Lamberto Avellana's screen adaptation of "Portrait," where Rogers played Paula opposite National Artist for Theater Daisy Hontiveros-Avellana's Candida. Both also essayed the same roles in the stage version that premiered prior to the film, also directed by Lamberto with a script adapted by Daisy for the Avellana couple's Barangay Theater Guild.  This production will use the same script adapted by Daisy Avellana.

"Portrait of an Artist as Filipino" runs Oct. 22 (Sat) and 28 (Fri), 2011. Ticket includes cocktails at 6:00 pm, show at 7:00 pm, dinner at 9:00 pm. Ilustrado Restaurant is at 744 General Luna St., Intramuros, Manila. Contact 527-3674, 527-2345, 0922-823-4981, 0922-823-4983 or Visit

Also published online:

Resorts World Manila's "Sound of Music" Oct 15-Dec 30, 2011

"Sound of Music" at Resorts World Manila starts Oct 15
By Walter Ang
Oct. 15, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Theater leading ladies Cris Villonco and Joanna Ampil will alternate as Maria Rainer in Resorts World Manila's staging of the musical "Sound of Music."

Both will bring to life the role of the earnest and determined postulant nun assigned as a governess to the untamed seven children of stern Navy Captain and widower Georg von Trapp.  Laughter and love blossoms when Maria wins the children (and their father) over with music.

Both have played other "Marias" prior to this production.

Villonco has played lead roles for Repertory Philippines, Dulaang UP and, recently, for Tanghalang Pilipino's "Noli Me Tangere" as Maria Clara.

Ampil has performed internationally, starting her career as Kim in the West End staging of "Miss Saigon" and recently as Maria in Stages Production Specialists' "West Side Story."

Leading men
Audie Gemora, Ed Feist and Jon Joven alternate as the Captain.

Gemora was last seen onstage playing the titular role in Repertory Philippines' "Sweeny Todd."

A former VJ for music channel Myx and theater actor (Bankard's "Diary of Anne Frank" and Actors' Actors' "Mother Tongue"), Feist returns to Manila after having been based in Australia the past few years as lead vocal for Soul Motel band.

Joven has played Thuy in the German staging of Miss Saigon and has credits on Broadway and off-Broadway.  Locally, he's played lead roles for TP such as Orly in "Himala the musical," and Crisostomo Ibarra in "Noli Me Tangere."

Memoir to musical
With music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, audiences may be more familiar with the 1965 film version starring Julie Andrews ("Princess Diaries") and Christopher Plummer (Pixar's "Up," "Inglourious Basterds"), though the musical premiered on Broadway six years prior.  The musical is based on Maria Augusta von Trapp's memoir "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers."

Since the film's release, songs that were added for the movie, such as "I Have Confidence" and "Something Good," are usually included in revivals.  Previous Manila stagings have been done by Company of Players (1997) and Repertory Philippines (2006).

Big theater
This production will be staged at RWM's 1,500-seater Newport Performing Arts Theater.

Set design is by Mio Infante with video design by television commercial director Paul Soriano.  Video backdrops will be shown via the theater's 30meter by 8meter LED (light emitting diode) screen, touted as the largest in Southeast Asia.  10feet x 14feet LED walls will also be placed at each end of the stage. The screens allows for showing of 3D sceneries.

Cast and collaborators
Theater veteran Pinky Amador and jazz singer Lynn Sherman alternate as the captain's fiancée Baroness Elsa Schraeder.  Miguel Faustman and Robbie Guevara alternate as von Trapp family friend Max Detweiler.

Pinky Marquez and Sheila Francisco alternate as Mother Abbess. TV and film comedienne Debraliz Valasote plays the von Trapp's housekeeper Frau Schmidt.

Liesl, the eldest of the von Trapp siblings is played by Tanya Manalang and Rachel Coates.  Rolf, Liesl's love interest, is played by former TV child star and current ABS-CBN talent Bryan Homecillo and 2009 Philstage Gawad Buhay! awardee for Best Featured Actor in a Musical ("Sweeny Todd") Marvin Ong.

The production is directed by dinner theater and concert director Roxanne Lapus. Lyn Fabella is vocal director.  Rodel Colmenar conducts the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra.  Choreographer is Terri Aldeguer of the dance duo Aldeguer Sisters.  Lighting design is by John Batalla. Costume design is by fashion designer Francis Libiran.

Since the theater's inauguration last year, it has hosted concerts of local and foreign artists (Lani Misalucha, Lea Salonga and David Pomeranz, Zsa Zsa Padilla and Basil Valdez, to name a few), beauty pageants, corporate events, and a Vegas-type musical spectacle show "Kaos."  Concerts will still be staged at the theater on days when "Sound of Music" is not running.

Newport Performing Arts Theater is located in Resorts World Manila, which combines hotels, restaurants, gaming facilities, entertainment spots and a luxury mall in one destination across Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, beside Villamor Golf Course.

RWM members using their Visa Platinum and Gold credit cards to purchase tickets can avail of up to 25% discount, applied to a maximum of four tickets per card per show, when transacted at RWM Box Office and Ticketworld outlets. RWM members can also use points earned in their membership cards towards purchase of tickets. Membership to RWM is free.

"The Sound of Music" runs Oct 15 to Dec 11, 2011. 8:00PM Wed to Sat with 3:00PM shows on Sat and Sun at Newport Performing Arts Theater, Resorts World Manila, Pasay City. Contact Resorts World Manila Box Office (836-6333) or Ticketworld (891-9999). 

Also published online:

From stage to page: re/viewing the views of reviewers

This is a shortened version of the paper I prepared for
Tanghalan: Preparatory Consultation and Research on Regional Theater Aesthetics project
(held from late 2009 till early 2010).

It will be presented in this year's
Tanghalin ang Tanghalan: National Conference on Theater Aesthetics
on Sept. 28-29, 2011.

To acquire the full version, for republishing permission and/or citation clarifications,
please contact:
Glecy Atienza
Conference Director
Tanghalin ang Tanghalan: National Conference on Theater Aesthetics (Philippines)

From stage to page: re/viewing the views of reviewers
By Walter Ang
January 12, 2010

Part of the rationale of the Tanghalan! Preparatory Consultation and Research on Regional Theater Aesthetics project states, "A regular audience would have a feel of the qualities they look for when they watch a theater performance.  However, these qualities have to be processed and integrated into the theater artists' experience so that Philippine theater can be marked and appraised not only from the scholars point of view, but more so, from the theater artists' eye."

From this statement emerged the idea of asking what role audiences actually play in the process of developing or maintaining a particular aesthetic: how they acknowledge, process, accept/reject, and even legitimize a production and the aesthetic it embodies or espouses.

The idea grew to mining the thoughts of theater reviewers who are published in newspapers-the reviewers, in this case, partly representing the points of view of audiences: how they become interested in theater to begin with, what they look for in a production, how they evaluate a production, and what opinions, if any, are formed after watching a production.

Partial view
Charged with the task of reviewing theater productions, theater reviewers hold a unique perspective on the landscape of Philippine theater in that they are able to watch much more productions than the average theater audience (or even the average theater practitioner) and are able to survey the various offerings of different theater groups.

Interview questions were prepared in hopes of having the reviewers themselves reveal their personal workings instead of gleaning it from an analysis of their published works.

Given the conference's objectives and its pioneering efforts, the matters discussed here hope to raise more questions than they answer.  Writers, researchers, academics, and theater practitioners will hopefully be spurred to further develop and refine the ideas that are presented here.

Due to time and resource limitations, only the reviewers of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) were interviewed.  The reviewers included would have either written or are still currently writing reviews on plays and musicals, excluding music and dance productions, with a minimum of ten published reviews in the Arts and Books subsection of the newspaper's Lifestyle section.

The cast
Amadis Maria Guerrero (b. 1941) started contributing to PDI in December 1991.  He eventually started writing "capsule reviews of plays" that became integrated into his quarterly "report cards" on the performing arts.

Cora Llamas (b. 1966) shares how full-length theater reviews began being published more regularly in the newspaper's Arts and Books subsection, "Around 1999, several leaders of the theater community, including Audie Gemora, Luna Inocian, Rody Vera, and Bart Guingona approached PDI's Lifestyle section editor Thelma San Juan to propose having a regular theater section in PDI with themselves as active columnists."

"I got a call from Luna who said Thelma wanted to have an exploratory meeting with me regarding my doing regular reviewing for PDI. I wrote reviews regularly until around 2005."

It was around the time of Llamas' departure as a contributing writer for PDI when Gibbs Cadiz (b. 1970) observed that, "no one was covering theater anymore. I volunteered for it, and from writing advance features of theater productions, graduated to writing reviews about them."

To manage the expectations of those who read newspaper theater reviews, it should be noted that reviewing theater productions for a newspaper has certain parameters.

There are format issues such as limited page space, and thus, limited word counts for each article.  There is also the issue of form.  A review is not an academic critique.  While reviewers sometimes touch on theories (performance, literary, etc.), a newspaper is not the venue for that particular kind of discourse.

Nonetheless, with the exclusion of online blog entries written by non-reviewers, it can be argued that this kind of "popular criticism" is one of the closest documented indicators of how and what audiences feel and think.

There are deadlines vis-à-vis short performance runs.  Productions usually run for only three to four weekends.  "Which often means when the review comes out, the play's gone," says Cadiz.

"Because of this, I consciously don't try to make my review as some sort of 'consumer guide' but something a bit higher-a discussion of more salient points other than whether the production deserved a thumbs-up, thumbs-down rating," he adds.

It should also be noted that, unlike newspapers in other countries such as the USA that have resident or in-house theater reviewers, Guerrero, Llamas and Cadiz are not full-time staff reporters for PDI.  This kind of set-up presumes that writing reviews may not always be the priority (whether by circumstance or by choice) for these writers.

Cadiz shares another limitation, "The Arts and Books subsection comes out only once a week, and theater has to fight for space with visual arts, the classical performing arts, heritage issues, books, etc.  Theater can't always be front and center of every issue."  Therefore, not every production ever staged can feasibly be reviewed, and reviewed extensively, even if we assume the reviewers and editors would want to.

It should also be noted that most of PDI's theater reviewers are based in Metro Manila and cover mostly Manila-based productions.

Their statements on how they evaluate productions reveal common thought processes.  Unlike average audience members who do not usually or can opt not to do any type of research prior to watching a show, these reviewers make it a point to learn about a production before they watch it.  They use whatever information they are able to gather as a basis to gauge their reactions and to inform their opinions.

Llamas says, "[Even though] I knew some of the basics of theater arts because of my college theater experience and appreciated the devotion that the practitioners pour into their craft, as soon as I started to write, as much as possible, I studied the background of the play I was reviewing-the context, the history, the social significance, the various interpretations over the years.

"Basically I need to know the material, what the play is about.  There were times when some theater companies offered me a copy of the script prior to the review, and that helped.  Second, I'd research on the art form that would interpret that material.  Then, of course, based on the theater groups' own pre-opening press releases, I'd get a sense of what the director wants to achieve with that particular piece.

"And that would be my beginning criterion:  how faithful was the director in executing that piece according to his vision (and not someone else's)?  How was the audience reaction? (If it was a children's play, I'd bring actual kids to the production and see how they reacted.)  How did all the elements come into play to fulfill or negate that vision?  Which contributed to its success, for example, the musicality, the art design?  Which brought it down, for example, miscast actors?"

Cadiz says, "Mostly, I look for an inner logic or consistency-how 'plausible' the material is, and not necessarily only on the realistic, naturalistic, slice-of-life level. Even farces, fantasies, expressionistic plays should operate on inner logic-the truth of what it's trying to say.

"I suppose I operate by instinct when it comes to what works for me-how well does the acting square with the material's requirements?, how is the direction able to bring to life the play?, etc. I always go back to my visceral reaction to it as I am watching the show. That becomes the scaffolding for whatever intellectual fleshing out I would do in my review-why did the play affect me the way it did, what elements helped bring about that which affected me or didn't, etc."

Beyond their basic evaluative process, all three reviewers articulate that they are aware of certain elements that influence and inform their ways of thinking and reviewing.

Guerrero points to his age and how it imbues his appreciation of what he sees on stage. "I'm 68 years old and, in some ways, very conservative in taste."

Llamas shares that there was a time when she had thought of attending "some kind of formal class on theater reviewing."  She says, "But what ultimately stopped me was the question of impartiality.  If I were to take up a course on theater criticism from this particular university, and this university happened to have a its own theater company, how much of my learning from their course might influence me later on to give them a more favorable review as opposed to reviewing another theater company whose inclinations may be different?  Or for example, if I took dramatic criticism from a mentor with very intense nationalistic leanings, would not his teachings influence my views when I review a Broadway musical?"

Cadiz has internal safeguards that constantly remind him of the place of local theater in relation to foreign practices and his own state of readiness when watching productions.  He says, "When appraising local works, I am cognizant of several facts: one, we can never approximate the production values of Broadway/West End productions, which means having to consider scaled-down works for what they are, and not in useless comparison with their counterparts in other countries. Two, we don't have extensive tryouts here, unlike abroad where shows are fine-tuned through weeks of out-of-town tryouts and previews before opening night. Here, the economy is much more severe: 2-3 months of rehearsal, 2-3 weekends of performance. Thus, I don't review preview performances, preferring instead to see the production when it has settled into its groove during the run, to give it a better chance. Three, whenever a production strikes me as bad, I make it a point to watch it again-because my negative reaction in the beginning might be attributable to outside factors like fatigue, unpreparedness, etc.

"In short, I am willing to give productions a long leash to prove themselves. I try not to write reviews to feel clever about myself or to bitch and nitpick; I come from a place of friendship, incongruous as that may sound. I am passionate about Philippine theater, and I want it to succeed. Whatever criticism I direct its way is the tough talk of a friend."

From these initial efforts at understanding the material as well as being aware of and analyzing their own reactions, these reviewers note that they extend the reach of their learning and research.  Llamas says, "I touched base with others who had gone ahead of me like Nicanor Tiongson or the late Doreen Fernandez and asked how they did it.  During the interviews with the theater people, I'd try to understand as best as I could how they approached their own craft and how they married their unique vision with that particular piece they were performing."

Cadiz says, "Before my professional stint reviewing theater I had spent about half my lifetime watching plays and musicals from the time I came to Manila City after college. I now view those endless voluntary nights spent theater-going as my preparation for this job. I supplement whatever knowledge I have through assiduous reading, research, familiarizing myself with the material, familiarizing myself with the theater companies behind the productions, doing close observation of the theater scene, etc. In short, never allowing myself to be out of the loop when it comes to this field."

Having seen as many productions as they have (easily at least 150 each) and having been involved in the enterprise of evaluating these productions beyond the level of what a "regular" audience might engage in, how do these reviewers perceive what "Filipino theater" or a "Filipino theater aesthetic" to be?

Guerrero puts it simply, "For me, a play about the Philippines or with Filipino characters, and written by a Filipino, whether in English, Filipino or in a regional language, is Filipino."

Llamas says, "The Filipino style of theater could refer to original material conceptualized and mounted by Filipino theater companies, or Philippine-centric interpretations given to foreign work like the way Rolando Tinio would deconstruct Macbeth, for example.

"That's one view, and chances are, the more Western-centric theater companies would take issue with it because aside from the usual Broadway musicals, there are original musicals in English written by Filipino authors like Trumpets' The Little Mermaid"

Cadiz says, "The 'Filipino' style of theater-I wouldn't know at this point since I haven't had extensive experience watching theater abroad. But I notice that Filipino performances have a very heart-on-sleeve style.  The sentiment is clear and clearly enunciated.  Strong emotions characterize most Pinoy plays I've seen. "

Where do we go from here?
As the Tanghalan! Conference aims to answer the question of what "Filipino theater aesthetic" is (and documenting these answers), these reviewers share their sentiments on the current state of reviewing in the country (in Metro Manila at least) and where they hope it will go.

Guerrero says, "Plays will come and go, a few becoming classics, and critics will come and go, reviewing, analyzing and interpreting each production based on their own perceptions."

Llamas says, "One thing that reviewers can use to augment their discipline is a formal course on dramatic criticism given by an organization that is not affiliated with any theater company in the Philippines.  Another would be scholarships that would give them exposure to the various theater industries in other countries, from Broadway, the West End, to the ASEAN countries.  We have to be able to see what's happening in the greater world to understand and see the place of our own theater community in it.  I'd probably recommend taking courses on dramatic courses outside the country and not just one but probably two-from two alternative schools of thought just to get a balance.

"In the absence of a formal theater course, a theater reviewer would simply have to rely on his own passion, diligence, and professionalism to survive and succeed.  At the same time, though, a theater reviewer's growth would also correlate with that of the community he reviews.  What makes theater exciting to review, at least for me, are the things one learns.  However, if for example, theater company A has been producing the same kind of plays and applying the same kind of interpretation in the past decade, and the only difference being the change in cast members, a theater reviewer would get the sense that he's just writing about the 'same-old' stuff.  And in that scene, the excitement can dissipate, and the growth in terms of learning does not happen."

Cadiz says, "The state of theater reviewing in the Philippines is woefully inadequate and inconsistent, both in terms of quality and regularity of appearance. No tradition of useful criticism so far.  I'd like to see more intelligent, engaged theater criticism to happen in the Philippines, and along with it, increased patronage by a thinking audience responding to such reviews--whether they agree with them or not."

Retrospective trilogy of Tony Perez plays opens Sept 30, 2011

Retrospective trilogy of Tony Perez plays opens Sept 30
By Walter Ang
Sept. 26, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Tony Perez
Tanghalang Pilipino will stage "Tatlong Tabing: Three Plays by Tony Perez," which includes "Sierra Lakes;" "Bombita;" and "Nobyembre, Noong Akala Ko'y Mahal Kita."

"Perez has spent over two decades eloquently dissecting the Filipino psyche," says TP artistic director Fernando "Nanding" Josef.

"He's an important and prolific playwright in contemporary Philippine drama. His plays deal with adult themes such as intense love, betrayal, separation, compassion, poverty, hunger, marriage, birth, and death."

The plays featured in this trilogy trace the artistic development of Perez as a playwright.

"It was a consensus: three plays from three significant stages in my career as a playwright," says Perez. "'Sierra Lakes' from my early works, 'Bombita' from my first major trilogy of full-length plays dubbed 'Tatlong Paglalakbay;' and 'Nobyembre …' from my second major trilogy of full-length plays dubbed 'Indakan Ng Mga Puso.'"

Cast and collaborators
Cast of "Nobyembre..."
"Sierra Lakes" explores issues among four people caught in a complicated web of love and desire.

"Bombita" is a black comedy which questions the blind obedience and subservience of young rookies in the military.

"Nobyembre …" is a case study of the absence of love in an average, middle-class male in contemporary Philippine society.

"Sierra Lakes" and "Bombita" will be shown in a twinbill.  The twinbill will rotate in showing schedules with "Nobyembre …"

The three plays will feature TP's Actors Company, its pool of actors, both current members and several alumni.  TP subsidizes the training of all AC scholars, apprentices and members in acting, movement, dance, voice, script analysis, improvisation, directing and other related courses.

All three plays share collaborators: Tuxqs Rutaquio as production designer, Dennis Marasigan as lighting designer, and TJ Ramos as sound designer.  However, each play will have its own director: former Actors Company member Tess Jamias (Sierra), former TP artistic director Marasigan (Bombita), and Rutaquio (Nobyembre).

Painter, too
An exhibit of Tony Perez's paintings will also be mounted at the lobby of Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater), titled "Tony Perez: A Playwright Who Paints."

"They are also chronological and retrospective," says Perez.  "It includes chronological photo-portraits of me by Hedwig de Leon, a professional photographer. I will also include eight original manuscripts to be displayed in glass cases."

UST Publishing House has released several titles under the series "The Collected Works of Tony Perez," which compiles Perez's plays, essays, etc. and will reach 40 volumes.  Among those that have been released, volumes 1 to 4, 7 and 9 contain his plays.

Volume 2 includes "Sierra Lakes," volume 4 has the Tagalog version of "Bombita," and volume 9 has the English translation of "Bombita."

"Tatlong Tabing" runs from Sept. 30-Oct 23, 2011.  "Nobyembre …" runs Sept 30-Oct. 2 and Oct 15-2. The "Sierra Lakes/Bombita" twinbill runs Oct. 7-9 and 14-23. Call ahead to confirm at 0917-750-0107, 0918-959-3949, 218-3791, 832-3661, 832-1125 loc. 162. Rows of seats and entire shows can be bought at discount. Visit

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