Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Under the stars

If this paper's editor-in-chief has forgiven this column's month-long absence, this piece will see print under a new column title. "Session Road Blues" is being recalled to serve as the working title of a new theatrical piece that our group, Open Space, is putting together that we hope to unveil later this year.

The reason for my absence here, in a nutshell, is this: four weeks, one concert, a couple of public screenings, three performances of two musicals in three different venues. We're coming from providing technical direction to the Panagbenga spectacle that was the "Phantom on the Lake," followed by screenings of our documentary on Baguio, "Portrait of a Hill Station," and a concert featuring original songs about Baguio. Soon after the last hotdog and corn was sold and the last complimentary cigarette lighter was handed out during Session Road in Bloom, we began putting together two musicals, one of which was the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice classic, "Jesus Christ Superstar."

Our mayor, Peter Rey Bautista, encouraged by the response to the Phantom performance at the lake, requested that we perform our production of Webber's rock opera for the community during the Holy Week. The original idea was to perform it on the stage built in middle of the lake, but after finding out that was already removed we suggested that we instead put it up at the Baguio Convention Center and Rose Garden for technical and aesthetic reasons: The BCC for the convenience of a roof in case the rains come on Good Friday (which it did), and the steps that lead from behind the bust of Arch. Daniel Burnham towards the lake provides an amphitheater-like feel, surrounded by trees and pocket gardens filled with roses, and it's been our group's dream to perform there.

The cast and staff of about 70 people met for a production meeting which was soon followed by daily (and nightly) rehearsals at the Baguio Convention Center. There were Open Space's resident artists, a hip-hop dance group Baguio Amplified in their theatrical debut and the AVP ensemble, an informal group of musicians and singers, vocalising, arranging, blocking, choreographing... giving life to the written text. Behind the scenes, other members of the group were all over town with the City Mayor's Office's endorsement letter requesting the support of some friends in the private sector.

The first to respond was Dr. Reynaldo C. Bautista, Sr. of the Rural Bank of Itogon, one of our group's ardent supporters. If we had any doubts at all if the production will really push through due to sponsorship concerns, those doubts were erased as soon as RBI threw its support behind the endeavor. Smart Communications' pledge soon followed, and we knew at that point that there was really no turning back anymore. The next thing we knew, we had Victory Liner's, The Manor's and the University of Baguio's logos on our posters. Later, Beneco pledged its support too and Alabanza Meat Store sent food our way during our second performance.

The reason why the group's very enthusiastic about this production is because it proved that given the government's endorsement, the support of the private sector is sure to follow, enabling us to stage free cultural presentations making the arts more accessible to the community.

This while providing a venue for our local artists to express themselves. This while being able to present great stories that present relevant social issues. This while perhaps reinforcing an alternative reason for tourists to come up to Baguio: its arts and culture scene.

During the second performance at the Rose Garden, on the grassy area on either side of the steps, families laid out mats while the children ran around waiting for the performance to begin. The steps began to fill with both locals and tourists wondering what the stage, lights and sound equipment set-up were all about.

Even the ambulant vendors set their wares aside for a night at the theater: under the stars and out in the open. And both the performers and our supporters agreed: let's have more of this.

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