SEPTEMBER 16, 2019

The (re)making of a myth

BY FIEL ESTRELLA
IMAGES COURTESY OF REPERTORY PHILIPPINES

Repertory Philippines rediscovers what makes a traditional legend so impactful with the original musical ‘The Quest for the Adarna.’

“What amazes me is that a lot of people in this production came in with their own version of the Adarna in their heads,” says Repertory Philippines’ Jamie Wilson, on a short break from rehearsals for the company’s latest production, an original musical based on the traditional Filipino epic. “It’s quite interesting because we had arguments: ‘Oh, didn’t it go like this? No, it went like this.’”

Because the Adarna has been passed down orally, there was no definitive text to go by. “It’s so open to interpretation,” Wilson continues. “We had to ask ourselves, what part of the story did we really want to tell?”

Directed by Joy Virata, creative director of the Repertory Theater for Young Audiences, and co-directed by Wilson and Naths Everett, Rep’s The Quest for the Adarna took six months to be developed, resulting in a book and lyrics by Luna Griño-Inocian with music by Rony Fortich. It recounts the story of three brothers — princes — who are sent by their ailing father on a quest to find the elusive Adarna, a magical bird whose songs can heal people, put them to sleep, or turn them into stone.

“[Virata] has been wanting to do the Adarna legend for a while,” Wilson explains. “In the selection process, I think we were trying [to find a new angle]. I think now there’s going to be more of a focus on telling stories that are more relevant to the Filipino audience — telling our own Filipino stories.”

The biggest challenge, he says, was trying to make the epic fit into an hour and a half. Being a show for kids, it could be too taxing if it went on too long, and they wanted to keep the children engaged.

Image courtesy of Repertory Philippines

“We want to paint this entire story with the truth,” Wilson adds. “When you put your own stamp on it with a good team behind you, it’s just remembering that despite it being a fantasy, it has to be rooted in something true and relatable to Filipinos.” 

In the end, the company decided to put the focus on values that would resonate best with families and even individuals in the audience: forgiveness, hope, generosity, and love.

With sets designed with traditional Asian influences, shadow play segments, and what Wilson describes as technically elaborate “wow” moments, The Quest for the Adarna is bound to amaze viewers of all ages, but especially the children.

Wilson recalls having done a staging of Rapunzel, where he played a giant dragon. “The most amazing thing is when they believe you’re a dragon, and you look like a stuffed toy, at a lot of the shows we did, the ushers had to stop the kids from running up onstage and hugging me during the show,” he laughs. “As children it’s so easy for us to believe. I guess once we grow older and we have to engage in the real world more often all these walls come up.” Working on this show, for him, is fulfilling: “I get to be a kid again and I get to create it for kids.”

“No matter what age you are it really inspires the imagination,” Wilson explains when asked about why the impact of the Adarna legend has remained after all these years. “The idea of a mythological being living around us humans, and if you’re lucky enough or you have the good nature, you might just be worthy — that if you find yourself in the forest you just might encounter it? What a wonderful way to go through life.”

Image courtesy of Repertory Philippines

The Quest for the Adarna runs until January 12, 2020 at the Onstage Theatre, Greenbelt 1, Makati City.

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