Tuesday, November 06, 2007

40 years of Repertory Philippines

The story is often told: how Repertory Philippines began in 1967 with a performance of Strindberg's “Miss Julie” with seven people in the audience. Rep's five founders--Bibot Amador, Baby Barredo, Leo Martinez (yes, Congressman Manhik-Manaog of TV himself), Tony and Monina Mercado--nevertheless decided to forge on.

The first season featured five plays: “Miss Julie," Murray Schisgal's “Luv,” Sophocles' “Antigone,” Oscar Wilde's “The Importance of Being Earnest” and Edward Albee's “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” The weight and caliber of these inaugural offerings set the tone for Rep's trademark fare in the next 40 years, give or take some poor choices and a few outright stinkers (Arthur Bicknell's “Moose Murders” this year, for example). While Cecile Guidote Alvarez's Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), also founded in 1967, became the foremost exponent of original Filipino and Filipino-language theater, Rep covered the other end by becoming the country's leading English-language drama company.

It trained several generations of fine thespians and musical-theater stars (the most celebrated of which is Lea Salonga), pioneered a novel subscriber program that ensured its place as the theater du jour of the urban middle and upper classes, and, most significantly, helped industrialize local theater. That is, by coming up with season after season of plays and musicals--an unbroken record until now--it helped turn local theater into a genuine profession, where actors could act full-time and not as an adjunct to an 8-to-5 job.

I could go on and on, but I lack the standing to tell Rep's full story, not having been there during its formative years. With Ms. Amador's death a few years ago, only one other person can tell the tale with first-hand authority: Baby Barredo.

A couple of weeks ago she did just that, during a presscon that Rep held at MyCinema in Greenbelt to announce its upcoming productions and activities. Here she is reminiscing about Rep's too-modest beginnings (P250 each for the kitty that set up the company!). My video missed the part where she said that every time they got invited to the house of, say, Chona Kasten (the country's society doyenne at the time), they'd go, “Oh, a Victorian table! Now we know where to borrow one.” But the gist of the story is here, briefly told yet vivid in color, detail and feeling. Yes, Rep has come a long way, indeed.

The presscon was a significant event by Rep's standards. As the country's most profitable and established theater company for decades, it had run a tight ship that banked on tradition more than innovation. The times they are a-changin', though, and, for starters, like Tanghalang Pilipino and PETA which have recognized the Internet and blogs as the vanguards of new media, Rep has finally decided to go online and embrace technology.

Where formerly it had a rudimentary website inside ClickTheCity.com, now it unveiled its own domain at www.repertory-philippines.com, which, as actor and “closet geek” Michael Williams emphasized, will eventually offer a treasure trove of information about Rep's history and past productions. The marketing team has also undergone overhaul, with a younger cast of movers led by actor Rem Zamora taking the lead. The old guard is ceding the stage to the new ones, and to punctuate that development, Rep's new batch of mostly-young talents took to the stage to sing an underrehearsed but poignant-sounding “Our Time,” from Sondheim's “Merrily We Roll Along.” An apt, apt choice:

Something is stirring,
Shifting ground...
It's just begun.
Edges are blurring
All around,
And yesterday is done.

Feel the flow,
Hear what's happening:
We're what's happening.
Don't you know?
We're the movers and we're the shapers.
We're the names in tomorrow's papers.
Up to us, man, to show 'em...

It's our time, breathe it in:
Worlds to change and worlds to win.
Our turn coming through,
Me and you, man,
Me and you!

And how apt, too, that on its 40th year, Rep is restaging “Fiddler on the Roof,” a musical about tradition and modernity, constancy and change, the need to hold on while moving forward.

The theater company that gave us Lea Salonga, Monique Wilson, Miguel Faustmann, Subas Herrero, Mitch Valdez, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Joy Virata, Pinky Amador, Jonjon Briones, Leo Martinez, Junix Inocian, Michael Williams, Noel and Joel Trinidad, Bart Guingona, Audie Gemora, Jay Glorioso, Chinggoy Alonzo, Liza Infante, Leo Valdez, Bonggoy and Patty Manahan, Noel Rayos, Liesl Batucan, Anna Bitong, Maya Barredo, Gia Macuja, JM Rodriguez, Carla Martinez and hundreds of other theater talents, has good reason to take pride in its mighty legacy. We have good reason to shout “Bravo!” in return.

PLUS: Pictures from a 40th-year debut.

Passing the torch: Joy Virata and Rem Zamora

Michael Williams acting as tour guide of the new Rep website

Red Concepcion and Cara Barredo presenting Rep's next line-up of plays

Caissa Borromeo, Rem Zamora and Cris Villonco

The young members of Friends of Rep, headed by Toff De Venecia (center), who brought the house down by thanking Baby Barredo "for helping me discover my diaphragm!"

PLUS PLUS: “The Last Lioness,” an appreciation of Zeneida “Bibot” Amador.


mitsuru said...

very nice, bogi. :)

got your les miz program that Lea Salonga signed in her Tarrytown concert.

I'll send it with the rest of your orders via UPS soon. he-he

i'll email you some pics too. :)

paetechie said...

nice one on repertory

Annamanila said...

Can't say I am a theatre goer. But I think I followed Repertory Philippines' growth closely enough through newspaper features. I have an idea how committed the late Biboy and the surviving Baby are. Ang terror daw ni Zeneida ano? She was also a fine writer, I never missed her columns.

gibbs cadiz said...

MITS, thanks, haha. kuha ko nga text niyo re lea. kilig. :)

PAETECHIE, thanks. :)

ANNA, hehe, super terror. but everyone seems to speak fondly of her despite it. which means the benefits outweighed the stresses. yeah, she wrote well--pithy, sharp, concise. :)

stevie said...

Repertory Philippines was a great source of Broadway plays and musicals. When I go to New York, my friends ask if I intend to see this play or that musical. I tell that I've seen those in Manila already. I'll save my money for the musicals that have not been and probably will not be staged in Manila. Hint: grandoise, effects laden and super big musicals. However, I'm not sure that Repertory has been up to date with what's on Broadway. Don't get me wrong, I still watch Repertory and am updated on what's upcoming. Surprisingly, it is the other theater companies that are picking up Rep's slack. Avenue Q is an example. (I'm glad to have watched that here in Manila and saved myself lots of money. Haha.) Going back to the plays staged by Rep, maybe its Broadway that has changed. Maybe there isn't anything interesting to stage that will interest Filipinos and/or the corporate sponsors. I have so much to say but I'll cut it here and just say, "Break a leg!"

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