Just how can theater survive in a highly competitive entertainment scene?
Nanding Josef, artistic director of Tanghalang Pilipino (TP), says that there’s a “practical economic reason” why the resident theater group of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) is featuring mainstream stars in the opening and closing productions of its silver season.
Its season-opener, “Noli Me Tangere” the musical, top-bills “Party Pilipinas” mainstays Mark Bautista and Gian Magdangal as Crisostomo Ibarra and Cris Villonco as Maria Clara, under the direction of Audie Gemora. (“Noli” runs in the weekends of August.)
Its season-ender, “Larawan,” headlines Gina Pareño and Helen Gamboa as Nick Joaquin’s famous spinster sisters, with Floy Quintos as director. (“Larawan” opens in February 2012.)
Josef recalls that the local theater scene was “enriched” by the participation of movie stars in the past.
His alma mater, the Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta), mounted productions of “Larawan” with Rita Gomez, Dante Rivero and Lolita Rodriguez, and later with Charito Solis, Phillip Salvador and Rodriguez in the 1970s.
In the 1990s, Nora Aunor graced the Peta stage.
It’s quite “challenging” to convince crowds to watch plays, he admits.
“Casting movie stars” is one way to popularize theater among a broader audience, “without sacrificing the aesthetics because we only work with well-respected professionals from the TV and film industries,” he says.
Villonco, who has inhabited both worlds (pop and theater), notes that the legitimate stage allows artists “to experience a wonderful change of work style… The celebrities I’ve acted with have enjoyed it immensely.”
In a way, crossing over to theater also benefits popular actors. “The stars thrive in the discipline of theater: developing a character and performing in front of a live audience,” Josef says.
It’s definitely not about money, he points out. “The talent fee for two months’ work in theater may be equivalent to what they earn for one taping day on TV. But once they try the stage, the real artists keep coming back.”
He cites as examples Eula Valdes, who starred in the original run and numerous reruns of TP’s “Zsazsa Zaturnnah Ze Musikal,” and Pareño who returns to “Larawan” after debuting in “American Hwangap” last year.
Josef relates that Gamboa was just as enthusiastic as Pareño in accepting the offer to do Joaquin’s classic play. The two veteran actresses previously worked together in the ABS-CBN soap “Tayong Dalawa” three years ago.
“When I asked Helen about doing theater on the set of [the TV show] ‘Maalaala Mo Kaya,’ she told me that the late [filmmaker] Lino Brocka had made her promise to do ‘Larawan’ in the late 1980s,” recounts Josef.
She will finally get to fulfill her vow to Brocka when “Larawan” goes onstage at the CCP in February 2012.