(Disclaimer: I wrote this with Metro Manila-based theatre companies in mind. But I think any theatre company in the Philippines can adopt this model.)
Original Philippine theatre has always had a problem when it came to money. (Actually, it's a problem that's common among theatre companies anywhere in the world.) Setting up a commercial production is a massive undertaking, involving dozens of people and huge sums of money, but always carries a huge risk. Very few companies are willing to sponsor shows, and it would almost take a miracle to pack the theater houses during the production's entire run.
Factors that come into play are numerous—general public interest, the location of the venue, the ticket prices, limited marketing, the impression that original Philippine theatrical works are inferior compared to its foreign counterparts. But I think that one of the greater challenges of any theatre company is scalability.
In business, scalability is being able to generate more revenue per peso spent, or more returns from minimal effort. In a normal production run, a theatre company generates revenues through ticket sales, merchandise sales and cash sponsorships. They also earn revenues through show buyers. When the production run ends, the revenues stop. In some cases, a production gets invited to do provincial tours. But a tour is saddled by additional costs, the bulk of which comes from transportation and accomodation expenses. Also, large productions would have to be minimalized for portability. A provincial tour may not be a good example of scalability, because maximum effort still has to be made to generate revenues.
Provincial tours are great, because they allow those outside Metro Manila to experience original Philippine theatre productions. However, not every province can afford it, and there are logistical issues to tackle. But for the most part, provincial tours are the only way wherein people can experience original works.
So the challenge is two-fold:
How can Philippine theatre companies earn more from original works with less effort?
How can people outside Metro Manila, especially those in the Visayas and Mindanao, get to see original Filipino theatrical works?
The idea stems from the practice of companies wherein they record a video of a show for archival purposes. These archival videos aren't meant for public consumption, but what if the idea of a video recording can be used to generate additional income, as well as allow those in the provinces to watch original works?
Already, there is the argument: watching a video is not the same as experiencing it live. True, a recording runs counter to the whole point of theatre. However, therein lies the question: should we deprive the rest of the country the opportunity to at least see a show, if we can;t let them experience it?
In theory, here's how it can happen:
- A theatre company is staging an original Filipino musical, say, an adaptation of the movie “Markova.” It's been two weeks since the run started, and the kinks of the production have been ironed out.
- On a non-show day (like Tuesday or Wednesday), the production does a special video recording of the musical. It's a one-camera setup, the camera being in the middle of the audience area. The camera is far enough to cover the width of the stage. For the recording, no close-ups, pans, or other camera movements will be made, to simulate the viewpoint of an actual audience member. A special lighting and audio team are on-hand to make sure the technicals are good for video recording. Friends can be invited to fill in the first few rows. Since the actors and production staff already know the show, the recording goes smoothly, save for a few retakes.
- After the recording, the director, playwright and principal staff and actors go on-cam for “behind-the-scenes” interviews. These will appear as “extras” in the final recording.
- After two weeks, the videos are cleaned up, titles and credits are added. A number of copies are made.
- The marketing team sends the videos to their contacts in universities nationwide. These universities have signed up with the theatre company's subscription program, wherein the company will send high-quality recordings of their productions within one month after the commercial run of the production. This way, the universities remain current with the theatre scene in Metro Manila. Each university pays about P20,000 per video.
- The university makes the video available to students, faculty and theatre practitioners, and may even hold special public screenings. Because of the recorded Q&A, the recording becomes an educational medium as well. Some universities book some of the artistic and/or production staff (for a fee) to grace the screening as special guests and to engage in a live Q&A with the students.
- The theater company manages to make P3M in revenue from 150 colleges and universities (out of 2,000 in the Philippines). The money is used to cover the production expenses for the video, shipping and handling, pay royalties to the artistic staff and bonuses to the production staff, and reinvest the balance in future productions.