The ‘Miss Saigon’ & ‘Phantom’ effect
Stage stalwart Joy Virata offers a producer’s perspective on how foreign productions impact local theater
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“I try to block it out of my mind,” acting stalwart Joy Virata quipped when asked about how she thought the “Miss Saigon” auditions would impact the local theater scene.
“Local theater companies could lose professional actors and we’d have to train newcomers from scratch once again,” she explained.
Like what happened over two decades ago, the Cameron Mackintosh production team is once again eyeing the local talent pool for prospective cast members in next year’s revival of the mega-musical in London.
“Saigon” auditions are set from Nov. 19 to 22 at the Opera Haus in Makati.
“It’s good for the actors because they will be able to earn better,” Virata pointed out.
But though the positive development validates the excellence of Filipino artistry on the world stage, it poses a serious challenge to local producers, said Virata, who stars in the play “Mind’s Eye” (Friday and Saturday) at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati.
The brain drain is true not only in the medical field, but also in the performing arts, Virata observed.
Actress Jenny Jamora, her costar in “Mind’s Eye,” agreed: “I’m excited for the local actors. But the same thing happened a few years back. We lost a lot of good performers to Hong Kong Disneyland.”
Jamora, who’s an officer of the Theater Actors’ Guild (TAG), said the organization is working double-time to come up with additional workshops and other educational programs.
Along with Robert Seña, Jamora heads TAG’s committee on talent development and training.
“We have to step up talent development and provide additional access to training,” she explained.
And no, she will not try out for “Saigon,” as she is committed to do a local project next year.
Acting in theater and indie movies needs to be considered a vital and stable profession in the first place, so that local actors will not be tempted to work abroad.
Virata had a scene-stealing cameo in Loy Arcenas’ Cinemalaya film “Niño” while Jamora played a supporting role in another Cinemalaya winner, sister Marie Jamora’s “Ang Nawawala.”
Virata also noted a government proposal to declare theater and the movies “a creative industry.” “But what does it mean?” she asked. “What are the specific policies to help the arts?”
Virata said there should be more theater festivals specifically devoted to independent troupes.
With the help of husband Cesar Virata and daughter Gillian, the Repertory Philippines veteran is producing “Mind’s Eye” herself.
“When a good play comes your way, you better do it yourself,” Virata said.
She noted that a material as rich and evocative as Paul Fleischman’s novel-turned-play comes all too rarely—especially for women of a certain age.
In the play, Virata portrays an octogenarian who takes a young invalid (Jamora) on an imaginary journey to Italy.
Directed by Jaime del Mundo, “Mind’s Eye” will also be part of the National Theater Festival and will have two performances at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Nov. 16 (3 and 8 p.m.).
Asked about her thoughts on mammoth foreign productions in Manila like “The Phantom of the Opera,” she said: “It’s good because it exposes our country to Broadway and West End plays.”
She lamented, though, that sponsors usually favored foreign shows. “We’d be happy if big corporations gave a small portion of the sponsorship, maybe just a tenth of what’s usually earmarked for foreign shows, to local productions.”
She believes in “audience subsidy”—public and private sectors subsidizing the cost of watching plays for students and others who are genuinely interested in theater.
Local companies have been wanting to mount “Phantom,” but the rights are too prohibitive, she related. Given a big budget, she said, local artists could come up with equally impressive productions, as they did when Repertory staged “Les Miserables” in 1993.
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