Jun 22, 2008

[Philippines] For Love of Musical Theater

The Tony Awards after-partyImage by jwilly via FlickrIn case you didn't already know, I love musicals. I know, it's right up the alley of the stereotypical gay man, but then I just can't help myself. I suppose you could say that I was raised to love them with the help of my grandmother most of all. Thus when it was announced that they were going to televise the 2008 Tony Awards on Velvet, a local cable TV station on SkyCable, my partner and I were all over it.

Watching the various presenters, all of them famous Broadway personalities, and of course the amazing performances done by all of the nominees and naturally my partner and I started talking about musical theater locally and what limited options we have at times.

As a lover of musicals, one can't help but feel frustrated about how things are in the Philippines when it comes to this art and thoughts of New York inevitably come back to the fore.

One day, I will live in New York. I'm trying to be very optimistic here. It's not about wishing to live there or hoping to live there but seriously believing that one day, I will be there. Sure, at this moment in time it may not be that I actually "belong" there, but then given how much I love musical theater, it seems only fitting that circumstances lead to my one day going to what is pretty much the heart of Show Tunes for me.

Unfortunately, Manila is anything but New York at this point.

I'm not writing this to insult our local theater industry or anything like that. Nor am I trying to buy into the mentality that things are better just because they come from first world nations like America.

I'd like to think of this as more of a challenge to all of us over here. Local theater isn't going to get any better if well all just remain content with what we have now and just use our being a third world nation or some other similar reason as an excuse. How can we even be content with just that?

Many times, I feel like we're just going through the motions. We put up the plays, settle for what we can in terms of costumes and dance as best we can. Oftentimes the plays feel like school productions more than the results of the countries largest theater groups and there are some pretty hokey shows that come up from time to time, you have to admit. Then as theater-goers, we lose confidence in our own productions and chose to see plays less and less and thus further starving our local playhouses of even more resources.

I think Broadway has gotten as big as it has mainly because the people involved dared to dream a lot bigger than what they had. It takes that kind of audacity and vision to bring even plays as famous as RENT from being off-Broadway to one of the most memorable and ground-breaking musicals of all time. As much as I love big productions and all the lights and such, plays like made it as far as it has mainly because of the originality of the music and the strength of its message.

I can understand and respect the need to run the more famous shows from abroad to make a little money, break some teeth and develop greater confidence in the art. Groups like Repertory Philippines are a great venue for both young and old to practice their craft and groups like Atlantis Productions and seriously trying to build the capital to bring in major shows like Avenue Q and Hairspray to local shores. But these should all be considered training exercises as we try to get to the same level Broadway has and hopefully move on to make our own original and inventive shows.

We seriously need something to act as a catalyst to kick-start the local theater industry to move into new territory. In this respect I have to give credit to shows the likes of Zsazsa Zaturnnah and even Temptation Island since they're highly creative and unique and despite modest budgets were able to generate a fair amount of success and made theater something more accessible to the masses.

Being a gay man in love with the world of musical theater and one who can try to find a show tune to match any mode or explain any situation in his life is hard in a place like Manila, Philippines. Then again, I'm also one who somewhat stubbornly hopes for the best and that one day we'll make a show that deserves to be exported to other countries and perhaps force the Tonys to create international categories just like the Oscars.
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