01 November 2008

Manila Times feature article: "Drama Queens"

original article here.

published at the manila times life and times (lifestyle) section 27 june 2008.


Drama queens

The women playwrights of Writers Bloc woo words and win wisdom

By Libay Linsangan Cantor, Contributor

Let’s face it: there’s no money in theater. But someone has to do drama. Dramaturgy, that is.

And who could better to do dramaturgy than women. Whether 40-minuter one-act plays or hour-plus-long full-length plays, local women playwrights have devoted time, talent and tough love to produce quality work that say something important about society, about being a woman, and about being Filipino. The independent association known as the Writers Bloc Inc. has that type of women. Once again, some of them will have their works staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) for the fourth Virgin Labfest in the coming two weeks.

Writers Bloc members Debbie Tan, Layeta Bucoy, and Liza Magtoto share their love for theater.

Magtoto reveals, “Since I was small, I was already in love with theater. It’s the power of words and immediate feedback from the audience. Especially during performances in communities, it feels enriching that you get validated when you hear the immediate feedback of the audience.”

Bucoy recounts early field trips in CCP inspired her to eventually dabble into the art form. “It feels free when you watch and you feel you’re at the center of that world onstage,” she says.

Magtoto also cites that brand of freedom theater provides, as she could compare it to her other work as a TV scriptwriter: “You could say a lot on stage compared to TV or film where there’s censorship so you could express and experiment more. Like my play Hubad would be hard to pull off on TV. The only catch is, theater has a limited audience.”

This is why the three tried to combine these elements—the magic, the passion—and spice it up with their own brand of feminism and views on sexuality. The results? Multiple Palanca awards no less, with theater directors clamoring to handle their plays onstage, and crowds upon crowds of pleased audiences during the CCP staging of their works at the annual Virgin Labfest event.

The three say that it is important to retain that kind of message that talk about women’s issues as penned from a woman’s perspective. Of the three, Magtoto boasts of the most credentials in this area, counting the popular community theater-staged Libby Manaoag plays, the award-winning Despedida de Soltera on being a single woman, Balota Queen on women’s suffrage, and St. Anthony Pray Por Us on being a single mother.

According to Magtoto, divorcing one’s gender from writing is tough. “I can’t avoid questioning aspects of how society or the Church look at women, for I see that they’re not fair in assessing women’s situations.”

Tan is also conscious of that fact, among other concerns. “I want to write meaty roles for women, where they are the focus and the leads.” She adds, “What I want is to release that voice of the Filipino-Chinese in theater without the stereotypes, because that hasn’t been done yet.”

Bucoy approaches this gender issue: “I write as a woman, writing women’s experiences as a woman because I want to be sincere. This is how it is, this is how I understand and look at things.”

Magtoto sums it up for them. “It’s passion. Always strive and never stop writing.” And know more people, people you don’t normally talk to or interact with.”

Audiences could get to know more of these women’s characters in their plays to be staged at the Virgin Labfest from June 25 to July 6, 2008, at the CCP. Layeta’s restaged Ellas Inocentes (about two sisters whose relationship oversteps normative boundaries) and her new one Las Mentiras de Gloria (a story on guilt) will be both directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio. Debbie’s Mga Babaeng Too Bright (about women and artificiality) will be directed by Ana Valdez-Lim.

For details, visit www.virginlabfest.com.

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