The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), in partnership with its resident theater company Tanghalang Pilipino and the playwright group Writer’s Bloc Inc., will host the 13th Virgin Labfest (VLF), an annual theater festival that is dedicated to providing an opportunity for aspiring playwrights to create new works for the stage, from June 28 to July 16 at various venues of the CCP.

The three-week festival promises to be a spectacular one offering twelve unpublished and unstaged plays and five new staged readings, written by 21 virgin playwrights, and three revisited plays all performed by 76 theater thespians and stalwarts and directed by 20 upcoming and established directors.

With overall theme “Wagas” (Forever), the festival of untried, unstaged and untested one-act plays offers a chance for new writers to see their creative skills taken from script to the stage. Now on its 13th year, the annual theater festival has picked 12 new featured one-act works, out of more than 190 manuscripts submitted, with each expresses the complexity of human experience, create dialogues on social issues, and engage the audience in reflecting about the concept of forever.

The new plays are divided into four sets. Set A includes: Loveteam, written by Oggie Arcenas and directed by veteran actor-director Michael Williams; Pilipinas Kong Mahal with All The Overcoat, written by Eljay Castro Deldoc and directed by Roobak Valle; and Birdcage, written by Rick Patriarca and directed by Ian Segarra.

For Set B, the audience can look forward to Ang Mga Puyong, penned by Ryan Machado and directed by Ricardo Magno, Hindi Ako Si Darna by playwrights Maynard Manansala and U Eliserio, directed by Andoy Ranay, and Boses ng Masa by Joshua Lim So and directed by Guelan Luarca. Meanwhile, Set C is comprised of Si Dr. Dolly Dalisay at Ang Mga Ladybugs by Layeta Bucoy, directed by Jonathan Tadioan, Ang Bata Sa Bus Stop by Sari Saysay and directed by Topper Fabregas, and Dear and Unhappy by Carlo Vergara and directed by Ricky Villabona.

Sincerity Biker’s Club by playwright Adrian Ho and director Jenny Jamora, Nothing But Dreams by playwright Dingdong Novenario and director Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, and Ang Bahay sa Gitna ng Kawalan by playwright Eliza A. Victoria and director George de Jesus complete the list.

Three plays in the 2016 edition of the VLF will be mounted again this year. The revisited plays include: Ang Sugilanon ng Kabiguan ni Epefania written by May Cardoso and directed by Charles Yee; Ang Bata sa Drum by Dominique La Victoria and directed by Dudz Teraña; and Mula sa Kulimliman by Carlo Vergara and directed by Hazel Gutierrez.

Vladimir Bunoan in his review on VLF last year cited these three plays as the “must-watch-plays” of the VLF 2016.

Adapted from Ilongo fictionist Ian Rosales Casacot’s story The Sugilanon of Epefania’s Heartbreak originally published in 2007, May Cardoso’s adaptation for the VLF uses two drunken tambays (out-of-school youth) at a neighborhood sari-sari store in the province of Negros as narrators who console a young man who has been jilted by the love of his life. The tambays then tell him the story of Epefania, who falls madly in love with a boy but whose mother does not approve of her. As the two men tell her tale, “the story springs to life in an old-school theatrical presentation that is endearing, funny and ultimately touching” quips Buonan. Emerging director Charles Yee returns to direct the play.

Dominique La Victoria’s Ang Bata sa Drum is a two-character play set in Northern Mindanao. The play is written as an after-school conversation between two children: the title character, who literally is placed inside a drum as punishment throughout the entire play, and her slightly older sister. With a mix of Bisaya and Tagalog languages, the two kids discuss their lot in life, as they have been left behind with their drunk father when their mother went to the big city for work.

Duds Teraña’s direction of Dominique La Victoria’s Ang Bata sa Drum in the 12th Virgin Labfest. The same play is included in the Revisited Set of the 13th Virgin Labfest. Photo: Tanghalang Pilipino

While the conversation often meanders, one senses both their hopes and resignation. She is hopeful that their mother would return to take her as she has promised but at the same, she also feels guilty of leaving her brother behind. Dudz Teraña returns to this year’s VLF to direct the play.

Finally, Mula sa Kulimliman by graphic fictionist Carlo Vergara opens with an after-school discussion between an ordinary housewife and her teenaged comics-obsessed son as they await the arrival of the man of the house, as well as her parents. But when her husband arrives from his construction work in Palawan, she discovers her husband’s shocking secret, which threatens to split their family apart.

Carlo Vergara’s Mula sa Kulimliman is one of the three plays to be revisited in the 13th Virgin Labfest at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Hazel Gutierez returns as director. Photo: Tanghalang Pilipino

“Director Hazel Gutierrez aids the storytelling with some nifty theatrical touches including Asian shadow play plus the effective use of music and sound effects,” says Bunoan. But it is the stirring performance of lead actress Mayen Estanero that truly lifts the material, providing a dramatic dimension to the otherwise absurd plot, that had audiences erupting in rapturous applause.

The Staged Readings for this year will feature Point and Click by playwright Jamie Bautista, directed by Mara Marasigan; Vertigo by playwright Nicko Manipis de Guzman, directed by Yong Tapang; Walang Forever Virus by playwright Fatrick Tabada, directed by Elmer Rufo; Ang Pag-uulyanin ni Olivia Mendoza by playwright Rolin Migyuel Cadallo Obina, directed by Emmanuel dela Cruz; and Andiyan Lang by playwright Kevin Tabora, directed by Dennis Marasigan.

The main play features will be staged at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater), while the VLF Revisited will be performed at Tanghalang Huseng Batute (CCP Studio Theater), and the Staged Readings will be at Tanghalang Amado V. Hernandez.

The 3rd Virgin Labfest Anthology, composed of selected plays featured in the latest editions of the festival, will be unveiled during the festival. The Virgin Labfest Writing Fellowship Program, a two-week mentorship program on the study and practice of dramatic writing for the stage, will also be held as part of the festival. The fellowship program aims to train young aspiring playwrights through a series of lectures, script critiquing, writing sessions and interactions with known playwrights, directors and selected actors.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.