The Menchu Quick Change Chronicles

The Menchu Quick Change Chronicles
Dec. 13, 2016

The cast of Resorts World Manila's Full House Theater staging of "Annie" created a series of backstage videos featuring Menchu Yulo-Lauchengco's stage exit for her quick change called "The Menchu Quick Change Chronicles."

Here is a compilation of all the videos from Caisa Borromeo's Facebook account. Enjoy!

Episode 1: The Virus

Episode 2: The Finish Line

Episode 3: The Walking Dead

Episode 4: What is everyone running away from?

Episode 5: The Matador

Episode 6: This is SPARTAAAA

Episode 7: At the stroke of midnight

Episode 8: The Hostage

Special episode: The Annie-quin Challenge

Episode 10 (Mid-Season Finale): The Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo Winter Collection

Mid-Season Break

Episode 12: Ang ProbinsyAnnie

Episode 13: Menchu's Revenge

Finale: HanniGans and Ships

"Annie" runs until Dec. 25 at Newport Performing Arts Theater, Resorts World Manila, Paranaque City. Tickets: Details:

How TJ Ramos crafted the soundscape for 'Mabining Mandirigma'

How TJ Ramos crafted the soundscape for 'Mabining Mandirigma'
and won a Philstage Gawad Buhay for it
Dec. 10, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

TJ Ramos
Tanghalang Pilipino's "Mabining Mandirigma," a musical about Apolinario Mabini, a leader during the Philippine revolution against Spain, is currently on its third rerun.

First staged last year, the production won 12 awards from Philstage Gawad Buhay, including Outstanding Musical (directed by Cris Millado), Script (Nicanor Tiongson), Musical Direction (Joed Balsamo) and Choreography (Denisa Reyes).

Mabini is played by Liesl Batucan (the role was originated by Delphine Buencamino). TP's Actors Company, its resident pool of actors, fills out the rest of the cast (Outstanding Ensemble).

Its set (Toym Imao) and costume design (James Reyes), using steampunk as the visual reference, also won top honors. Steampunk blends 1800s aesthetics (e.g. British Victorian era or American Wild West era) and steam-powered machinery with futuristic touches.

Another winner was the sound design by TJ Ramos.

"The steampunk sound references industrial elements that work using steam-metals clanging, gears ticking, etc. Majority of the sound design and even the music arrangement [for 'Mabining Mandirigma'] was based on that idea," says Ramos.

He crafted the musical's sound "personality" by watching and listening to movies like "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "Back to the Future 3."

Aural elements
Scene from Mabining Mandirigma.
Photo by Kurt Copon
What exactly is sound design? "It's the overall aural elements of a production," he says. And a sound designer? "Think of it as being the director for the 'sounds.'"

"Whether for a musical, dance or play, aside from creating music and sound effects for the scenes, you also consider the space. Where is the sound coming from? Offstage? Behind a set piece? The audience area? It adds another dimension to the sound narrative of the production."

Ramos says this is why sound designers also work on the sound equipment's setup such as microphones' and speakers' positions on stage and around the theater.

"Sound designers manipulate all these elements to create a holistic aural experience based on what's needed by the script and the staging."

Designing sounds
Ramos begins work on a show by listing down the sound effects as he reads the script. He then makes studies or samples.

"Then it's constant correspondence with the director, the actors, the stage manager," he says. "Theater is a collaborative process. Aside from my own ideas, I absorb suggestions from everyone involved."

In addition to his library of sound effects, he says, "I sometimes get royalty-free sound effects from the internet. For specific sound effects, I create and record them."

He fine-tunes the sound units as he attends rehearsals: "Once we enter the theater for technical week, that's when I execute the sound system set-up."

Baptism of fire 
Ramos didn't even know what sound designing was when he was studying music production at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde.

In his senior year, he got composer Joed Balsamo as his on-the-job-training adviser. Ramos recalls: "He asked me to do the music and sound cues of the Virgin Labfest. Little did I know that I was supposed to create music and sound effect cues for all 15 plays all at the same time!"

After his baptism of fire, Ramos credits sound designer Jethro Joaquin for mentoring him further: "He'd let me design some of his cues. Eventually, he gave me my own productions to design."

Ramos has gone on to win Outstanding Sound Design nods from Philstage Gawad Buhay for other shows such as "Encantada," "Stageshow" and "Der Kaufmann."

"Mabining Mandirigma" runs until Dec. 18 at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, Cultural Center of the Philippines. Tickets: Details: link:


Ela Lisondra: Swinging from London's 'Miss Saigon' to Manila's 'Christmas Carol'

In BGC, an open-air 'A Christmas Carol' starting tonight
Ela Lisondra: Swinging from London's 'Miss Saigon' to Manila's 'Christmas Carol'
Dec. 3, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Ela Lisondra.
Photo by Hugh Maynard
9 Works Theatrical's "A Christmas Carol"--the classic story of stingy Ebenezer Scrooge and how he changes for the better after being visited by three Christmas ghosts--opens tonight and runs until Dec. 25 at Globe Iconic Store, Bonifacio High Street Amphitheater, Bonifacio Global PCity (BGC), Taguig.

That's the same open-air space where 9 Works presented the punk-rock musical "American Idiot" as a live concert experience several months ago, in collaboration with Globe.

This version of "A Christmas Carol" features the music of Alan Menken ("Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Pocahontas," "Hercules," "Tangled") and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens ("Once on This Island," "Anastasia").

Playing the Ghost of Christmas Future is Ela Lisondra, who is marking her first Christmas back in the Philippines after eight years of performing in various productions around the world, most recently in "Miss Saigon" in London.

What is she most looking forward to this holiday season? "The hamonado," she says. "Kidding aside, it's being with my family."

"I missed the feeling of a strong family bond. Pinoys are very family-oriented. In other countries, Christmas is more of a celebration, a reason to get fat and to buy and give presents. For us, being in a big Catholic country, we don't forget the real reason behind the season."

Female swing
Miguel Fastuman as Scrooge
Lisondra was also part of "American Idiot." Before that, she spent the past two years playing Miss Everyone Else in "Miss Saigon"--that is, she was one of the production's two female swings, someone who takes the place of absentees.

She had to learn 10 female roles, Gigi's (the role originated by Isay Alvarez) ensemble bits, and even a few male roles. She had to be ready to do any one of them (or several) on any given show.

"Nobody understands how terrifying it is to get a few hours' notice that you'll be on for another role. You think to yourself, 'Shoot! What does she do again?'" she says.

"I had to remember that role's lines, harmony, costumes, props, hairstyle, entrances and exits, the quick [costume] changes and who the dresser was. Backstage, where do I sit? Onstage, who is my GI and where is my spotlight? What's my back story for this particular role?"

Boot camp
Note from Jon Jon Briones, who played The Engineer.
"It was really difficult in the beginning and the pressure was high." Once she'd gotten used to it, Lisondra made it fun for herself by ensuring she had different artistic choices and background stories for each of the roles. "That's what kept it challenging and exciting." 

With actors taking vacation leaves and getting injured or sick, swings are always on. She once covered five people in one show.

Prior to "Miss Saigon," she honed her chops as a performer in Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland in shows like "Mulan," "The Lion King" and "High School Musical: Live!" Lisondra says these experiences, plus the "Miss Saigon" boot camp of sorts, has only made her hungry for more.

"Being a late bloomer, I still need to learn and experience more theater. Being home in the Philippines gives me that opportunity. Performing in my home country feels good."

In "A Christmas Carol," she will be working with Miguel Faustmann as Scrooge, Raul Montesa as Bob Cratchit, Norby David as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Franz Imperial as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Rocco Buser and Dewayde Dizon as Tiny Tim.

Robbie Guevara directs, with Daniel Bartolome as musical director. Onyl Torres is assistant director, Daniel Bartolome is musical director. PJ Rebullida and Yek Barlongay, choreographers; Mio Infante, set designer; Martin Esteva, lighting designer; Ian Cartalaba, costume supervisor; Myrene Santos, hair and makeup designer; Jaime Godinez and Rards Corpus, sound designers; Chuck Ledesma, sound effects designer; GA Fallarme, video designer. 

Now that she's back, "I'm happy to break the chain of working on Christmas day," says Lisondra. "Wait, no, I'm working pala on Christmas this year!"

Tickets: 0917-554-5560, Details: link:


'Mula sa Buwan' is a heartbreaking indie-alternative Pinoy 'Cyrano de Bergerac' musical

'Mula sa Buwan' is a heartbreaking indie-alternative Pinoy 'Cyrano de Bergerac' musical 
'Mula sa Buwan': 'Cyrano de Bergerac' transposed to 'sarsuwela'-era PH
Nov. 25, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

KL Dizon as Roxanne, Nicco Manalo as Cyrano,
Edward Benosa as Christian.
Photo by Gerald Gloton. 
Does a boy with a big nose have a chance at love? Black Box Productions' staging of the musical "Mula sa Buwan" will show audiences the possibilities.

The idea to stage a Filipino adaptation of the play "Cyrano de Bergerac" came to book writer and director Pat Valera while he was exploring ways to break rules--the rules of traditional Filipino theater genres, that is.

After doing dramaturgy and assistant direction for Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas' komedya "Orosman at Zafira" and sarsuwela "Ang Kiri," he wanted to challenge himself.

"How can I further the sarsuwela and make it relevant and refreshing for today's youth?" he asked himself.

He chose a theme close to the hearts of the young--"love, ideals and a world based on a play that broke my heart!"

Indie-alternative music
Then came the music. "Being immersed in Original Pilipino Music and surrounded by great artists and musicians, I thought, why not an indie-alternative-sarsuwela that would rock out the kundiman and harana?"

(Valera, incidentally, is the producer of the annual Summer Siren Music Festival in Crystal Beach, Zambales.)

The first version of the musical, "Cyrano: Isang Sarsuwela," premiered in 2010, staged by Dulaang Roc. Inquirer Theater section editor Gibbs Cadiz praised the work, especially the songs, which were "one of the show's strongest elements-raucous, eloquent and melodic. ready to bolt the orbit of Filipino musical theater and rock primetime radio."

For this restaging, Valera and composer William Manzano have reworked and tweaked the material. Manzano's other composing credits include "Rizal X," "Maxie the Musicale" and "Macho Dancer."

Young and idealistic
In French playwright Edmond Rostand's play, Cyrano (insecure about his nose) writes love letters for Christian (insecure about his lack of wit) to Roxane, the woman they both love.

It was required reading for Valera at Ateneo High School. Students were also required to watch the high school theater group Dulaang Sibol's staging.

"The story struck a chord. I left the theater in tears. The young and idealistic me gravitated to Cyrano because he's the perfect mirror for the pimply, misunderstood teen: ugly guy, poetry used by another, the girl lost, unloved by the ever-changing world-but amidst everything, remains true to his virtues until the very end. He's the proverbial me-against-the-world figure," he recalls.

Valera's playwriting/adaptation credits include "Sepang Loca," "Lulu," "Information for Foreigners" and "Mga Lobo Tulad ng Buwan." His one-act play "Gawani's First Dance" won a Palanca Award this year.

He resets the story to 1940s Manila, a time of young cadets and colegialas. His adaptation choices don't just tie in to nostalgia, they also commemorate history. He was inspired by the Hunters ROTC, a guerilla group during the Japanese occupation composed of young cadets.

"Manila then was the Paris of the East. Our country was on the brink of independence. The characters in 'Mula sa Buwan' aren't seasoned soldiers but young college students initially oblivious to the impending war. But when it does come, they're forced to grow up."

"The musical also speaks about the ravages of war, our unsung heroes and how we deny history as we all rush to forget the pain in order to survive and move on."

Nicco Manalo and Boo Gabunada will alternate as Cyrano, KL Dizon plays Roxane, while Fred Lo and Edward Benosa alternate as Christian.

Lyrics by Valera and Manzano, musical direction by TJ Ramos, musical arrangement by Dana Marquez. Set design by Ohm David, lighting design by Meliton Roxas, choreography by JM Cabling. 

"Mula sa Buwan" runs Dec. 2-4, Irwin Theater, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City. Tickets: 0917-539-0133, Details: link:


After Belarus and Taiwan, 'Sintang Dalisay'--a Filipino 'Romeo and Juliet'-- to play in Vietnam

After Belarus and Taiwan, 'Sintang Dalisay' to play in Vietnam
Kalil Almonte reprises Romeo in this Filipino 'Romeo and Juliet' that moves to the Sama-Badjao dance 'igal'
Nov. 12, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Tasha Tañada and Kalil Almonte
Even when Kalil Almonte is rehearsing or acting in productions, he still works out for at least an hour and a half every day.

"My body feels lazy when I don't have rehearsals," he says.

However, a role he's reprising provided a challenge.

"For the first few rehearsals, my body had to get used to the choreography again," he notes. "My muscles felt heavy and there was no grace at all! There are also fight scenes, so it's really physical. My body hurt after each rehearsal."

He's playing Rashiddin (Romeo) in Tanghalang Ateneo's "Sintang Dalisay," an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," which will be the Philippine entry to the Third International Experimental Theater Festival in Vietnam this month.

Directed by Ricky Abad, this adaptation is set in a fictional southern Philippine location and incorporates igal, a traditional dance of the Sama-Badjao people, as the movement motif.

Abad and playwright Guelan Luarca converted G.D. Roke's awit (metrical romance poem) "Ang Sintang Dalisay ni Julieta at Romeo," which itself adapted Shakespeare's play into a stage version by supplementing it with Rolando Tinio's translation of the play.

The adaptation premiered in 2011 and has toured Belarus and Taiwan.

Different view 
"I last did the role two years ago in Taiwan and it's been three years since we showed to a Philippine audience, so I am excited to do it again," says Almonte.

He's been busy doing other roles in plays such as "Fluid" and "Games People Play." This year alone, his credits include "Bait" for Virgin Labfest, "Tribes" for Red Turnip, and "Loyalist Redux" for Never Again: Voices of Martial Law.

"A drama professor once told me that when you reread a book at another point in your life, you'll be affected differently, that it speaks to you differently. I understand that more now as I return to the role. Many things have happened in my personal life that the Romeo speaking about defiance, love  and commitment now is so different from the Romeo back then," he says.

And, perhaps, a little more circumspect about matters of love, this time around. "All of us in the cast have different boyfriends and girlfriends now since the 2011 premiere. Everyone broke up," he says, laughing.

Simple regimen
Almonte in "Fluid."
How does he keep in shape for the demands of the stage, especially the dramatic, highly stylized and choreographed part of Rashiddin?

"My regimen is simple. I just lift weights and use whatever machines or equipment are available in the gym," he says. "I actually work out more intensely when I have productions."

He eats rice for brunch; none for the rest of the day. "As much as possible, brown rice. If it's not available, then only a half-cup of white rice. Rice talaga nagpapalaki ng tiyan," he notes.

Audiences will have a chance to see Almonte's reinterpretation of the character when "Sintang Dalisay" starts its homecoming run in Quezon City this December.

Meanwhile, he's happy to be reunited with the cast: "There's nothing else like being with longtime friends again."

Tasha Tañada plays Jamilla (Juliet); the cast also includes Gel Basa, Charles Yee, Joe-nel Garcia and Cindy Lopez. Edu Abraham (musical director), Dan Liamco and Jayson Gildore are the accompanying musicians.

"Sintang Dalisay" has set and costume design by the late National Artist Salvador Bernal, lighting design by Meliton Roxas, choreography by Matthew Santamaria. The igal master teachers who trained the cast include Calsum Telso, Dalino Kamamihare, Nur Pergon, Abdul Hailaya, Al-Shadat Mohammad, Basar Jalaidi and Munir Jawadil.

"Sintang Dalisay" runs Nov. 15, Rạp Đại Nam (Đại Nam Theater), Hanoi, Vietnam; Dec. 9-11, Rizal Mini-Theater, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City. Tickets: 0917-843-1400. Details: link:


It's playwright Liza Magtoto's season in the sun at Peta

It's playwright Liza Magtoto's season in the sun at Peta
She has three plays back-to-back-to-back; "The Tempest Reimagined" is up next
Nov. 4, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Liza Magtoto.
Photos by Jojit Lorenzo
Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) just wrapped its two-year run of "Rak of Aegis," a jukebox musical with songs by rock band Aegis sewn together with a story by playwright Liza Magtoto.

Consolidating different aspects of Filipinos' lives, she captured the zeitgeist of Pinoy life in the early 2010s: celebrating love (romantic and familial) amidst the rise of social media and natural disasters.

Audiences will see more of Magtoto's work since she dominates Peta's 49th season (aside from "Rak," she's adapting Shakespeare's "The Tempest" into a contemporary Filipino setting) and she's opening the 50th season (as librettist for next year's restaging of "Care Divas," a musical about male Filipino workers in Israel who moonlight as singing drag queens).

"Nagkataon lang," she says. "I'm so grateful that Peta has nurtured me and, in some way, I hope I'm giving back. I'm quite honored and humbled at the same time because, as we all know, these plays become complete only because of the collaboration with the director, musical director, ensemble, production staff."

"It's an honor to take part in keeping Peta alive in showcasing the form and content that we've done in the past years," she adds.

Scared, then fired up
Magical spirit Ariel, played by Gab Pangilinan
(with alternates Gio Gahol, Neomi Gonzales and Ian Segarra),
and deformed savage Caliban, played by John Moran.
Sets and costumes designed by Marsha Roddy,
lighting design by Tsuguo Izumi,
sound design by Teresa Barrozo.
Magtoto first encountered Peta when its efforts mirrored the zeitgeist of an earlier time period.

"I was especially moved by Peta's plays during the martial law years. The feeling of community was so palpable. The way audiences cheered and clapped felt, for that singular moment, like we were liberated from repression."

Inspired by Jo in "Little Women," she thought she'd become a fictionist. "Writing plays felt scary. It took a long time before I got into it."

Norbs Portales plays Jaime,
a created character for this adaptation:
a fisherman from Leyte who tells
the story of "The Tempest,"
the setting of which, for this production,
is set on a Philippine island
that survived Typhoon Yolanda.
Growing up, her father took her and sister Bing to Repertory Philippines shows. "Then Bing would take me to Peta plays since she'd been in their workshops."

While taking up Philippine Studies at the University of the Philippines, "I enjoyed plays like 'Iskolar ng Bayan' and the seditious plays of the 1900s."

That exposure to theater "made me see the immediacy of the medium, the impact it has on the audience, and that we can show something we can't in mainstream media. It fired me up to go into theater.

"I felt I had so much I wanted to say, to mirror life's ironies which I wanted to laugh at, to hopefully make people think."

She's been with Peta since the '80s, doing backstage work, then acting, then playwriting. "The late Charley de la Paz established the playwright's group Writer's Bloc and tried to make me attend sessions. I was always unavailable. After he died, I pledged to attend until I finally had the courage to have my play read."

Great challenge
CB Garrucho plays Prospero.
She will play the character as male.
Scores of plays and awards later (like last year's Philstage Gawad Buhay for Outstanding Libretto for "Rak"), there's no resting on her laurels.

She is discussing possible edits to "Care Divas" with director Maribel Legarda (Peta's artistic director).

For "Tempest," she's working with director Nona Shepphard (artistic director of London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) to incorporate interviews she's done with survivors of Supertyphoon Yolanda in Leyte.

"Some characters may speak in modern English; some scenes will be in Filipino. It's a great challenge to put these languages together, yet connecting them poetically with something as seemingly prosaic as disaster risk reduction in the Philippines."

"The Tempest Reimagined," Nov. 11-Dec. 4, Peta-Phinma Theater, Peta Theater Center, Quezon City. Tickets: 725-6244, Details: link:


Is this a ghost I see before me? Theater artists share their ghost stories

Yegads! Is this a ghost I see before me?
Theater artists share their ghost stories
Oct. 29, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Photo from
When a theater goes dark for the night, a stagehand leaves a lighted lamp on stage. No one knows why anymore, but some oldtimers say it is to keep ghosts away. Others say it lights the stage for the ghosts to play. Whichever theory one adheres to, most people agree: "A great theater is haunted."

So said multi-awarded American director and playwright Emily Mann. For some Halloween fun, here are encounters with stage ghosts and haunted theaters by theater artists.

Adriana Agcaoili, actress, Gantimpala Theater and Dulaang UP. 
When I was a freshman at the University of the Philippines, I was told that one of the theaters had a resident spirit named Marita and that she usually made her presence felt backstage left, especially when a female character was maltreated on stage.

I was doing stage management for a show and I was assigned at backstage left. When Tess Dumpit started weeping after her character was humiliated, a lower-pitched female voice started groaning and sobbing along with her-from backstage left!

My hair stood on end. I thought I was imagining that unearthly sound. But my companions whispered, "Who's making fun of your leading lady backstage?"

They had heard it, too! My wide eyes told my answer. I had goosebumps till the end of that show.

Roeder Camañag, artistic director, Artist Playground.
In that same venue (UP's Guerrero Theater), I was supposed to slap my co-actress, Jean Judith Javier- but a hand stopped my arm. I was frightened because I realized both of Jean's hands were on her navel.

My costume bracelet fell off my arm in the opposite direction of the slap. Later on, an audience member said he saw the bracelet move up my arm and thought it was a special effect. Marita doesn't like it when women are hurt on stage!

Oliver Usison, actor, Repertory Philippines.
During a workshop, Rep's resident sound engineer was fixing the speaker cables in the orchestra pit underneath the stage. Kids were running all over the place. He saw a girl standing with her back turned towards him. He thought she was being naughty, as students were not allowed in the pit.

He called out to her. She slowly faced him with a very angry look on her face. He immediately realized she wasn't one of the students. He ran as fast as he could out of the theater.

Aries Alcayaga, stage manager, Philippine Educational Theater Association.
When we were rehearsing this play, the cast started getting injuries every day. One actor noticed that a small chair on the stage had been missing for a few days. Another actor pointed out that the chair was for our "munting audience."

We looked for the chair and returned it. We also had a priest bless the stage and we left some food for the little guests. After that, the actors stopped getting injured.

Jonathan Tadioan, actor, Tanghalang Pilipino.
One of our crew members arrived early for our call time. While he was in the restroom, he heard knocking on the door of the cubicle he was using. When he glanced down, he saw a very hairy foot.

Topper Fabregas, actor/director/cofounder, Red Turnip.
Actress [and Red Turnip cofounder] Cris Villonco is as white as a ghost. Does that count? link:


Homegrown son Joaquin Valdes takes over Trumpets Playshop

Homegrown son Joaquin Valdes takes over Trumpets Playshop
Oct. 22, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Joaquin Valdes
Joaquin Valdes was only 13 years old when he first performed in Triumphant People's Evangelistic Theater Society's (Trumpets) "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe."

He then started taking several years' worth of summer workshops with Playshop, Trumpets' theater training arm.

He didn't just study, though. With other stage credits already under his belt (debuting professionally as a chorus member in Repertory Philippines' "Evita" and then playing the lead in "Pinocchio"), he was tasked to teach classes at Playshop starting at age 14.

"I just really wanted to extend the high I'd get from a show and keep filling my system with as much theater education as I could," he said.

And now at 32, it's his turn to steward a new generation of future professional performers.

Valdes is the new executive director for Playshop, and of Playhouse, its newly formed youth theater group composed of workshop alumni.

Mentor, apprentice
Aside from forays into directing films, fitness coaching  and coproducing the "One Night Stand" series of monthly cabarets featuring theater performers, Valdes has always stayed connected to theater.

His credits include Atlantis Productions' "Spring Awakening," 9 Works Theatrical's "The Last Five Years" and, most recently, ABS-CBN Events-Cornerstone's "Ako Si Josephine." He received the Philstage Gawad Buhay Best Featured Actor for his work in Actors' Actors Inc.'s "Red."

It was veteran actor Audie Gemora, founder of Trumpets and Playshop, who sought Valdes out.

"He and I have developed a mentor-apprentice relationship. He's always believed that the next generation has great ideas," said Valdes.

"He asked me to bring in some of my expertise from working in advertising, film and digital content, giving my two cents on where the product should go and how it should address a new generation and new market."

"Extending the mission of Trumpets, Playhouse will stage productions for children and families. Focusing on original Filipino creativity, the group aims to bring a brand new experience with values to audiences."

First show
Cast of "Always Upon A Time"
For its inaugural production, Playhouse will stage "Always Upon A Time," a musical where brothers Tommy and Danny, neglected by their busy father, find a book of stories that their mother used to read them to sleep with.

The tales will be brought to life via puppets designed by Make It Happen Workshop, which also handles set and costume design. Inspired by book pages, the puppets will have the look and feel of paper sculptures, and the set design will evoke pop-up books. Lighting design is by Joseph Matheu.

The show's title is from a song used in one of Trumpets' first musicals, "Fables and Parables," written by Freddie Santos and composed by Lito Villareal.

In "Always Upon a Time," Lorenz Martinez plays the father, while the brothers will be played by a rotating cast that includes Andee Achacoso, Daniel Drilon, Gabo Tiongson and Teddy Velasco.

Also in the cast are Chimmi Kohchet-Chua, Anton Posadas and Guido Gatmaytan, all of whom played leads in Trumpets' musical "Bluebird of Happiness" in 2013.

The show is written and directed by Steven Conde, with Vince Lim as composer and musical director, and lyrics by Conde, Lim and Valdes.

"Always Upon A Time" runs Oct. 29-30, Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. Tickets: 0917-5864177, For Playshop workshop schedules, call 9014364. link:


Carlon Matobato is lone Filipino in multinational 'Mahabharata'

Carlon Matobato is lone Filipino in multinational 'Mahabharata'
Oct. 15, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Carlon Matobato as Krishna
Photo by Hiroshi Koike
"Nganga ako," Carlon Matobato says, when he saw a movement-led staging of "Mahabharata" last year at the Peta Theater Center.

"The performers were so strong and their lines were so clean. I was excited and scared."

Scared because he'd soon be part of the show's next installment. He had auditioned for Japanese director Hiroshi Koike and won the slot as this year's only Filipino in the multinational cast.

Hiroshi Koike Bridge Project's "Mahabharata" began in 2013. Chapters are created annually in a different Asian country; it's intended to conclude with a full-length staging in 2020.

Last year's "Part 2.5" included Manila in its performance tour. This year, Matobato worked with performers from different countries for "Part 3," which was recently staged in Indonesia.

The ancient Indian epic deals with two warring branches of the Bharata dynasty battling for the throne of Hastinapura.

(Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas staged the musical adaptation "Ang Nawalang Kapatid" in 2014, written by Floy Quintos and composed by Ceejay Javier.)

Different dances
Matobato played the roles of the Hindu god Krishna and the warrior Karna.

The production combines different Asian dance forms and recruits performers with backgrounds in all manner of dance (traditional, ballet, contemporary) and movement (circus) so they can contribute to the process.

Rehearsals had started without Matobato, as he was still acting in Philippine Educational Theater Association's "Rak of Aegis." But, with his dance experience and skills, it wasn't too hard to catch up.

"Malaki ang utang na loob ko kay National Artist for Dance Ramon Obusan. He was my mentor, he honed me in Philippine dances. I knew my knowledge of these forms would become useful one day."

Matobato knows more than 70 kinds of Philippine traditional dances.

"Hiroshi wanted a Filipino actor-dancer-singer who also knew martial arts," he says. It just so happens he knows Indonesian aduk-aduk, Brazilian capoeira, Chinese wushu and tai chi, and, of course, Philippine kuntao. But who's counting?

Matobato started performing when he was a student at Lyceum of the Philippines University. "I was part of our college theater group Tanghalang Batingaw and I also joined the dance troupe.

"That's also when I joined Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group. Theater and dance converged at the same time in my life."

Theater and dance, together
He started choreographing while he was part of Tanghalang Pilipino's pool of resident actors, "while learning from respected theater gurus."

Matabato then joined Jay Cruz's Dancing Wounded group. "Jay was my second mentor, teaching me a deeper understanding of dance."

He's been with Peta since 2005, performing, choreographing, teaching-and collecting awards for his efforts, such as Philstage Gawad Buhay Best Choreography nods for "Ismail at Isabel" and "Care Divas."

Productions he's choreographed or acted in include "D' Wonder Twins of Boac," "Lola Basyang," "Zsazsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal" and "Katy!"

This wasn't his first international production, but it was particularly challenging. Prompted partly by a complex piece of costume, he had to "completely master the performance space, even with eyes closed."

"The masks made me see very little. I had to dance, sing and act without seeing much of my surroundings. I hoped I wouldn't bump into my castmates!"

"I ignored the calluses and wounds on my feet. The roles were wonderful but not easy. I put a lot of heart into it. I usually cried during rehearsals because I was so moved. It was important that I played these roles well."

Visit link:


Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Fall of the House of Usher' gets Filipino staging

Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Fall of the House of Usher' gets Filipino staging
Theater House of Black's adaptation incorporates Baguio's haunted Laperal White House
Oct. 1, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

As a prelude to Halloween, Theater House of Black will stage the suspense-horror supernatural play, "14 Leandro Road," based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Fall of the House of Usher."

The story of two eccentric siblings and their macabre home has been adapted by Jay Crisostomo and CK Bautista. Their adaptation incorporates elements of Baguio's allegedly haunted Laperal White House, which was built in the 1920s and used as a Japanese garrison during World War II.

The house has spawned tales of the lingering presence of those who've been killed in it. (In 2013, it was repurposed as the Ifugao Bamboo Carving Gallery.)

The production will alternate male and female actors for the main roles. TV mainstays Mosang and Migui Moreno will play one sibling; Ahlex Leyva and Gry Gimena, the other.

The cast also includes Peewee O'Hara, May Bayot, Patricia Ismael, Gold Villar and Harry David.

Mosang admits to believing in a lot of superstitions. "Mostly the old, traditional Filipino ones like when you whisper your wish to a dead person, it will come true. Or when a dog howls, it's a sign of death," she says.

While TV audiences are more familiar with her comedic work in "Pepito Manaloto," Mosang has done several stage dramas. "I keep coming back to theater because it helps me  hone more of my love for acting."

Recent credits include Gantimpala Theater's "Kanser (Noli Me Tangere)," Virgin Labfest's "Ang Goldfish ni Prof. Dimaandal" and Theater House of Black's "Peratedes (The House of Bernarda Alba)."

Producer Harry David says, "The audience can expect to be entertained through spooky thrills and a few scares here and there. But they'll also leave the theater asking questions about the points the play brings up."

While Poe's work follows the conventions of dark romanticism/gothic literature (fascination with melancholia, insanity, the grotesque, the irrational), some modern interpretations use mental health conditions to demystify the story, such as hyperesthesia (sensitivity to stimuli) and hypochondria.

Theater House of Black makes an effort to support various advocacies for its  productions. "We chose mental health for this one because it's a concern that has to be addressed by everyone," David says.

Part of the proceeds will go to the Philippine Mental Health Association of the Philippines.

The play is directed by Jay Crisostomo, whose recent credits include Ikarus Theater's "Habulan sa Pagitan ng Maliliit na Kamay ni Kamatayan" (his Palanca award-winning play) and "End Of The Gallows."

Alex Conbalay, set designer; Bambi Bucao, lighting designer; Vince Lim, scorer; The Closet, costume design.

"14 Leandro Road" Oct. 7-8 at Power Mac Center Spotlight, Circuit Makati. Tickets: 0917-656-1109, Visit link:

Going barefoot, developing rituals, catching Pokémon–what it takes to get Jef Flores on stage

Going barefoot, eating ramen, catching Pokémon–what it takes to get Jef Flores on that stage
Sept. 24, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Jef Flores
Photo by JC Inocian
"I like rehearsing barefoot,” says Jef Flores. “I like feeling the floor with my toes. It helps me think and keeps me balanced.”

He’s developing the character of Jon in 9 Works Theatrical’s production of “Tick, Tick…Boom!”

Jon is a composer doubting his career choice and facing problems with his best friend (who wants Jon to switch to corporate work) and his girlfriend (who doesn’t want to be with a starving artist).

“Tick, Tick…Boom!” was written and composed by Jonathan Larson before he created the now legendary musical “Rent.” The 9 Works Theatrical production is directed by Robbie Guevara with Daniel Bartolome as musical director.

The cast includes Ariel Reonal and Tanya Manalang—fresh from her stint as the lead in Philippine Educational Theater Association’s (Peta) “Rak of Aegis” and, before that, as the alternate Kim in the London revival of “Miss Saigon.”

Flores didn’t need to look too far to craft Jon’s insecurities. “He’s frustrated, lost and about to give up on art. [Earlier in my life] I gave up on theater. I thought that I’d never make it.”

Ariel Reonal, Jef Flores and Tanya Manalang
Photo by JC Inocian
Flores—born in Maryland, United States, to Filipino parents—was a 10-year-old kid who only wanted to play with his Gameboy when his family visited New York.

“My mom took us to a Broadway musical, ‘The Music Man.’ The show was amazing. That was it, I was hooked. In high school, I joined all the musicals and the marching band as well. That’s where my theater career started.”

Later on, a dearth of opportunities made him decide to quit the profession. That is, until he visited family in Manila. He found out Repertory Philippines was holding auditions for “Disney’s Camp Rock.”

“I made the ugliest, most embarrassing resumé in existence and auditioned,” he recalls. He passed the auditions and made it to the cast.

That was five years ago. He has gone on to act for, among others, Resorts World Manila’s Full House (“Cinderella,” “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”), Dalanghita Productions (“Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady”), Peta (“3 Stars and A Sun”), Actor’s Actors Inc. (“The Normal Heart”) and Red Turnip Theater (“This Is Our Youth”).

Pre-show rituals
To prepare for shows, Flores takes his script everywhere: “And I read it anywhere. My friends get annoyed with me sometimes, but I don’t like forgetting my lines, so I study as much as I can.”

Hard work pays off. He received the Philstage Gawad Buhay Best Actor nod for his work last year on “This Is Our Youth.”

He also uses exercise to prime his body and mind. He boxes when there are no rehearsals. He plays arcade basketball as a pre-show warm-up.

“I’ll have coffee and shoot basketball at TimeZone. This gets me really focused. Nice deep breaths, don’t panic, just shoot the ball, grab the next ball. It’s just like theater when you think about it,” he says.

Once a show starts its run, Flores will develop rituals. “If I happen to eat ramen on opening night and the show was good, then I’d eat ramen before every show.”

He adds: “My co-actor in ‘This Is Our Youth,’ Nicco Manalo, believes the same thing. On show days, we’d have sushi at the same restaurant, same table, same chairs.”

Also, “I really like to take naps. I can fall asleep anywhere.”

Except when there are Pokémon around: “I have a Poliwhirl with combat power level 720 that I really want to evolve, but I don’t have enough candy yet. So I get really excited when there are Poliwags around [so I can get more candy].”

Daniel Bartolome, musical director; Arnold Trinidad, choreographer; Mio Infante, set designer; Mickey Hirai, costume designer; Martin Esteva, lighting designer; Myrene Santos, hair and makeup designer.

“Tick, Tick…Boom!” Oct. 1-23, Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. Tickets: 09175545560, 5867105, Visit link:

Filipino-American Ali Ewoldt is first Asian to play Christine in 'Phantom of the Opera' on Broadway

Filipino-American Ali Ewoldt is first Asian to play Christine in 'Phantom of the Opera' on Broadway
Aug. 27, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Ali Ewoldt.
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Filipino-American Ali Ewoldt is currently playing the role of Christine Daaé in the Broadway production of "The Phantom of the Opera," and it marks a milestone: She is the first actress of Filipino descent and first woman of color to portray the role on Broadway since it opened in 1988.

"It is incredibly exciting!" she says. "I have loved 'Phantom' and dreamt of playing Christine since I was a child, so to get to play Christine is literally a dream come true."

Ewoldt, whose mother hails from Pangasinan, was born near Chicago and raised in Pleasantville, a short distance from New York City. She's been performing the role since June.

"Being the first Asian-American Christine on Broadway is an honor and, also, I believe, comes with a bit of responsibility. I want to demonstrate that this incredible story can be told regardless of my personal ethnic background."

Ewoldt recently played Tuptim in the Chicago Lyric Opera production of "The King and I" opposite Fil-Am actor Paolo Montalban as the King. She previously understudied the role as an ensemble member in the 2015-2016 Broadway revival.

To prepare for the role, Ewoldt revisited the Gaston Leroux novel the musical is based on. "And, of course, I spent many hours learning all of the songs," she says.

She credits "many, many years" of vocal training and ballet classes in honing her skills. She also praises the musical theater program of her high school, Pleasantville High School.

Her pre-show preparations consist of putting on her costume and wig then warming up vocally. "I then stretch and run through all of the opening choreography and the 'Think of Me' song in my dressing room."

She then enjoys the first part of the show as an audience member with a special vantage point: "I watch and listen to the other amazing performers sing the first number from the wings."

Ewoldt is still connected to her Filipino roots. Though she has become a pescatarian and finds choosing Filipino dishes a bit tricky now, she's still able to enjoy sinigang and turon.

"Growing up Filipino, music was always a part of my family gatherings," she adds. "My eldest aunt, my Tita Myrna, took me to some of my first Broadway shows and my parents continued that tradition when they realized how much I loved watching them.

"My parents were always incredibly supportive, shuttling me to dance classes and voice lessons, etc."

Ewoldt with Adam Jacobs
and Lea Salonga, backstage at "Les Miserables."
Photo from
While a psychology student at Yale University (she later graduated cum laude), she auditioned and got cast in a minor role for one of the school's opera productions.

An agent saw her performance and started working with her to land professional jobs.

One of her first jobs was "Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular" at Disney California Adventure theme park, where she was the Jasmine body double.

Ewoldt made her Broadway debut as Cosette in the 2006 revival of "Les Miserables." She was able to share the stage with Lea Salonga when the latter was cast as Fantine in 2007 (Salonga was the first Asian to play this role on Broadway).

Other credits include Maria in the national tour of "West Side Story," chosen by the musical's book writer Arthur Laurents to play the part, and Luisa in the off-Broadway production of "The Fantasticks."

Co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's production company The Really Useful Group, the musical has music by Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart and book by Richard Stilgoe and Webber.

In 2012, Concertus Manila produced the Manila leg of a touring production from Australia.

"The Phantom of the Opera" runs at Majestic Theatre, 247 West 44th St., New York, New York. Visit Digital lottery for $28 tickets at link:

Meet Bonifacio anew--in a Pinoy noh play

Meet Bonifacio anew--in a Pinoy noh play
Aug. 20, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

One of Noh Theatre Ensemble's
previous productions, "Okina," in 2006.
Photo by Joseph Uy 
The Noh Theatre Ensemble (NTE), a resident theater group of University of the Philippines' Center for International Studies (UPCIS), will stage "Cedula sa BGC: Isang Kontemporanyong Noh," on Aug. 26-27 at University Theater, Villamor Hall, University of the Philippines.

"This noh is set in a mall in BGC [Bonifacio Global City]," says NTE's founding artistic director Jina Umali. "It's about Andres Bonifacio, so meet the 'B' of BGC, the Father of the Philippine Revolution."

NTE members have received continuous training since 2005 from Naohiko Umewaka, a noh grand master whose family's involvement in noh dates back 600 years.

Umali explains that centuries-old noh is the oldest form among the Japanese performance traditions, characterized by the use of masks, controlled physical movements and abstracted choreography such as sliding steps, and lines that are sung.

"One of the differences between noh and other art forms is that noh deals more often with ghosts and the afterlife," she says.

"I [wanted] to make Bonifacio return as a ghost through noh," says Umali.

"Cedula" is her adaptation of Ericson Acosta's play "Moñumento," staged in the mid-1990s by Alay Sining, into the noh format.

What is a Filipino noh, exactly?

"Most of the elements come from Noh theater, except the text [script and language] and the performers," she says.

"'Cedula sa BGC' explores Bonifacio's life and death, and his many roles such as thespian, nationalist, husband and leader of the revolution; it's a distillation of the struggle and process to become Bonifacio and for the Philippines to become a nation."

The production will be in Filipino with Filipino performers, in collaboration with noh grand masters Umewaka (expert in noh acting for principal roles), Shigeji Omura (expert in noh drum) and Isso Yoji (expert in noh flute).

"We train using the noh repertoire and transpose the shodan, the structural segments of noh, into Filipino."

"The costumes of the major characters are real noh costumes provided by the noh grand masters. Some of the costumes are from the UPCIS collection of Japanese kimono and hakama (pleated trousers). Additional costumes are recreated by Darwin Desoacido," she says.

Andrew Cruz plays Bonifacio. The cast also includes Diana Alferez, Tess Jamias, Derrick Gozos and Al Gatmaitan.

Otto Hernandez handles set and lighting design.

The production commemorates the 120th anniversary of the 1896 revolution led by Bonifacio against Spain, which began with revolutionaries symbolically tearing their cedula (community tax certificates).

The production also celebrates the 60th year of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Philippines and the 20th anniversary of the Japan Foundation in Manila.

Umali points out that she isn't directing the production in the Western sense of the word.

"The three noh grand masters are my collaborators as there is no director in noh. 'Giving direction' in this particular production means asking their opinion and involving them in the artistic decisions when it comes to their specializations."

"We are in this together in the way that the Filipino performers and musicians are equally my collaborators. I present the concept and structure of the play to them, and the artistic details of the noh tradition is interwoven into it-tailor-made, so to speak."

Umali has codirected "Kanjincho" with Tony Mabesa for Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas and has directed Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio's "Ang Paglalakbay ni Sisa: Isang Noh sa Laguna" for NTE.

She founded NTE to introduce Asian performance practices to Filipinos. Students who've joined the ensemble come from diverse backgrounds, with courses ranging from engineering to library science; no performing background is necessary.

The public is welcome to audition for future productions or to join the (usually free) training sessions. Schedules of upcoming sessions are announced on the group's Facebook page.

"Cedula" is twin-billed with UPCIS Bunraku Ensemble's staging of Andres Bonifacio's "Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa," featuring coloratura soprano Luz Morete, music by Restie Umali and choreography by Joanne dela Calzada.  ("Bunraku" is traditional Japanese puppet theater.)

Discounts are available for public high school and college students. "Cedula sa BGC" runs Aug. 26-27 at University Theater, Villamor Hall, University of the Philippines, Quezon City. Call 0918-9286398, 426-7573, 981-8500 loc. 2460 or Visit or link:

Farewell, Jonas Sebastian, theater pillar and Temptation Island's Joshua

Farewell, Jonas Sebastian, theater pillar and 'Temptation Island' 's Joshua
Aug. 13, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Jonas Sebastian.
Photo courtesy of Juno Alexis Rosales
Director and actor Jonas Sebastian passed away on July 31 at age 73. He died of cardiac arrest after contracting pneumonia.

Born in Quiapo to a family who owned the movie studio Oriental Pictures, Sebastian entered the performing arts in 1967 as an actor in productions directed by Inquirer columnist Nestor Torre at Ateneo de Manila University, and Joey Gosiengfiao at De La Salle University.

He later joined Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) as an actor and set designer; and Repertory Philippines as a set designer, eventually directing the company's inaugural production of "Sleeping Beauty" for its Repertory Children's Theater. He also acted and directed for Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas, helming "Asyenda Animal" for the group's inaugural season.

Dinner theater
His directorial debut was "Hello Soldier" for Peta in 1971. His directing scope would grow to encompass comedies, classics, Filipino works, and foreign material. He went on to direct dinner theater and opera in the late 1970s and 1980s, and drama classics in the 1990s.

In a Facebook post, actor and director Bernardo Bernardo recalled being directed by Sebastian in several productions: "[When] dinner theater fare in posh hotels was all the rage, Jonas Sebastian was the undisputed King of the Classy Sex Comedy Romps!"

Sebastian formed or cofounded a number of theater groups: Voyage Theater Group, focused on experimental plays; and Babaylan Theater Group/Dulaang Babaylan, focused on the revival of traditional theater forms such as senakulo, in the 1970s.

In the 1990s, he directed for Tanghalang Pilipino ("Ginintuang Bayan," "Orosman at Zafira" with John Arcilla and Allan Paule alternating as Orosman) and for Bankard Ticketcharge (Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance").

Sebastian (seated center, second row from top, with eyeglasses)
with the cast of Bankard Ticketcharge's
"All's Well That Ends Well," 1999.
Photo courtesy of Aries Alcayaga
He cofounded Actors Classic Ensemble, which staged Shakespeare and world classics from 1994 to 1997. Cofounder Joshua Spafford, a former actor with Repertory Philippines, said, "He's an important cornerstone Filipino theater artist and a teacher to so many people who have come of age today. Those who knew him closely knew what a kind, loyal and loving friend and ally he could be.

"His passion for his craft and his passion for sharing this knowledge had no bounds. He went out of his way to help procure scholastic papers, studies and other valuable resources on studying classics which, in the pre-internet time, was hard to come by. More and more the culture of mentorship is vanishing, so someone like Jonas, who shared knowledge with urgency, was rare."

In a Facebook post, Spafford wrote, "He spent countless hours, years even, not just directing but teaching a good number of younger artists how to study a text, how to deepen a role, how to find comedy in tragedy and tragedy in comedy, and sharing his belief that the theater was worthy of a lifetime of love and worthy as a calling."

Actress Adriana Agcaoili said, "Whenever we'd emerge from one of his intensive and very rewarding table sessions (he was a firm believer in textual analysis, especially when we were doing Shakespeare), his actors liked to joke that Jonas treated Shakespeare like the 'Matrix'--he could crack the code for you."

Math and movies
Sebastian as Joshua in the 1980 film "Temptation Island."
Before he entered theater, Sebastian put his undergraduate and master's degrees in mathematics from University of the Philippines to use as a teacher there for five years. He was known to wear white gloves in class, as he claimed he was allergic to chalk.

In the 1980s, along with his theater contemporaries who were shifting to film, he wrote scripts for television and film. He also forayed into film acting, and is well-known to fans of the 1980 cult film "Temptation Island" as the character Joshua, the pageant coordinator.

On stage, he essayed lead roles in plays such as "Cyrano de Bergerac," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," "Peer Gynt," "In My Father's House," "Largo Desolato," "The Cherry Orchard," "The Chairs" and "The Merchant of Venice."

Eccentric, colorful
Theater colleagues paying their respects at Sebastian's wake.
Back row (from left): Jacques June Borlaza, Lorna Lopez,
Mona Katigbak. Middle row: Miguel Vasquez, Allan Palileo,
Weng Lopez, Adriana Agcaoili, Richard Cunanan, Charlton
Villanueva. Seated: Jeremy Domingo, Andre Tiangco,
Gwyn Salazar Guanzon, Apollo Abraham.
Photo courtesy of Adriana Agcaoili
Spafford said, "To not acknowledge that he could be eccentric, and I say that fondly, would be doing him a disservice. At the end of the day, all he cared about was the theater and his extended `real' family: theater artists."

Agacoili added, "Jonas was temperamental. The size of the bump on his forehead grew according to his frustration over a play, or a scene, or an actor.

"But he was also the most loving and generous director, laughing the loudest in the theater during a performance, never mind if he was the only one, or embracing you with tears in his eyes, very vocal about having loved a scene you just did.

"When he was pleased with a run, he would grin and literally twist in his seat, looking absolutely gleeful. He was a genius, no doubt about that, both as an actor and a director."

Bernardo said, "Bowing in respect to one of my favorite stage directors. Also, one of the most colorful. Geniuses in theater are notoriously quirky and difficult to work with, but what amazing inventiveness, fearless choices  and titillating logic spring from their unbridled imagination. Jonas was the only director who made me cry out of frustration; but, more often, from sheer joy of watching him create magic on stage."

Sebastian's wake was held at Heritage Park in Taguig City, where he was also interred. He is survived by four siblings: Jehu Sebastian, Jonathan Sebastian, Joseph Sebastian and Janet Santos; and their respective families. link:

Rachel Alejandro in an 'unromantic comedy for imperfect lovers and dreamers'

Rachel Alejandro in an 'unromantic comedy for imperfect lovers and dreamers'
Aug. 6, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Rachel Alejandro
Upstart Productions' "Love/Sick," a show with nine short plays written by John Cariani that explore romantic relationships from first meeting and dating to disillusionment and divorce, opens this weekend at the Mind Museum Auditorium in Bonifacio Global City and runs until Aug. 20.

Artistic director Joel Trinidad directs, helming a cast that performs double or triple roles each to thresh out 18 different characters. Among them is Rachel Alejandro, who has been friends with Trinidad since they were cast together in Musical Theater Philippines' "Alikabok" in the mid-'90s.

"But it wasn't until we did 'Avenue Q' (for Atlantis Productions, now Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group) that we became close," says Alejandro.

"We've been talking about doing more shows together and possibly producing them ourselves for quite some time. 'Love/Sick' is the result."

Strange and surreal
It's serendipity that Trinidad chose to mount this play, since it's billed as "a darker cousin" to Cariani's earlier play "Almost, Maine," which was staged early this year by Repertory Philippines.

In a YouTube video of Trinidad's meeting with Cariani in New York earlier this year, the playwright jokes that "Love is a serious mental disease, remember that when you watch 'Love/Sick.'"

In previous interviews, Cariani acknowledged that his work has been described as an "unromantic comedy for imperfect lovers and dreamers."

"It's set in an alternate. reality. You'll meet people. who may believe in love but they're terrified it won't last. You'll meet people diagnosed with obsessive-impulsive (sic) disorder, a woman who has cold feet on her wedding day, a couple who are so busy they forgot to have a baby, and a bunch of others.

"[The play] should feel like a realistic and naturalistic play, until it's not. Everything is strange and surreal and absolutely not normal."

Despite the quirky description, Alejandro says she was struck by the play's "sincerity and raw emotional power and its unexpectedly light comedic touch. It's rare enough for something to be so real and true, but, somehow, this show is funny as well!"

Alejandro played the Witch in Upstart's production of "Into the Woods" last year. Joining her in the "Love/Sick" cast are Teenee Chan, Mica Pineda, Nicky Triviño, Noel Rayos, Bibo Reyes, Onyl Torres and Trinidad.

"It's a mini-reunion for us because Joel, Teenee, Bibo and Noel were all my cast mates in 'Avenue Q,' and the rest were my cast mates in 'Into the Woods.'"

While Alejandro has been in numerous musicals, this is only her second play. "The first one I did was in the early 2000s. It's really a challenge because there is so much more to memorize. I find singing and dancing a lot easier because those are what I have been doing in the past."

Even more challenging, she's tasked to play three different characters. "What I have to find is how to make the three roles distinct and still be true to my objective in each story."

In addition to acting duties, she's also coproducing the run. "Audiences are going to be surprised and delighted by the show," says Alejandro. "I know I was."

Upstart Productions' previous productions include "SOS: Showcase of Original Shorts," "Forbidden Broadway" and "Much Ado About Nothing."

Set and costume design by Clarisse Co; lighting design by Daniel Cortezano.

"Love/Sick" runs Aug. 5 to 20 at Mind Museum Auditorium, Mind Museum, 3rd Ave., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Contact 0917-8116516 or Visit or link:

Stage manager Sheryl Polancos and her quest to learn more

Stage manager Sheryl Polancos and her quest to learn more
July 9, 2016

Sheryl Polancos
"I've always been inclined towards the arts. I was always involved with dance, drama and art classes when I was a little girl," says Sheryl Polancos.

She expressed her affinity for the arts by joining dance clubs in grade school and high school. When she enrolled in University of Santo Tomas, an injury waylaid her plans to audition for the school's famed Salinggawi dance troupe.

"I joined the official theater guild of the College of Arts and Letters, Artistang Artlets. That's where I caught the theater bug."

She fell in love with the profession. So much so that the first job she applied for right after graduating was with the resident theater group of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Shifting gears
"I started out as a production manager at Tanghalang Pilipno," she recalls.

"Then I noticed that I enjoyed the rehearsal process more than paperwork and I wanted to be involved in the creative process of how a show is mounted."

That's when she switched to stage management. "I feel happy and alive whenever I'm in a rehearsal space and in theaters. It's become my comfort zone."

"I like being able to work closely with the director. Knowing you're responsible for trying to execute his/her vision is a challenge."

During her time at Tanghalang Pilipino, in addition to plays based on Filipino indigenous chants ("Hudhud") and on a popular film ("Himala"), she cut her teeth on Shakespeare and works by playwrights from Japan, Australia and Sri Lanka.

The works she was exposed to started to spark a wanderlust, a desire to see how theater was done elsewhere in the world. These productions included works that dealt with Filipino-American relations such as "The Romance of Magno Rubio," based on immigrant Carlos Bulosan's short story, and "Oraciones," a play that tackled American government in the Philippines, a Filipina suffragette and even the location filming of Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" in the Philippines.

Adventures in stage management
While her desire to see the world was growing, she went on to work for Atlantis Productions (now Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group) and Stages Production Specialists, switching seamlessly between Philippine stagings of foreign material and original Filipino works.

Her credits include the Philippine or Asian premieres of Broadway hits such as "Next to Normal," "Aida," "Xanadu," "Shrek," "Avenue Q," Rock of Ages," "The Addams Family,"and Disney's "Tarzan."

Even when she took a short foray into corporate work, she was still tasked with overseeing the company's marketing shows and events.

One of her memorable experiences was when the lead actress for the musical "Carrie" fell ill after their opening weekend. She and the entire cast had one week to rehearse the replacement.

[Read about the actress who learned the Carrie role in only six days here.]

"We didn't sleep for that whole week but in the end, we pulled through and had another opening night with a different lead." The original lead was able to return for the last week's shows and "On closing night, both leads sang together during curtain call. It was pretty emotional. That musical will always hold a special spot in my heart."

Breaking out
Finally, after years of working on shows in Manila, she began to plan her journey to expand her horizons.

"I always feel like I need to learn more and experience more. So where else to go but to the melting pot of theater, New York."

In the beginning, she was, to quote from the musical "Into the Woods," both "excited and scared."

Nonetheless, she's kept her objective in mind: "I want to learn more and absorb as much as I can."

The fear seems to have all but disappeared. Since landing in the Big Apple, she's hit the ground running. She's already observed with companies such as Riant Theatre during its Strawberry One-Act Festival and Soho Repertory during its staging of "Duat."

She's also attended open read-throughs and has had a chance to see other stage managers in their milieu, like Cristina Sison from Juilliard and Rachel Gross of Soho Rep. "I've also seen how directors in New York work, like Van Dirk Fisher, Will Davis, Herbert Go."

"I still want to attend workshops or courses for further training. I want a chance to stage manage a show here so I can get my hands dirty and really experience the differences between what I already know and how things are done here."

"As a stage manager, it has always been my goal to strive for perfection and to run the show smoothly and keep its integrity. Once a show opens, there's always a sense of pride and fulfillment in knowing that I played a big part in making the show come to life."

Visit Sheryl's LinkedIn profile or contact her at sherylpolancos @