Tanya Lopez: On Centerstage

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Teatro is lifer – or so millennials would say.

And this could never be truer for artist and director Tanya Lopez. Lopez has recently staged a play titled “Wala Nang Bata Dito” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in celebration of the Virgin LabFest in July 2019.

Wala Nang Bata Dito is a timely piece of writer Sari Saysay. Saysay highlighted the the issue of lowering the age of criminal responsibility and talked about survival and social injustices.
Wala Nang Bata Dito is a timely piece of writer Sari Saysay. Saysay highlighted the the issue of lowering the age of criminal responsibility and talked about survival and social injustices.

The Virgin LabFest is in its 15th year and has become the country’s most sought-after festival for theater artists and is joined by established and respected playwrights, directors, designers and performers in the country.

Lopez shared that the LabFest has become “a platform for new, original works, innovative staging and creative collaboration amongst artists who are passionate, competitive and serious about their craft and in the contribution to the development and advancement of Philippine Theater.” Chosen by the Virgin LabFest 2019 to direct a play, Festival Director Tuxqs Rutaquio sent her a script to which she admittedly said she had related to right away.

Wala Nang Bata Dito is set on a coastal village where the protagonist Dolor painstakingly wait for the authorities to take away her daughter who was falsely accused of a crime.
Wala Nang Bata Dito is set on a coastal village where the protagonist Dolor painstakingly wait for the authorities to take away her daughter who was falsely accused of a crime.

The play “Wala Nang Bata Dito” was written by Sari Saysay based in Bicol. Lopez is the Executive Director of The Negros Museum and head of The Perf Lab in Bacolod City. Both Lopez and Saysay are based in different provinces so the collaboration was a bit challenging for them.

Actor Venise Buenaflor is Dolor of Wala Nang Bata Dito
Actor Venise Buenaflor is Dolor of Wala Nang Bata Dito

But more than anything, Lopez opened up about the inspiration in staging the play and it was the sea. The play is set on a coastal village where the protagonist Dolor painstakingly wait for the authorities to take away her daughter who was falsely accused of a crime.

Rehearsal time on CCP stage, a stage they share with 24 other productions for the Virgin LabFest 2019
Rehearsal time on CCP stage, a stage they share with 24 other productions for the Virgin LabFest 2019

“As the director, I envisioned the play as a woman’s journey for survival in the rough sea of life. The sea as a metaphor for its many moods and personalities – in terms of sound, movement, texture, and colors. The sea as both friend and foe. It can deceive. We can either float or drown in the water. The waves can be soothing or dangerous. The water changes color as the seafloor becomes deeper. It can both reveal the beauty and hide the perils that lurk underneath,” the respected thespian and director pours out as she talks passionately about Wala Nang Bata Dito.

“Wala Nang Bata Dito” staged at the Virgin LabFest 2019 directed by Tanya Lopez, the first region-based artist to be invited to direct a main feature in Virgin LabFest 2019.
“Wala Nang Bata Dito” staged at the Virgin LabFest 2019 directed by Tanya Lopez, the first region-based artist to be invited to direct a main feature in Virgin LabFest 2019.

Indeed, one can always argue whether it is art that imitates life or life imitates art. The main theme of the play is about survival in this world and the different socio-economic issues that bombard most people today like poverty, corruption, human rights, and children’s rights. The most important part that writer Sari Saysay would like to bring into the realm of the conversation now is the issue of lowering the age of criminal responsibility. In this way, the artists play an important part in bringing into focus these social injustices in our country today.

From left to right: THERESE ARROYO/set design team, TANYA LOPEZ/director, J. LASPUNA VILLANUEVA/sound design, OTTOBOTS HERNANDEZ/set design, ELVERT BANARES/multi media projections and poster design, VENISE, SARI SAYSAY/writer
From left to right: THERESE ARROYO/set design team, TANYA LOPEZ/director, J. LASPUNA VILLANUEVA/sound design, OTTOBOTS HERNANDEZ/set design, ELVERT BANARES/multi media projections and poster design, VENISE, SARI SAYSAY/writer

Director Tanya Lopez had to make sure that she was always seeing eye-to-eye with writer Sari Saysay. Even if it meant an eight-hour bus ride from Manila to Bicol, where Saysay was working with cultural work in communities that has a weak to no internet signal. Online communication was little to no help at all and a face-to-face meeting was imperative to initiate this project. When Saysay agreed for the use of his play, Lopez gave an assurance to stay true to his material.

Actor’s immersion in a fishing village in Sagay City in Negros island. This is a part of the character research for Dolor.  Venise Buenaflor doing sense memory and interviewing the daughter of a fisherman who was the inspiration for her character's daughter.
Actor’s immersion in a fishing village in Sagay City in Negros island. This is a part of the character research for Dolor. Venise Buenaflor doing sense memory and interviewing the daughter of a fisherman who was the inspiration for her character’s daughter.

All these challenges added to the fact that they will be mounting it in Bacolod, the writer is in Bicol, and some parts will be done in CCP. The other collaborators (set design, multimedia, sound design, lighting design, technical direction) were based in Manila except for the costume designer and stage manager.

Virgin LabFest gave a chance to local actors to also become a part of the country’s major theater festival
Virgin LabFest gave a chance to local actors to also become a part of the country’s major theater festival

Ten days before the opening night, they did their first run through in CCP with the whole team present and meeting for the first time too. Adjustments were made by all of the collaborators contributing their creative contribution to the staging. They were running against time on technical rehearsals on the set itself which they were also performing with two other major plays on a certain day and sharing the stage with 24 other productions.

Actor Venise Buenaflor spent some time in a fishing village to do character research.
Actor Venise Buenaflor spent some time in a fishing village to do character research.

But Lopez is proud to have brought a provincial team to the main stage of the country’s most esteemed stage of CCP. Tanya Lopez was the first region-based artist to be invited to direct the main feature in Virgin LabFest 2019 and the also have the first region-based team with the actor, stage manager, and designer in the LabFest. Wala Nang Bata Dito was included with top theater directors/actors in the industry, a great leap for province-based storytellers and artists.

Rehearsal on stage at the Cultural Center of the Philippines was ten days before the first night.
Rehearsal on stage at the Cultural Center of the Philippines was ten days before the first night.

“Theatre is thriving in the regions and it is very much alive with colorful narratives. What we lack are opportunities to share our craft and our stories. We have so much to offer and contribute to the development of Philippine Theatre – however – we need to work on documenting our work, establishing a network for collaboration and exchange, and audience development so we can share our voices and our stories to a larger audience,” Lopez adds earnestly.

Director Tanya Lopez with Bacolod Team of Wala Nang Bata Dito  From left to right: SARI SAYSAY /playwright, ROGER JOSHUA VENZAL /stage manager, TANYA P. LOPEZ/director, VENISE BUENAFLOR/actor, DR. ADRIAN TORRES/costume design, TUXQS RUTAQUIO/VLF festival director.
Director Tanya Lopez with Bacolod Team of Wala Nang Bata Dito From left to right: SARI SAYSAY /playwright, ROGER JOSHUA VENZAL /stage manager, TANYA P. LOPEZ/director, VENISE BUENAFLOR/actor, DR. ADRIAN TORRES/costume design, TUXQS RUTAQUIO/VLF festival director.

After successfully staging Wala Nang Bata Dito in the Cultural Center of the Philippines stage and the Virgin LabFest, artist Tanya Lopez has broken another glass ceiling (or a stage for that matter) for artists from the regions.

But surely, there are more glass ceilings to break for all artists. Keep breaking.

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