Nov 2, 2006

Opening remarks

The anniversary concert went really well... thought I'd tell the audience that night a brief story about Open Space... this is what I told them:

One night, more than ten years ago, actually, I was in Malate, standing in the middle of Remedios Circle, a few paces from the famous Penguin Café. I was with a good friend and a great actor, the late RJ Leyran. We were a few nights away from JC-Live, a benefit concert for Bahay Tuluyan, a shelter for streetchildren in Malate which was in danger of closing down at the time due to lack of funds. The concert featured music from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar to be performed by various artists like The Manila Youth Symphony Orchestra, the band Waling-waling, Pablo Molina, Bernardo Bernardo, Lolit Carbon, Jett Melencio, Raul Roxas, Paul Morales, and many more. We have convinced the artists to donate their time and talent for the cause, and, to be able to convince sponsors to support the event, we needed to be representing some kind of a group, a theater group, a performing arts group, a company. We needed a name. Standing there in the wide open space of Remedios Circle, it came to me… Open Space.

That was 1995. And even though the sponsors decided to ignore the event, a sign of things to come, the concert was a success… and Open Space began to officially exist.

A year later, I was in another café, 5 hours away from Manila, a few paces down the road from here… in Rumours café. My wife, RL, introduced me to one Ferdie Balanag, theater artist, director, actor, lighting designer… I mentioned to him a play I’ve been wanting to stage, a play called Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll – a series of monologues about present-day survivors – I described to him the characters in the play – a panhandler denying his drug addiction, a philandering yuppie, a has-been rock star trying to make a come back, a paranoid artist (aren’t we all?) - and we agreed to stage the play in Baguio.

In October of 1996, Ferdie and I would meet every single day in an abandoned school in Campo Sioco, sneaking past the building caretaker with our scripts, to rehearse the play. And Sex, Drugs Rock & Roll opened at the BCF Theater, and eventually had a run at the UPCB Theater, and I decided that here, in Baguio, is where Open Space Productions will take root and hopefully, bloom.

I envisioned a theater group that would explore all artistic possibilities in presenting an alternative form of entertainment that will consistently present relevant social and cultural issues. A theater group that would not be stuck to a particular genre – we staged whatever hit us right here – there was Craig Lucas’ “A Prelude to a Kiss”; the trilogy “Mga Ina ng Bayan”; we wrote our own plays, “Taguan, Habulan, Patintero”, “Manifest Destiny,” “Pangarap;” coming from doing intimate productions due to budget concerns, we became ambitious with the musical “Once on this Island,” and later, a dream play; “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

We have performed at the BCF Theater, at the UPCB Auditorium, at the SLU-CCA Theater, at the Dap-ayan of the University of Baguio, at the Griffiths Theater of Brent School, at the gallery of the Workshop for Creative Survival in Guisad, at the CAP auditorium (the one in CAP Building near the post office, and not the one in John Hay: at P100,000.00 a night, we can never afford to mount a play there), at the CCDC Theater in La Trinidad, more recently in Kabayan, Benguet, then down in Tayug, Lingayen and Dagupan, Pangasinan, in San Fernando, La Union, all the way to Candon and Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur. Once we found ourselves way down south in Daet, Camarines Norte. If we weren’t performing, we’re conducting workshops in some school in Baguio, or in Ilocos Norte, or for some community theater group in Ifugao or Benguet. We dipped our fingers in all sorts of things – we were introduced to multi-media and started incorporating this in our performances, and eventually even produced independent works on video. We tried various approaches to play production as in our experimental production of Rene Villanueva’s “Tonyo,” a multi-sensory theatrical performance that was designed for the visually-impaired.

And more than a hundred curtain calls later, here we are.

In those hundred or so curtain calls, through the years, we’ve worked with established artists, aspiring ones who’ve either moved on to Manila to pursue their theater careers there or work in a call center or have gone abroad in search of greener pastures, so to speak. Can’t blame them, being an independent theater group in Baguio is not easy. Our reputation, or reputations, precedes us – we’re the ones who hold open forums at the end of each show, the ones who’d stop a performance when the audience becomes unbearably noisy and rowdy, we’re the ones who opened a play an hour late at one time, half an hour in another, we’re the ones who had a lousy sound system, and, the one that perhaps sticks out above the rest – we’re the ones who are always broke. We owe this lights and sound provider, this and that artist, at times we pay in kind – a TV set to a guy we rented lights from, a watch to an actor we owed. Our house belongs to a much bigger family beyond me and my wife and our children – it’s a set and props construction space, a rehearsal venue, a photography studio, an editing room, and a lot of times, a halfway house for runaway artists.

The stories go on and on, and with all the struggles, the hurdles, we’re still here, after ten years. One might ask why.

As a line in “Why We Tell The Story,” a song from the musical, “Once on this Island” goes, “life is why, pain is why, love is why, grief is why, hope is why, faith is why, YOU are why....”

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