The Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) just wrapped its two-year run of “Rak of Aegis,” a jukebox musical with songs by rock band Aegis and a story by playwright Liza Magtoto.
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
Magtoto first encountered Peta in 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.”
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,” she says. “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.”
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 yet.
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.” —CONTRIBUTED
“The Tempest Reimagined” runs Nov. 11-Dec. 4 at Peta-Phinma Theater, Peta Theater Center, Quezon City. Call 7256244 or visit ticketworld.com.ph, Peta Theater on Facebook.