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REP’s ‘The Bridge Project’: A Dynamic Cultural and Theatrical Exchange

REP’s ‘The Bridge Project’: A Dynamic Cultural and Theatrical Exchange

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For the first time in its 87 seasons, Repertory Philippines has flown in its cast and the majority of its creative team for its upcoming production of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal.

Victor Lirio, a New York and London-based actor and director, has assembled a cast that supports his vision of the British play being told from the point of view of second generation Filipino-Brits set in London in the current period.

All three actors in the three-hander are Filipino-Brits based in London. James Bradwell, who plays Robert in the show, has performed at Shakespeare’s Globe and The Royal Court Theatre, and has played various TV roles including a part in Netflix’s Bridgerton (Lord Basilio) in its upcoming season. James Cooney, who plays Jerry, has played lead roles in several productions at The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Old Vic, and, most recently, The Almeida Theatre in London. Vanessa White, who plays Emma, is a former member of English-Irish girl group The Saturdays. She returns to her theater roots with Betrayal, having performed in the West End productions of The Lion King and The King and I.

Lirio has directed several productions in New York and London. He was most recently Resident Director on Dr. Semmelweis in the West End starring Oscar winner Mark Rylance at Harold Pinter Theatre in London. He was the former artistic director of Diverse City Theater in New York.

In June 2020, when both Manila and the UK were deep into pandemic lockdowns, homegrown artists Giannina Ocampo Van Hoven and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo collaborated with Lirio, Bradwell, and Cooney online to do a scene study/ reading of the 2008 English play, The Pride, through Zoom that was livestreamed on YouTube. This marked the origins of the upcoming Bridge Project, a collaboration of global professional theater artists of Filipino descent from New York, London, and Manila that Lirio spearheads with Repertory Philippines.

“When we ended the original Bridge Project during the pandemic, there was a desire for all of us to work together. The people who were watching online were very engaged, just from the questions they were asking and the sentiments that they expressed,” shares Lirio. “It was still on my mind and I was practicing in two different cities in New York and London, and I met these brilliant people, London-based, and I’ve been meeting Menchu and these wonderful people in Manila, and I thought it was an opportunity for us to create a congress for shared learning, hence The Bridge Project. It really began on that Zoom that we did.”

“So I’ve invited [artists] and we crafted what we thought would be useful, what we can share. It’s not really a masterclass per se but it’s like, we come from different theater cultures so let’s share. We will have stuff to learn.”

The Betrayal cast and members of its creative team will conduct the skills exchange/ classes on a volunteer basis, free of charge. 

The program will be offered to Filipinos who have previous experiences in professional theater. Portfolios and resumes will be required. Joining more than one session is allowed as long as slots are still available. The sessions will be held at the campuses of MINT College in McKinley Hill, Taguig and/or Ortigas, Pasig. The online sign-up with a description of the classes offered is available through this link.

The group reiterates that the program is more of a cultural and skills exchange rather than a traditional masterclass.

“I’m going to be running a workshop or skills sharing of Shakespeare, but it’s very much for me to go, ‘This is my experience of performing Shakespeare and studying Shakespeare back in the UK’, and bringing it into a room with people who may have a very different experience with that and go, ‘Well, what do you think?’, shares Cooney.

“All the teaching that I ever do is always about that. It’s going into a room and seeing it as a laboratory space. It is an experiment. It’s not, ‘These are the rules and this is how you have to abide.’ It’s very much, ‘This is what I know, what do you know, and where can we meet, where might we challenge one another, and where might my practice actually completely change’ because of what I’ve witnessed or experienced in that room that I never thought about before because we have different experiences.”

He adds, “Working with Victor, he has experience of working in the US, and that feels very different as well. We all just get so much better and have a richer, deeper understanding of theater practice in all its possibilities by working with people with different experiences and cultures.”

“Exchange is natural in any creative space you find regardless of the extremity of difference,” adds Bradwell. Everybody has a different perspective, everyone has a different life experience, and it’s natural in any creative space that everyone should feel free and safe to express that. That’s an ideal we’d like to reach.”

“I think it almost was always going to happen in some respect in us being here because I think that’s the beauty of a diverse industry. You get diverse opinions to challenge your opinions and break down walls to ignorance about how the world can be seen. That’s a grand idea but I hope that in just a small way, the interplay will be experienced in this Bridge.”

He adds that having homegrown artists Jef Flores and Regina De Vera as covers in Betrayal has given so much value to their rehearsals. “Hearing their ideas and perspectives has been so fruitful to the room.”

White also shares, “I am going to be giving a talk on my career through music and theater and really I just want to connect. I don’t really want to be here to be like, ‘This is what you have to do.’ I want to be able to connect with them, and hopefully they’re interested and if they have any questions about maybe navigating the industry, I can give my opinion and hopefully be helpful in some kind of way.” 

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Founder and Managing Director of TheaterFansManila.com. Thinks about the performing arts scene 2/3 of the day, everyday. A firm believer in the Filipino artist.