One trend in the Metro Manila theater circuit lately is the no-intermission 60-to-90-minute plays.
Red Turnip Theater’s “Constellations” and The Necessary Theatre’s recent “Blackbird” were two examples. Other productions have considerably trimmed material whose past iterations had run for over two hours. Examples are Gantimpala Theater Foundation’s “El Filibusterismo” in 2015, and UP Playwrights’ Theatre’s recent “Father and Sons.”
One gets the nagging suspicion that behind this development is the theater community’s desire to cater to a young, tech-savvy audience not conditioned to sitting through more than an hour of live performance.
If that’s the case, the ongoing festival Short + Sweet Theatre Festival Manila 2017 outpaces them all by running a set of 10 plays in roughly two hours—each play taking just 10 minutes to finish.
Produced by Oil Lamp Inc. in the Philippines, this collection of quickly mounted and performed productions is part of a larger global showcase. It’s experimental and innovative, with new and young playwrights, directors and artists often tackling issues close to the hearts of their peer audience.
In the Set 3 performance we caught at the Power Mac Black Box Theater at the Circuit Makati last week, the audience was treated as more than just viewers. After the curtain call, they were asked to vote on which plays affected them most.
But can the power of theater, and the message the playwright wants to impart, be delivered effectively in that pinch of time?
Apparently it’s possible, to go by the enthusiastic reaction of the predominantly twenty-to-thirtysomething audience. A probable reason for this is that the issues the pocket plays tackled were relatable to them—love and dating in the age of social media (“One Night Stand,” “Ten-Minute Love Story”); romance versus an overseas work opportunity (“Departure”); friendship under crisis (“Girl with Body Issues”); academic pressure (“Back to the Drawing Board”).
Pressing social issues also got more than a passing glance, such as lingering effects of martial law (“Fairy Lights”), and the menace of extrajudicial killings (“Ang Hiyaw ng Sirena at Panghi ng Gabi”).
The sharp, smart bilingual dialogue, spoken in the language of today’s youth, keeps things humming along. There is very little space and time for subtlety, so characterization is often revealed from the beginning. Plot twists at the end replace the slow revelation of the more complex themes of traditional plays.
The mood of the entire festival constantly shifts, depending on the situation being tackled. Audiences can be treated to a somber remembrance of the days of dictatorship one moment, and then, in the next, be regaled by a cute online dalliance between two gay guys who happen to be generations apart.
Ultimately, the success of each 10-minute play depends on the skill of the performers on stage. The young actors often deliver when the pacing is quick and the plot borders on the comedic and the romantic. The audience cheers, for example, when an opportunistic cad gets his surprising comeuppance (“Heartthrob”), or it’s the most overlooked lady who gets the guy (“One Night Stand”).
The lapses come during the more dramatic moments leading to ambiguous endings. In “Sirena,” the couple ends the scene bogged in a no-win situation, while “Departure” has the two lovers in a bittersweet parting. But the time element simply does not give the actors enough space to present compelling, thorough characters.
It’s hard to tell at this point if the lightning-style theater of Short + Sweet is a portent of things to come. But the equally quick response of the young audience shows it is, at the very least, a gateway to live performance they can appreciate and find pleasure in. —CONTRIBUTED
Short + Sweet Theatre Festival Manila has remaining shows today, Sept. 30, and tomorrow, Oct. 1, at the Power Mac Center Spotlight, Circuit Makati. Call 09188770011 or visit its Facebook page.