‘Huy,’ Mr. Producer!–What it’s like to do theater down south | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

HENDRI Go (front, 3rd from right) with the cast and crew of “Progress” and special guest, “Progress” playwright and National Artist F. Sionil Jose (middle) LITTLE BOY PRODUCTIONS ON FACEBOOK; EZGAMOLOPHOTOGRAPHY
HENDRI Go (front, 3rd from right) with the cast and crew of “Progress” and special guest, “Progress” playwright and National Artist F. Sionil Jose (middle) LITTLE BOY PRODUCTIONS ON FACEBOOK; EZGAMOLOPHOTOGRAPHY

First, a confession: “I didn’t set out with lofty ideas when this all began,” says producer Hendri Go, who started a longstanding foray into theater down south—that is, Cebu, Dumaguete, Bacolod, Iloilo, Ormoc and other places in the Visayas—with Little Boy Productions in 2001. “I just wanted to have fun.”


In his signature get-up of cotton tee, shorts and flip-flops, and a smile planted on his lips that could easily morph into a smirk, then a pout, Go absolutely looks the part of the happy-go-lucky guy, with an effervescence that is, quite aptly, theatrical. But don’t be fooled; Mr. Producer has good business sense.


“The only way to make money in theater, especially in Cebu, is to pack them in,” Go explains. “In Manila you can do 30-40 percent capacity; here it has to be 80-90 percent to break even.”


Most trusted


And yet, after packing in 40 or so productions in Cebu, Little Boy’s big reputation has made Go perhaps the most trusted producer outside of Manila, with ties to established professional theater groups such as Atlantis Productions, Repertory Philippines and Actor’s Actors, Inc.—a number of whose shows he has toured in the Visayas.


He has also attracted marquee names to his provincial shows: Cherie Gil in “Doubt”; Pinky Amador in “Love Letters”; Michael de Mesa, Ricky Davao and Jett Pangan in “Art”; Audie Gemora and Menchu Lauchenco-Yulo in “The Last Five Years”; Bituin Escalante and Raki Vega in the musical “Once on This Island.”


Go has also brought maestro Ryan Cayabyab to Cebu for an interactive lecture and on-the-spot mentoring of local talents; offered creative writing workshops led by esteemed writers such as Palanca award-winner and Ateneo de Manila University instructor Lawrence Ypil; and hosted blockbuster summer theater workshops in the last seven years, bringing in top-tier names such as Michael Williams and Bart Guingona to hone homegrown actors.


Go’s local production of a Chekhov twin bill, “The Boor” and “The Proposal,” traveled from Cebu to grace the Visayas State University in Baybay, Leyte; ditto with Marcelino Agana Jr.’s “New Yorker in Tondo,” in Ormoc.


His productions have also enlivened the thriving cultural scene in Dumaguete City, centered around Silliman University.


“Theater is an imposition of taste,” Go says. “But it’s also what drives you. You cannot treat theater apart from your passion.”


He adds: “But me being Chinese, it is a passion coupled with what you can sell.”


Local sensibilities


How one sets about doing that to an audience quite notorious for being the hardest to sell to, makes for an interesting insight into local theater.


“Generally, Cebuano sensibilities are still middle-of-the-road,” says Go. “With food and concerts, yes, the old saying, ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere’ may hold true. But the kind of theater that I do, it doesn’t aspire to be middle of the road.”


Go relies on instinct when choosing material to bring to Cebu. “I watched a stage reading of ‘New Yorker in Tondo’ and thought, wow, this would be perfect for Cebuano talent,” he recalls. “Or I saw the CCP versions of F. Sionil Jose’s “Progress” and Chris Martinez’ “Welcome to Intelstar” and felt that their humor would go well with the Cebuano audience, with a Cebuano cast.”


The experience of theater, whether from Broadway, off-Broadway or Manila, is always translated with local sensibilities in mind. “At a recent open forum for one of our shows, I was asked if it was a conscious effort for actors to adopt a Filipino accent. My answer? Yes, when we do Filipino plays, we invest in a Filipino accent.”


It is also necessary to be familiar with the pool of available talent, whether they’ve had theater experience or are plucked and handpicked by him on instinct alone, a risky move but one that has thus far proved his theory right. “The quality of people in the local pool have become better. You do it longer, you become better,” says Go.


“You hear of hundreds coming to auditions for other productions,” Go points out, shaking his head, “and here we are with only five people at most. And so we end up with the people who tend to take it more seriously.”


Conspiratorially, in a stage whisper almost, another confession: “Good vibes, that’s what I look for, more than the talent. We need to get along.” After all, “Theater, really, is such a communal pursuit.”



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