Iris Sheila G. Crisostomo is a young writer from the Philippines. She is into playwriting and fiction. Her play titled "Emergency" won first place in the Charlie de la Paz Memorial Awards given by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA). The award is given to new and original plays written by potential writers who have not won any major or national awards.

Present Situation of Theater in the Philippines

Theater in the modern-day Philippines setting reached an incomparable height compared to the previous decades. Filipino artists have created original plays that depict realities in the present day society through three-dimentional characters and realistic sets and costumes. Audiences were given not just entertainment but an awareness of social issues, and even multi-media presentations. Local production of foreign musicals also had a strong following from middle and upper class audiences.

In a review made on the theater scene, the year 2000 was described as "The Year of Theater Awareness". People were lining up to the theaters, be it at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila, the William J. Shaw Theater at Shangri-La Plaza Mall in Mandaluyong, or at the Rajah Sulayman Theater in Intramuros. Theater was found to be a welcome alternative to movies and concerts.

New and young batch of theater artists also gave theater a good boost by introducing new innovations in marketing and publicity. "Luna: An Aswang Romance" written by Rody Vera and produced by Gilda Cordero Fernando was a hit among theatergoers. It was packaged as an innovative blend of fashion, theater, folklore and music. It is a story about forbidden love between an earthbound male and a female belonging to a family of vampires. The success of "Luna" can also be credited to private sponsors as well as government support. The said production was a grantee of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Another example of an innovative production is "Bilog", staged by Dulaang Talyer. Written by noted playwright Nicolas Pichay, it made good use of unconventional devices like multi-media presentations, pop music, dance and street dialogue.

Skill and talent have also been passed on from mentor to their wards. Successful young artists from relatively new theater companies have been mentores by prominent and established artists in the teater scene. For example, artists behind groups like Trumpets, New Voice Company (NVC) and Actors' Actors (AAI) credited their training to Zenaida Amador and her 30-year-old Repertory Philippines.

In 1999, two musicals had audiences trooping to ticket booths. The Atlantis' production of the award-winning "Rent", a very '90s perspective on sex, drugs, and dying young had the Music Museum filled with SRO audiences. Playdates were extended for anther month. In the same way, SK Entertainment's "Rama at Sita", an original Filipino musical based on the classic Hindu epic, had theaters filled to the rim. Its good points include having pop singers in its cast as well as having spectacular costumes and stage design.

In children's theater, the production of "The Little Mermaid" by Trumpets was triumphant in costume and production design. Teatrong Mulat, a group based in the University of the Philippines and specializes in children's puppet theater is another group to watch.

Last year, the famous production of "Miss Saigon" ran for six months at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Its production also caused a controversy among local theater groups, wherein foreign productions were said to be given preferential treatment. Critics also attacked its stereotypical portrayal of Asian women.

Theater productions in the year 2000 also made strong statements on women and women issues. New Voice Company's production of "The Vagina Monologues" was a big hit precisely because it placed women in the spotlight. It had audiences lsitening to three women sharing their thoughts and sentiments, baring wounded yet courageous souls whose spirits have been damaged by wrongful treatment of their bodies.

"Luna: An Aswang Romance" also had a female protagonist in its lead, played by TV/movie actress Chin-Chin Gutierrez. She was to choose between fighting for her love for a man and be disowned by her vampire family.

Tanghalang Pilipino also stage "Paglayang Minamahal" which is a new zarzuela set in the Philippine revolution written by George de Jesus and directed by Chris Millado. It also had a female protagonist in the person of a female serveant who secretly loves her master and saves him during the revolution.

"Larawan," which is wtitten by National Artist Nick Joaquin, also had women in its lead cast. Two spinster sisters were helplessly swept by the tides of war and modernity.

Government support for theater is also crucial in its success and development. Last year, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) organized a nationwide theater festival called "Sandiwaan". Focusing on collaborative theater productions, the festival also saw artist from various theater groups and other artistic fields come together to stage new productions. Designed as a competition, the different artists in every identified region pooled their talents and produced a theatrical production as their region's entry. The four best productions, one per major island group and the national capital region, was toured in identified venues nationwide.

For this year, the NCCA had launched two contests on playwriting. One is the "Epic Playwriting Contest 2001" which will award the best full-length plays based on the Hudhud epic of the Ifugao. The competition aims to promote the hud-hud which was listed in UNESCO's oral masterpieces of intangible heritage. The other competition is the "Timpalak Teatro Bulawan" which will award the best one-act play written in Filipino with focus on the promotion of positive Filipino values. Both contests was extended untul November 30, 2001.

Classics also found its way in local productions. University-based Tanghalang Ateneo staged Ibsen's "The merchant of Venice" and Shakespeare's "The Twelfth Night." Dulaang UP stage "Othello" and "Richard III."

As if to create a balance, local classics were also staged by theater groups. Gantimpala Theater Foundation stage "Noli Me Tangere" and "El Filibusterismo," "Ibong Adarna," and "Florante at Laura."

Despite prevailing influences of western thought and modern ideals, Filipino playwrights strive to write new plays that will depict the Filipino experience. PETA toured its perennial favorites, "Ang Hatol ng Guhit na Bilog," and "Summer Dreaming." It also stage "The Libby Manaog Files," which depicts a woman's batter for her reproductive rights. "Ang Dalawang Buhay ni Plaridel" gave new light on the nor-so-known life of the hero Marcel del Oilar. It also made a good statement on nationalism in the light of globalization. "Comedy Club" was series of 10-minute plays which ran for three days a week for four consecutive weekends in March 2001 at the Rajah Sulayman Theater in Intramuros, Manila. The plays were written by resident playwrights and addressed various socio-polistical issues as well as gender-related issues.

The growth of theater in the Philippines can be credited to the unified efforts of theater groups in the development of theater as an art form. The Philippine Legitimate Stage Artists Association or Philstage is one active organization that advocates popularization of the theater. It seeks to encourage the public to watch stage productions, drum up government support and pool resources in the light of dwindlling sponsorship. Member theater companies includes Musikat, Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit, Gantimpala Theater Foundation, Actor's Actors Inc., Ballet Manila, Repertory Philippines, PETA, Tanghalang Pilipino and Trumpets.

Regional theater groups have also made their presence felt. In Mindanao, where conflicts often break out among the island's cultures, there exists a thriving theatrical group called Mindulani. All the group's plays explore problems, concerns, and dream of what the group refers to as the tri-people of Mindanao - the Lumads, the Moslems and the Christians.

Sources:
Llamas, Cora. "The Year of Thear Awarenes". Sanghaya 2001 Philippine Arts and Culture Year Book. Manila: National commission for Culture and the Arts. 2001 Guerrero, Jose Claudio B. Philippine Art: Exploring a Nation's Psyche in the Quest for Unity. Country Paper, ASEAN Youth Camp 2001.


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