All the Theater Productions to See and Experience at the Upcoming Virgin Labfest 17

MANILA, Philippines—Hurdling two years of distance and a shift to online performances and the streaming of archived works, the Virgin Labfest (VLF), with its years of tradition as the festival of untried, untested and unstaged plays, makes a return to live stage this year with 12 new works slated to be unveiled on June 16 to 26, at Tanghalang Huseng Batute (CCP Studio Theater). 

For its 17th edition, VLF follows the theme “Hinga” (“Breathe” in English) to “underline the need to breathe, to be present and feel alive.”   

“After being isolated in our houses, we now focus on the importance of community—the need to share space and time and revel in one another’s presence—and the urgency of theatre and performance,” said VLF festival director Tess Jamias who is sharing the role with TP associate director Marco Viaña.  

Aside from marking its return to THB, its original home, VLF 17: HINGA reintroduces the practice of grouping plays into sets under shared themes and other commonalities. 

Official poster courtesy of CCP

Set A: Life is Full of Surprises revolves around life’s unexpected turns. This set features: Eljay Castro Deldoc’s “Walang Bago sa Dulang Ito”; Ma. Cecilia de la Rosa’s “Mga Balo”; and Bibeth Orteza’s “Bituing Marikit”

Images courtesy of Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Directed by J. William Herbert Sigmund Go and Tess Jamias, “Walang Bago sa Dulang Ito” follows the pursuit of a woman in understanding myriapods and how this would lead to bewildering encounters and finding herself preyed on by those in positions of power.

In “Mga Balo”, a writer tries to decide on the future of the play she is writing. She returns to her material and seeks the help of the widows who rightfully own the story. The play is directed by Adrienne Vergara.

Under the direction of Carlos Siguion-Reyna, “Bituing Marikit” tells the death of a man’s second wife and how much of a “bituing marikit” his wife is to their boys. The play was in memory of film and theater director Mel Chionglo. 

Three plays show that fiction is stranger than life in Set B: Life is Strange Fiction. The plays are:  BJ Crisostomo’s “Absurdo: Event Day”; Jerry O’Hara’s “Liberation”; and Juan Ekis’ “‘Nay May Dala Akong Pancit”.  

Images courtesy of Cultural Center of the Philippines.

In “Absurdo: Event Day”, in between working as project coordinators at a massive end-of-the-world party and dealing with absurd client demands, two co-workers must come to grips if their jobs have any ultimate meaning before time runs outs. Directed by Mara Agleham, this play is part of a trilogy dealing with the craziness of the Philippine event industry.

Directed by Dennis Marasigan, “Liberation” is the story of three Japanese soldiers left behind to engage the enemy at whatever cost in a desperate effort and put up pocket resistance in southern districts of Manila in 1945. How would they act in the face of death? 

In “‘Nay May Dala Akong Pancit”, two siblings are stuck in a metaphysical loop of a Pinoy soap opera trope. Every time the older brother comes home with pancit, their mother dies. The siblings must now find a way to escape the loop and save their mother once and for all. Karl Alexis Jingco directs the play. 

Stories of characters who are at a crossroad find their way to Set C: Life Choices, which include Mikaela Regis’ “Unica Hijas”; Andrew Bonifacio Clete’s “Punks Not Dead”; and Anthony Kim Vergara’s “Student’s Handbook”.   

Images courtesy of Cultural Center of the Philippines.

In “Unica Hijas”, two girls are called into the principal’s office after they were caught by a nun in an almost-kiss. With less than an hour left until their future is decided, the two are forced to confront each other, their past, present, and their own selves.  It will be directed by Pat Valera. 

Directed by Roobak Valle, “Punks Not Dead” is about a mother who complains to her son’s teacher regarding a discriminating item.  As the characters argue about the item, the play shows what’s permanently inked with prejudice. 

“Student’s Handbook”, directed by Erika Estacio, shows what happened when a few pioneer students were caught violating some of the institution’s most outrageous regulations. The rules were put into question and things started getting ridiculously clairvoyant.

Plays set in schools and involve life lessons that must be learnt and unlearnt are grouped together in Set D: School of Life. They are: Dustin Celestino’s “Fermata”; Ryan Machado’s “Huling Haraya Nina Ischia at Emeteria”; and George Vail Kabristante’s “Bienvenuta Al Lido Di Venezia”.  

Images courtesy of Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Directed by Guelan Luarca, “Fermata” follows the son of a dead celebrated musician as he investigates the truth about his father. 

Directed by Regina De Vera, “Huling Haraya Nina Ischia at Emeteria” shows the endearing moment between a mother and her daughter as they prepare for the daughter’s departure. As the conversation gets deep, the daughter realizes that this might indeed be their last evening together.

In “Bienvenuta Al Lido Di Venezia”, a couple who works as Filipino domestic helpers for a wealthy contessa with Alzheimer’s conspired to poison their employer. But things have gone awry. The play is co-directed by Nanding Josef and Antonette Go. 

VLF 17 will have a new component aptly called Theater Talks, which serves as a curated forum series on theater and creative processes. To be livestreamed during the festival, these talks feature theater practitioners who will share their know-how on production works and take in questions from the audience to elicit a lively dialogue on contemporary theatre-making. 

The festival brings back its mainstay components such as the VLF Fellowship Program, with mentor Glenn Sevilla Mas and director Dennis Marasigan, and the VLF Playwrights Fair under the direction of Rody Vera and coordination by Beverly Siy. 

Rank Magazine is an official media partner of Virgin Labfest: Hinga.

For more information, visit the CCP website ( Follow the official CCP social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for latest updates.