Repertory Philippines is on a mission. It has been for the past 50 years— that mission was, and still is, to make theater more accessible to Philippine audiences, to bring first-rate productions to the Philippine stage that Filipinos won’t see, unless they went abroad.
The dream was also to build a viable, thriving theater industry where actors could flourish, grow in their craft and be gainfully employed with work that they love.
That all began in 1967.
For the next 25 years, for an ever increasing audience, Rep produced excellent and entertaining productions one would have to go to Broadway or London’s West End to see—starting at the 200-seat Insular Life Theater, then on to the 500-seat William J. Shaw Theater at Shangri-La Plaza, and on occasion, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Meralco or the Philamlife Theaters.
Rep was doing very well, indeed.
But in 1992, Joy Virata, Rep’s head of audience development, noticed kids hanging around the theater lobby waiting for their parents to finish watching a play. She thought, “We should have theater for them, too.” Until then, Rep’s kid-friendly fare had been confined to family-oriented plays like the “The King and I,” “Annie” or “Fiddler on the Roof.”
So, Virata approached Rep founder Zeneida “Bibot” Amador with the idea and got a conciliatory reply, “You can do anything you want as long as you don’t lose money.”
With P50,000 given her for the first venture, Virata found a version of “Sleeping Beauty,” a short and simple musical with catchy tunes and easy-to-understand dialogue. To keep within budget, Virata decided to use black draping, colorful costumes and newbie actors.
Still, she went over-budget in her desire to make a truly magical offering for children.
“I was so scared I would have to go to my husband for the deficit,” Virata confessed. (Her husband, Cesar Virata, was former prime minister and one of the country’s top economic managers.)
But her fears were unfounded. When “Sleeping Beauty” opened, the 500-seat Shaw Theater was packed and it became the biggest box office hit in the history of Repertory Philippines.
“We were sold out all the time and you had to reserve your tickets at least a month in advance,” said Gidget Tolentino, Rep’s general manager and CFO. “And this was before there were tour operators and our now wide network of show buyers!”
It has been that way ever since.
3 performances a day
Almost 25 years and over 20 productions later, the sets have become bigger and more elaborate. The costumes are even more colorful and phantasmagoric. Everything has notched up, including box office receipts.
Children’s Theater productions continue to fill the 800-seat Onstage Theater at Greenbelt 1, and children from all over the region have bussed in to catch familiar tales such as “Pinocchio,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin Jr.,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “Seussical” brought to life on stage.
Rep’s Theater for Young Audiences has truly succeeded in accomplishing the mission to make theater more accessible to a whole new audience.
And, as envisioned, it has also kept theater actors busy doing what they love, with as many as three performances a day in a stretch of five months using two to three alternative casts!
The newbie actors have since become big names in theater and continue to lend their time and talent to augment the pool of Repertots—the nickname given Rep’s up and coming young actors.
More important than “bringing in the money,” however, Rep’s Theater for Young Audiences has brought in a whole new generation of theater-goers.
By last estimate, that number would well be into the millions. Some of the children watching Rep’s latest offerings are already children of those who caught its shows 24 years ago.
The lyrics to a George Benson original and Whitney Houston hit go, “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way…”
Rep knew there is no better teaching tool than theater. Many children have been taught well through Rep’s Theater for Young Audiences. They are part of the future of Philippine theater.
Some will opt to embrace a life in the theater—enrolling in workshops, joining productions, becoming professional actors, all the while honing their God-given gifts, gaining self-confidence and learning discipline, self-expression, how to stretch their limits, team work, pride in hard work and even humility. They are the future performers, creative minds and production people.
They are the future of Philippine theater.
The bulk of these children will be content to remain in the audience—happy to experience the interaction of the actors and empathizing with their every mood and emotion; discovering how to focus on the action on stage silently and without the distraction of gadgets; learning to be considerate of others in the audience and sharing many magical moments with them; listening and appreciating the lyrics and the dialogue; hearing what is being said and taking home the valuable lessons imparted; and, continuing to watch plays as they grow older and passing on the enjoyment and experience to their children. They are the future of theater.
Whether onstage, behind the scenes, or in the audience, these children would have listened and learned all these valuable life lessons through a thoroughly entertaining and infinitely memorable way. They are all part and parcel of the future!
Rep’s Theater for Young Audiences is 24 going on 25, and can happily rest on its laurels. Still it has an eye ever on Rep’s mission and its future.
This year, it takes a bold new step toward that future by producing its first original adaptation of “Hansel and Gretel”— penned Joy Virata herself.
Come see it; be the child in you again! Bring your children; open up the future to them!
“Hansel and Gretel” opens Aug. 13 and runs until Dec. 15, at Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1, Paseo de Roxas cor. Legazpi St., Makati City.
It is sponsored by the City of Makati, Greenbelt, Ayala Malls, BusinessWorld, Lane Moving & Storage, Art+ Magazine, Philippine Daily Inquirer, TicketWorld, What’s Happening.com.ph, TeamAsia.
Call Repertory Philippines at 8433570, TicketWorld at 8919999. Visit www.repertoryphilippines.ph,www.facebook. com/repertoryphilippines