Quezon City – The PETA Theater Center houses Vincent De Jesus’ newest production, CHANGING PARTNERS, a torch musical that explores the alchemy of relationships and questions the nature of fidelity and the complex issues partners face regardless of gender.
Opening at the PETA Theater Center in October, CHANGING PARTNERS is an intimate peek inside Cris and Alex’s challenging May-December relationship. Though most people would glance skeptically at May-December romances, they also accept them, depending on the couple’s gender and who gets to be ‘December’ and who gets to be ‘May’.
The writing process
CHANGING PARTNERS was a staged-reading entry for the 2016 Virgin Labfest last July. A multi-awarded composer and writer, De Jesus has lent his talent to many theater productions and movies in his 33 years in the arts, including the PETA’s hit musicals Skin Deep, Juan Tamad, Batang Rizal and Care Divas. “Many of my works for theater are commissioned pieces. Producers give me a theme and I work around that theme. Zsazsa Zaturnnah was a musical theater adaptation of Carlo Vergara’s highly popular graphic novel. Himala The Musical was a musical theater adaptation of the Ishmael Bernal’s highly-acclaimed movie. Most of my PETA productions required a lot of research because of the company’s many advocacies like Children’s Rights and Women’s Rights. You have to arm yourself with facts and information. You can’t just wing through topics like that.” But this piece is obviously a very personal project for him. Does that mean no research was required? “I’ve lived it. I know the topic very well,” he said, smiling.
It was his friend and mentor, the late Palanca Awards Hall of Famer and Writers Bloc moderator Rene Villanueva, who pushed him to write more. “I used to write only when I have the time or when I’m commissioned to write an original material. Rene told me that I should just keep on writing because ‘a writer writes’. That’s what a writer does. He writes. So now, even when I’m not commissioned to write a play, I write. Poetry. Song lyrics. One-act plays. Full-length plays.”
His most personal works focused mostly on LGBT issues, from classic coming out stories of self-acceptance to gay bullying. CHANGING PARTNERS is his first piece that weaves heterosexual and LGBT relationships in the most unpredictable way possible.
His inspiration for the play’s form and content stems from watching a theater rehearsal. “There I was, watching a run through. The male lead was absent. Naturally, the stage manager, who’s lesbian, read his part. It was a scene between a husband and his wife. The energy and dynamics of the scene felt completely different because of the fact that it was being read by two women. Very interesting, I thought. I could write a musical using this form — one couple, played in different genders.”
Why call it a torch musical? “A torch song is a love song, a very sentimental love song. The singer usually tells a story about an unrequited love or a dying love or a lost love. The term comes from the saying, ‘to carry a torch for someone’, or to keep aflame the light of an unrequited love. Hashtag walang forever. Torch is not a music genre but more of a way of singing, a singing style which focuses more on the words and emotions rather than the melody of the song. That’s how I wrote the songs of the musical — they are more ‘felt’ than ‘performed’.”
De Jesus did not only draw inspiration from his own experiences but also from people close to him as well. “I would go out with my dear friends and I would read them a few pages and get their opinion. I love it when they say, ‘That’s my story.’ They were very generous in discussing some issues and would share their own stories. They were very helpful. Through this musical, I hope to shed light into the fragile nuances of a relationship, the concept of fidelity and honesty, and the tension brought about by age gap and sexual politics.”
A stellar team
Truly a passion project, De Jesus personally called up talented theater friends to join him in staging this production. The musical is directed by Rem Zamora, recently cited for his outstanding direction for Red Turnip’s Constellations in the 2016 Midyear Philstage Gawad Buhay Awards. Lighting design is by Ian Torqueza, also cited for his outstanding lighting design for PETA’s 3 Stars and A Sun.
The musical features an ensemble of accomplished theater, film and television actors composed of Agot Isidro, Jojit Lorenzo, Anna Luna and Sandino Martin.
But the real man of the hour is De Jesus who wrote the book, libretto and music for the play. He will also play his compositions live on the piano while the cast shed their emotional armor and sing their torch songs onstage.
CHANGING PARTNERS will have its limited run at the PETA Theater Center Studios on September 30, October 1 and 2 and on October 21, 22 and 23, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. Ticket prices are Php800 (Regular) and Php1000 (VIP). Book your tickets through Ticketworld or directly at the venue. You may also call (725) 6244 or (0927) 3917379 for inquiries and reservations.