Thirteen brings nothing but good luck for this year’s Virgin Labfest, with the theme “wagas”—“pure” or “virginal,” or, in a more colloquial sense, “all out.”
A bigger venue at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) will serve as the stage for the three-week-long festival. The 12 new works of untried, unstaged, unpublished one-act material will be performed at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino or The Little Theater, with a capacity of 421. In previous years, the festival was held at the CCP’s black box theater, Tanghalang Huseng Batute, which only seats 250.
“Set E, or the Revisited Set of three plays from last year’s festival, will still be staged at Batute, while the Staged Readings, as in the previous years, will be held at Bulwagang Amado Hernandez,” said festival director Tuxqs Rutaquio.
Since Batute will be the exclusive venue for Set E, it will have 12 performances, plus more days when it runs simultaneously with the new plays at the Little Theater.
But there’s no excuse to miss the original plays because there are also more dates for each set than in the previous years.
Set E has Alexandra May Cardoso’s romantic “Ang Sugilanon ng Kabiguan ni Epefania,” Dominique La Victoria’s heart-wrenching “Ang Bata Sa Drum” and Carlo Vergara’s rib-tickling fantasy “Mula Sa Kalimliman.”
Freedom to innovate
The number of attendees has increased exponentially over the years, with recent Labfest editions playing to sold-out crowds. Last year, there were requests to extend the festival to a fourth week, but as “twice-devirginized” director (as well as CCP’s department manager for production and exhibition) Ariel Yonzon pointed out, the availability of logistics, venues and the artists’ schedules had to be considered.
This year’s selected new works were chosen from 192 plays submitted by aspiring and professional playwrights. Founding festival director Rody Vera said the playwrights were free to choose the subjects. “Wala kaming hinihinging theme, basta lahat sila bago,” he said.
This year’s festival will also gather popular and veteran talents from various fields and disciplines like Tetchie Agbayani, John Lapus, Celeste Legaspi-Gallardo, Elizabeth Oropesa, Maria Isabel Lopez, Crispin Medina, Bernardo Bernardo, Madeleine Nicolas, Audie Gemora and Teroy Guzman, among others. The younger ones include Cris Villonco, Mara Marasigan, Delphine Buencamino and Kim Molina.
Veteran filmmaker and educator Carlos Siguion-Reyna also joins the Labfest for the first time, though he directed “Walang Sugat” (2012) and last year’s “Pangarap sa Isang Gabi ng Gitnang Tag-araw” for Tanghalang Pilipino.
Since he started watching the Labfest years ago, Siguion-Reyna said he had always wanted to direct an entry. “There’s so much luxury here to create, starting from the rehearsals with the actors. There’s freedom to innovate even after the first performance.”
Also a first-timer at the Labfest is veteran actor Michael Williams, who will direct Oggie Arcenas’ latest entry, “Loveteam.” This story tackles an aspiring actor’s dream to make it big in show business no matter what.
Twenty-one-year-old playwright Rick Patriarca, who debuted in last year’s edition in the well-received domestic farce “Hapag-Kainan,” returns this year with a new work, “Birdcage,” to be directed by Ian Segarra. “Birdcage” is about two longtime call center employees contemplating a career change after most of their workmates moved on to other pursuits.
Another returning young playwright is Eljay Castro Deldoc with “Pilipinas Kong Mahal With All the Overcoat,” about the proliferation of fake news. The play will be directed by Roobak Valle.
The works of Arcenas, Patriarca and Deldoc comprise Set A, which will open the festival on June 28, Wednesday, with 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. performances.
Set B has “Ang Mga Puyong” by new playwright Ryan Machado (Ricardo Magno, director); Maynard Manansala and U Eliserio’s “Hindi Ako Si Darna” (Andoy Ranay, director), and Joshua Lim So’s “Boses ng Masa” (Guelan Luarca, director).
Set C has Layeta Bucoy’s play about an entomologist, titled “Si Dr. Dolly at ang mga Ladybugs” (Jonathan Tadioan, director); Sari Saysay’s “Ang Bata Sa Bus Stop” (Topper Fabregas, director); and Vergara’s “Dear and Unhappy” (Ricky Villabona, director).
Set D has Adrian Ho’s “Sincerity Biker’s Club” (Jenny Jamora, director); Dingdong Novenario’s “Nothing But Dreams” (Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, director); and Eliza Victoria’s “Ang Bahay sa Gitna ng Kawalan” (George de Jesus, director).
For first-timers and aspiring playwrights, the first week is highly recommended because it features talkback sessions with the playwright, director and cast members after each performance.
The Staged Readings are divided into two sets. Set 1 has Jaime Ma. Bautista’s “Point and Click,” Nicko de Guzman’s “Vertigo” and Fatrick Tabada’s “Walang Forever Virus.” Set 2 has only two plays, Rolin Odina’s “Ang Pag-uulyanin ni Olivia Mendoza” and Kevin Tabora’s “Andiyan Lang.”
Set 3 is reserved for the workshop showcases of participants of the Labfest’s annual Writing Fellowship under playwright Glenn Sevilla Mas.
The 13th Virgin Labfest serves as Tanghalang Pilipino’s season opener for this year and is held in partnership with The Writer’s Bloc and the CCP. It runs on June 28-July 16, with 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. performances.
Bigger venues, a longer run, more collaborating artists than ever—for this Labfest, as Yonzon said, “13 is a lucky number.”
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