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[B-SIDE Podcast] ‘Life after live’: PETA Theater and the drama of going digital

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Live theater is a collective experience: the audience is as much a part of the performance as the actors on stage.  “Social distancing is the antithesis of what we do,” said Maribel A. Legarda, artistic director of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), which has been closed since March 2020. In this episode of B-Side, Ms. Legarda and Leloi T. Arcete, PETA head of public relations, tell BusinessWorld reporter Michelle Anne P. Soliman, how theater is surviving by migrating digitally and what “life after live” looks like.


Embrace experimentation.

“We were forced to actually deal with this whole digital platform,” said Ms. Legarda, who shared that PETA’s artist-teachers have learned how to operate cameras, edit video, and mix sound.

“We’ve had to do that on the job,” she said. “New knowledge is always new knowledge. As artists, we’re always experimenting and welcoming new ideas.

The fruits of their labor can be viewed on PETA’s online pages, which have evolved from marketing tools (which was the case prior to the pandemic) to virtual stages.

Maximize social media.

“Social media really allows us to be on the pulse of what our audiences want and what they need,” Ms. Arcete said. An online survey, for example, led to the development of a scriptwriting workshop. 

Expand your audience. 

“Now that we understand that there’s this digital aspect, there is really an audience outside of our 450-seater that goes beyond just Quezon City, Metro Manila, and Luzon. And that’s the beauty of it. You can be an OFW in Saudi, and you can watch a PETA play at your own time anywhere you are,”  Ms. Arcete said. “We recognize that there is an audience bigger than our live audience in our theater.”

Digital content expands the theater’s audience and can coexist with live performances. “It’s going to be a mix of stuff for the future. We’ve opened Pandora’s box to the future,” Ms. Legarda said. “But live, will always be live.”

Digital documentation is a potential source of revenue.

“It’s been long planned to digitize work and organize it. It takes resources to do that,” said Ms. Legarda, who said that digitalization has long been in PETA’s plans but never really prioritized. The pandemic has shown them the importance of having a digital archive and upping the production value of their documentation. “Definitely, we will be trying to digitize, and certainly after this, we will be shooting our shows in a much better way.”

PETA was lucky to have documentation of 1896, directed by Soxie Topacio, and written by Charley de la Paz, Jr., with music from Lucien Letaba. Shot with a three-camera setup and having decent sound, the footage is of PETA’s first and only sung-through musical production staged in 1998. The musical was part of PETA’s Click and Play Stream Series, which the company would not have been able to mount without existing documentation.

Recorded remotely on March 5. Produced by Paolo L. Lopez and Sam L. Marcelo.

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