Commentary

Theater: a great teaching and learning experience

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I have always loved the stage and started acting at the age of four. But acting wasn’t a realistic career option for anyone in those days. I was 38 when I accepted a role in a play of Repertory Philippines and embarked on what was to become my life’s work.

Marketing strategy, pricing, advertising, public relations, product quality control, cost control, financial management—without ever imagining I would, I used these tools to build a career in what today is called arts management.

Unheard of at the time I was in the UP College of Business, arts management has become a part of many colleges of business in the United States. In the Philippines only La Salle/St. Benilde has an undergraduate program in arts management.

The CBA website mentions no such program. The UP College of Arts and Sciences offers an undergraduate degree in Philippine arts, with arts management as a major. In other schools, arts management is under theater arts rather than the college of business. The performing arts are hardly equated with good money-making prospects.

The theater industry has changed a lot in the last 10 years. Repertory Philippines  and the Philippine Educational Theater Association used to be the only theater companies with full seasons. Now, more than a dozen theater companies of different sizes operate in Manila, and foreign companies have also found their way into the market.

Also, traffic woes and population demographics, not to mention the advent of DVDs, mean that theater must reach younger audiences—those still with the energy to go out—and this definitely means social media marketing.

I have heard that more huge theaters besides Resorts World are being planned. Will they produce their own shows? Will they rely on big foreign imports? I suppose they have done their math and have made their plans. Some local producers may benefit, as they are now doing. Actors and other theater workers, I hope, will also benefit.

Small theater companies will have to find a way to survive, affiliate with the big companies (if they can), or keep the ideal of community theater alive.

I have not given up hope that private industry will realize someday that art is not a luxury, to be enjoyed only after all other needs are met, but a necessity if we are to lift the tastes, values, minds and spirits of Filipinos. It is a requirement for humanity. I have not given up hope that corporate-giving to the arts will become part of corporate plans, and I am hoping that you will remember this when you become part of the business world.

It is hard to put a monetary value on the investment one makes in a human being through the arts. Lauren Gunderson in the Huffington Post puts it so well.

“…So much of the toxicity in this world comes from a collective draining of empathy. We don’t understand each other, and we don’t want to. But theater invites us—no, forces us—to empathize…. My friend Bill English of San Francisco’s SF Playhouse [likens] theater [to] a gym for empathy. It’s where we can go to build up the muscles of compassion, to practice listening and understanding and engaging with people that are not just like ourselves. We practice sitting down, paying attention, and learning from other people’s actions. We practice caring.”

Recently, under a grant from Telus, a Canadian outsourcing company that believes in giving back to the community, 50 children from a Gawad Kalinga Project were exposed to the performing arts for one year, so they would come to appreciate the arts and benefit from the exposure. They were treated to ballet performances, theater productions in Tagalog and in English, and a symphonic concert that introduced them to the instruments in an orchestra.

They were thoroughly attentive at all the productions and seemed to gain greater confidence with each succeeding production. I believe that the development of these children acquired an extra dimension that will give them an edge later on in life. They practiced sitting down, paying attention, and learning from other people’s actions. They practiced caring. I hope that other companies will follow suit and support more projects like this one.

The theater industry has space to grow and there is a need for imaginative entrepreneurs for both commercial theater and the more artistic community theater. When you think of development, remember that people are also natural resources and need to be developed.

Theater stimulates the imagination and definitely this country can use imaginative and caring entrepreneurs and managers. A play that I appeared in last year, “Mind’s Eye,” very vividly showed the power of the imagination. I am trying to get more people from all walks of life, but especially teachers, to see the play and find out first-hand how theater can be a great learning experience for their students as well as for themselves.

Joy G. Virata is the artistic director of Repertory Philippines’ Children’s Theater. She is also the lead actress in “Mind’s Eye,” which will have a second run on Sept. 6-8 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati City. The above are excerpts from her commencement speech to the UP College of Business Administration.

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