Uncensored Bodies Xplore dance films screened

Uncensored Bodies Xplore dance films screened
By Walter Ang
June 24, 2013
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Uncensored Bodies Xplore dance film workshop session
Short dance films were screened at the culmination of Uncensored Bodies Xplore, a workshop for dance films facilitated by filmmakers Sherad Anthony Sanchez and Ruelo Zendo, which was organized by Contemporary Dance Network Manila (CDNM).

The screening was held at Dance Forum Studio alongside live dance performances featuring the choreographies of Sarah Samaniego, Ea Torrado, Mia Cabalfin and Rhosam Prudenciado.

Al Bernard Garcia performed his winning piece from the 2012 New Choreographers Competition of the sixth Wifi Body Independent Contemporary Dance Festival in 2012. Earlier this year, he performed this piece at Japan’s Yokohama Dance Collection Ex.

Choreographers who screened their films included Myra Beltran, Dance Forum founder and artistic director; Ea Torrado, independent artist; Rudolph Segundo, Chameleon Dance Theater; and dance majors from the University of the Philippines Dance Company.

Sanchez’s full-length “Imburnal” was screened at the 10th Jeonju International Film Festival, South Korea and won the Woosuk Award (Best Film) and the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema award.

Lozendo’s full-length “Kolorete” won the Special Jury Prize in the 2008 Cinema One Originals Digital Film Festival, and his short film, “Simula,” was screened at the Singapore International Film Festival.

The workshop was held early May and had topics such as aesthetics, production, and developing film language for choreography.

Attendees for this workshop ended up being all choreographers and no filmmakers. Sanchez and Zendo saw this as a blessing in disguise as all the participants could start with a clean slate in filmmaking.

Al Bernard Garcia
Uncensored Bodies is the film component of CDNM’s Wifi Body Independent Contemporary Dance Festival and has been screening dance films since 2006.

Wifi Body Festival had its last yearly installment in 2010 to become biannual with its most recent installment last year. To keep the momentum of the Uncensored Bodies component going and to bridge the gap until the 7th festival slated for 2014, CDNM organized the workshop this year.

“It’s meant for both dancers and filmmakers to refresh their perspectives in creating dance films, and to encourage collaboration,” says CDNM chair Angela Lawenko-Baguilat.

The workshop required participants to pitch their film ideas to the facilitators. Beltran, CDNM founding chair and current vice chair, said that the pitching sessions were so intensive that they would usually end past midnight.

After the pitches, each dance artist-filmmaker was tasked to complete their dance films through the month of May.

Participants of a recently concluded lighting design workshop held at Dance Forum Studio by Joseph Matheu, associate artistic director of Twin Bill Theater, designed the lighting of the live performances.

Call 0917-5760212 or e-mail cdnmdance@gmail. com.

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Manila gets a taste of European culinary season

Manila gets a taste of European culinary season
By Walter Ang
June 27, 2013

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Benito Bengzon Jr. and Julian Vassallo
The European Union (EU) delegation to the Philippines has launched European Culinary Season 2013, a festival featuring European food culture in Manila with over 20 participating restaurants and establishments.

The festival was launched at Enderun Colleges where Julian Vassallo, political counselor for the European Union Delegation, gave the welcome remarks. The festival runs until end of June.

Present were Assistant Tourism Secretary Benito Bengzon Jr. and the ambassadors of the Czech Republic (Josef Rychtar), the Netherlands (Ton Boon von Ochssee), Romania (Valeriu Gheorghe) and Spain (Jorge Domecq).

"European Culinary Season 2013 includes special national menus, chef demonstrations, flamenco nights, wine tasting, and culinary film screenings, beer tasting and guitar evenings, and culinary treasure hunts and a pub quiz," said Vassallo.

"From haute cuisine to food that's good for the soul, for special, sumptuous meals with the finest ingredients, European Culinary Season 2013 offers everything from the sublime to the delicious," he added.

Vassallo said the festival is the brainchild of the Cultural Group of the EU Delegation. "The group reached out to chefs and restaurateurs to provide a selection of venues and events that is as varied and colorful as the culinary scene of Manila."

Chocolates and Swiss fare
Picasso's Place at New Horizon Hotel (Mandaluyong City) has a four-course Belgian menu featuring cheese croquettes, spinach veloute, Belgian beef stew and chocolate mousse.

Swiss restaurants Chesa Bianca (Makati) and L'entrecote (Bonifacio Global City, Taguig) present traditional Swiss menus until June 30.

Participating French restaurants include Aubergine (BGC), Buddha Bar (Makati) and Chef Jessie Restaurants (Rockwell Center, Makati).
The Culinary Institute of Aristocrat held a demonstration of French culinary masterpieces on June 19.

Spirits and quizzes
Alba Restaurant (with branches in Quezon City, Muntinlupa, Makati and Mall of Asia) has a promo on Spanish tapas and sangria.

German bier bar and restaurant Brotzeit (Shangri-La Plaza Mall, Mandaluyong) will host a quiz on German cuisine whose winners will receive special prizes.

Union Jack Tavern (Festival Mall Alabang) will offer special British highlights throughout the season.

Czech Microbrewery of Bravo Restaurant (Makati) will feature European beers.

Restaurant 101 (Enderun Colleges, Taguig City) will feature classic Austrian dishes.

Dutch Bread Hauz (Makati) will highlight its special bread.

The project also has a Facebook game (facebook.com/EUDelegationToThePhilippines) called "Euro Culinary Trip Quiz" that gives contestants a chance to win prizes such as gift certificates to New Horizon Hotel, lunch set gift certificates to Brotzeit and gift certificates to Alba restaurant.

Winners will be announced on July 1.

European Culinary Season 2013 is part of Viva Europa, the EU delegation to the Philippines' cultural showcase featuring European art, music, dance, film, languages, food and poetry.
Visit eeas.europa.eu/delegations/Philippines.

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New children’s musical ‘Sandosenang Sapatos’ opens TP’s new season

New children’s musical ‘Sandosenang Sapatos’ opens TP’s new season
By Walter Ang
June 22, 2013
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Tanghalang Pilipino (TP), resident theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, will open its 27th season (2013-2014) with “Sandosenang Sapatos,” a children’s musical based on Luis Gatmaitan’s Palanca Award-winning children’s book.

TP recently dominated the 2011 Philstage Gawad Buhay! for its productions last season. “Walang Kukurap” was adjudged Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Play, and “Doc Resureccion, Gagamutin ang Bayan” won Outstanding Play and Outstanding Original Script by Layeta Bucoy.

Meanwhile, the Mario O’Hara musical “Stageshow” won Outstanding Musical Production, Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Musical, Female Lead Performance in a Musical by Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, Female Featured Performance in a Musical by Mailes Kanapi, Male Featured Performance in a Musical by Rody Vera, Outstanding Sound Design by TJ Ramos, Outstanding Choreography by Denisa Reyes, Outstanding Stage Direction by Chris Millado, and Outstanding Book or Original Libretto by the late O’ Hara.

“‘Sandosenang Sapatos’ is a play “about a shoemaker who dreams of having a ballerina daughter but ends up with a crippled daughter. Audiences will see how he shows her his love,” says TP associate artistic director Tuxqs Rutaquio, who will direct the show using the adaptation by Bucoy with music by Noel Cabangon and Jed Balsamo.

“The musical was commissioned by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People in cooperation with CCP as part of the celebration of the 28th National Children’s Book Day in July,” he adds.

Nat’l Children’s Book Day is celebrated every third week of July to commemorate the anniversary of the publication of Jose Rizal’s “The Monkey and the Turtle” in Trubner’s Oriental Record in London.

Sea princess and singing mermaid
Jed Balsamo
The cast features members of the Actors Company, TP’s resident pool of actors. Jonathan Tadioan plays the father, May Bayot is the mother, and Trixie Esteban is Susie, the crippled daughter.

TP board member and Inquirer columnist Tessa Prieto-Valdes will have a special guest role in the show. Prieto-Valdes goes by the nickname Sea Princess, while it was a singing mermaid that inspired Balsamo to enter the world of composing music for performances.

Balsamo learned piano from his mother. In high school, he came across the soundtrack of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” After listening to the cassette tape, he realized he wanted to create music for narratives.

“This was the time when I fell in love with film music and started a modest collection of available soundtracks from the best composers like John Williams, Alan Menken, Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman, James Horner, John Barry, Marc Shaiman, Alan Silvestri, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Michael Kamen.”

While an American soundtrack may have spurred him to create music, his first two attempts in high school were grounded in Philippine stories. Balsamo composed music for a stage adaptation of National Artist for Theater Rolando Tinio’s “May Katwiran Ang Katwiran” and Jay Rey Alovera’s “Damaso,” a musical focusing on the main antagonist of Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere.”

He continued to create works while studying Composition and Piano at St. Scholastica’s College, where he graduated cum laude.

Balsamo hit the ground running when he started working professionally: as a keyboardist for the Manila and Asia (Hong Kong and Singapore) tour of “Miss Saigon” and as the piano arranger for TP’s “Himala The Musical.”

Aside from musicals, he also composes for choirs and orchestras. He’s currently the resident music director of Ballet Philippines. He received a 2012 PGB nomination for his music composition for BP’s “Crisostomo Ibarra” and won the 2012 PGB for Outstanding Musical Direction for his work together with Ryan Cayabyab in BP’s “Rama, Hari.”

‘Maximizing the minimum’
Composing music for children’s musicals is not new to Balsamo, who is also “Sandosenang’s” musical director. He did TP’s “Mulan” in 2007 and “Dugtongdugtong na Sumbong (Ang Hukuman ni Sinukuan)” in 2010.

“Composing a children’s musical is probably one of the toughest jobs for a composer. You should not oversimplify melodic ideas for the sake of recall or clarity, yet the music still has to be catchy and relevant.”

He favors a wide range of melodic lines and complex chords, so the challenge for him was to create something that “has depth yet appeals to most kids and the young-at-heart.”

Balsamo used to wonder why he would receive commissions to do children’s musicals. “Directors or producers know that I am more of the serious, dramatic type. I realized that these served as opportunities for me to further learn to ‘maximize the minimum,’ to simplify things to what is essential yet without being too boring or predictable.”

For this production, Balsamo was tasked to collaborate with folk singer and composer Noel Cabangon.
“Merging our work into a cohesive and unified single unit was not that difficult. He likes to highlight our individual strong points as composers. I got to see his composing process and it has expanded my views on the craft of songwriting.”

Gerald Mercado choreographs, with sound design by TJ Ramos, lighting design is by John Batalla, costumes by James Reyes and Leeroy New, and set design by Rutaquio.

“Sandosenang Sapatos” runs July 13-21 at Tanghalang Huseng Batute, Cultural Center of the Philippines. Shows at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. All shows are open for sponsors and showbuyers. Contact 8321125 loc. 1620 to 1621, 2183791, 09177500107 and 09189593949. Tickets also available through Ticketworld at 8919999 or www.ticketworld.com.ph.

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The Multiple Threats of Lex Marcos

The Multiple Threats of Lex Marcos
By Walter Ang
June 15, 2013
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Lex Marcos
Actors are usually called triple-threat when they can also sing and dance. Lex Maros is an actor who is a triple threat of another kind: he also does set and lighting design. Actually, he also sings and dances. And he paints, too. So, technically, he's a sextuple-threat, but who's counting?

He just wrapped an acting and set design gig earlier this year with Philippine Educational Theater Association, playing Orsino in "'D Wonder Twins of Boac."

He's currently working on the set designs for Viva Atlantis Theatricals' Asian premiere of Disney Theatrical's "Tarzan: The Musical" and Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas' "Adarna."

"Tarzan" opened June 14, directed by Chari Arespacochaga, featuring Rachel Ann Go as Jane and Dan Domenech in the titular role. The stage version of the 1999 animated film based on "Tarzan of the Apes" by Edgar Rice Burroughs has music and lyrics by Phil Collins and book by David Henry Hwang.

"Adarna," the classic tale of Don Juan's search for the mythical Ibong Adarna that can cure any sickness with its song, will be staged by DUP in July using a version of the story by Antonio Buenaventura and Vitaliana Pineda with additional text by Vladimeir Gonzales.

All this because he wanted to learn to paint.

Drawing and singing
Marcos' set design for DUP's "Umaaraw, Umuulan."
Marcos had always loved to draw. "As a child, I drew stick figures. As I got older, I would copy super heroes from comic books like Superman and Batman," he says.

He took up a certificate course in painting and then a bachelor's degree in art history at University of the Philippines. It was during college that he started engaging the different disciplines related to performing.

Marcos had grown up surrounded by musical influences. His father worked as a soldier and was a member of the Philippine Constabulary Band and Manila Symphony Orchestra while his brother sings and plays guitar.

He'd joined glee club in elementary school and choir in high school. "When I got to college, I auditioned for UP Concert Chorus. I found out that the group goes on international tours once in a while and it became my motivation to join," he says laughing.

He was accepted and, yes, got to tour parts of the US and Europe with the group.

Acting and designing
Marcos working on a light plot.
Upon his return to Manila, he wanted to continue performing, though acting this time instead of singing. He started auditioning for plays and soon landed his "first major production" with DUP's staging of "Kanjincho," a kabuki play.

"That was the first time I met [DUP founding artistic director] Tony Mabesa. He found out that I'd been a member of UPCC so he cast me as Yoshitsune, a noble lord, a role that required a high-register voice."

"The theater majors started asking me to perform in their thesis productions. Oo lang ako nang oo. It was all new to me and I really wanted to learn more." Marcos has since been in several productions for DUP and Peta. In the past few years, however, most of his theater productions have had him in the backstage disciplines.

After a few years of acting on stage, an interest in designing sets began to develop. He was advised by Jose Estrella, one of DUP's resident directors, to take classes under Amiel Leonardia in the university's theater program. Marcos wouldn't earn any credits from cross-enrolling in the set design class since it wasn't part of his fine arts curriculum, "But, again, I was so eager to learn."

At the end of the semester, Leonardia asked Marcos to stay after class and told him, "You have a big problem."

Marcos thought he'd made a mistake with his assignment. As it turned out, Leonardia asked Marcos to design the set for "Ang Birheng Matimtiman," a Filipino translation of Niccolo Machiavelli's "The Mandrake," a production he was about to direct for DUP's UP Playwrights Theater series of new works.

"I was overwhelmed but I said yes. Then [Leonardia] said to me, 'So isn't that a big problem?' and he laughed out loud."

Lighting and juggling
Marcos' "Poet of Goats 2."
Other set design projects followed. When Marcos designed the set for UP Centre for International Studies and Japan Foundation's staging of "Paglalakbay ni Sisa, Isang Noh sa Laguna," his work caught the eye of lighting designer Shoko Matsumoto. She invited him to join her lighting design workshop.

"That's when I became more interested with lights." He took the workshop and even joined Matsumoto as part of her crew in some of her productions to familiarize himself with the craft. He further honed his knowledge with a lighting design class, again under Leonardia.

Marcos' cross-disciplinary experiences help feed each other.

"In my painting course, I was exposed to different styles of art from realistic to conceptual art, which helps with my set design process. My sensibilities as an actor help me define the space when I'm creating a set design.

"These sensibilities also come into play when I'm designing lighting, when I define the scenes and sculpt the actors. Conversely, when I'm acting, I become more aware of the space and I know where to find my light."

His theater work has kept him from his painting but it has also inspired it. He'd been in group shows before, but Marcos was finally able to mount his first one-man show, "El Eco," in 2010. He showcased works based on the surrealist poetry of Miguel Hernandez, a character he portrayed for DUP's the "Recoged Esta Voz/Gather This Voice/Tipunin Itong Tinig" in 2004.

In his painting, Marcos likes to mix different mediums: oil, acrylic, calciumine powder mixed with latext, etc. "I like textured, raw works."

When it comes to the mix of disciplines he juggles, he sees himself as "a theater artist focusing on design, but I would really like to start painting again and hopefully join group exhibits and put up another one man show."

Indigenous materials
Marcos working on scale model of his set design for "Tarzan."
For his work in "Tarzan," Marcos will be creating an original set design. "I prefer not copying from original versions of foreign stagings. But it wasn't allowed anyway, so good for me," he says laughing.

Last year, Marcos did the set designs of Atlantis Productions' (VAT's sister company) stagings of "Rock of Ages" (which will be restaged later this year) and Disney's "Aladdin." The year before that, he handled the set designs of "Next to Normal" and Disney's "The Little Mermaid."

Marcos will be using indigenous materials like rattan and abaca to recreate the jungle setting for the musical. "My approach is stylized. When I presented the design, I already imagined it with lighting and I presented it in a way to for [VAT and Disney Theatricals] to have a clear vision of how the scenes would look like. Fortunately, they approved it."

Disney's "Tarzan: The Musical" runs June 14-July 7 at Meralco Theater, Pasig City. Contact 8927078, 8401187 or 09178381534.

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UP Concert Chorus to hold free concert on June 15, 2013

UP Concert Chorus to hold free concert on June 15
By Walter Ang
June 10, 2013
Philippine Daily Inquirer

University of the Philippines Concert Chorus
University the Philippines Concert Chorus (UPCC) will hold a free concert at Capitol Commons on June 15.

Led by artistic director Jai Sabas-Aracama, UPCC will perform the same repertoire in their recent cultural goodwill concert in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

The concert was organized by the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur as a cultural diplomacy project for “the enduring friendship between Filipinos and Malaysians.”

The concert, performed by 28 singers and one pianist, was held at Dewan Recital of Universiti Malaysia Sabah. The repertoire included Filipino folk songs, pop, Original Pilipino Music (OPM) and Broadway songs.

UPCC was also joined by the Universiti Malaysia Sabah-School of Art Studies Choir.

Guests of honor included Siti Rubiah Datuk Abdul Samad, spouse of Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dato’ Sri Anifah bin Haji Aman; and Norlidah R.M. Jasni, spouse of Sabah governor Juhar Mahiruddin.

The UPCC also performed at Stairway to Hope, the learning facility organized by the Filipino community in Sabah for Filipino children who don’t have access to basic education.

Last year, UPCC held a concert, “A Celebration of Peace,” in KL, staged after the signing of the framework agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

51st year
Also last year, UPCC celebrated its 50th anniversary and won four awards in international competitions: first prize in the Folk category and second prize in the Mixed category of the Festival Internacional de Musica de Cantonigros in Vic, Spain; and the gold diploma and the Audience Prize (People’s Choice Award) at the 9th Cantemus International Choir Festival at Nyíregyháza, Hungary.

It was chosen as one of the six best choirs at the IV International Harald Andersen Chamber Choir Competition in Helsinki, Finland, making UPCC the very first Asian choir to ever make it that far.

Locally, it was the recipient of the 2012 Aliw Awards Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award and is one of National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ Ani ng Dangal awardees for 2013.

The concert concludes Capitol Commons’ “Festival of World Class Filipinos,” a series of free shows featuring performances by “Filipino artists who have received international acclaim for their talents.”

The 10-hectare mixed-used development is at Meralco Avenue  corner Shaw Boulevard, at the former site of  Rizal Provincial Capitol. It is planned to feature condominiums, retail establishments and offices.

There will be a fashion show featuring the works of Michael Cinco, Amina Aranaz, Herbert Custodio, Roel Rosal and Albert Andrada.

A food market will be available, organized by Mercato Centrale.

UPCC’s free concert at Capitol Commons on June 15 starts at 5  p.m. Call 4013332 or visit ortigas.com.ph.

UPCC will also perform the same concert repertoire on July 12 at Abelardo Hall, College of Music, University of the Philippines. Call 0917-8902736 or visit upconcertchorus.com.

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Sipat Lawin Ensemble–oops, it’s not a ‘theater company’ but a ‘theater community’

Sipat Lawin Ensemble–oops, it’s not a ‘theater company’ but a ‘theater community’
By Walter Ang
June 8, 2013
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Sipat Lawin Ensemble announces 2013-2014 season line-up.
It’s not everyday that a theater group announces on Facebook that it’s looking to borrow an aquarium for one of its events. But then, Sipat Lawin Ensemble has never really considered itself a “traditional” theater company; and reaching out to its audiences in every which way is just part of how it rolls.

In fact, it no longer wants to be called a theater company.

“Sipat Lawin Ensemble is now a ‘theater community,’” says artistic director JK Anicoche. “We’re composed of artists and audiences, which are one and the same. Audiences are artists themselves: They also shape tastes, discern aesthetic merits, think, like and dislike.”

He adds: “SLE is merely acknowledging their role in the process of art-making and at the same time inviting them to use these platforms that we are providing. We want them to acknowledge their power as audience-collaborators.”

SLE focuses on staging “actor-devised” material in non-theater spaces such as living rooms, parks, bars, bathrooms, etc. The group was founded by alumni from the Philippine High School for the Arts and shouldn’t be mistaken for PHSA’s resident theater group Dulaang Sipat Lawin.

Strong following
The group has been developing a strong following for its immersive style of staging works that involve audience interaction.

Last year, it premiered “Battalia Royale,” an adaptation of the Japanese novel-turned-movie-turned manga about a group of 40 schoolchildren in a dystopian setting forced to kill each other until only one survivor remains.

Audiences had to move around with the 40 or so actors as scenes unfolded in every nook and cranny of venues such as the driveway ramp of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and, at later stagings, equipped with flashlights and glowsticks at an abandoned school compound in Quezon City.

(The abandoned school compound is also where the group has set up its headquarters, wittily called Pugad Lawin Studio.)

The rest of its 2012-2013 season didn’t see any new works from the group, but only because it kept extending the run of what proved to be a very popular “Battalia.”

That season concluded with restagings of past hits: “Haring Tubul,” a devised adaptation of Alfred Jarry’s “Ubu Roi” (King Ubu), for the CCP’s 4th National Theater Festival (November 2012); and “Imperio Animalia,” another devised adaptation of the George Orwell book, for Ateneo Entablado’s Street Theater Festival 2013.

Crowdsourced script
For their 2013-2014 lineup, SLE will involve audiences/the public even further, opening with “LoveNot, a.k.a. Love: This is Not Yet a Musical,” targeted for staging in August.

“This will be a performance based on our shared experiences on love.  ‘LoveNot’ will be devised from open-call contributions. It will be a crowdsourced production. We are collecting monologues, poems, songs, slideshows, dances, photos, videos, memes, etc. from the public,” he says.

The production will be the group’s attempt to create a single theater piece with the most number of “playwrights.” Events such as open-mike sessions where audiences can contribute inputs will be held, leading up to the main devising period in June.

In November, SLE is scheduled to host “Karnabal: Devised Works Festival.”

“It will be the Philippines’ first open- call festival of devised works-performances that emerge from mediums other than a written script,” he says.

For “Karnabal,” SLE will stage Vladimeir Gonzales’ adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984” and “Reenactments,” works devised from news footage and popular media of recent national events.

Blank ticket
This season’s theme is “F(l)ight.”

“We’re playing around the ideas of fight, light, and flight—a flight to reach communities, a flight towards possibilities. We’re even extending the audiences’ involvement in determining the price of the shows.”

Jumping off from its previous stagings of “Haring Tubul” and “Battalia” that had pay-what-you-can performances, SLE is implementing a Blank Ticket Concept this season.

“Each audience member will be given a blank ticket and they will decide how much they will pay for the show. We want to extend our relationship with our audiences as shareholders to a point where they will see that they are directly involved in determining the sustainability of our practice,” he says.

SLE does not only create works for adult audiences. This year it’s also launching its Children’s Wing.
“We’re creating for and with children, developing works and ways that address their specific needs,” says Anicoche.

Activities under this program include advocacy works done in partnership with Museo Pambata to encourage storytelling volunteerism in underprivileged communities nationwide.

Available for bookings by schools, offices and organizations throughout the country are SLE’s Book on the Spot Caravan and the musical comedy “Pragres,” which is based on a short story by National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose that satirizes lazy government employees and government bureaucracy.

“‘Book on the Spot’ involves our actors acting out a book as our way of storytelling. It can be brought to schools, communities, even birthday parties,” says Anicoche.

To contribute ideas to “LoveNot,” e-mail lovenotyetamusical@gmail.com. Contact sipatlawin.ensemble@gmail.com or 0917-5008753.

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What it takes to be a stage manager at Virgin Labfest

What it takes to be a stage manager at Virgin Labfest
By Walter Ang
June 1, 2013
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Chynna Roxas reviews cues with a musician.
Stage managers are the individuals who "run" a play or musical, almost never seen by audiences (unless you catch one pushing out a set piece on to the stage at some point during a show), one hand holding a timer and the other holding a copy of the prompt book, a copy of the script that contains all the stage directions: actors' and set pieces' blocking, their entrances and exits, all lighting and sound cues, etc.

In the dark of backstage, with only a dim blue light for illumination, they call out or signal with their hands to the actors when to enter and exit the stage and to the crew when to execute cues.

"Some books say a stage manager is the 'organizer and coordinator of theater productions' but for me, a stage manager is the ultimate problem solver in any given production, under all circumstances. In short, the "go-to" person," says Chynna Roxas.

Their involvement begins even before actors are cast for a production. Prior to a show's run, stage managers work with production managers and directors to organize auditions and rehearsals.

Ed Lacson monitors rehearsals.
"Our work ranges from scheduling rehearsals based on actors' availability to making sure nobody shows up for a canceled rehearsal, from providing copies of the script for actors and designers to ensuring there is drinking water for all," says Ed Lacson.

During rehearsals, SMs, as they are nicknamed in the local theater industry, take note of directors' instructions and revisions, in order to maintain continuity in succeeding sessions. They orient actors who've been absent, and even occasionally filling in for actors who are absent, among about a thousand other functions. All their notes become part of what eventually results in the prompt book.

"We work with the costume department, telling them of sequence changes; with the props guy, telling him that an antique phonograph will be broken by an actor into pieces in every show. We're the ones who put glow-in-the-dark tape on the stage so actors won't fall off during scene blackouts. We have to keep the director happy while staying within budget. We make sure everything is finished on time," he says.

That's just for one production. Now, imagine having to do all that for 10 plays. All at the same time.

Managing Virgins
Virgin Labfest is "a venue for playwrights, directors and actors to bring to life 'untried, untested, unpublished and unstaged' plays" organized by Writer's Bloc, a playwright's group, and Tanghalang Pilipino, the Cultural Center of the Philippines's resident theater company.

Now on its ninth year, VL will present 10 new works: three sets of one-act trilogies and one full-length (two-act) play with Tuxqs Rutaquio as artistic director.

Roxas, the pioneering head SM for VL, recounts, "The first one was in 2005. I think we had 20 or more plays. It was the fest with the most plays because it was the very first."

Instead of being daunted, she says, "It was something fun and we wanted to welcome as many playwrights as we could."

"What started out as a platform for writers to showcase their work has also became a venue for stage managers as well," says Lacson, who has the distinction of being head SM for the most number of fests (four).

It is impossible not to feel overwhelmed once these two stage managers, both former SMs of Tanghalang Pilipino, enumerate the challenges of running VL-the tasks at hand seem neverending.

Lacson says, "Scheduling is the major challenge. You have a finite number of venues and hours, and you have to find a way to accommodate everyone."

"You have to find locations for 10 productions rehearsing in a day. We use hallways, stair landings, etc. It's already difficult scheduling just one production, what more an entire festival," says Roxas, laughing.

The pair also discuss addressing the needs of actors, directors, set designers, lighting designers, costume designers, props makers, etc.

"Ten plays means you deal with 10 directors. Some plays have only two actors, some have ten. Aside from rehearsal needs like substitute props (while the actual props are still being fabricated), tables, chairs, refreshments, etc.; each also has their own set of production requirements: sets, tech, props, costumes, etc.," says Roxas.

There are problems to solve with set changes between three one-acts in one show and between two shows in a day.

"The set-change time that we need to beat should be less than five minutes. The traffic of the striking of props and flooring and bringing in the new sets needs to be well-planned, organized and rehearsed. You must have a sequence from the first item removed to the last," she adds.

Roxas notes the importance also of coordinating with all the SMs of each play. "We sometimes get students, so we also have to teach, guide, brief, assist, remind them."

She once had to cue a show on short notice because one of her SMs fell ill and couldn't make it to the theater. "Even if I was not assigned to that play, I had to know what was going on. When you're head SM, you have to keep an eye on everything."

When Lacson first handled the fest, it introduced related events such as staged readings and site-specific works. "It was around 26 plays across seven separate venues within the CCP. We were understaffed since we hadn't come up with deputy SM positions yet. I'd be running from the costume room to a theater, carrying a bunch of costumes, and get a call to go to another floor to check the names for the souvenir program."

"It was crazy. I didn't go home any more, I slept in the storage rooms at CCP. It was the most traumatic two months of my life. So I did it again the year after. And the year after that," he laughs.

"VL is a celebration," says Roxas. "It's an opportunity for all artists to come, unite, and create art.  Everyone is welcome and given a chance. Even with stage management, students are given opportunities. Seeing and working with new people and veteran actors and actresses, collaborating with different designers and artists, it's a great feeling."

"We all do it because we just want to create something that we love: theater," says Lacson. "New stage managers can experience working in a professional setting. I used to assign newbies to established directors so they would learn. Some met expectations, some did not, but the experience will always prepare them for the real world of theater production."

Lacson loves it so much, he even organizes the cast party.

"I've been to a lot of cast parties, but VL is always the most fun because the scale is also like a festival. It's not really part of my job, but I do it because I know putting all those people in one room will make for a great party."

"Of course, the stage management team always arrives late because we still have to clean up the venues after the last performances," he says, laughing.

Applications ongoing for stage managers for the 9th Virgin Labfest (2013). VL runs June 27-July 8 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Call 8321125 loc. 1607, look for Nikki Torres.

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