Philippine Daily Inquirer, 05.11.2008
(Complete published list of citations below)
AS DENNIS Marasigan recalls it, the first time the idea of performing arts awards to be given by Philstage was brought up, the officers of the organization of professional theater groups were lukewarm.
“Ikaw naman, magbibigay ka ng awards when my best work is behind me,” said Trumpets’ Audie Gemora in jest. Many felt iffy about the idea, worrying that the process of judging their colleagues’ work could be a recipe for divisiveness at a time when the country’s theater companies were taking small steps to band together after years, in some cases even decades, of striking out on their own.
The Philippine Legitimate Stage Artists Group (or Philstage), founded in 1995, originally counted 11 of the country’s leading performing arts companies in its roster: Actors Actors, Inc., Ballet Manila, Ballet Philippines, Dulaang Talyer, Gantimpala Theater Foundation (Musicat), Musical Theater Philippines, Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit, Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta), Repertory Philippines, Tanghalang Pilipino and the Triumphant Peoples’ Evangelical Theater Society (Trumpets). It lost Dulaang Talyer and Musicat recently, with both companies announcing they would no longer produce shows.
On their 13th year, the nine remaining companies of Philstage have decided to resurrect the idea of giving awards to productions of member-companies.
“There really is a need for this kind of appreciation in the absence of any other award for live performance,” says Marasigan, now the artistic director of Tanghalang Pilipino and concurrent Philstage president. “There is the Aliw Awards, which is presented by a motley group of people who feel that the live stage should be supported. But as it is, in Aliw, the theater awards are just curtain-raisers for the concert and show-biz awards.”
In the last few years, Aliw’s sprawling recognition system has led to what many consider rather questionable choices in its theater awards--though, as Marasigan points out, many stage performers routinely include Aliw citations or wins in their CVs, “since it’s the only group out there that does try to recognize theater artists.”
Now, with the new Gawad Buhay! awards program by Philstage, which just came out with its citations for the first and second quarters of the year (see sidebar), the organization hopes that local theater—or at least the productions staged by Philstage member-companies—can vie for institutionalized recognition and support in a more open, credible and reliable manner.
Its prototype is the Laurence Olivier Awards in London, which, as described in its website, is “run by The Society of London Theatre but are adjudicated by panels that are equally made up of members of the theatre-going public and experts chosen for their knowledge and professional experience.”
A similar arrangement governs the Gawad Buhay! awards, which covers all Philstage productions presented to a paying public for a minimum number of performances. While Philstage administers the program, its quarterly citations and annual winners’ list are chosen by an independent jury composed of performing arts experts, academicians, critics, practitioners and the general public, by way of enthusiasts and connoisseurs invited or selected by the Philstage board of directors. [Disclosure: The author is an invited member of the jury.]
“In the Oliviers,” says Marasigan, “they put out invitations at the beginning of the season for new jury members from the public. We do the same with the Philstage jury. The general rule is, from those who apply to become jury members, we select people who must be already regular patrons of the performing arts, not dilettantes or poseurs. Right now we’ve got a cross-section of students, teachers, actors, corporate types—people from different professions who, hopefully, will bring to the jury deliberations a wider perspective, because the rule is, the citations and awards are the consensus of the entire jury, collectively.”
There is a non-negotiable rule jury members must observe. “They are required to watch all productions of Philstage member-companies, and only those who have watched all productions are allowed to cast their final votes for the quarterly citations, nominations and winners,” says Marasigan.
Theater being a live medium, the jury members are disqualified from deliberating or voting based on videotaped recordings of performances, or on mere recommendations by other members. The name of the awards program itself is a tribute to the live experience of theater--“Buhay” in Gawad Buhay! is pronounced “bu-HAY,” as in “alive.”
On an organizational level, the awards are also aimed at expanding Philstage’s membership, says Marasigan. “If we go ahead with this, maybe it becomes an incentive for other performing arts groups to join,” he explains. The two major theater companies that have not joined Philstage are Atlantis Productions and New Voice Company. In dance, it’s the Philippine Ballet Theater.
Which begs the question: What if the best productions of the year do not come from Philstage member-companies?
“That becomes our challenge—that, because we’re being judged, we must make sure we have the best shows from among the members of Philstage,” says Marasigan.
“We’d like to foster a spirit of friendly competition among ourselves with these awards, to nudge the companies to come up with productions of high artistic quality,” he says. “Plus, there are a lot of performers around who are equally deserving of the public’s support and adulation for their talent. Alam lang ng tao si Lea [Salonga], but how often do you have a ‘Miss Saigon’?”
“Looking at the initial citations alone will tell people that, ah, in the first half of the year alone, there have already been 10 or more productions. For the entire year, just within Philstage alone, we’re looking at 20-30 theater productions and 6-12 dance productions.”
What’s really more important than the symbolic laurels of Gawad Buhay! is the discussion that would be generated among theater practitioners and the public about the state of theater in the country, says Marasigan.
“A lot is actually happening in the performing arts scene, it’s just that people don’t hear much about it.”
The annual Gawad Buhay! honors, to be announced and the winners feted during the National Arts Month in February 2009, should help change that.
Complete [published] Gawad Buhay! citations for the first and second quarters of 2008
Outstanding Play: “Hamlet” (Repertory Philippines), “Kudeta” (Tanghalang Pilipino)
Outstanding Musical: “Altar Boyz” (Repertory Philippines), “Skin-Deep” (PETA)
Outstanding Dance Production: “Latin Heat” (Ballet Philippines)
Outstanding Stage Direction: Chari Arespacochaga (“Altar Boyz”), Nor Domingo (“Skin-Deep”), Floy Quintos (“Kudeta”)
Outstanding Ensemble Performance: “Altar Boyz” (Repertory Philippines), “Hamlet” (Repertory Philippines), “Kudeta” (Tanghalang Pilipino), “Latin Heat” (Ballet Philippines), “Skin-Deep” (PETA)
Outstanding Male Lead Performance in a Play: José Mari Avellana (“Tuesdays with Morrie”), Mario O'Hara (“Kudeta”)
Outstanding Male Lead Performance in a Musical: Red Concepcion (“Altar Boyz”), Jett Pangan and Juliene Mendoza (“EJ: Ang Pinagdaanang Buhay nina Evelio Javier at Edgar Jopson”), Robert Seña (“Skin-Deep”)
Outstanding Male Lead Performance in a Dance Production: Biag Gaongen (“Latin Heat”)
Outstanding Female Lead Performance in a Play: [No citation]
Outstanding Female Lead Performance in a Musical: May Bayot, Gail Guanlao Billones and Isay Alvarez (“Skin-Deep”)
Outstanding Female Lead Performance in a Dance Production: Lisa Macuja Elizalde (“Le Corsaire”)
Outstanding Featured Performance in a Play: Bong Cabrera and Riki Benedicto (“Kudeta”), Cris Villonco (“Hamlet”)
Outstanding Featured Performance in a Musical: [No citation]
Outstanding Featured Performance in a Dance Production: Camille Ordinario-Joson (“Latin Heat”)
Outstanding Original Script of a Play: [No citation]
Outstanding Original Libretto: Vincent de Jesus (“Skin-Deep”)
Outstanding Translation/Adaptation: George de Jesus III (“Kudeta”)
Outstanding Original Choreography: Bam Damian and Alden Lugnasin (“Latin Heat”), Jason Zamora (“Altar Boyz”)
Outstanding Musical Direction: Jojo Malferrari (“Altar Boyz”)
Outstanding Set Design: Tuxqs Rutaquio (“Kudeta”)
Outstanding Costume Design: Faust Peneyra (“Hamlet”)
Outstanding Lighting Design: Martin Esteva (“Hamlet”), Dennis Marasigan (“Kudeta”)
Outstanding Sound Design: Janice Dee (“Kudeta”), Jethro Joaquin (“EJ: Ang Pinagdaanang Buhay nina Evelio Javier at Edgar Jopson”), Jethro Joaquin (“Hamlet”), Gidget Tolentino (“Altar Boyz”)