‘Ningas’ to address quandary at Virgin Labfest



MANILA, Philippines — “Ningas,” whose possible English translations are “spark” and “fire,” graces this year’s Virgin Labfest (VLF) as among its featured plays in its 19th year. It belongs to “Set A” of stage works with the theme “dilema” (dilemma). The latter is under the umbrella theme called “pintog,” with other sub-themes presenting new plays.

The playwrights’ festival runs from June 12 to 30 at the Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

In charge of “Ningas” mise-en-scéne is BJ Borja, a product of Dulaang UP with Palanca winner Lino Balmes as the playwright.

“What I like about it is, I think the topic is just in the minds of people as a thought,” said BJ about the play’s theme in an interview. “It’s never being talked about, but you’ll find it’s really happening in the society.”

To titillate the audience’s imagination, he shared “snapshots” of a scene from “Ningas,” saying, “A woman in her late fifties appears to or meets a man in his late twenties. The objective of the female character is to have a name given by the man for her to come into being or exist.” The decision of the man will surely entail consequences in the future.

“The play is funny, yet nakakalungkot siya (sad and heartfelt),” added BJ, sharing that “Ningas” gives a voiceless topic a voice. The male character is a volunteer fireman, who is ready to offer help. The encounter between the woman and the man in the present could spark a beautiful and life-defining idea in the future.

As for how he became part of “Ningas,” BJ said he got an invitation from Tess Jamias, the festival director, to helm a play. From the get-go, it was a yes for him. Virgin Labfest is an annual event that theater enthusiasts and the public look forward to.

This is his return to what he described as professional theater, and a breather from being the head of Biñan Youth Performance Council, a performing arts group in the Laguna city. Part of it is doing community theater.

“I recall that the last professional theater I did was back in 2012 as an assistant director to National Artist Tony Mabesa, The Foresaken House by Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero (also a National Artist for Theater) with Irma Adlawan (as among its stars),” said he. The Dulaang UP production touches on patriarchy.

After that, he got sidetracked into government work that involves arts, culture, heritage, history and tourism.

The “Ningas” director feels lucky to have worked with Lino, a playwright, who is very cooperative and collaborative. The latter is open to suggestions.

“It’s a good trait of a playwright,” said BJ, remembering that Lino was also asking the actors’ thoughts regarding dialogues.

Geraldine Villamil and Ross Pesigan play the woman and the man, respectively, in “Ningas,” and are both products of Dulaang UP.

“The director is a problem solver. Whatever it is that you read, you need to translate it into, you know, a play that people watch,” said BJ, who had to learn his way again in doing professional theater since there are new trends that he had to consider such as video mapping, the computerized, digital and automated plotting of lights, and even the idea that a play is a multi-media production.

“I (also) look forward to critiquing (or being critiqued by the people behind the festival) like Tess. This time, I’m going back to that re-learning process to keep me grounded again and at the same time, (to see) that there are new things I need to learn,” said BJ, whose strengths as a theater director lie in blending and concocting emotions and presenting scenes that lead to them.

“You need to study the script and read it well,” shared BJ about his creative process in coming up with a vision for a play like the 45-minute one act “Ningas.”

The theater creative in BJ is grateful for the directorial opportunity Virgin Labfest has given him and to be part of Philippine theater that remains thriving and relevant.

Leave a Reply