The Virgin Labfest returns to the stage

AFTER two years of online performances, the 17th Virgin Labfest (VLF) — the theater festival of untried, untested, and unstaged plays — returns to the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Huseng Batute stage from June 16 to 26.

It will be followed by an online screening of the plays from June 30 to July 10 at

This year’s festival takes on the theme “Hinga” (Breath) for 2022, under the leadership of new festival directors Marco Viaña and Tess Jamias.

The theme takes on the idea of “inviting the people to come back and share the space with us,” Ms. Jamias said in a Zoom interview with BusinessWorld.

“We were playing with the concept of ‘buhay’ kasi gusto naming tutukan ’yung for the past two years hindi natin na-experience mabuhay [onstage]. So, itong pagbabalik sa entablado, gusto natin ulit maranasang mabuhay sa pagtatanghal (We were playing with the concept of ‘life’ because we wanted to focus on the two years of no experience of life onstage. So, for the comeback onstage, we want to rekindle life in performing),” Mr. Viaña said of this year’s theme.

The festival is co-presented by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), Writer’s Bloc, Inc., and CCP’s resident theater company, Tanghalang Pilipino, in support of young artists and playwrights and the stage production industry.

Unlike the previous physical iterations of the festival which showcased various sets of one-act plays in two theaters in a day, this year just one set is scheduled to be performed twice a day as a safety precaution to avoid cross contamination as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is still not over.

The 12 featured plays are divided into four sets — Set A to Set D — with performances scheduled at 2 and 7 p.m.

The plays under “Set A: Life is Full of Surprises” (June 16 and 25) are: Walang Bago sa Dulang Ito by Eljay Castro Deldoc, Mga Balo by Maki dela Rosa, and Bituing Marikit by Bibeth Orteza.

Under “Set B: Life is Strange Fiction” (June 17 and 26), the plays are: Absurdo Events Day by BJ Crisostomo, Liberation by Jerry O’Hara, and Nay May Dala Akong Pansit by Juan Ekis.

“Set C: School of Life” (June 18 and 23) features Unica Hijas by Mikaela Regis, Punks Not Dead by Andrew Clete, and Student’s Handbook by Anthony Kim Vergara.

“Set D: Life Choices” (June 19 and 24) features Fermata by Dustin Celestino, Huling Haraya Nina Ischia at Emeteria by Ryan Machado, and Bienvenuta al lido De Venecia by George Vail Kabristante.

“The actors are coming in very hungry to perform. We have young designers coming in also excited to [again] work in the physical space of a theater,” Ms. Jamias said.

Over the past two years, online streaming has enabled the VLF to reach a wider audience. For this iteration, the plays will be streamed on June 30 to July 3 and July 7 to 10.

“We know that not all audiences are confident to watch onsite [because of the pandemic]. So, we thought that it is important to partner with streaming platforms to reach a wider audience,” Mr. Viaña said.

This year’s new component is Theater Talks, a three-episode forum series on creative and production processes in theater and performance. It will stream on June 20, 21, and 22 (8 p.m.) on the CCP and VLF Facebook pages.

The Playwright’s Fair with VLF artistic director Rody Vera, and the CCP Intertextual Division will be held on June 17, 18, 24, and 25, 5 p.m. at the Tanghalang Manuel Conde (CCP Dream Theater) with online streaming at the CCP and VLF Facebook pages.

The Writing Fellowship Program showcase, under the mentorship of award-winning playwright Glenn Mas and directed by Dennis Marasigan, is scheduled for June 26, 5 p.m., at the CCP Promenade.

With the return to physical theater this year, the festival directors look forward to what they have missed the most: the live audience.

“We look forward to being in the same space where the audience is, where you can hear their laughter and also feel their emotions with you,” Ms. Jamias said.

Ang teatro o ang sining ay hanging nagbibigay buhay sa atin (Theater or the arts is the air that gives us life),” Mr. Viaña said.

For tickets to Virgin Labfest 17: Hinga, visit TicketWorld at and the CCP Box Office. For online purchase concerns, contact the TicketWorld customer service hotlines at 8891-9999, 0917-550-6997 (Globe), and 0999-954-5922 (Smart). For more information, visit For details on the new normal protocols at the CCP, visit — Michelle Anne P. Soliman