Making theater in Cebu for ten years and counting

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Yay! My interview with Hendri Go about the tenth anniversary of his Little Boy Productions was published by Philippine Daily Inquirer for its Nov. 15, 2011 issue. The full interview is below. (The green parts are the parts that the editors had to cut out due to lack of space. Please support coverage of the arts by encouraging advertisers to place ads in newspapers!)
Making theater in Cebu for ten years and counting
By Walter Ang

To cap its tenth anniversary, Cebu's Little Boy Productions is staging a one-day-only performance of Chris Martinez's comedy "Welcome to Intelstar" and Anton Chekhov's farces "The Boor" and "The Proposal."

LBP brings in shows from Manila and stages its own shows with local talent. It's also done co-productions in Manila, including "Once on This Island" and the Filipino translation of "Art" with Actor's Actors Inc., and the Asian premiere of Disney's "High School Musical" with Ateneo Blue Repertory.

"What I'm most proud of is the diversity of shows that we've done," says Hendri Go, the man behind LBP. "In Manila, you have different theater groups with different segmented markets.  In Cebu, we don't have that.  LBP tries to do a little bit of everything."

LBP has also worked with Repertory Philippines and Atlantis Productions to stage musicals ("The Last Five Years," "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change"), plays ("Tuesdays with Morrie," "Doubt"), and improv acts (Silly People's Improv Theater).

Little Boy
In 2001, Go helped out a friend with the Cebu tour of New Voice Company's "The Vagina Monologues."  He observed the entire process from backstage to front-of-house, including the business side of logistics and ticket sales.

"I realized that you don't have to be a performer to do theater," he says. Prior to this, Go's theater involvement was limited to a summer workshop with Rep when he was in high school, and acting in a musical comedy revue for De La Salle University's Harlequin Theater Guild.

"I saw how the audience loved the show.  Wouldn't it be great if we could have more of these in Cebu? Wouldn't it be great to make theater more accessible to Cebuanos if the shows were brought here?"

Later that same year, he "brought over" the play "Love Letters" to Cebu.  "I found the script quite moving and the production requirements minimal, meaning it didn't cost so much," he says laughing.

LBP was born.

Manila-based actors Bart Guingona and Pinky Amador were cast for "Love Letters."  "It was a very big deal, getting these well-respected stalwarts to do our very first show.  It established a level of quality for the company."

"Since then, we've worked with the likes of Lea Salonga, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Cherie Gil, Michael Williams, Bituin Escalante, Chari Arespacochaga, Ricky Davao, the late great Jose Mari Avellana, among others."

It eventually started staging productions with local actors, designers, and directors.  "We produced regional premieres of plays by contemporary Filipino playwrights."

Aside from occasionally touring shows to Dumaguete and Ormoc, LBP conducts workshops in Cebu every summer.  "It's important to consistently provide training and theater education. The workshops in Manila, the level of quality, I wanted that in Cebu. So we fly in experienced, qualified teachers from Manila to teach."

Go says that moving productions over to Cebu can cost double of a Manila staging.  "You pay your artists more because there is an out-of-town premium or you have to give them 'per diem' allowance.  You have airfare, board and accommodations.  Sometimes we have to fly in special lights or sound equipment and large set pieces.

"But Cebu ticket prices are often lower than Manila prices. How do you make that work? That's the challenge. We have to fill the seats!

"Cebu audiences are more appreciative than Manila audiences because we don't get as much productions.  We have a lot of first-time theatergoers.  Those who come to watch really make an effort to get into it, to enjoy and appreciate it.

"On the other hand, you can't really be too edgy with the shows that you present because you're going after a general audience, you have to cast a wide net."

Go always has a hand in the productions he stages: from script selection to casting, from selection of collaborators (director, set designer, musical director, etc.) to scheduling.

"I like being a producer, getting involved, exchanging ideas, putting things together, doing the numbers.  It's exciting for me." 

In addition to evaluating production elements such as cast size and set requirements for cost computations, Go has a fairly simple formula in deciding what show to produce: "I ask myself 'Will this work in Cebu? Can I sell it?'"

"I like taking risks and trusting my instincts that a show will work."  Above everything else, "I have to like the show. I produce material I like and believe in, whether it's commercial or not."

"I look back at the ten years of LBP, at what we've done, the workshops, the local shows, the shows from Manila, the shows in Manila, the tours, the people we've worked with, and I feel very, very grateful and happy."

"The Boor" and "The Proposal" 3 pm and "Welcome to Intelstar" 7pm on Nov. 26, 2011 at CAP Art Center, Cebu City.  Contact (032) 254-9320.

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