How The Performing Arts Is Doing Amid The Pandemic + 7 Local Theater Shows You Can Stream For Free
Artists are finding new ways to bring the show to you.
It is undeniable that the theater industry is one of the sectors most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the quarantine, live shows in early 2020 were halted and were never brought on stage since. However, this does not stop theater actors, directors, and production staff from making art, as they are continuously finding ways to bring the show to its audience. Ever wonder how they are coping with the pandemic? OneLife.ph spoke with theater actors and enthusiasts Gab Pangilinan, Den Montalbo, and El-j Lacanilao.
Gab started her professional career in theater in 2014 after she quit her corporate job and became a full-time actress. “I was set to do 5 productions in 2020. It was supposed to be the busiest year of my career,” the 29-year-old shares.
“The first production I was supposed to do, Repertory Philippines’ Anna in the Tropics, was shut down on our opening weekend, and our last performance in front of a limited audience was on opening night, March 13, 2020,” two days before the lockdown in Metro Manila was implemented. Gab was also set to be a part of Star Hunt’s Tabing Ilog The Musical, Full House Theater’s Bongga Ka ‘Day, a rerun of Black Box Productions’ Mula Sa Buwan, and Atlantis Theatrical’s On Your Feet.
The entire industry came to a halt as closure of physical venues was implemented immediately after the lockdown, affecting not only public performances, but rehearsals and meetings as well. This is why many performing arts institutions attempted to shift to the digital landscape. “I found myself performing online in various platforms for fundraisers or concerts. A lot of my time, I spend on KUMU, a livestreaming app made by Filipinos for Filipinos. It has become a safe space for many of us performing artists that lost work,” she says.
During the quarantine, Gab had the opportunity to shoot digital shows such as Connect Podcasts’ Love Me Hater and Star Cinema‘s My Lockdown Romance, “all of which were shot from home, so I had to learn how to set up the lights [and] sounds, while acting with my co-actors via Zoom. Many of us had to learn along the way,” she says.
Den and El-j, theater students from University of the Philippines Los Banos, had to make adjustments as well. Den shares that pursuing a theater degree in the middle of a pandemic is almost impossible, “much more trying to mount a theater production for my undergraduate thesis through online means.” Theater subjects that require face-to-face interactions and physical applications were not offered during the quarantine, so actors and staff were confined to their laptops, tablets, and mobile phones to communicate and perform. Cameras and video conferencing applications served as their “stage”, while livestreaming features, where other users can watch performances real-time, gave them an “audience”.
El-j admits that their theater experience was immensely different pre-pandemic. Having the four corners of the screen as their stage gave them a difficult time. “You need to minimize everything so they can be seen on camera. Sobrang limited din ng space ko as an actor and mas nag-focus kami with the acting, instead of the movements and blockings.”
Den explains that the audience experience can be quite different too. “A notable difference is interactivity. Unlike in traditional theater, there is an uneven flow of information in digital theater since performers are the only ones who shape the content of the project at hand.” Audience participation is limited, in the sense that actors do not make time for audience to react after delivering their lines. “Humans are social beings so reactions and emotions are definitely not the same when watching alone.”
Mounting theater performances during this time may be different from what they were once used to, but it also unlocked opportunities to learn and improve in different settings. Even though the curtains are closed, Gab believes that theater knows no bounds.
“Nothing will replace the magic of live theater, but I admire my fellow colleagues who still continue to create and make things at a time like this,” she says. While the frustration of not being able to set foot on stage is ever present, she admits that the community is aware that productions need to be done safely. This is why several theater enthusiasts turned to KUMU to connect with their audience and created a group called “PAK!”, where they produce regular content and shows. “Thankfully, no one can really stop any theater actor from creating things.”
When asked about the advice she can give theater majors and hopefuls whose dreams have been put on hold by the pandemic, Gab referenced the cult-favorite High School Musical trilogy: “We’re all in this together!”
If you’re looking for ways to make the most of this lull, Gab suggests to keep honing your craft. “Join workshops, take voice classes, continue practicing -- this way you will not only learn, you will also be meeting theater professionals and that would greatly help you in building your network. Theater will be back one day, and if you keep working on yourself and investing in the craft, you’ll be ready for anything.”
Den Montalbo can be reached through Ingat.PH on Instagram.
Free shows you can watch online
We all miss live performances, but until we can set foot in a theater again, here are shows you can stream online:
Ang Nawawalang Kapatid (Dulaang UP)
Rated: PG (PETA Theater)
Ang Goldfish Ni Prof. Dimaandal (Open House)
Dolorosa (Tanghalang Ateneo)
The Kundiman Party (Dulaang UP)
Fathers and Sons (Dulaang UP)
Lysistrata ng Bakwit (Tanghalang Ateneo)