Tanghalang Pilipino brings Room-To-Read children’s books to virtual stage

Totel V. de Jesus

Posted at Feb 26 2022 10:37 PM

Pipoy, Kwagie and Pipay are the narrators of TP's children multimedia show 'Tara, Peeps.' Screengrab from 'Tara, Peeps'. Handout

Since early December 2021, members of the Tanghalang Pilipino actors company have been busy performing in a weekly virtual theater for children titled “Tara, Peeps.” 

They’ve done eight episodes adapted from children’s books by the likes of prize-winning short story writer Dr. Luis Gatmaitan and TP’s original stage play “Lukot-Lukot, Bilog Bilog” by Eljay Castro Deldoc. 

Using animation and shadow play, among other devices, “Tara, Peeps” aptly captures each story in a 20-to 25-minute educational multimedia show. 

They’ve covered timely and very helpful topics for young viewers like the importance of vaccination, getting out of one’s comfort zone to help others, respect for elders and being financially literate. 

Each show premieres every Sunday afternoon with repeat streaming at night. The previous eight episodes can still be viewed on “Tara, Peeps” Facebook account and You Tube channel.

For its ninth episode that will debut this Sunday, February 27, the resident theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines starts adapting children’s stories published by Room-To-Read, the two-decade old global education organization focused on increasing children’s literacy.

“We are fortunate to have partnered with Room-To-Read through an old colleague in theater and advocacy work, Al Santos, because we are in search of materials for our digital platform,” Carmela Millado-Manuel, company manager of TP. 

Al Santos is Room To Read’s publishing manager for Southeast Asia. In the ‘70s to early ‘80s, Santos had been a member of the Philippine Educational Theater Association. 

He wrote about 10 plays, one of which was the controversial musical “Nukleyar” with Joey Ayala. He was an active playwright-teacher and director for PETA before he left the country and focused on international advocacy work. 

For a brief background, Room-To-Read was founded in 2000 on the belief that “world-change starts with educated children”. 

It has been helping children in low-income communities develop literacy skills, a habit of reading and by supporting girls to build skills to succeed in school and negotiate key life decisions. 

Collaborating with governments and other partner organizations, Room to Read has benefitted more than 23 million children across 20 countries and over 48,000 communities and aims to reach 40 million children by 2025. 

Its partnership with TP started in September, 2020, when Santos conducted writing workshops for members of the TP Actors Company. Actors like JV Ibesate, Lhorvie Nuevo, Jonathan Tadioan, Antonette Go and almost everyone learned how to write scripts for radio and TV. 

The result was “Mga Kwentong Musmos,” a series of audio dramas that can be accessed for free via literacycloud.org website, which is also under Room To Read. 

These audio dramas were adapted from 20 children’s books published by Room To Read before the pandemic. 

Free audio drama, children’s books

“We commissioned authors and illustrators. There were two batches. The first group were all Manila-based while those in the second batch were from Visayas and Mindanao. 

We went to Bohol and all the way to Baguio and we shouldered board and lodging for the authors and illustrators besides the payment for their services,” Santos told ABS-CBN News.

Because they’re 20 books, Santos said they had to avail the services of four local publishing houses to meet the deadline; Anvil, Aklat Adarna, Lampara and OMF.

“In total, we published 20 books in 2019 and launched in February, 2020, before the lockdowns,” Santos added.

“In the latter part of 2020, despite the restrictions we were able to ship and distribute 20,000 copies to the provinces under the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Mindanao,” he added. 

Most school children in BARMM have no Internet access and so the Room-To-Read books were a big help.

“Room To Read funded the creation of the books so we are co-owners of copyright, pwede namin syang gawing audio drama and now, (virtual) plays,” said Santos.

When they were adapted into audio drama, Santos partnered with TP and called the new series as “Mga Kwentong Musmos.” Members of the TP Actors Company participated as scriptwriters, directors and voice actors. 

Millado-Manuel recalled: “Maganda y’ong proseso with Al because from the beginning of the partnership, we were guided from conceptualization to scriptwriting to actual implementation.” 

She added because TP has become co-owner of the copyrights, they didn’t have to worry about adapting the audio dramas to virtual theater.

The partnership continued. Good timing, TP was doing “Tara, Peeps.” 

That’s why for its ninth episode titled “Ang Nanay Kong Driver,” one can access the audio drama and the text versions via Room-To-Read’s website. The voice actors, scriptwriters and directors for the audio drama versions were all from TP.

“Tara, Peeps” has three main characters; bubbly storytellers Pipay and Pipoy, and Kwagie the owl caged in a TV screen. 

They act like the Greek chorus in a play, introducing characters for each episode, providing background story, presenting the problem to be solved or conflict to be fixed. 

For an appetizer, “Ang Nanay Kong Driver” tells the story of Billy and his mother Jennifer. In their home, the roles of his parents seemed to have interchanged. 

The mother, as the title implies, works as jeepney driver while the father is left at home to do the cooking, laundry, house cleaning and other chores typically performed by the woman. 

One day, Billy accompanies his mother to assist her and in their usual route, he is introduced to Lucy the construction worker, the vendor in a wet market, a guy who applies make-up in a beauty parlor, a brusque male passenger who carries his baby boy dressed in pink clothes and so on. 

“Sari sari tayo ng abilidad at ambag. Mga bagay hindi lang nakakulong sa isang kasarian,” says Jennifer.

 What the audience can expect is how TP does its magic in recreating the story for its virtual stage.

After “Ang Driver Kong Nanay,” the other 19 titles will premiere every Sunday, from 3:30 pm to 4pm until June this year and can be accessed via Tara, Peeps” social media accounts.