THE pandemic can bring out the best both in humanity, and in the humanities, as Teatro Europa artists from 16 Philippine universities have literally gone beyond their limits during these trying times.
An artist from the University of the East-Caloocan, Reign Emmanuelle Geronimo said her fellow artists had to rehearse at night after attending classes. These, according to her, had to be done “after the chickens had risen, or after trucks had passed the roads near our houses.” She talked about artists being one with the environment, as Teatro Europa artists had little control over it.
Artistic Director Ronnie Protacio of the University of Makati found it a challenge to stage virtually the Belgian play The Horrid Little Princess by Geneviève Damas. Protacio’s team of 15 developed a musical with live actors in an animated background, which required lengthy preparations. He had to organize a three-day speech-training workshop to come up with a unified diction from everyone.
“I want them to sound like they come from one place—except the two characters who play the Goths and Adelaide,” Protacio explained. “After that we conducted online rehearsals. We haven’t been doing plays of this nature for quite some time, that is why I found the Belgian play exciting and interesting to do.”
He mobilized, grouped his team, and delineated tasks: animation, editing, music scoring, creatives, costumes and props. During rehearsals the animation team started designing backgrounds based on the scenes and storyboard. Song arrangements, rehearsals and recording were done afterwards.
“The pandemic cannot stop [us from creating],” the artistic director added. “We always find ways to cope and deliver our creative outputs. Teatro Europa provided a venue for artists to still practice their craft despite the pandemic.”
For him, the Belgian play has a universal theme that Filipinos can easily relate to. It talks about good leadership, war, kindness, and respect for elders.
Meanwhile, Roda Dizon, an artist and member of the editing-animation committee, found her immersion in the play as fun and interesting. Rehearsals were mostly executed online, but the rest was face-to-face. She had to convince her parents to allow her to go on location, but they all succeeded in staging the play smoothly even with a tight schedule and minimal budget.
Dizon said the learning was fun, and that going out of their comfort zones—especially when meeting new people—helped improve their work.
Meanwhile, the cast of University of San Agustin-Iloilo adapted the play Snow by Stanislaw Przybyszewskito to suit the present time. It revolved around a past love winning over an established marriage and was deemed “highly realistic, considering that currently, many Filipino spouses are working abroad.”
TEATRO Europa was an opportunity to understand and appreciate other cultures through outstanding continental literary masterpieces. Artists discovered their common humanity as they were able to empathize with the struggles of the characters from forces outside and within.
Angel Depol, who played Snow, or the automated assistant in the play, said the Teatro Europa experience made her learn a few more things about European culture: “[Trying to pronounce the language of Poland, studying its literature and symbolisms, and learning interesting facts about the country’s history based on the play, all…inspired us to be more] creative in our performance, while utilizing online streaming,” she said.
Anthea Dulfo, who acted as Bea, found rehearsing and preparing for the play challenging: “We had to adjust with the current situation of not getting into close contact with other people, which made us realize and acknowledge [our] limitations.”
Meanwhile, Renz Isiah Inquit, who played Ted, said: “Truly ironic, we were trapped in the comfort of our homes… However, despite the challenges we faced as actors, it was a joy to see that we were able to push through… Passion and perseverance…kept us going.”
Mapúa explores virtual theater
FOR its part, Mapúa University discovered the virtual-theater medium with the EU as an enabler to overcome limitations imposed by the health crisis.
Mapúa Tekno Teatro, the university’s official student-theater organization, saw an opportunity to explore another medium as it was able to reach out to a wider audience by participating in Teatro Europa.
“[It] was a way for us to explore the possibilities of this new medium despite the pandemic,” Dennis Marasigan, Mapúa Tekno Teatro’s adviser and coach, said.
Marasigan confessed that the limitations of the pandemic looked insurmountable until Teatro Europa, along with the Cultural Center of the Philippines’s (CCP) Tanghalang Pilipino and Writer’s Bloc’s Virgin Labfest, revealed alternatives to traditional theater.
Although the virtual-theater medium was tough and unfamiliar, it was the perfect training ground for student members to elevate their artistry and craft.
“We needed to find a way for student-members of Mapúa Tekno Teatro to continue enhancing their skills,” added Marasigan.
The company pulled three-hour-long online rehearsals thrice a week since June, which required actors to throw lines, while the production and technical crew mastered the rigors of video editing and directing on-the-fly.
To further up the ante, the group filmed its one-act play Riders to the Sea by Irish playwright John Millington Synge in a single, uninterrupted performance. This technique effectively conveyed the play’s unapologetic message. It also displayed the actors’ skills and the crew’s dedication—a feat for a group that did not rely on a formal theater-arts program.
Mapúa Tekno Teatro’s masterpiece will be unveiled on September 20 on Teatro Europa’s Facebook Page. It was previously staged on August 19 and September 6. On top of the actual performance, members also gained soft and technical skills useful both on campus and in their future professions.
“Students will learn something out of this artistic process that they can apply to whatever they do,” Marasigan added. “Essential soft skills like time management, concentration, active listening, comprehension, truthfulness and interpersonal skills are just some of the competencies our student actors develop when they join Tekno Teatro. These are…things that [can be done] outside of theater.”
Established in August 2000, Mapúa Tekno Teatro’s first play Siklab (Spark) was written and directed by Prof. Benigno Agapito Jr., dean of Mapúa School of Media Studies. It joined local drama tilts like Sipat Lawin Ensemble’s “Battalia Royale” at the CCP, as well as staged A Man Called Jesus in the Music Museum and St. Cecilia Theater. It organized Mapúa’s first University Dramafest in 2007, which became an annual festival. In the first year of Teatro Europa in 2020, it performed The Robbers by Friedrich Schiller.
A series of theater acts by Philippine universities and organized by the EU Delegation to the Philippines, as well as the EU member-states’ embassies and cultural institutes, Teatro Europa highlighted the cultural exchange between the Philippines and the bloc by showcasing the talents of Filipino youth through featured plays that originated from various countries of the continent.