Seven year itch for Virgin Labfest

Seven-year itch for Virgin Labfest
By Walter Ang
June 20, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Virgin Labfest 2010's "Higit Pa Dito"
will be "revisited" for Virgin Labfest 2011
Now on its seventh year, Virgin Labfest, a festival that focuses on staging new plays, is breaking tradition. Instead of presenting four sets of trilogies, it will present only three sets.  As an alternate, and a logical progression, it will now stage one full-length (two-act) play in lieu of the fourth set.

The fifth set, which "revisits" three selected productions from the previous labfest, remains.  This year's revisited set includes "Ondoy" by Remi Velasco, "Balun-balunan, Bingi-bingihan" by Debbie Tan, and "Higit Pa Dito" by Allan Lopez.

The labfest has always gone by its tagline of being "a venue for playwrights, directors and actors to bring to life 'untried, untested, unpublished and unstaged' plays" and its popularity has grown throughout the years for both audiences and aspiring playwrights.

Quantity and quality
VL founder and artistic director Rody Vera received 107 submissions this year, 24 of which are full length plays.

"I think the popularity of Labfest is brought about by the fact that playwrights or writers who want to try their hand at playwriting have found a rare venue to have their works staged and produced," he says.

"If you build it, they will come. I'm not saying all the works submitted are overwhelmingly great and skilled but we have to see this all in perspective-many people out there will say there are no good playwrights around but if we have a venue where playwrights are allowed to fail, sooner or later, the good ones will emerge."

This year marks entries from plays from both established and amateur playwrights who are being included in the Labfest for the first-time.  Vera is also experimenting on not giving themed-titles to the sets.

The line-up includes, Set 1: "Bawal Tumawid, Nakamamatay" by Joey Paras, "Kafatiran" by Ricardo Novenario, "Mga Lobo Tulad ng Buwan" by Pat Valera;

Set 2: "Opera" by Floy Quintos, "Kinaumagahan" by Rachelle Rodriguez and Winnielyn Fajilan, "Kawala" by Rae Red;

Set 3: "Requiem" by Christian Vallez, "The Valley Mission Care" by Russel Legaspi, and "Streetlight Manifesto" by Mixcaela Villalon.

The full length work to be featured is "Isang Gabi Bago Magbukas ang Portrait of the Artist as Filipino ni Nick Joaquin" by Carlo Pacolor Garcia.

Garcia's "Ang Mga Halimaw" and "Bakit Wala Nang Nagtatagpo sa Philcoa Oberpas" have been featured in past Labfests.  "Isang Gabi" is about a theater group that encounters a bloody corpse backstage the night before their show opens.

Other full length plays that will receive staged readings include "Chiaroscuro" by Lito Casaje, "Hermano Puli" by Layeta Bucoy, and "House of Candles" by Nicolas Pichay.

New, new, new
Last year's "Balunbalunan, Bingibingian."
VL was initiated by Vera through Writer's Bloc, an independent organization of established and aspiring playwrights that he heads, in partnership with Tanghalang Pilipino.  Later on, the Cultural Center of the Philippines became a co-organizer.  This year, the National Commission on Culture and the Arts is providing partial funding.

Vera is keen on maintaining an emphasis towards eyeing what is "new."  "We're hoping to include a devised work this year so that audiences can see that there are different ways of 'playwriting,'" he says, referring to the practice where a script is created by a group from improvisation work.

"They say seven years counts as one full cycle. I'm thinking of expanding the concept and advocacy of VL and that might mean taking a back seat.  I'm seriously thinking of passing the baton to others so, allowing new eyes and tastes, so that VL will grow and take on a different character, ambience, texture."

He's also interested in developing similar initiatives in other regions.  "Imagine if we can do this in Visayas and Mindanao!"

Playwrights galore
Last year, VL launched its anthology of featured plays.  This year, "Telon: Mga Dula," the first anthology of Telon Playwrights Circle, will be launched.  A seminal playwrights group, Telon was formed in 1983 by the late Rene Villanueva. 

Telon members who have become prominent writers and artists include Nicolas Pichay, Luna Sicat-Cleto, Rolando Dela Cruz, Auraeus Solito, Jun Lana and Romulo "Joey" Baquiran.

"Three of the plays in this collection have been produced at the Virgin Labfest. Four of the anthologized playwrights are members of Writers Bloc," says the book's editor Tim Dacanay.  "Five of the seven plays have won either a Gawad CCP or Palanca award. The book's introduction is by National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera."

The plays include (one-acts) "Kaaway sa Sulod" by Rene Villanueva and Rolando Dela Cruz; "Maternal" by Luna Sicat-Cleto, "Gamugamo sa Kanto ng East Avenue" by Dela Cruz; and "Serbis" by Elmar Ingles; and (full lengths) "Koloring Koloraw: Kuwentong Akabaw" by Nicolas B. Pichay, "Teatro Porvenir" by Tim Dacanay, and "Baby B." by Rene Villanueva.

Virgin Labfest 2011 runs June 29-July 10 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Roxas Blvd., Pasay City.  Call 832-1125.

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