With theaters still closed, Teatro Ni Juan tries audio drama with 'Oyayi'

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Aug 27 2021 02:28 PM


MANILA -- Theater companies have inevitably learned to pivot with the uncertainty of stage productions returning soon.

In August last year, Marikina-based community theater company Teatro Ni Juan (TNJ) dauntlessly staged the online musical, “Bakunawa Rising,” despite strict quarantine measures in Manila.

This year, TNJ is mounting an audio-drama, “Oyayi: Tinig ng mga Hiraya’t Pagkarahuyo,” an eight-episode production conceptualized by Mikko Angeles, who’s also the artistic director of the theater group.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Paano tayo magiging iba ngayon?’” Angeles told ABS-CBN News. “Bakunawa Rising’ was an anthology. We came up with our new concept for ‘Oyayi.’ 

“So we thought of reviving the radio drama, now called podcast or audio drama. So doon namin siya nilaro at inaral namin kung saan huhugutin.”

“Oyayi” culminates TNJ’s 14th theater season, “Tuldok Kuwit,” by staying true to its mission of sharing dynamic narratives of relevance and perception. This year, TNJ further explores the digital stage as a platform for presentation.

Admittedly, audio drama is something new for TNJ, which started two decades ago as a private school organization at the Marikina Catholic School.

“Panibagong mundo siya for us,” Angeles said. “Compared to on-camera actors or on-stage actors, voice actors require a different discipline. It’s very exciting for us that we’re diving into this new world of audio drama.”

Angeles is directing the pilot episode, Mikaundre Gozum Santos’ “Aftershock 1983: Mga Santo ng Delubyo” from “Dungdungwen Kanto,” that streams on Spotify for free starting August 27. The succeeding seven episodes will be presented every Friday thereafter.

One episode runs at an average of 15 minutes. So far, the team has finished five episodes.

“We just finished rendering the whole audio file,” Angeles said. “Hindi pa rin kami nagkikita-kita to record. We’re still recording the presentation.”

Angeles wrote the final episode on October 15, “Eleks Yarn” from “Ang Balay ni Superman,” to be directed by Kyrstynne Vargas.

Episode 2 is John Knox Vill’s “Sa Muling Pagbalangkas” from “Ang Maliliit na Gagamba,” also directed by Vill on September 3.

Santos wrote another work, episode 3’s “Walang Surrender” from “Dandansoy,” directed by Cedric Jacobo on September 10.

Lee de Castro’s “Manigo” from “Ang Mga Ibon na Lumilipad,” is episode 4 and directed by Athena de la Cruz on September 17.

Imuthis’ “Bonak Kids” from “Ili Ili Tulog Anay” is episode 5 and directed by Carlo Gianan on September 24.

April Villanueva’s “Mga Second Opinion” from “Ang Pipit,” is episode 6 and directed by Giulia Saavedra on October 1.

Meanne Bruan’s “Ginto’t Pilak” from “Pen Pen de Sarapen,” is episode 7 and directed by Chi Wasan on October 8.

The cast has been ostensibly rehearsing through Zoom. “We are trying to maximize Zoom by using the breakout rooms, because we have eight episodes,” Angeles said. “So, we’re like talking about eight productions and groups of people composed of students and those with regular jobs. We have daytime up to early morning to rehearse.” 

In charge of the breakout rooms are Angeles and “Oyayi” dramaturg Harvey Sallador, who visit the breakout rooms to regularly check on what’s happening in the rehearsals.

The smallest episode has a very lean cast of three members. The entire cast totals 30 people. “There are OJTs [on-the-job trainees], around 20 of them, who are helping us, plus the production team,” Angeles said.

“Everyone working for 'Oyayi' is doing his job for free. That has been the mission of TNJ ever since,” Angeles said. “To begin with, we don’t have a budget. We are really trying to make use of our resources, whatever we have.

“We manage to get sponsors, once in a while, even if in some instances, tinatanggihan kami. Pre-pandemic and even this season, people who have day jobs and non-art related courses, find time to really pursue their passion by joining a community theater.”

Previously, it was a strict requirement for everyone joining the productions to be a resident of Marikina. “Now that we are locked in inside our houses, we started to expand,” Angeles said. “Last year, we reached as far as Cavite for our new talents. Marami na.”

Sallador is from Polytechnic University of the Philippines’ (PUP) Tanghalang Molave, TNJ’s partner for the staging of “Oyayi.” He has been working for the production for the past three months now. Angeles has yet to meet him in person.

“PUP has an OJT program and their theater students cannot go out,” Angeles explained. “The theater productions are very minimal, so the students cannot finish their course. We are so blessed that Harvey and the other students joined us.”

Sallador, a senior Performing Arts major from PUP, joined TNJ as early as last year, when he worked in “Bakunawa Rising” and joined episode 4. Working for the theater group is no longer new to him.

“The process of online production, especially ‘Oyayi,’ sobrang hirap,” Sallador said. “Hindi namin alam kung tama ba ‘yung ginagawa naming at kung mag-work ‘yun sa bagong platform na meron kami.

“Suddenly, nagbago lahat ng nakasanayan namin. Hanggang ngayon, nangangapa ang lahat ng tao sa theater. Not just the performers, but also the production people. Lahat ng nakasanayan nilang procedures, bago sa kanila ito.

“Kailangan nila ulit mag-practice ng panibagong bagay para tumama ang timpla sa ginagalawan naming platform ngayon, which is social media. Sobrang hirap.”

TNJ started in 2000, founded by Noel de Guzman, the artistic director. In 2013, De Guzman decided to move the theater group out from the school and opened it as a community theater group.

“Nasa street lang kami noon,” recalled Angeles. “Wala talagang budget. Ever since I was in Grade 5, I was 12 years old then, I was already part of TNJ. When our founder [De Guzman] passed on five years ago, I was in Dulaang UP taking up theater. They were telling me, ‘Kailangan natin tuloy ito.”

Angeles took over the leadership of TNJ. During the Christmas break last year, the executive council was already conceptualizing the theater season for this year.

“We know we couldn’t go out and we had no means to mount and produce a physical production,” Angeles said. “We asked kung paano namin gagawin ito. So we said, ‘Try natin to do episodic, pero kailangan natin ilayo sa ‘Bakunawa Rising.’

“Doon lumabas ang concept ng audio drama. Because if we do something with visuals again, the audience might easily associate it with ‘Bakunawa Rising.’”

Angeles remembered from the time he was still young, he was a big fan of such anthologies as “Twilight Zone,” “Black Mirror,” “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” and “Tales From the Crypt.”

“I told them, ‘Sige nga. Try nating gumawa ng inspired from those anthologies.’ Then, the idea to re-interpret familiar folk songs or nursery rhymes when we were younger and still playing on the streets, also came about.

“Folk song like ‘Langit-Lupa,’ ‘Pen Pen de Sara Pen’ and ‘Sitsiritsit.’ Ano kaya ang ibig sabihin noon? The songs meant so senseless when we were little. We decided to re-interpret them to the present or contemporary times, wherein people can understand.”

So from childhood songs and nursery rhymes, Angeles initially asked how they could brand it as anthology or as a series. “These are trying times that we are living in right now. Very, very challenging. We said, ‘Gawin natin. Push natin,’ But what can we call it? 

“Then, Oyayi came to us. That sounds very catchy and appropriate. It caters to a spectrum of listeners. Gusto naming bigyan ‘yung songs ng kahulugan kung saan hindi lang natin siya lalaruin, pero bibigyan natin ng ibig sabihin para sa kontemporaryonng panahon.”

“Oyayi” is a reinterpretation of classic Filipino folk songs and nursery rhymes to contemporary narratives.

The episodes are distributed by year, from 1983 up to the future. “The flow of history during that time, that only goes in a cycle,” Sallador explained. “Umiikot lang ang mga nangyayari at paghihirap ng Pilipino.

“People Power had a great ending dahil napaalis and diktadura. Pero kung mapapansin niyo, may kudeta noong panahon ni Cory [Aquino]. Panahon ni [Fidel] Ramos, there were also certain moments.

“Panahon ni Erap [Estrada], there was People Power 2. He was ousted because of plunder cases. Then, panahon ni Arroyo, she was accused of cheating. ‘Yung ‘Hello, Garci.’ Kay P-Noy [Aquino], Marawi happened.

“Hanggang sa ngayon, the war on drugs and extra-judicial killings, umiikot lang ang paghihirap ng Pinoy. Hindi dahil sa tao or hindi dahil it was destined to happen. Malay natin baka ‘yung sistema ang mali. It’s really up to the viewers to figure it out.”