Mar 30, 2008

Theater rush

The multimedia bug bit me early last year, and bit me hard. A good part of the past year was spent behind and infront of the camera, and it's been a while since I last went on stage, or brought something onstage, and then suddenly in the last two weeks we were rehearsing two productions to be performed only a week apart.

Despite the very limited/limiting budget, Jesus Christ Superstar, the rock-opera classic by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, went onstage last Good Friday at the entertainment center of the mall up there. It was our group's first time to perform in that kind of set-up and it was quite an experience. We had no idea how the audience would react to something like JCS, a rock opera, and performed on a Good Friday at that. The group had only a full week to prepare, but with musical director Ethan Ventura's discipline, no time was wasted during music rehearsals. Though not being able to do a full dress rehearsal at the venue was quite a challenge, it took only the sight of a good crowd and the warmth of the par 64 spotlights to get the performers going. By the time Ethan made his guitar sing the first few notes of the overture, the stage was overflowing with energy, and the passion and dedication of the performers broke through the so-called fourth wall of the stage, and the audience responded very well.

Just a couple of days later and we were back at rehearsals, this time for the re-staging of our production of Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll for the Cafe by the Ruins' 20th Anniversary celebration. This production was what brought me to Baguio, actually, when I first staged it in 1996 together with local actor, Ferdie Balanag. Then, we rehearsed the play in some abandoned school building in Campo Sioco without any promise that the play would go on stage at all - we weren't sure how the audience would react to a play with such a provocative title, and content. But after a couple of weeks of line-throwing and blocking, we got a call from then BCF Arts and Sciences dean, Sonia Dao-as, who wanted to feature the play in the school's golden anniversary celebration. With a cast of two and a staff of three, we performed the play to a couple of full houses before bringing the play to UP Baguio for another run. Since then, Ferdie and I would perform the play in various venues including the cafe's 10th Anniversary in 1998.

And last Thursday, ten years later, we were back there, not sure if we can still pull off performing the characters in the play: 10 years does a lot to one's eyes and waistline. Again on a tight budget, and given only 1 hour to set up everything: band instruments, sound and lighting system, props: our group went in and did the usual dance of pre-performance preparations. Stage managers Freida Fernandez and Mai Fianza were at the Cafe's gazebo finalizing the sequence guide and the props, multimedia artist and costume mistress Madelyn Calventas was stapling trash bags for Ferdie's "Dirt" monologue, technical guys Andre Soriano, Boybi Sarmiento and Astrud Delo were laying out the wiring for the improvised par 38 spotlights, and Ethan began tuning his guitar. Production manager RL Altomonte and photographer Jojo La Maria prepped the cameras for the documentation.

And then we were on, in front of old and new friends who patiently listened to our stories for almost two hours. Kidlat de Guia gamely laughed when his name came up in one of the monologues, and filmmaker Mark Gary and choreographer Denisa Reyes couldn't get enough of it, and an hour or so after the last monologue one man whose name I can't remember anymore still didn't know what hit him: and I thought, great, that's what were here for: get you out of your comfort zone and throw that truth pie in your face - wipe it off or lick it up, it's all up to you.

No unnecessary issues, no unnecessary tension, nothing but pure passion for the craft: it was one of those nights when the first thing almost everyone asks after the curtain call is: what's our next story?

Ahhhh, theater, what a rush.

(A repost of my column, Tales From A Hill Station, in Cordillera Today March 30, 2008 issue)

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