Sunday, July 25, 2010

Getting there... from day one to opening night

An audience of a thousand elementary pupils in one of
Open Space's performances in Candon, Ilocos Sur 
One of the biggest challenges that a community-based theater group faces is performing to an uninitiated audience. In the last decade or so, while we obviously love performing for Baguio's theater-going public, we have had to interrupt a few performances when the audience got to be too unruly thereby making it impossible for a performance to go on, particularly matinees filled with elementary pupils and/or high school students.

The late Philippine theater pillar, Rolando Tinio, a playwright, director and actor, was also notorious for interrupting performances. And when confronting the audience in such instances, he would essentially let them know that with all the hard work that artists put in a production, they deserved some respect.

Eventually, we found out that these unfortunate interruptions happened to other groups too in Baguio and wanting to avoid such confrontations, we racked our brains for ways to avoid them. We came up with a pretty simple yet so far effective solution: information. Before a play starts, we would have someone go up on stage to do a preamble that includes some background on the material being presented and basic theater etiquette (we must admit that the latter would also include a mild threat that anyone disrupting the performance will be escorted out of the theater). Then at the end of each performance, we would hold an open forum where the audience can interact with the artists and technicians – the director, designers, actors, stage managers, etc. Doing this somehow helped, for since we started doing it, we have never had to stop another performance.

In these open forums, one of the most asked questions is, “how long did it take you to put this play together?” I usually jump at this chance to let the audience know about our production process -

Musical Director Ethan Andrwe Ventura leading music
rehearsals in this 2006 production of  "Once on this Island" 
PRE-PRODUCTION – is basically the planning stage and making preparations before rehearsals begin. Once the script is chosen, the ball gets rolling. In our group, staging a play would basically involve two groups of people – the artistic staff and the production staff. The former is headed by the director and is made up of the creative team, i.e. the actors, designers, etc. and the latter by the executive producer, who leads the production team including the production manager, the marketing team, etc. The director and the producer would meet to discuss the feasibility of staging a particular play - the director would give the producer a general idea about his concept for the play, and based on that, the producer would then come up with a production budget. Sometimes it'sthe other way around – the producer presents the available budget for a production and the director would have to adjust his concept accordingly. With the amount of time, energy and money it takes to stage a production – a middle ground between artistic integrity and commerce is necessary.

Questions we usually ask ourselves when choosing a script, aside from its artistic values, are – does it fit into our theme for that particular theater season? Is it relevant to our target audience? Given our available artists, can we put together the cast for the production? Do we have the right venue for it? Can we afford to stage it?

But, though we know that commercial viability must be taken into consideration, one of Open Space's biggest folly is not letting this get in the way of staging what we believe is a good play. If the revenue projections aren't promising, but we believe that the play must be seen by our audiences, then we go ahead with it with eyes closed.
Once the director and the producer agree to go on with a production, a stage manager (who works directly with the director) and a production manager (who works under the producer) are hired for the production. The first production meeting is held between them – the two managers are briefed about the production – both on the artistic and financial aspects of the production. From there, the stage and production managers would work together to come up with a Master Production Schedule: from the next production meeting all the way to opening night. Also in that production meeting, the director would name his choices for the design team – lights, sound, set and costume designers (plus a musical director for musicals, and a choreographer if the play requires choreographed dancing). The managers would arrange a second meeting, this time with the designers, where the director can give them his concept for the play, which is going to be the basis for their respective designs.

From the time the script is chosen to this second meeting usually takes two weeks. A week is given for the designers to come up with their designs, and barring any revisions called for by the director, then casting and staffing begins.

The cast helping set up lighting and sound equipment in this
performance of "Tonyo/Pepe" in Candon, Ilocos Sur. (2006)

Staffing involves putting together the rest of the production team – the stage manager would usually get two assistants, and so would the production manager. If the director hasn't pre-cast the play, then auditions would be scheduled, which is organized and handled by the stage manager and his assistants. Auditions can run for a few days. The first part would be the general auditions where the director would narrow down his choices. The callbacks, or the ones who make it to the director's shortlist, would be asked to come back again for another round of auditions. An audition for a straight play usually involves having actors read a scene from the script, and one for a musical would have them singing a song. Staffing and casting usually takes a week or more to accomplish.

PRODUCTION PROPER - so roughly three to four weeks since the script was chosen, we are ready to go into the actual production of the play. We usually reserve the first day of rehearsals for the first general production meeting with everyone involved present. Here, everyone is introduced, so that everybody knows who they're collaborating with. The final set design is also presented to everyone. After that, a reading of the script is done. The director can ask for anywhere between one to five readings before going into the next phase of the rehearsal. So after more or less a week and several readings of the script, actual rehearsals begin.

We start with blocking where the director directs the movement/positioning of the actors onstage. In our production of Manifest Destiny, a one-act play with 12 scenes with a total running time of about 90 minutes, it took us about 3 days to block, then review, then polish each scene. So to block, review and polish all scenes in a one-act play may take roughly 40 days. In these 40 days, the following also took place:

1. Set and props construction (which, in our case more often than not, is also done by the actors and whoever else is free and willing).

2. Pictorials – for photos that will be used for publicity.

3. The lighting, sound and costume designers have watched the run-throughs (or rehearsing a scene or segment from start to finish without stopping) and have done their respective designs accordingly.

4. Costumes were put together based on the costume designer's specifications.

5. Public relations campaign is ongoing (traditional tri-media and online advertising, posters, flyers, etc.) and letters have been sent to various institutions such as schools, companies, etc. inviting them to watch the play.

Performer Rosaline Niwane getting ready for an outdoor
performance of Kafagway at the Rose Garden,
Burnham Park, Baguio City.
Once the play is blocked, the actors, with the director, can now work on making flesh and blood out of the characters they're playing – also called as characterization and internalization. It is also during this time that the actors get to wear their costumes for the first time, a couple of weeks or so before opening night, so should there be any piece of costume that needs to be adjusted, there's more than enough time to do so. More run-throughs are done after this, and after maybe another couple of weeks, everything is brought into the actual performance space.

Once rehearsals move from the rehearsal hall to the actual theater, the one thing that must be ready when everyone arrives for the first day of rehearsals is the set. The stage managers, together with the stage crew, usually arrive much earlier on that day to rehearse the set changes and transitions. Then with the actors, a set-adjustment rehearsal. Here, the actors get to move around the actual set for the first time, and they need some time to get adjusted. After that, a run-through of the whole play is done. While the lighting and sound designers have had their designs ready much earlier, this is also the first time that their seeing the actual set with the actors on it. The next day will be their day – technical rehearsals. Earlier on that day, the lights would have been focused and plotted. A sound check would've been done also. When the actors arrive for rehearsals later that day, everything must be ready for another run-through. This is usually one of the longer rehearsals to allow for adjustments in the lighting and the sound. This usually happens a couple of days before the actual performance.

The day before opening night is usually reserved for the dress rehearsal – here, everything that's going to happen on opening night, minus the audience, happens. Everything is rehearsed – from what goes on onstage and backstage, to front-of-house management, or ushering. This is usually the time when we invite the media, friends and relatives to watch so the ushers also get to rehearse controlling a crowd.

So, at the very least, for a non-musical, one-act straight play, from the time the script was chosen to the time you, our audience, showed up with your ticket, takes roughly three months of hard work, and lots of fun. Give another couple of weeks if it's a full-length play. Add another month if it's a musical to allow for music rehearsals. Another couple of weeks for choreography if the play calls for it.

It is definitely not a work in the park, so to speak, but despite all the hard work, the bond formed by sharing the same vision... the intensity of those 90 days... and the applause of a respectful and appreciative audience when we finally get to opening night... make it all worthwhile.

A scene from "Kafagway: Sa saliw ng mga Gangsa," Open Space's tribute to
Baguio City on its centennial year.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Scripts, pencils, pain reliever, coffee... anyone? (or the Art of Stage Management)

I was 14 when I was introduced to professional theater. I was cast in the Cultural Center of the Philippines' Tanghalang Pilipino's production of Paul Dumol's “Fancisco Maniago.” As a neophyte, I was in awe of everything happening around me then – the way the actors conducted themselves during rehearsals, the Zen-like calm that enveloped our director, Nonon Padilla, the professionalism of the proceedings (I was coming from a few years of working with my mother's ragtag theater group, Workshop for Creative Survival). But one particular group in the production intrigued me the most: they were the ones who dressed in the most interesting way, acted the busiest and who seem to be the ones responsible for almost everything and anything the rehearsals needed – from copies of the script to props to coffee. I knew then that in my next production, I wouldn't be onstage but backstage with the coolest people in theater: the stage managers.

It never fails to shock me to learn that there are certain production groups that continue to regard stage managers as nothing more than gofers who make coffee for everyone in the production. Different theater companies, different directors may have different ideas of what a stage manager really is and does, but there are certain standards that define the fundamental responsibilities. Once, I was called to help out with the technical concerns of a major musical produced in Baguio and I couldn't believe that the production didn't have a stage manager! Why was that shocking? Well, let me give you an idea about what a stage manager essentially is and does:

Imagine a large office with many different departments each having its own telephone. If anybody wants to know what's going on in a production, he would first need to know which department to call and who exactly to look for. Or he can easily call that office's trunk line – one number manned by an operator who can connect him to whichever department he wishes to contact. The trunk line is what stage management is essentially about, and that operator is the stage manager – he acts as the liaison between the director and the rest of the members of a production.

Just like a large office, a theater production involves a number of people belonging to different departments – you have the artistic staff that includes the director and the designers; the production staff headed by the production manager; the technical staff headed by the technical director; the front-of-house management staff that includes the ushers; the marketing staff that includes the marketing manager, ticket office manager, etc. While the stage manager works directly with the director, he or she must know everything that's going on in a production. Basically, if anybody wants to know anything about a production, you ask the stage manager, the person responsible for the smooth running of the production process – from pre-production to post-production:

PRE-PRODUCTION - The director works with a number of different artists in a production – cast, designers, technicians – quite a headache if he would have to directly communicate with all of these people when he needs to. His alter-ego, the stage manager, takes care of that. From the time a play was chosen to be staged and a director was hired for the production, the stage manager must already be there, and together with the production manager, coordinate that nest to play production: the first production meeting between the director and the designers.
When casting, the stage manager prepares the venue and coordinates the audition process.

PRODUCTION PROPER - The stage manager ensures that the rehearsals run smoothly – making sure that the venue is prepared for it, all actors have their scripts, the rehearsal schedule is followed, all temporary props are ready. He will do everything to make it easy for everyone in the production to their job – and would not hesitate to walk the extra mile to do so (and that's probably why they're often seen making coffee for the director or the cast for he or she does whatever it takes to make a production a success). He puts together the bible of a production: the prompt or stage manager's script which contains all the information needed to run the show – from blocking to cuing.

He makes sure that the different departments are in sync with the rehearsal process – the actual props must be ready by the time the director has finished blocking the play and is beginning to conduct run-throughs; that the costumes are being made not only according to the actors size but also to the way the actor will be moving onstage; that the sets will be ready by the time they move in to the actual performance venue; the lighting and sound designers are prepared in time for the technical rehearsal, etc.

He takes note of everything the director says – from blocking to acting directions, to lighting and sound cues. He needs all these for he will be the one to run the show once it opens.

OPENING NIGHT AND BEYOND - Once I was asked to describe what a stage manager is, and I said that he or she is a negative thinker in a positive way. And that's because a good stage manager anticipates anything that can go wrong in a production, and already have a solution for it – no matter how seemingly ridiculous that problem is. He or she must know exactly what to do if a lead actor with no understudy is absent during a rehearsal (or worse, a performance); or if the power goes out during a show; an impossibly rowdy audience high school students; an earthquake; a fire; a terrorist attack! He is the one person everybody will turn to when something goes wrong. He must have an answer.

Once the dress and technical rehearsals are done, when the play opens, the job of the director is over and it becomes the stage manager's show. All cues come from him or her, from the go-signal to open the house to cuing the fading of the house lights down to half for the National Anthem to all the light and sound, entrance and exit cues during the show. If he did his or her job well during the rehearsals - taking notes properly, the job of running the show will be easier. He or she will also rely on those notes to make sure that every performance goes according to the director's vision. I always say that the Number 1 rule in stage management is: WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN.

POST-PRODUCTION - And since the stage manager is the one person who knew everything that went on in a production, he is the one tasked to compile the production book which chronicles what went on in a production from day one to the last performance (even the cast party, if you will). This will make it easier for the company to re-stage any particular production in the future.

I mentioned earlier that I was intrigued by the way CCP's stage managers dressed. You would know if a stage manager is making his or her way down one of the corridors of the Cultural Center of the Philippines without looking just by listening to the jingling and jangling sounds he or she makes. The stage manager is usually dressed in the most comfortable attire possible – comfortable enough to do all the things that the actors do during rehearsals and rugged enough to be able to get down on his or her knees to hammer a nail here or there yet presentable enough to command the respect of everyone in a production. The accessories would usually include a role of masking tape on one arm and duct tape on the other. A stopwatch would hang from his neck. His belt bag is a Pandora's box that contains any imaginable thing that might be needed – Swiss knife, pain relievers, pens and pencils, markers, highlighters, cutters, scissors, etc. What cannot fit in that belt bag will be contained in his ridiculously huge bag. It took me months and months from the time I was given the chance to be a stage hand to the time I stage managed my first production to complete what is called the Stage Manager's kit, and even then I always thought that there's always one or two items missing in my kit.

In her handbook for stage managers called, “Stage Managers Do Make Coffee” (, Carissa Dollars lists down her “10 Golden Rules of Stage Management” as follows:
1. Learn From Mistakes. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes as we practice our crafts. The best thing anyone can do is to analyze these situations and learn how to avoid making the same mistake again.
2. Don't Panic! Always remain calm, cool and collected. Never, Never yell. All Stage Managers should know the difference between raising their voices to be heard and yelling. If the Stage Manager loses it, everyone will panic.
3. Safety First! The cast shouldn't set foot on the stage unless you would walk on it barefoot. Inspect the set daily for potential problems. Are all stairs and platforms secure? Are all escapes adequately lit and glow taped? Do you know where the first aid kits and fire extinguishers are located? Who is certified in CPR and First Aid? The SM should be!
4. Plan & Think Ahead. What can be done to avoid problems? How can the Stage Managers make life easier for everyone?
5. There Are No Dumb Questions. It is better to ask and fell silly for a few seconds than to cause a disaster later.
6. Prioritize Tasks & Delegate Authority. One person can't do everything. Why do we have assistants if we don't use them?!
7. Early Is On Time. The SM should always be the first person in and the last person out of the theatre for a meeting or rehearsal. I always try to show up about 15 minutes before I really think I need to be there, just in case traffic is bad or any problems or delays occur.
8. Put Everything In Writing. In other words, be a communicator! Dated daily rehearsal notes aid in communication and help to avoid conflicts over when requests or changes were made. (Voice mail and email are also great forms of communication! Get a pager or cell phone so you are easy to reach at all times!)
9. Please & Thank You. Use these word everyday, especially when you are working with volunteers.
10. Stage Managers DO Make Coffee. They also do a million other menial tasks that are meant to make people happy and boost morale. Buy donuts, bake brownies, make sure birthdays are recognized, and hole-punch all paperwork. These little things are really appreciated by everyone.

Not too many people realize it, but the success of a production relies heavily on the efficiency of its stage manager. I was even told once that in Broadway, there are instances when a play is patronized specifically because of its stage manager. As my stage management guru, Lambert de Jesus of Tanghalang Pilipino, used to always stress to us newbies then: Just like Directing or Acting, Stage Management is a craft! And not everybody can be one! And I agree with him 100%. I have worked with countless stage managers in my career, but I can only count with one hand the stage managers whom I believe knew what they were doing and did it well.

As a stage manager, remember that it is never about you, the production always comes first. Your director will bow on opening night, you won’t. Your cast will be written about in the papers, you won’t be. Audiences will ask for everyone’s autographs, except yours. But you would know, deep in your heart, if you did what’s expected of you and what you’re really supposed to do - make it easier for everyone else to do their job - that the production would not have been a success without you.

And that feeling is priceless.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Painting three dimentional pictures... onstage

I remember picking up this book that featured a collection of plays in a bookstore once while passing the time. There were about eight or 10 plays in it and I remember browsing through the first few lines of each play and how the last play in the collection, itself a collection of monologues, caught my attention. I remember ending up reading the whole script right there and then, and eventually buying the book and re-reading that script over and over again at home. I remember how I exasperated my best friend then talking endlessly about that script and how wonderful it was. I have been acting onstage professionally for four or five years already at the time, and I thought of giving copies of the script to actors, producers and directors I knew in the hope that they too will fall in love with it, just like I did, and stage it so I can see it come alive onstage. While a lot of them were amused by it, none of them were amused enough to want to stage it. So I did it myself, for I thought that the story must be told. And my life as a director began.


While it is true that directors usually get hired to direct plays predetermined by the producers for various reasons – theme, commercial appeal, etc. – an inspired theater production usually begins when the director himself falls in love with the script. It’s much like seeing a movie and liking it so much that you can’t stop thinking about it after, you can’t stop talking about it to your friends, you can’t stop imploring them to go see it themselves. In this case, it’s a director reading a script and liking it so much that he or she can’t stop thinking about it and wanting to share that story to as many as people as possible – and the only way to do that is to make that script fulfill its destiny: to be brought to life onstage.


The script. After reading a particular script and falling in love with it, the director will learn what the playwright’s intention was, why he told this story and why he told it this way and his own interpretation of the play takes shape. At that point, after reading the script perhaps for the nth time, in his mind the written text ceases to be a caboodle of words on a page and begins to take shape as a three-dimensional live presentation – if a stage direction in the script dictates that “there’s a chair upstage right,” in the director’s mind he can already see that chair, what kind of chair that would be and at what angle it should be positioned, and how the actors would interact with that chair.


To me, there are four fundamental elements of theater. First and foremost, as aforementioned, is the script. And then, there’s Space. Or more particularly, the Performance Space. This, I believe, is the theater artist’s true medium: space. It serves as the director’s blank canvas where he paints the story.


While it is ultimately the director who decides what and who goes on stage, and how and why, theater is essentially a collaborative art form. It involves the creative and technical input of different artists. It is important for the director to be able to lead his co-artists into realizing his vision for the play. The playwright has told the story on paper, the Director’s job is to tell that whole story onstage, and the do that, directs his co-artists to tell their individual stories. And among those who will help realize the Director’s vision onstage are -
The Set Designer – who tells the story of the space. He creatively recreates the physical space wherein the story takes place.

The Costume Designer – who helps tell the story of each of the characters through their clothing. He has read the script and has an idea about what pieces of clothing he would need to design. He’s been informed of the Director’s idea on each character’s being – his physical, psychological and social circumstances, among others, and he executes his designs accordingly.

The Lighting Designer – he has asked the question: where is this particular scene taking place? What time of day is it taking place? Morning? Noon? Night? What would be the source of light? The sun through a window? The moon? A lamp post? He would then position the lights according to the answers to these questions – an outdoor morning scene may have bright whites with a tinge of yellow to recreate the bright morning sun’s light, or perhaps a beam of amber to emulate the light thrown by a lamp post, while the rest of the stage will be flooded in soft whites and blues like the way the moon lights up a courtyard on cloudless night.

The Sound Designer – either by doing it live or putting together recorded sound, he adds to the reality being recreated onstage by making the audience, and the actors, actually hear the sound of rain and thunder claps so they believe that this particular scene takes place on a stormy night.

And of course, The Actor/s – they will work closely with the director to create believable portrayals on stage. He has done a character sketch – a biography of the role he is playing. The play may take place in a span of just a few days or hours in the life of the character, but The Actor knows that he must be able to recreate and communicate a 40-year old character’s 40 years of existence – the events in his life that helped make him who he is – and believe deep inside him that he was the one who journeyed through those 40 years for only then will the audience willingly surrender to the suspension of disbelief, and that what results in a magical theatrical experience.

And all of the stories told by the artists above, when put together, tells the story of the play. And that’s the director’s job. He will infect everyone with his love and passion for the story he wants to tell. It is his job to motivate everyone and enable them to express themselves individually and as a group.

Once he has chosen his staff and designers and has cast actors for the roles required, he begins the production process with a reading of the script, this helps everyone acquire a deeper understanding the play. He may call for more than one reading session, and in these sessions, he begins to share his vision of the play, his concept, his interpretation, and this will guide everyone else in telling of their respective stories.

And as the designers begin to work on their creations, the Director begins to paint his three-dimensional picture onstage using his actors. He starts by blocking them on stage, or determining their positions and movement within the performance space. Step by step, he helps them become the characters they are playing. Eventually, he will add all the other elements, the creations of his co-artists – the costumes and make-up that the actors will wear, the scenery that the set designer created, the lighting and sound design, etc., and the artwork is almost done.

I say almost done for we are now down to our fourth element necessary to complete the art process – the AUDIENCE, for no art work is truly complete until it has been experienced by an audience. And once the curtains are drawn on opening night, the Director’s job is essentially done. It is now up to the rest of his collaborators – the actors, the designers, the technicians, etc. to ensure that his vision is realized in every single performance.

In the coming months, I am quite sure that local theater scene will come to life once again with various productions opening in various theaters in Baguio. Take a break from the usual and more popular forms of entertainment such as television and cinema, and spend a magical evening at the theater and experience the stories told by local directors such as Dan Riopay, the dynamic, young resident director of Tangahalang SLU; Ferdie Balanag, among the pillars of Baguio theater who directed the local production of “La Mandragola” at the Victor Oteyza Community Arts Space years ago, and more recently the musical “Bintao” at the UC Theater; Martin Masadao, also a playwright and who usually stages his production at UP Baguio and who wrote, directed and acted in the much loved collection of monologues, “Baguio Stories,” or the indefatigable dynamic duo of local theater, Atty. Dammy and Bing Bangaoet, who may just find the time to get out of their beautiful sanctuary in Tomay to regale local audiences once again with a delightful musical.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

And the Dionysian goes to...

In the beginning the playwright created what we call a script. And if that script is good, a director might pick it up and translate that into a theatrical presentation. He would cast actors for the various roles required by the play and collaborate with other artists for the various design concerns (scenery, costumes, lights, etc), organize all of these in a space called a stage, and invite an audience to experience what we call theater. I believe that there are only four major elements we need for theater: An idea or concept or the script; a performance space; the artists who will translate that idea or script into a live performance; and lastly, an audience.

It all begins with the script. We may marvel at the sight of a spectacular set design, or be enamored by a lead actor or actress, but all this would not exist if not for the playwright who wrote down his ideas with the intention of having brought to life on stage.

Today most people would most likely remember a play for the major stars that performed in it, or perhaps a particular special effect such as the presence of a life-size helicopter onstage as in the musical “Miss Saigon” or the heart-stopping descent of a majestic chandelier in “Phantom of the Opera,” often failing to notice where it all begins: the script.

Theater as we know it today is an art form that begins with a literary work written specifically for the stage with the intention of having this work performed onstage. This particular theater form may have had its roots in ancient Greece where they staged plays in honor of the Greek god, Dionysus. This annual tribute took on the form of a competition, perhaps the Tony or Olivier awards of that time, between communities. Though the Greek playwrights’ works eventually evolved, adding more and giving more emphasis on actors in their works, in the beginning and for a long time, the performances involved only one actor onstage who lead a group of performers called a “chorus,” who performed not raised onstage but in a pit below it called the “orchestra”.

The word with which we associate dramatic arts, “Thespian,” was derived from the name of one particular dramatist who won the competition in 534 B.C., Thespis. In this day where we are more interested on who this year’s best actor or actress would be, it is interesting to note that according to some historical accounts, these competitions in ancient Greece gave out only one award: the best playwright. And rightly so, for that is where it all begins: way before the actor “characterizes” and “internalizes,” one artist first came upon an idea that he believed may best be expressed by a theatrical presentation.

And that is probably why when theater history is discussed, particularly western theater history which is the most widely-used theater form today, we learn about the works of Aeschylus (c. 525/24 BC – c. 456/55 BC), known for his Dionysia-award winning play, “The Persians,” Sophocles (c. 497/6 BC – 407/6 BC) who’s mostly known for “Oedipus Rex,” and Euripides (ca. 480 BC – 406 BC), who wrote the plays “Alcestis,” “Medea” and “Trojan Women,” the first three of who are regarded as the five playwrights who dominated Greek drama in the two centuries that followed after Thespis’ time. We don’t know of any “actor” from that time - performances focused on the the story being told. Though the “chorus,” normally composed of around 50 people, was headed by a “choragus,” perhaps the closest thing to what we know now as “actor,” who interacted with the characters in the play, he (only male performers were allowed onstage) was not the focus of these Greek performances, but the play itself. We can only hope that the same attitude towards theater would be adopted here in Baguio, and perhaps whether a particular performance features “name actors” from Manila or equally or even more talented local thespians wouldn’t matter as much as the material being presented.

While the three playwrights above were known for their tragedies, which were given more prominence during the festival, the two other noted Greek playwrights who complete the five were both authors of comedies: Aristophanes (448-380 BC), who wrote the play, “Lysistrata” and Menander (342-292 BC), whose play, “Dyskolos,” is said to be the only work of his that survives in its entirety.

According to the Tupelo Community Theater’s website ( ) the popularity of these playwrights’ works “can also be interpreted as a comment on the role which theatre plays in society at large. Tragedy was at its height in Greek society when that society was at its height, while comedy -- an outlet for the frustrations of society as well as a diversion for the masses - was most popular during the decline of Greek government.”

In the Philippines, theater as an art form was evident in the individual histories of the country’s various indigenous peoples. During the Spanish occupation, Philippine theater took on a more Christian character with the cenaculo (the dramatization of the passion of Christ) and the moro-moro, a presentation that mostly touches on the conflict between Christians and Muslims. It was also during this time that the zarzuela, a theater form involving both spoken lines and singing, gained popularity in the country. Among the country’s famous zarzuelas were “Dalagang Bukid” and “Walang Sugat.” During our country’s fight for independence from the Spaniards, the Katipunan used theater to express the sufferings and aspirations of the Filipino, and to spread the ideals of the secret society, a practice that the revolutionary, Macario Sakay, himself a theater actor, continued when he lead the war against the American colonizers in the early 1900’s.

The advent of a new medium of entertainment in the early 20th century, the cinema, briefly affected the popularity of theater in the Philippines. But the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II, which strictly censored the film industry, once again revived the local theater scene, with “guerilla performances” taking place in various communities, hidden from the watchful eyes of the colonizers, which, just like during the time of Andres Bonifacio and Sakay, once again expressed our country’s hopes and dreams of freedom.

So, in the beginning, is an idea, a concept, that one artist believed in his heart and soul must be communicated to an audience. And the wonderful art process that is theater, begins.