(SPOT.ph) Every June, Filipino theater fans enjoy less than a month of straight plays staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in the City of Manila. This is the Virgin Labfest, a festival of “untried, untested and unstaged plays” that has been around since 2005. It celebrates the latest works of both seasoned playwrights and up-and-coming writers in the Philippine theater scene. And if you’re a big fan of this theater festival, then you might have seen at least one work from playwright Eljay Castro Deldoc, who has been a fixture at the Virgin Labfest in the last decade. But for Virgin Labfest 2023, he's taking on a new role as the director of Kamay ng Orasan by Mark Noesis Marquez. You can watch it for free during Staged Readings Set 1 on June 11 at 5 p.m.
From Playwright to Director at the Virgin Labfest
Deldoc's first-ever participation at the annual festival was in 2013 with his one-act play Owel, directed by Marlon Rivera. In 2014, his satirical piece Ang Goldfish ni Prof Dimaandal was staged under the direction of Roobak Valle. It was later chosen as one of the three revisited plays in 2015, the same year that the crowd favorite Si Maria Isabella at Ang Guryon ng Mga Tala was staged as part of Virgin Labfest's (VLF) regular lineup. This one-act play that was adapted from Dean Alfar's short story The Kite of Stars was again part of the revisited roster in 2016.
In 2017, Deldoc's Pilipinas Kong Mahal With All the Overcoat was staged for VLF 13, then was a revisited performance for 2018. The piece also won first prize at the prestigious Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 2017. When VLF returned to live staging after two years of online performances and streaming amid the pandemic, he returned with Walang Bago sa Dulang Ito in 2022.
If this timeline got confusing, the TL;DR is that Deldoc has one-act plays (whether new or revisited) produced year after year from 2013 to 2018, then again in 2022. When asked how he feels about being one of the VLF regulars, Deldoc can only describe it as being both privileged and challenged. "Pribilehiyo lagi ang bigyan ka ng platform na iparinig o ipakita ang nasulat mo. Challenged. Na magkuwento ng makabuluhang kuwento. Na wag aksayahin ang oras at pera ng collaborators at audience," he tells SPOT.ph.
On the Director's Chair for Marc Noesis Marquez's Kamay ng Orasan
Deldoc's directorial debut marks his 10th year at the annual VLF. While he's excited to take on this new role, he also admits to being challenged and scared about sitting on the director's chair.
"Excited ako na maging bahagi ng katuparan ng wish ng isang batang playwright na kagaya ko noon ay nangangarap na ma-stage. Excited akong makatrabaho ang mag-ina na sina Sheenly Gener at AIR. Challenged dahil malaking task ang i-fulfill ang vision ng playwright sa pag-mount ng dula, kahit pa staged reading ito at hindi full production. Challenged din ako, bilang playwright, na magabayan si [Marquez] na i-improve ang akda niya. May takot dahil unang sabak sa VLF. Ibang klaseng pagka-devirginize naman," he says.
Marquez's Kamay ng Orasan follows two people who revisit their old home. As a new chapter in their lives begins to unfold, one of them is ready to move forward. For Deldoc, his background as a playwright allowed him to focus on the script and make the necessary suggestions for revisions even before they set it up for staging.
"Ibig sabihin, sinisigurado ko na sa pagbasa pa lang ay may napapanood na kaming palabas. Tsaka ko pa lang iisipin kung paano gagalaw at mabubuhay ang dula sa entablado. Most of the time, tinutukoy ko ang central image na nag-eencapsulate sa dula at yun ang magiging guide ko sa pagkukuwento," he explains.
The two sets of staged readings, which are scheduled on June 11 and June 18 at 5 p.m., complement VLF's lineup of fully produced one-act plays.
Looking Forward to a New and Improved Virgin Labfest
Deldoc reveals a new process in this edition of the Virgin Labfest. "May feedback session ang featured playwrights with the festival dramaturgs para makinis ang mga script bago pa isalang sa rehearsals," he explains.
All 12 plays—revisited set not included—underwent the tedious but rewarding process of critiquing and revising. This is a great opportunity for the playwrights as they pick up a thing or two from theater veterans like Glenn Sevilla Mas and Rody Vera and festival co-directors Marco Viaña and Tess Jamia during the sessions.
Aside from the staging of the one-act plays, there's also the Playwrights Fair, which features panel discussions led by young and seasoned playwrights on their creative process and experiences; and the annual VLF Writing Fellowship Program, which is a two-week mentorship program on playwriting.
"Feeling ko ang next challenge ay ang pagbasag sa stereotype ng mga dula na naba-brand na 'pang-VLF yan' or 'bagay yan sa VLF.' Somehow, it implies na may pagkakapare-pareho ang ilan sa mga napo-produce nating kuwento," Deldoc talks about preconceived notions about the annual festival. Still, he is especially hopeful as the past three editions saw the rise of new writers and directors as well as the addition of female playwrights. This means seeing new approaches in storytelling.
"VLF ang nagbukas ng tabing para sa bagong henerasyon ng mga mandudula. VLF ang naging playground kung saan sama-samang naglalaro at nag-eexplore ang mga theatermaker from different theater companies, universities, and creative fields. VLF ang nag-produce ng napakayamang repository ng mga kontemporaneong dula na binabasa, inaaral, at itinatanghal sa mga eskwelahan," Deldoc says about VLF's contribution to Philippine theater.
In the 18 years of existence of Virgin Labfest, we have witnessed playwrights, directors, production staff, and light and sound designers transform the Black Box Theater—whether the old Tanghalang Huseng Batute or the new Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez—into different worlds. And surely we'll see more of it (and more of Deldoc) in the years to come.
Schedule of the Virgin Labfest 2023
Set A: Adulting 101
June 7, 18, 23 (2 p.m.)
June 7, 17, 22 (8 p.m.)
- O by playwright Raymund Barcelon and director Missy Maramara
- 10 to Midnight by playwright Juliene Mendoza and director Sarah Facuri
- Regine: The Fairy Gaymother by playwright Chuck D. Smith and director Mark Daniel Dalacat
Set B: REBELasyon
June 8, 14, 24 (2 p.m.)
June 8, 18, 23 (8 p.m.)
- Tuloy Ang Palabas by playwright Layeta Bucoy and director Tuxqs Rutaquio
- Ang Awit ng Dalagang Marmol by playwright Andrew Estacio and director Nazer Degayo Salcedo
- Dominador Gonzales: National Artist by playwright Dingdong Novenario and director George De Jesus III
Set C: Y.O.L.O.
June 9, 15, 25 (2 p.m.)
June 9, 14, 24 (8 p.m.)
- Room 209 by playwright Zheg Arban and director Delphine Buencamino
- Hukay by playwright Ophalain Margaux Serrano and director Melvin Lee
- Mga Halimaw Rin Kami by playwright Jules Pamisa and director Tat Soriano
Set D: Muwang
June 10, 16, 21 (2 p.m.)
June 10, 15, 25 (8 p.m.)
- Hawaii, Here We Come! by playwright Shenn Apilado and director Mark Mirando
- O'Donnell by playwright Jerry O’Hara and director Issa Manalo Lopez
- Ang Tuyom by playwright Marjay Manalastas and director Gio Potes
Set E: Hinog (Revisited)
June 11, 17, 22 (2 p.m.)
June 11, 15, 21 (8 p.m.)
- Nay, May Dala Akong Pancit by playwright Juan Ekis and director Karl Alexis Jingco
- Fermata by playwright Dustin Celestino and director Antonette Go-Yadao
- Punks Not Dead by playwright Andrew Bonifacio Clete and director Roobak Valle
The Virgin Labfest runs from June 7 to 25 at Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pasay City. Single tickets, which are priced at P500, are available through Ticketworld.