Noel Pahayupan has known theater for much of his adult life.
Noel, who is part of the Administrative and Marketing Staff of The Performance Laboratory (that’s Perflab for you – the community theater group operating under The Negros Museum), has been acting since college.
He was, while student in the University of St. La Salle, part of the Maskara Theatre Ensemble under the tutelage of THE Tanya Lopez, the current Executive Director of The Negros Museum.
He swears to breathe theater, live it, day in and out.
“Before college, I thought theater is a reflection of life; during college, I realized that theater IS life,” he tells DNX Lifestyle.
For one who has practically attached himself to the craft, Noel is keenly aware of the intricacies of theater, how actors and audience form a bond so strong, one’s emotions become intertwined with the other.
Theater, to quote Tanya Lopez, is and should be a personal experience, because audience and actor feed off each other. Audience, which is cold, passive, and distant in a cinema or TV, becomes an active component in a stage play.
So imagine the impact of having lost that essence when the pandemic struck.
THEATER AND THE CORONA
The coronavirus has not just brought the entire arts and culture scene to a halt (albeit temporarily). It has also, natch, affected the way the theater scene also played out – same way that it did any live entertainment.
Which, Noel admits, becomes frustrating not just for theater peeps but for theater lovers as well.
Because for some, theater has become an outlet: whether it for a pent-up energy, or for emotional release. For others, it is also a means of keeping them sane.
So, what to do when conditions have made live entertainment almost impossible?
Noel says the challenge has merely made The Perflab innovate. And by innovate, that means not compromising the strength of theater while at the same time exploring the digital art for, because why not?
“Theater is not theater without a live audience,” Noel firmly says. So what Perflab did was improvise. They organized Friday Madness, a small weekly theatrical project but with very specific : first, limit the audience (“Only 12 a performance! We are not here to earn but to keep the craft alive.”), then use the digital platform with the intent of replicating the theater experience as much as possible.
That means, Noel explains, the camera angle is fixed at one position capturing the whole stage: no zoom, no panning (zooming in for close ups is veering towards cinema territory).
The collaborative projects started, one of the most remarkable ones is Six Feet Apart, a series of plays about the virus (the title is more than a hint) about relationships during the pandemic, written by Noel himself, Dr Anton Juan, Tanya Lopez, and Roger Benzal.
There is also “Ang mga Alates”, again a series of plays that was staged during the pandemic and again a collaborative effort that aims to keep the theater’s pulse ticking.
So, with all these challenges, is it safe to say that theater will still be around in 2021.
“No,” Noel clarifies, “theater will be around FOREVER. Theater is here to stay.”
The art form is not going to die out soon, Noel believes, for as long as there is life that can serve as a mirror for what is displayed on stage.