Watch “Care Divas” the musical and look out for two small kid’s chairs by the stage wing, near the actors’ left side. They’re to calm the “theater ghosts,” said to be two mischievous girls who like running around on stage.
Maribel Legarda, Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) artistic director, says there are more ghosts around their theater, including “a lady and an angry man.” And these “sightings” go decades back when Peta had an outdoor stage in Intramuros.
“In the ’90s, a colleague was finishing something and a ‘woman’ came in. He muttered, ‘I have to finish this.’ So she just sat in a corner, looking at him while he worked. That was in Rajah Sulayman.”
During last year’s opening night of “The Tempest Reimagined,” a Filipino adaptation of a Shakespeare classic, a power surge messed up the lighting system, stopping the show midway.
They had to use house lights without the original lighting by Japanese designer Tsuguo Izumi. They also had to put back the two small chairs by the stage, which used to be there since the 2015 play “Arbol de Fuego,” an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.”
“My stage manager was running around screaming: Where are the chairs!? Why did you remove the chairs?” Legarda shares.
First: ‘Care Divas’
Hopefully there are no technical or paranormal glitches when the hit musical “Care Divas” returns on Feb. 3 to usher in Peta’s 50th anniversary theater season.
First staged in 2011, the colorful show tells the story of five Filipino caregivers in Israel who perform as drag queens by night.
Written by Liza Magtoto, with music and lyrics by Vincent de Jesus, “Care Divas” stars Melvin Lee, De Jesus, Ron Alfonso, Dudz Teraña, Eko Baquial, Jason Barcial, Buddy Caramat, Gio Gahol, Joan Bugcat, Eric de la Cruz, Joseph Madriaga and Gold Villar.
Guest performers include Ophir Burton, Ricci Chan, Red Concepcion, Jef Flores, Paul Holme, Sherry Lara, Thou Reyes, Leo Rialp and Myke Salomon.
“Care Divas,” which will run until March 19, started out as a “crazy idea.”
“What’s great about theater and collaborations is that there are so many great ideas, but you need one person with a good enough taste to chisel them out, and that would be me, the director,” Legarda says with a laugh.
She joined Peta in the ’70s while taking up Mass Communications in Assumption College, but she knew she belonged in theater as early as third grade.
“I didn’t really like school, but I loved the drama class with my teacher Mila Donato who was with Peta’s children’s theater,” recalls Legarda. “She took us to a Peta show in Fort Santiago, and I fell in love with it. I told myself that I’ll be back, and I did, and have never left since.”
Then a young colegiala, she took summer workshops in Peta, and got her first gig as part of the koro, with no mic, no credit and a paycheck of P200 for two months’ work.
“We underwent classical training without microphones, and learned how to project our voices,” she shares. “Those were the golden years of Peta, it was magical.”
Education through theater
It was also the martial law years, and Peta gained a reputation among certain circles as a “communist and activist theater.” For subsidy and funding, the group had to work hard to reinforce its brand as an educational theater focused on advocacy.
“Our main objective has always been to educate through theater, but we also have to earn,” says Legarda. “Theater work was not considered a viable career at that time, even if I had traveled around the Philippines giving workshops, and toured North America and Europe for the play ‘Panata ng Kalayaan,’ which celebrated the end of martial law.”
To augment her theater earnings, Legarda worked as an assistant director in an advertising agency, but went back to working at Peta full-time.
“You’ll really miss the discipline and camaraderie,” she says. “Most actors have work outside theater, but many come back to perform.”
Performance high, she adds, happens when the audience bounces off good energy to the actors. “Rak of Aegis,” for instance, Peta’s longest-running musical play: “A superfan watched ‘Rak’ 11 times, and people who didn’t know Peta but knew Aegis enjoyed the show,” Legarda says.
They’re tapping these new theatergoers to watch the “Care Divas” rerun, and the rest of the golden anniversary lineup: “Manila Improv Festival in March; “A Game of Trolls” and “Rites at the Fort, Peta in Concert” in Intramuros in April; “Bunk Puppet’s Stick Stones Broken Bones” puppet show in May; “Tagu-Taguan, Maliwanag ang Buwan”—a children’s show—in August; “Festival of Windows” in October; “Ang Buhay ni Galileo in November; and “Living Voices” at the Rajah Sulayman Theater, and the Peta grand alumni homecoming, in December.
On its 50th anniversary, Legarda says Peta remains committed to its goals: to create an experience, to entertain, and to stage stories that the audience can connect with.
Last December, she presented an excerpt from “Game of Trolls,” a play about Hector, a hired online troll visited by ghosts of martial law victims. It’s a developing “protest play” targeted at millennials.
“They’re the audience I want to talk to. We can disagree on issues but we can discuss,” she says.
“I’m also like that as a director, I listen. I’m not a control freak. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get married, I wouldn’t have made a great mom because I don’t hover. I’m good enough as a tita,” adds a chuckling Legarda—the abiding tita of Peta.
“Care Divas” runs Feb. 3-March 19, 3 and 8 p.m., at Peta Theater Center, New Manila, Quezon City. Call 7256244 or 8919999; e-mail [email protected]