By Angelo Lorenzo

“Untested, untried, un-staged,” stated the promotional letter of Mindanao’s first Extra Virgin LabFest: Unang Puga to describe the curated plays in this festival dedicated to theater and the performing arts.

Annually celebrated in the Cultural Center of the Philippines every June, the Virgin LabFest has been showcasing theatrical productions of original plays that have not yet been staged. Now in their 15th year, this long-running independent Philippine theater festival takes an extra turn by giving Mindanaoan narratives their much deserved limelight.

The theater festival’s actors have been selected through an audition, complementing the prolific talents in Cagayan de Oro City’s vibrant acting scene. (Photo courtesy of Liceo Student Press)

Performances will take place in Cagayan de Oro City with Liceo de Cagayan University’s prestigious Rodelsa Hall setting the venue for the festival from December 4 to 7, 2019.

Fresh from the pages

Extra Virgin LabFest (EVLF) will “elevate the theater experience” in Mindanao by featuring narratives mirroring the realities of the regions. Although there have already been a significant number of plays written about Mindanao, this festival is looking forward to staging new theatrical
productions from emerging voices and talents.

By focusing on the regions’ narratives, the EVLF has been keen on selecting the plays worthy of stage adaptation. Among the 20 submitted manuscripts, nine plays had been selected for stage productions.

These include: “Act of Contrition” by Reil Benedict Obinque, “Crystal Clear” by Aldren Alferez, “Ang Mga Babae sa Kusina” by Mario Lendel Barinque, “Daang Papunta, Daang Pabalik” by Norman Isla, “Pultahan” by Angelo Dabbay, “Banga” by Darren Bendanillo, “Si Balaw ug ang Lablab sa Palawpaw” by Gil Nambatac, “Unsa’y Koneksyon sa Iring?” by Karlwinn Paitan, and “Bulan” by Jim Raborar.

The festival has also selected three one-act plays for staged readings: “Birhen” by Abigail James, “Hiyas sa Putikan” by Linda Manalo, and “Reyna” by Tat Soriano.

A twin-bill production featuring Dominique LaVictoria’s “Ang Bata sa Drum” and Maynard Manansala’s “Dalawang Gabi” will take place on the festival’s opening night. For their craft, both playwrights have been recognized by the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award, the longest and most
prestigious literary award in the country.

The festival will proceed with three sets composed on three plays each, with tickets ranging from PhP 150 for students, PhP 160 for senior citizens and differently-abled audience to PhP 200 for non-students.

Empowering Mindanaoan narratives

Liceo de Cagayan University Office of Cultural Affairs Director Hobart Savior serves as the festival director. Advancing his advocacy to promote the local culture and arts scene, he designed EVLF as an avenue where artists, directors, and playwrights can work together to ignite Mindanao’s vitality in playwriting and staging performances.

In the festival’s call for manuscripts last June, Savor emphasized that this event could foster or build up an effective and vibrant theater and performing arts community.

“This [Extra Virgin LabFest] will sustain audience engagement as this festival will elevate theatre experience in a collaborative celebration that recognizes and harvests more actors, directors and theatre practitioners and enthusiasts,” Savior further remarked.

In the past years, Savior has been building and strengthening the playwriting foundation in Mindanao through his Sulat Dula playwriting workshop series. This initiative takes place once every two years and selects aspiring Mindanao playwrights to improve on their craft.

Five of this year’s EVLF playwrights – Alferez, Isla, James, and Soriano – were former participants of Sulat Dula. With EVLF being planned as an annual theater festival in CDO, Savior hopes that the local scene would witness and recognize the vibrant talents in the arts and culture here. His production line, Infinite Lotus Productions, will spearhead more activities
for this initiative.

Celebrating a milestone

Over the years, the Virgin LabFest has produced timeless classics of plays centered on Filipino sentiments translated on the pages by emerging and established playwrights and adapted by prolific directors and actors. The upcoming festival’s directors include Josey Rex Soriano, Kenneth Sabijon, Zip Mercado de Guzman, Felimon Blanco, Pepito Sumayan, Denisse Aguilar, Jesus Christopher Salon, Anito Librando and Jet Paclar, Maia Poblete, and Roland Rivera.

This year’s Extra Virgin LabFest production team is composed of emerging and established talents dedicated to promoting the festival and making the event possible. (Photo courtesy of Liceo Student Press)

This year’s EVLF is organized by the Liceo Office of Cultural Affairs of Liceo de Cagayan University under the grant of the CCP, which celebrates its 50th anniversary. It is also supported by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Writers’ Bloc, and Infinite Lotus Productions.

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