When things took an unprecedented turn at the onset of the year, and we were all forced to a stop because of a horrifying health crisis, a noticeable veil of darkness shrouded the world with doubt, fear, and distress. This uncertainty put us all in a standstill, paralyzing life as we know it.
Such is the case with the live events circuit–an industry that thrived on shared spaces and human connections. In it, the theater industry, was pushed to a wall, coerced to react and respond to an unfamiliar situation.
Days before the community quarantine, Rank Magazine met with the lead cast of the The Sandbox Collective’s Sandbox Fest 2020, bannering a re-staging of well-received Duncan Macmillan productions, namely Lungs, first staged in 2018, and Every Brilliant Thing (EBT) in 2019.
Following a successful opening weekend, with sold-out runs to the delight of theater-goers at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater featuring the transcendent performances of Kakki Teodoro (and Teresa Herrera) for EBT, the government-imposed lockdown has pushed the festival, along with other scheduled productions in the same month, to pause indefinitely, and some to be canceled entirely. The darkness of the situation was evidently felt, especially in an industry that relied heavily on audiences reveling on the creative genius unraveling on the stage.
“COVID-19 has suspended our operations indefinitely. We had a theater festival featuring two of Bristish playwright Duncan Macmillan’s works which got cancelled after its first weekend due to the community quarantine. And another musical that was supposed to have premiered in July of this year that got cancelled as well. The pandemic has essentially put us all at a standstill and it’s been very difficult to imagine a bounce-back strategy for our industry,” Sandbox managing artistic director and co-executive producer Toff De Venecia tells Rank Magazine.
“If anything, this pandemic has accelerated our industry’s shift to digital and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The National Theatre of London had already been doing this through their NT Live programs. This new modality is forcing us to reassess our existing business models and how we can improve accessibility to our shows which have always been restrictive due to costs. The challenge however is being able to monetize these digital performances online and the industry is certainly looking into this,” De Venecia furthers on the industry’s shift to digital, along with other concrete plans put in place to recover.
“Right now, our company members are working on individual pursuits. For me personally, aside from my work in Congress, I’m working with Philstage in providing leadership for the performing arts industry during these crucial times – engaging in policy discussions with both the public and private sector and pursuing reforms that would ultimately benefit the industry across its entire ecosystem,” he notes.
“As part of the industry’s pivot alongside the bigger value chain of live events, we’re looking into hybrid events as a possible modality of presenting our shows. But the challenge remains on how to monetize and make it sustainable. It’ll have to be a combination of strong institutional support both from the public and private sector to help underwrite costs and instilling a culture of economic reciprocity for our audiences online. We’ll also need to remain vigilant against online piracy and contribute to the creation of a strong intellectual property regime. It’ll be challenging but the industry will endeavor to survive and be resilient.”
Sab Jose, lead actress of Lungs, and marketing and PR director for The Sandbox Collective, opens up about her evolved sensibilities brought by the community quarantine, “I’m going to be very candid. It’s been very difficult navigating through all of this when theaters have gone dark all over the world. It’s even made me question some life decisions and the viability of a career in the arts. It’s been very challenging to keep my head above the water when our industry has been deemed the last to recover.”
She adds, “The pandemic certainly forced me to give pause, to reflect, to reassess and even reconfigure how to survive. It’s pushed all of us to adapt and evolve. Most of us are shifting to a digital platform and finding new ways of staying connected with our audiences. Ultimately though, there is nothing quite like live theater. Our lives and our hearts remain on that stage and I can only hope that we all get to recover and return to the theaters as soon as possible.”
“The pandemic certainly forced me to give pause, to reflect, to reassess and even reconfigure how to survive. It’s pushed all of us to adapt and evolve. Most of us are shifting to a digital platform and finding new ways of staying connected with our audiences. Ultimately though, there is nothing quite like live theater. Our lives and our hearts remain on that stage and I can only hope that we all get to recover and return to the theaters as soon as possible.”
Highlighting her quarantine realizations, Jose added, “This lockdown has also put a lot of things in perspective. It’s made me question A LOT about policy and governance on a national and global scale. It’s exposed some ugly but necessary things. Conversely, it’s given me invaluable and precious time with my family—the kind I would often miss out on because of rehearsals and shows. It’s made me realize that nothing is ever promised and I should do everything I can both on and off stage. For now, I’ll just be waiting in the wings and crossing my fingers that this intermission ends soon.”
Returning to the stage from his debut in 2018 with Lungs screen actor Jake Cuenca weighs in on this abrupt stop, “Obviously, it’s sad that we are not able to do what we love to do which is perform at the moment. But the pandemic has just brought all of us actors closer together in every medium regardless of film tv or theatre I feel we are closer together more than ever.”
He notes, “As for me I look forwards to Saturdays because we do readings together and there’s so much good material out there and when the time is right I’m excited to share what we have been working on with an audience. But till then, nothing stops us as actors. We should take everything in and remember what is happening around us and channel it towards our craft because one day we will able to use all of it.”
On the heels of her win of the Female Lead Performance in a Play at the recent Philstage Gawad Buhay awards for EBT, Kakki Teodoro, reacts to life in the new normal, “There is a great impact on my vulnerability and my value. There is a lot of questioning on your worth & purpose as stage actors, artists and people when the world puts you in a non-essential category.”
The award-winning actress adds, “When your work is about sharing a sacred space (which is the stage and the theater) and it is shut down making you unable to work with a cast, crew and be with an audience, nayayanig ka. Yes, we understand why, comply and stay hopeful and even try out digital online platforms for performance. But the reality is you’re still displaced, especially when you see it happening even in lucrative centers like Broadway and the West End.”
She opines, “So, you question who are, what you have done, why you do what you do, what else you can be. You explore and even challenge who you are and what you can do and also, how you define yourself as a human being, apart from the work that you do. I’m still in that spectrum of survival mode and exploration.”
Produced by Leo Balante
Photography by Jan Mayo
Shot on location at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater
Rank Magazine is an official media partner of The Sandbox Collective’s “Sandbox Fest 2020“
Banner image layout by: Jericho Clemente