The first 120 days
- Joy G. Virata () - April 11, 2005 - 12:00am
In a TV interview the other night, I was asked "Has it been hard for you since Bibot died?" Involuntarily I gasped "Oh yes!" I say involuntarily because Rep has tried to maintain an everything-is-business-as-usual image since we lost our founder and "Big Boss" Zeneida Amador. The truth is that we – Baby Barredo, our new president and artistic director and myself the new associate A.D. – are mostly doing what we always did, but not always with the same confidence as when we had Bibot’s keen eye and sixth sense to depend on.

Now it can be told that rehearsals for Oh Romeo! were fiery. It is lucky that things turned out as well as they did. I was under pressure to direct a difficult play, which Bibot was supposed to have directed. That I had three of the top theater actors to deal with didn’t add to my confidence. I didn’t have Bibot to help me out with the technicals, which always stress me out. It was only when Baby Barredo watched a rehearsal during production week and said "Bibot would have been pleased," that the load was lifted. From there I went straight into rehearsals for Busybody. Besides the kilometric lines, non-stop stage business and dozens of props to handle, I was stepping into a role that had been called one of Bibot’s finest roles. That was a very tough act to follow. The good news is that I lost 10 pounds during the play.

Barredo had to face a different kind of stress besides the personal burden she has to bear. She now not only has responsibility for the artistic side of Rep but she has to watch out for its financial well-being as well. This is a part of Rep she never had to deal with before. While she was trying to adjust to this, she had to direct Little Shop of Horrors, which was a very demanding musical – technically and otherwise.

When she casually said a week before rehearsals for Whose Wife Is It Anyway, "Why don’t we adapt this play and put it into a Filipino setting?" my first thought was "Baby’s gone bananas." But after a few seconds I thought "Why not?" If there was one play that lent itself perfectly to an adaptation, it was this one. It had all the characteristics of a very funny sitcom – a politician bent on having a fling, a straight man, a couple of very sexy girls, a few comic characters and a politician’s wife.

My third thought was, and this was a question that was also asked of Miguel Faustmann during the same TV interview, "Would Bibot have approved?" At that interview, Miguel sort of smiled and looked very guilty, and said "I don’t know." We all knew how Bibot felt about literature, about words, about the importance of language, about preserving the style and language of a play, and most of all about the ability of Filipino actors to interpret Western material in English. Yet I remembered how, a few months before she got sick, when I told Bibot that her brother had offered to fund any adaptation that we did, she just said, "Go ahead, if you can find a play that would be better for its being adapted." This play would be perfect.

Bibot always said, "If a wheel ain’t broke, don’t fix it." She also knew, however, that change is sometimes an essential part of survival. Rep had to make some drastic changes since its Insular Life days in a 200-seater theater in Makati. When Rep outgrew that theater, Bibot took a chance and moved the production to a 500-seat theater in Mandaluyong. Then when we had finally reached our comfort zone in that theater, we had to move again – first splitting our productions between two theaters and then, for economic reasons, consolidating into one theater. This theater, Rep’s Globe Theater at Onstage, has 800 seats. All these moves meant adjusting to different kinds of stages and venues and rebuilding, losing, and rebuilding audiences all over again – trying to keep the consistency has always been Rep’s strength. Meanwhile the world, in and out of theater, continued to change and keeping up with these changes has been a tremendous challenge. Doing an adaptation for the first time is yet another change.

A hundred and twenty days after Bibot left us, we still think, "What would Bibot say? What would Bibot do?" And the answer is always the same: Whatever would allow Rep to continue to exist is what she would do. This is not going to be easy to determine. Rep without Bibot is the biggest adjustment Rep will have to make. We will make mistakes. Sometimes we will succeed. Sometimes we will fail. But I know that everyone who shares this goal – the officers, the staff, the actors, the crews, subscribers and friends who have been giving all they can in time, talent and resources to help us in this adjustment – will continue to do so.

And therein lies our strength.
* * *
Repertory Philippine’s production of Whose Wife Is It Anyway, in cooperation with The City of Makati, recently opened at Rep’s Globe Theater at Onstage. It is staged every Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. "Whose Wife Is It Anyway" runs until April 24. For reservations call 887-0710. Baby Barredo directs.

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