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'We're coming home': The cast, directors of 'Ang Huling El Bimbo' on making a safe return to the stage on Dec. 10

By AYIE LICSI Published Nov 26, 2021 8:14 pm Updated Nov 29, 2021 1:31 pm

After closing its doors for almost two years to the public, theater is finally making a comeback!

Since live shows were screeched to a halt due to the pandemic, thespians spent the lockdowns exploring ways to keep performing online. But finally, as restrictions are eased, they're homebound to their rightful place on stage.

To start, the cast of Ang Huling El Bimbo is holding the first live concert with an audience in years, and the show's cast and directors can't wait to get back this Dec. 10. 

Ensuring a safe return

As the concert's director Jamie Wilson told PhilStar L!fe, Ang Muling El Bimbo will be a homecoming not just for the actors, but for the audience as well. And being the first live concert in the pandemic, all eyes are on the cast and production crew of the musical.

"Not only do we have to put on a good show—that’s a given—but we have to do it right because I feel like this is the template. I have friends from other theater companies who are buying tickets just to see how we do the show because they want to open shows as well," he said. The director is being consulted by others on safety protocols for rehearsals.

"The pressure is on for us because we have to do it right. This can tell the industry that we can open for business if we do it right, if we keep people safe. If we make sure that everybody—the audience, performers, the production people—are safe, we can signal the return of any live event. It’s time for us to get back together but at the same time, we have to be smart about it," he said.

Aside from Wilson, L!fe sat down with other minds behind the concert including artistic consultant and writer Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, assistant director Michael Williams, and young Hector actor Bibo Reyes to talk about how actors are bouncing back and coming home to the theater stage.

Ang Huling El Bimbo musical's final run in 2019.

How different are rehearsals now? 

Wilson: I have to look at it with two sets of eyes—as a director and as the lead safety consultant for the show. As a safety officer, I have to see how many hours I can keep people in a room, and as a director, I have to think about what we’ll do in that limited amount of hours. I have actors with comorbidities and actors who have not performed in two years so I can’t do back-to-back-to-back rehearsals kasi pati ako 'di na sanay!

It’s a different animal that’s why I’m putting a safety team in place so everyone can feel safe. I can put safety protocols in place to make sure you are safe but if you don’t feel safe, then as a performer, that’s all you’re going to be worrying about instead of performing. I don’t want that to happen. I’m doing my best to balance both aspects of it to make them feel safe while giving them the freedom to create.

Lauchengco-Yulo: Because of covid protocols, it’s a little more difficult and can be stressful. So many concerns and rules to abide by. But it's alright as long as we can start performing again and remain safe, both for performers and our audiences. 

AHEB cast backstage in the show's final run in 2019.

Williams: Well, I imagine that we will be taking all the discoveries and learnings we've had during the lockdowns and allowing those to influence the work. Acknowledging the new demands of the market and the new audience behavior perhaps. Well, and as long as people are vaccinated and if we continue to observe all safety protocols as we rehearse then we should be fine. We will just have to roll with the punches as they come.

Reyes: Like delving back into any formerly-regular social interaction, it entails quadruple the consideration on everyone's part. That is with regard to personal comfort levels, SOP, and of course abiding by protocols. It is strange wading into a pool that ought to feel familiar and finding it somewhat alien. I am just glad we are taking steps forward.

How important are these shows and art, in general, in trying times like the pandemic?

Wilson: I think it’s truly essential for live shows to come back, whatever that may be. It’s so important that we have a collective experience because we’re human beings. We crave company. We crave to be part of a collective experience. With the shows being gone for the better part of two years, we’ve all gone and done our own thing but that has also made us into a stronger community because we are all holding on to that light at the end of the tunnel.

Reyes: Art is necessary. Who could have possibly made it through this catastrophic point in history, heart intact, without our species' most prominent means of coping and connecting.

Now that theater is coming back to the stage, what are you excited most about doing live shows again? 

Wilson: What I’m excited about most is the audience. They’re the last missing integral link. It’s very different performing to a camera. It’s different when you get an instantaneous reaction. A collective reaction from people in the house. They’re the last missing part of our family. Every performer needs an audience and I’m so glad we’re going to be able to have that this time around.

I can’t wait for the audience to return to where they should be. Just like how we’re coming home to theater, they’ll be coming home to theater as well.

Lauchengco-Yulo: Feeling, seeing, and hearing an audience!!!

Williams: I am excited to rise to the challenges of a reopening. I am looking forward to the new stories we could tell through new productions and of course seeing people in person!

Reyes: The addage goes that a live audience is every production's final cast member. We've felt that—or the lack of it—more than ever these past two years. Feeling their energy, along with of course seeing some of my closest friends after so long while doing what we love together and in person might be too much to handle. We'll be struggling to not get emotional!

An AHEB show in 2019.

What can we expect from Ang Muling El Bimbo?

Wilson: It’s a homecoming concert. It’s the actors (that we could get together) coming in and telling their stories through the songs of the Ang Huling El Bimbo musical. We’re going to be talking about our experiences creating the musical, surviving the pandemic, celebrating the return to the stage, and the return of the audience.

There’s going to be some people singing songs from the musical that they haven’t sung before. We’re mixing things up but it’s going to be a lot of fun and there’s going to be a lot of heart because we’re all excited to come back home. 

You’re not going to see the Joys, the Hectors, and the Emmans but you’re going to see Gab Pangilinan, Tanya Manalang, OJ Mariano, Bibo Reyes, Reb Atadero, and more talking about their experiences and how Bimbo is such a big part of our lives. I have yet to finish writing.

AHEB's final run in 2019.

A much-awaited homecoming

The Ang Muling El Bimbo AHEB homecoming concert will return to the stage for two shows on Dec. 10 and 11, 8 PM at the NewPort Performing Arts theater. 

Minimum safety health protocols will be followed for the show. To follow social distancing measures, guests will be one-seat apart and must wear masks at all times.

Guests aged 13 years old and above must be fully vaccinated and present their vaccination card and a government-issued ID to enter the theater.

Those who won't be able to catch the show live can watch it online via on Dec. 12, 8 PM.