Young Star

How to start your own company

INTERVIEW - Maine Manalansan - The Philippine Star

A few days before the madness of Dani Girl’s opening night last July 11, we caught up with The Sandbox Collective co-head honcho Toff de Venecia and asked for a few words of wisdom on starting your own theater company.

MANILA, Philippines - If you’re going to put up a theater company, it shouldn’t be because you wanna do a certain show. It should be because you want to do a kind of theater for your audience. In my case, I wanted to give my audience an experience. It’s not about the show but everything on top of that.

I wanted to do shows that are a little bit more cutting edge, things that companies veer away from because the subject matter is taboo. They’re so enslaved by rules of consumerism and commercialism that they compromise the quality of the show.

I’ve always been into reimagining musicals and exploring them in a different kind of lens and framework. I wanted to bring that sort of off-kilter approach into a mainstream kind of setting.

With Sandbox, it occupies a unique space. It’s not university theater where all the cutting-edge, raw, and out-of-the-box materials are being explored. It’s also not mainstream where it’s all about the artista or the popular shows or the expensive set and lights. It’s a hybrid of both.

Ironically, I had no fear coming into it. I had read a lot of books. I had worked over eight or nine years in theater already. I’ve been traveling abroad. Basically, I’ve formed some kind of worldview, both as an artist and coming into this as a producer, in terms of how we want our shows and our programming to unfold throughout the season.

There’s never a doubt in my mind that this is what I wanted to do. I think it just sinks in as Dani Girl (approaches). You have sales to think about.

The most effective and potent art is art that also takes commerce into consideration. It’s easy to masturbate yourself as an artist. Doing everything for art’s sake and all that. But then you also have to think of sustainability. After all this hard work, and then you lose all your money, how will you be able to continue the good hard work that you’ve been doing? These are the things you have to take into consideration. It’s kind of a bitch, but then it’s necessary.

What gets me through is knowing that I’m able to do good work through the art and through the show. Honestly, I started to doubt myself, questioned God, everything that Dani is going through, I felt like I was going through it narin.

Sometimes there’s a lot of doubt but then every time I see a run of Dani Girl, I’m still moved. A month and a half later, I still cry after every run. I’m reminded why I’m doing it.

I’ve always been clear about what I wanted to do with Sandbox. Dani Girl was the perfect avenue in which to achieve those goals. We want to challenge and uplift audiences.

While doing this show, a lot of doors have closed on us. But for every 10 or 20 doors that closed, there’s always a window that opened. It’s those windows that give me strength to keep going.

I think our PR associate said it best: “All it takes is a song for you to believe.” In those moments I feel like we’re fighting a losing battle, I just hear My Hair and all of these other beautiful songs in the show, all of a sudden I feel reenergized to keep fighting this good fight.

This is theater that needs to be done here. This is the show that people need to see. I feel like, with the process that we’ve had for Dani Girl and just doing the show in general, the show has transcended already. It’s beyond us, it’s beyond me, and it’s beyond the actors.

Three most important things to think about when starting a company: 1) Why you’re doing it. That’s the most important. 2) How you are doing it. That is a whole other complicated monster to think about. From the people, the process, and everything, and 3) For whom.

We were clear about our vision/mission, what we wanted to achieve. But how to operationalize it, that’s something that we figured out along the way. But everything fell into place because we were so clear about what we wanted to do from the start.

Thankfully, with Dani Girl, I think it’s not just a show but an experience. It’s a theater of thinking audiences. And we’re doing our share and our part to be able to uplift and change the game in our own way.

As with any business, it’s always a bitch. But if you believe in what you’re doing, and you believe it with all your heart, then it makes it easier. Photos by Maine Manalansan












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