A New Lens As REP Pivots To The New Reality

by Liesl Batucan | Artistic Director of Repertory Philippines

I have always been fascinated with the phenomenon of light and the concept of mirrors. I always saw theater as light. Always saw theater as a mirror. A reflection. In reflections, light bounces back and returns to the same medium. Much like the truth. And theater is truth. I love to ponder these things.

For the REP 2020 Season Launch last October 14, 2019, we unveiled our 83rd Season lineup along with the teaser posters for the 4 theatrical productions slated for the year: STAGE KISS, ANNA IN THE TROPICS, CAROUSEL, and SNOW WHITE AND THE PRINCE. Each poster image included a strategically positioned mirror, each in its own metaphorical iteration. Our theme was mirrors. I had been asked countless times why. I always answered with the same analogy: Mirrors as reflections. What is theater but a reflection of life in its different permutations. And indeed all four productions reflected life from different perspectives–traveling, like light–and returning back to its source: the truth. I loved how it all came together. It felt perfect. All was well.

2020 was off to an amazing start. Then the global pandemic struck, and struck hard, and the season ground to a halt. Suddenly the mirrors reflected a new reality. And it wasn’t perfect. And all was not well. The pandemic, unprecedented and completely unexpected, ushered in a new reality with a sweeping velocity and massive force that shuttered our theatrical productions for the rest of 2020 and forced us to hit pause, to take stock, and to recalibrate.

As Artistic Director, I had already mapped out a detailed and comprehensive 5-year artistic plan. Now I needed to go back to the drawing board with all these new givens. Nothing was as it was. And all previously held assumptions were now rubble. I thought long and hard. And in the first month of the lockdown I quietly introspected and gave myself space to be in deep thought and deep reflection. I closed my eyes and I prayed.

Then I had a memory of my Dad.

Refraction. The word winked at me like dancing light, like the sweetest childhood memory. The first time I encountered the word refraction was when I was 14. I started having headaches during class in high school at the Colegio de San Agustin. I mentioned it to Dad and he said, “I think you might need a refraction”.

“A refra-whaa?” I asked. “For your eyes”, he said. Dad was right. (As he always was.)

Went to the doctor for a refraction (essentially a vision test) and left with a prescription for eyeglasses.

Chose my first pair of glasses. The process was thrilling. Decisions, decisions. In the end, I went for classic, elegant and simple black metal frames. Armed with my new lens, I saw the world in a new light. Everything was sharper and clearer.

I recount this beautiful personal memory because in the midst of the lockdown, coffee mug in hand, I looked out the window, and thought to myself: we need a refraction, we need a new lens. There is a new reality. And we need to see everything sharper and clearer.

In refraction, light travels and changes direction from one medium to another medium.

One medium…..to another medium.

We needed to pivot.

So here we are. In our pivot to digital.

From one medium (onstage) to another medium (online).

Reflection led to refraction.

And both are possible because of the presence of light.

As a creative endeavor, the pivot, though surrounded with its own set of challenges, was more joyous than I had anticipated. We made a lot of people happy. And that makes me happy. Although still in the process of feeling our way through–and so out of our comfort zone of theatrical productions–the journey has been imbued with a palpable sense of adventure and the rush of adrenaline that comes with forging ahead into new territory. There is also this refreshing almost childlike quality of intellectual curiosity that taps into a well of creativity, leading us to new discoveries, and connecting us deeply to the core of why we want to create in the first place.Why do we create? Why do we want to create? Why this creative impulse? WHY?

Every pivot needs a fulcrum. And that fulcrum is LOVE.