Monday, June 24, 2024

HappeningPH Philippine Theater Update! VLF Writing Fellowship Program—Giving Roots to Budding Playwrights

HappeningPH Philippine Theater Update! VLF Writing Fellowship Program—Giving Roots to Budding Playwrights

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Where do stories come from? And how do you start to tell the story? What do you do to transform these compelling stories from a mere idea and morph it into something?

The Virgin Labfest Writing Fellowship Program (VLF WFP) provides a place for playwrights to learn and experiment. It excavates the perceptions, experiences, emotions, and motives of the selected fellows, helping them take those first steps into playwriting and possibly constructing their works into possible materials for theater productions.

With Palanca Award-winning playwright Glenn Mas as the fellowship mentor, VLF WFP has produced plenty of fellows who eventually were featured in VLF’s main line-ups.

Through the mentorship of Mas, the fellows learned about the study and practice of dramatic writing for the stage.

Lectures, discussions, and workshops in playwriting complemented the program. They also underwent script critiquing, and experienced other aspects of theater productions.

For two weeks, aspiring playwrights immersed themselves in theater production, watching the featured plays and staged readings, while participating in conversations with established playwrights and directors.

“Sir Glenn was an engaging mentor who taught us all the basics and helped us shape our work, not to mention all his wonderful life anecdotes,” said Alexandra May D. Cardoso, who was a fellow during the VLF WFP in 2015, and her submission, Ang Sugilanon ng Kabiguan ni Epefania, was featured in VLF 12 in 2016 and revisited in VLF 13 in 2017.

Tyron Judes D. Casumpang joined the fellowship in 2013 and eventually wrote the Marawi Musicale, one of the VLF main features in 2018, about the Marawi Siege in 2017 and how the citizens used music against the immobilizing noise of war, and Black Pink, a VLF 2020 featured play about an LGBT ally Tatay who discovers that his Bunso, an avid Blackpink fanboy, was prohibited from participating in school dance.

Jerome D. Ignacio participated in VLF WFP in 2014 and was able to produce Kublihan for the theater festival the following year (VLF 11). Kublihan looks into the ups and downs of a high school friendship between two boys.

“I applied to the VLF Writing Fellowship because I knew that it was the space where I could sharpen my skills as a writer,” shared Ignacio.

“VLF seemed like a good jumping-off point because of its emphasis on new playwrights and new works,” said Cardoso.

Since its establishment in 2012, the VLF Writing Fellowship Program has embraced 125 young writers, 15 of which have come from the VLF WFP Visayas in 2022 and 2023. Fourteen works from those budding playwrights have become part of the main features of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ biggest theater festival of untried, untested, and unstaged one-act plays.

Punks Not Dead, one of the main features in VLF 2018 and one of the revisited plays in VLF 2019, was the outcome of Andrew Bonifacio L. Clete’s participation in the writing fellowship program in 2015. It follows the encounter between a mother with a tattoo and a policeman who argue about this discrimination. The play shows what is permanently inked with prejudice.

Participating in the writing program in 2019, Jobert Landeza created Titser’s Kit in VLF 2020, a play about a young Lumad student who gets into trouble after transferring to his new school and hides inside a dilapidated storage room where he feels safe until Titser Kit finds him there.

Jhudiel Clare D. Sosa, a fellow from the writing program in 2020, wrote Identité, a featured play in this year’s VLF 19. The play scrutinizes the complicated relationship between a daughter and mother.

According to the fellows, the skills learned from the fellowship helped in their writing. The program polished their foundational skills to create plays not just for VLF but also in their other works.

“The VLF Writing Fellowship Program offered a comprehensive journey for playwrights. Having Glenn Mas guide us with what we wanted to say in the play is an additional factor that made this experience worthwhile,” shared Clete.

For Landeza, having his work featured on any stage would be an achievement, especially when it was selected to become part of CCP’s most-awaited theater festival. “It was euphoric. I feel so honored and blessed to be part of the festival,” shared Landeza.

His output in the fellowship program, titled “Mama Esing,” a story inspired by his grandmother, who is a parasantigwar (a folk healer in Bicol), is now published as a children’s book under the publishing company Lampara.

“Sir Glenn asked us to think about unique stories that have never been written or done before. I thought about revisiting my experiences and reflecting on my family. I thought about my grandmother, Mamay Esing, and I chose her story as a folk healer,” shared Landeza.

VLF is not only a place for writers to experiment, but it is also a place for one to be inspired to write. “There’s always that VLF play that haunts you, that lingers in your mind, asking you to write your own. There’s always one that makes you think and ask. There’s always one that will inspire you—if not to submit, then to create a world onstage, raising questions we cannot ask,” enthused Clete.

The program has also become a safe place for the fellows to explore the stories they’re writing. “I also loved that it was very collaborative because you always get fresh perspectives from your co-fellows during brainstorming, exchanging feedback, or critiquing plays,” said Sosa.

The call for submission to the VLF 19 Writing Fellowship Workshop has now closed, but this is just the start of another journey for the newly selected fellows. The veteran fellows hope that the new batch of fellows will enjoy the two-week fellowship program and create their own literary path. Just like how the fellowship program has changed their lives.

Clete enthused: “With all the things happening, this fellowship shaped my voice to persist in creating impactful work.”

Sosa agreed: “The Virgin Labfest Writing Fellowship Program led me to where I want to be.”

For these fellows, a writer’s journey is only complete if their mission is done. With the help of VLF WFP under Mas’ tutelage, fellows learned to tell their experiences through playwriting.

The Virgin Labfest Writing Fellowship Program runs from June 18 to 30, 2024, at the CCP Complex in Pasay City. The final showcase, featuring staged readings of the fellows’ works to be directed by Dennis Marasigan, will be on June 30, 2024, at 5 p.m. at Bulwagang Roberto Chabet, 3/F Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez.

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