How Virgin Labfest is bringing this year’s festival online

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“How do we create liveness online? We’re in that stage of hybridity, and there are new forms of expressions that are being explored,” says festival director JK Anicoche. Screencap from SAMANTHA LEE

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — As we navigate a pandemic-stricken world, several industries are forced to innovate and digitize their efforts in order to stay relevant and accessible. This is especially observed among arts communities in vulnerable countries: when the pandemic caused events to cancel, live-streamed shows, virtual exhibitions, and free digital content took over. Even industries that thrived in live performances, such as the theater industry, are now transitioning into an all-digital approach.

Virgin Labfest, the annual theater festival of “untried, untested, unstaged, and unpublished” one-act plays, is not the first Filipino production to try the new format, but it currently stands as the biggest one to take on the challenge of migrating online.

“I think it became a responsibility for us as a community to continue telling these stories... especially now we know it will take a while before we gather again in one dedicated space and time," says festival director JK Anicoche on how they came up with the "virtual labfest edition" entitled “Kapit: Lab in the Time of Covid.”

Co-presented by the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Writer's Bloc, Inc., and Tanghalang Pilipino, the 16th edition of VLF will be a three-week virtual festival, running from June 10 to 28. It will feature 10 new works:

• “Doggy” by Dustin Celestino, directed by Roobak Valle, talks about a man discovering his fiancée's sexual peculiarity and repression;

• “Titser Kit” by Jobert Landeza, directed by Adrienne Vergara, is a story of a student of Lumad origins as he experiences how different life is at school;

• “Blackpink” by Tyron Casumpang, directed by Jethro Tenorio, is about a father’s support for his gay son;

• “Gin Bilog” by Luis Nario, directed by James Harvey Estrada, tells the story of a Batangueño drunkard as he drinks with his brother-in-law and wife one night;

• “Mayang Bubot sa Tag-araw” by Mark Norman Boquiren, directed by Mark Mirando, follows a young Aeta and her friend who grew up in the city;

• “Boyboy and Friends Channel” by Anthony Kim Vergara, directed by Joshua Tayco, features production assistants who lost their jobs due to a network shutdown who try to make a career as YouTubers;

• “Papaano Turuan ang Babae Humawak ng Baril” by Daryl Pasion, directed by Erika Estacio, follows a military man who comes home to a pregnant wife;

• “Pilot Episode” by Floyd Tioganco, directed by Giancarlo Abrahan, is the story of a manic-depressive gay man who quits his job through a text message;

• “Dapithapon” by Jay Crisostomo, directed by Sigmund Roy Pecho, follows three boys at the end of their high school years who are forced to confront their greatest fears; and,

• “Multiverse” by Juliene Mendoza, directed by Fitz Bitana, tells the story of two brothers who try to reconnect through their love for comic books.

The virtual festival will also include three "revisited" or restaged works: “Fangirl” by Herlyn Alegre, directed by Charles Yee; “Anak Ka Ng” by U.Z. Eliserio, directed by Maynard Manansala; and “Wanted: Male Boarders” by Rick Patriarca, directed by George De Jesus III.

Five plays will have staged readings, namely: “Jenny Li” by Buch Dacanay, directed by Nour Hooshmand; “Dominador Gonzales – National Artist” by Dingdong Novenario, directed by Joel Bunny Cadag; “LadyMasters” by Rouchelle Dinglasan, directed by Joy Cerro; “Matira ang Matibay” by Bernice Dacara, directed by Alon Segara; “Bagahe” by Nicko de Guzman, directed by Joel Saracho; and “Mongoloida’s Casa de Pun” by Claro delos Reyes, directed by Guelan Luarca.

Like in other editions, this year’s VLF will hold a Playwright’s Fair, an online discussion with writers from the industry which will be free and open for public viewing, on June 11 to 14, 17 to 20, and 25 to 27 at 8:00 p.m. To offer perspectives from other practitioners, CoLab: Conversations with VLF Collaborators and Creators will be a series of panel discussions on directing, design, and stage management, which will happen from June 18 to 21 at 2:00 p.m. Both discussions will be available via Facebook Live.

“There was the prompt of liveness,” says Anicoche. “How do we create liveness online? What is the difference between a film and a live performance? We’re in that stage of hybridity, and there are new forms of expressions that are being explored.”

In this interview, Anicoche shares VLF’s process of transitioning from stage to screen.


Stream VLF 2020 via Vimeo by availing a regular series package or a premium series package. Visit CCP’s website for more information.