From Luzon to Mindanao: A harvest of plays in National Theater Festival

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RODY Vera as 1950s singer Bobby Gonzales. Photos by Amadís Ma. Guerrero

The first National Theater Festival (NTF) in 1992 was off to a fiery start—literally.

The abundant fireworks meant to dramatize the festival swished through the air, burst into flames, went ballistic à la Miriam Santiago, and then landed on the roof of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, damaging some portions.

There were two such festivals in 1996 and 2004. After that, a long silence, until this year.

The fourth NTF—billed as “Ika-Apat na Tagpo, ang Bagong Yugto: The New Act”—will take place at the CCP Nov. 8-18.

The event is organized by the CCP and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

This was announced at a recent press conference at the CCP’s Silangan Hall. In his welcome remarks, festival director Nanding Josef noted that, before, directors and actors of plays in Filipino and English hardly spoke to one another, in fact, couldn’t stand each other (“dating nag-aaway-away” as Audie Gemora once put it).

FESTIVAL heads and their actors

But all that has changed now, and different organizations have banded together to form PhilStage, which includes artists from music and dance.

During the press con, Tanghalang Pilipino actors essayed an “emotional” scene from the play “Walang Kukurap,” while Rody Vera reprised his role as the 1950s singer Bobby Gonzales in “Stageshow.”

The festival will focus on the role of theater in national development. The first three days of the NTF will be the conference proper, followed by performances. There will also be screenings of films based on plays, and vice versa.

Participants will discuss and analyze the theater environment. There will be sectoral discussions of issues and concerns, capped by strategies and actions for Philippine theater in the next five years.

The participating companies and artists are: Barasoain Kalinangan Foundation from Bulacan; Bohol Antequera and Maribojoc Collectives, Teatro Bolanon; Carlos Celdran; Dulaang UP; Gantimpala Theater Foundation; Integrated Performing Arts Guild from MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology; MSU Kabpapagariya Ensemble from the Mindanao State University in General Santos City; Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta); Tanghalang Ateneo; Tanghalang Pilipino; The Xavier Stage from Xavier University; Trumpets; Kanlaon Theater Guild of Colegio San Agustin-Bacolod; Sipat Lawin Ensemble; Spit (Silly People’s Improv Theater); and the ventriloquists Ony Carcamo and Wanlu.

DIRECTOR Ricardo Abad of Tanghalang Ateneo

For director Ricardo Abad of Tanghalang Ateneo, one of the festival heads, the NTP was important because “it allows from a Manila perspective to see what is going on in the regions and vice versa, to know what is going on there and vice versa.”

He hoped for more cooperation in productions, for improvement in the craft, and to make Philippine theater more progressive.

Abad cited the “synergy among the groups, not just the shows themselves but also in between, the amount of learning, influence of styles, and possible projects.”

“Just like film festivals, there should be more festivals like this,” he concluded. “And not just in Manila but also in other places like Cebu and Davao.”

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