What's new is for a theater company to join the fray by expanding its traditional, often intimate tete-a-tetes with the press to include bloggers. Such that the bloggers would actually end up outnumbering the usual suspects from mainstream media.
All for the better, I think. Do you have any idea how pathetic arts (or at least theater) coverage is in this country? In the last four years since I've begun covering the industry, there have only been five or six of us from different newspapers who'd invariably show up for this or that presscon. Kami-kami lang, the same faces every time.
I'd like to name them here, because even if we work for different broadsheets, we've become friends from the constant togetherness: Earl and Edsel from The Daily Tribune, Rome (now associate editor of Mega magazine, but until recently a lifestyle reporter for Manila Times), Totel (first of Today, then Manila Standard Today, then the new Manila Chronicle, which recently went on a holiday, sigh), Barbara of BusinessWorld, and, every now and then, Philip of Bomba and Saksi (yep, tabloids!).
I've no idea why The Manila Bulletin and The Philippine Star, the two other big dailies, don't have writers covering the beat. And TV? They won't come unless there's an artista's name attached to the project.
Contrast our always paltry number with the horde that descended on the presscon for “Peter Pan,” the Hong Kong musical production that swung by Manila early this year. The company behind it had the money, and the services of a savvy PR firm, to host a lavish lunch-cum-sneak preview of the show in a five-star hotel. Guess how many showed up? About 120 people. Until now I can't believe all of them were working media grunts. While we were lining up to extract a quote or two from the show's cast members, not a few just slunk away after wolfing down their free lunch.
The musical was a big bore, frankly. But the hype--from TV and radio to newspapers and the Internet--was as splashy as one could hope for.
Long introduction, as usual, but here's my point. A couple of weeks ago Tanghalang Pilipino officially entered the blogging era by inviting a number of bloggers to join the “icons” (their word)--meaning us from the old media--in an afternoon “Quad-Media” get-together announcing the return of “Insiang" the stage play this Oct. 5-14 at the CCP's Tanghalang Huseng Batute. (Call 5210412 or 09228712007 for tickets.)
TP and its co-presentor, Bright-Eyed Boys, came up with a well-planned event. WiFi access was made available courtesy of Airborne Access (which also gave out WiFi cards), with Macbooks positioned all over the Little Theater lobby to allow anyone to blog or do a podcast of the presscon in real-time.
Penny, a huge fan of TP's “Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah” the musical, brought along her own contingent of blogger-friends. I dragged Coy, Rick, Karla, McVie, AJ and Oliver with me.
Over light merienda, they got to interview “Insiang” director Chris Millado, lead actors Ricky Davao and Sheenly Gener with the other cast members, enjoyed a sneak peek of the play's violent opening scene, and even had a crash course on how fake blows and jabs are staged (with AJ as volunteer punching bag).
They also got the once-in-a-lifetime experience to hobnob with a true Filipino titan, Mario O'Hara.
The reclusive Mr. O'Hara arrived unexpectedly, after everybody had thought he wouldn't show up, to field questions about “Insiang.” He had written the story first as a radio drama, then as a screenplay for the Lino Brocka classic that starred Hilda Koronel, Ruel Vernal and Mona Lisa, before reconfiguring it as a play for TP.
Mr. O'Hara's formidable body of work also includes “Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos” (who can forget Nora Aunor in that film?), the prize-winning sarsuwela “Ang Palasyo ni Valentin” (staged by PETA last year), and various theater performances through the years (among those I saw, “Ang Pokpok ng Ohio” in 2005 and “Belong Puti” this year) that have only buttressed his stature as one of the greatest living actors of Philippine theater. (If Manila were London and he had it his way, former TP artistic director Nonon Padilla once said, Mario O'Hara would be Sir Mario O'Hara today. I agree.)
The stage version of “Insiang” itself won three Aliw Awards in 2004: Best Play, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director. Malou de Guzman played Insiang's mother in the original run. Now it's Mailes Kanapi.
What a treat to hear Mr. O'Hara talk about his work, his motivations, his creative processes, the original Pasay milieu that was his inspiration for “Insiang” (Mr. Brocka had relocated it to Tondo). And what a greater treat to see bloggers getting exposed to all of it.
AJ and Coy's podcasts of their interviews with cast members are here and here.
The video of the Q&A with Mr. O'Hara (money quote, on whether he plans to direct his own film version of “Insiang:" “Hindi na, tama na yun. 'Wag na tayong mag-Celso Ad Castillo!”) is here.
Oliver's write-up here (Oliver is Oliver Pulumbarit, one of the most prolific wordsmiths I know and also a contributing movie reviewer for PDI).
McVie's comprehensive take on the event here, plus a hilarious recounting of his “laos” acting stint with Mr. O'Hara on the TP stage here!
I said it once: If much of the mainstream media can't be bothered to cover arts and culture in this country, then bloggers will do the work. I happen to be a mutant--both old media and new media--but I'm all for getting more people into the action and shaking up the calcified ways information is shared around here.
This is an exciting time, and it's just getting started. I'm hoping that many more groups “marginalized” in our celebrity-besotted culture--writers, theater companies, art galleries, the indie film collective--would catch the drift and sign on. The next time I attend an arts-related presscon, I hope our ragtag band would have new faces. Come join us, and welcome in advance!
PLUS: From the baul, pics from the original production of “Insiang,” with Ricky Davao, Sheenly Gener and Malou De Guzman: